Fedora's way forward

Christian Fredrik Kalager Schaller uraeus at gnome.org
Wed Mar 29 09:59:41 UTC 2006

On Tue, 2006-03-28 at 18:11 +0100, Andy Burns wrote:
> Eric S. Raymond wrote:
> > I don't see that.
> At the bottom of http://www.mp3licensing.com/royalty/software.html
> it's not clear if the minimum royalty is only applicable when paying 
> "per unit" or not.
> > No, there's a crucial distinction.  Consumers think they should get this 
> > capability bundled with their OS, not have to pay extra after the sale.
> But the price from Fluendo's shop is €0.00 per plugin, ithough t would 
> be better if it were able to be distributed as part of the O/S

It is, we are offering distributors a no-cost redistribution contract
for our plugin. The problem is that even if the source code is available
under a MIT license the resulting binary is not GPL compatible, and
arguably not free software no matter what license the underlaying code
has. Due to this distributions with a clear free software stance, like
Fedora, has opted to not include it so far.

Be also aware that the cost of including non-free codecs in the
distribution is that any GPL application able to use them will have 
to go out. This means that as soon as this codec goes in, any
open-source KDE multimedia playback application goes out, and on the
GNOME side only Totem, Banshee and Jamboree is currently licensed in a
way that allows them to stay. (Applications not able to use the non-free
codec can stay of course, but I assume that if proprietary codec support
is included you want to steer users in the direction of the apps having
this support by only including such by default). 

Be also aware that mp3 is the only patented codec which is available
under terms that make a setup like this even feasible in some form. So
even if mp3 support was included I doubt it would provide Eric will full
satisfaction. No other major codec patents is available under a pay-once
license instead they are available under licenses which quickly take
them up to around 1 million USD a year (per codec). Also in regards to
mp3 the pay-once license, it only covers desktop decoding usage. It do
not cover use on any form of embedded device or encoding (both with
costs 2.50 per unit with no annual price cap). Due to these limitations
the implementation can not be under the LGPL or the GPL (which takes
Eric's lame example out of the picture).

So to answer Eric, at Fluendo we are working with distributions trying
to figure out how to package/distribute codecs in a way that make it as
transparent as possible for the user. But this is a hard process both in
technical terms and legal sense as all these codec patents are available
under different terms including API restrictions, branding requirements,
platform allowed supported, use case limitations and so on. Finding a
way that allows combining these with free software without abandoning
the principles of trying to keep as much or even all the software open
source is hard and takes time both to sort through the legal barriers,
but also implementing systems that are able to solve the technical
problems arising due to the legal restrictions.

I think it is unfair to the major distributions to claim they are not
caring about this issue. They are and they know very well that it is an
issue causing pain for their users. But I think they deserve credit for
trying to approach the issue in a manner that the eventual introduction
of such codecs etc., will be one where it also serves as a pathway to
help migrate more people over to free codecs. 

Red Hat for instance recently hired Monty from the Xiph.org project to
help improve the performance and quality of the xiph.org codecs and also
move general multimedia support in Red Hat and Fedora forward. And
Novell has been writing Banshee under the MIT license among other things
in order to be able to provide a music player that can be bundled with
non-free codecs. So things are happening and we just have to accept that
Rome wasn't built in a day. 


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