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Fencing and Tollgating the Internet

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This story about yet another attempt to raise a tollgate on the Internet deserves having some extra attention called to it.

"The players from Google and Vimeo do present a pretty serious problem, though. Each of these require a proprietary H.264 codec to be able to view them. These codecs aren't compatible with the royalty-free web standards that the rest of the web is built on. The fact that they are being so unabashedly hyped along with the new darling of the web - HTML5 - means that most people don't understand that something very dangerous is taking place behind the scenes...

"Remember, this is still very early in H.264's history so the licensing is very friendly, just like it used to be for MP3. The companies who own the IP in these large patent pools aren't in this for the fun of it - this is what they do. They patent and they enforce and then enjoy the royalties. If they are in a position to charge more, they will. We can expect that if we allow H.264 to become a fundamental web technology that we'll see license requirements get more onerous and more expensive over time, with little recourse."

The author, Christopher Blizzard, works for Mozilla. He has done his homework and gone far beyond the tech press in analyzing the issue. In fact, the tech press have totally missed this, and instead joined in cheerleading H.264, like this piece on Download Squad:

"Hate Flash? Love Vimeo? Today's your lucky day, because Vimeo has introduced a new HTML5 video player, making almost all of its videos available in H.264. For those not familiar with H.264, a quick recap: this is one of the formats vying to become the new standard for HTML's video tag."

What journalists are missing out on is that H.264 is a patented codec, and that the patent holders expect to collect royalties. The last H.264 patents expire in 2028. Mr. Blizzard draws some apt parallels with GIF and MP3, and the problems caused when patented, royalty-burdened technologies collide with a supposedly open and unencumbered Web. This is a must-read for anyone wanting more good information and less not-well-informed cheerleading on these issues.

Linux Weekly News has an excellent discussion on this.


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