What's the current status of mp3-licensing issues?

Peter Lemenkov lemenkov at gmail.com
Thu Nov 1 07:47:31 UTC 2007

Hello All!
While reading docs for well-known mpg123 I found the following:

Some notes about patents and mpg123 by Thomas Orgis

There has been a lot of confusion over mp3 (or more generic mpeg audio)
patents and licensing issues due to the patents held by Fraunhofer and
marketed by Thomson.  So, yes, there are patents held by Fraunhofer
that are claimed to cover mpeg audio technology. There are also claims
that they cover any similar technology (like OGG).  You may argue if
these patents are valid at all (being illegal software patents, or being
preceded by known scientific publications), but they are internationally
accepted by patent authorities and if you want to use mp3 commercially
you should check


for the Fraunhofer/Thomson opinion and their terms.

Since mpg123 is only a mpeg audio player, a good deal of patents
that describe the encoding process (the tricky part) will not apply.
Also, statements from the patent holders up to now always allowed the
non-commercial distribution of mpeg audio decoders without any fee.
They want you to pay for a license when you want to make money by selling
a decoder, though. We don't sell mpg123.  Additionally, one should not
forget the fact that the ideas are getting old; the basic (funded by
government, btw.) research was somewhen back around the 80s and many
patents are going to expire soon, best example in Germany:

P/DE 35 06 912 Method of transmission of an audio signal using grouping
of amplitude values

Application was 22.02.1986 in Germany (and around Europe in the same
time Jan/Feb 1986).  German patents last 20 years... now we have
24.07.2006. Time has come...

The idea of a patent is to make the inventor open the invention to
the public by giving him some safe time to turn this invention into
economical benefit.  People using (and improving!) the technology freely
after that time is _the_ most important aspect of that idea.

Oh, I should mention the "core" mp3 patent (from

DE 3629434 / EP287578 Digital coding process

Application date in Germany was 29.08.1986 - that means that in a month
from now (remember: 24.07.2006) this patent finds its natural end.

Then, there are other patents listed on the Fraunhofer/Thomson website
that came very late... The one about join stereo coding was applied for
in Feb 1995. Did mpg123 implement that already back then? History is a
bit blurry there...  There is a patent applied for in 1997, but probably
covering encoding only. Still, even if that weren't the case - the basic
decoding functionality of mpg123 didn't change that much after 1997;
and they couldn't have patented existing functionality.  In general,
few patents seem to cover decoders at all. Of course, with me being no
lawyer, that statement is not trustworthy...

Bottom line is:

While Fraunhofer/Thomson don't want to charge free software players -
they said that a long time ago, the time for they being able to place
such charges is expiring or has already expired. One should really think
before adding mp3pro/surround support to mpg123, though, since there
are for sure more recent patents for that.

And don't forget: The progress bar is covered by a patent, too.

Briefly speaking from the above notes we may find the following:

* Looks like Ogg "violates" patents as well as mp3.
* Fraunhofer patents already expired in Europe.

What about US?

With best regards!

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