Jan Rychter: blog (electronics, programming, technology)

HTML5, H.264 and Free Software: it's the wrong game!


Two important articles appeared in the last few days, both elaborating on why Mozilla is reluctant to adopt the H.264 video codec. Both are well thought out, but Mozilla is playing the wrong game here.

The implied conclusion is that we should all switch to Theora, since that is unencumbered with patents. Well guess what — pretty much every algorithm used in modern video compression is patented. And there are only so many ways you can slice and 2D-DCT a macroblock. There is no reason to believe that Theora is somehow designed "around" all those patents. It might very well be impossible to create a video codec that doesn't infringe on something. This article has a much more realistic approach to the issue at hand.

The game to play is to either abolish the patent system altogether (it has outlived its usefulness), or to make patent claims on algorithms void and unenforceable. Simply avoiding H.264 just because the licensing situation there is sorted out won't get us anywhere. We'll end up adopting something else (be it Theora or On2 VPwhatever) and finding out about patent claims years later, once the codec becomes popular.


Hey great idea.

Whilst we're at it we could pay everyone a million a year and abolish world poverty!


EyeRoller: hey, it at least needs to be stated. While we're at fighting for ideals (mozilla folks are all about idealist goals), we might as well aim for a real goal, not an interim step.

Jan Rychter2010-01-25

Jan, you are right about the changes needed to patent law. Patent reform is necessary and that is in a government domain whereas Mozilla's strength is in a technical domain. The politics within a technical discussion are as intense as they are in government area but they are by no means equal. Mozilla isn't a patent reform corporation.


Far easier: get Apple to give up the patent on H.264.


Rob: partially true — but it isn't just Apple. At least a dozen companies hold patents on various parts of H.264.

Jan Rychter2010-01-28

"There is no reason to believe that Theora is somehow designed “around” all those patents."

does not mean

"unencumbered with patents"

In Theora's case, On2 designed it with Patents in mind, patents they owned. They then released Theora from the bind of On2's patents. Essentially, Theora isn't encumbered by On2's patents. Your own suggested link talks about this.