H.264 Video License Now Royalty-free for Life

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MPEG LA, the organization that controls the h.264 video format patent portfolio, has revised its licensing structure so Internet streaming videos that are free for viewers will never be subject to royalty fees. The change eliminates concerns over whether or not free h.264 formatted videos would be subject to royalty fees starting in 2016.

“MPEG LA previously announced it would not charge royalties for such video through December 31, 2015, and today’s announcement makes clear that royalties will continue not to be charged for such video beyond that time,” the organization said in a statement. “Products and services other than Internet Broadcast AVC Video continue to be royalty-bearing.”

The licensing change may make it easier for companies to settle on a common format for HTML5-based Internet video, although so far the big players seem to be happy to stand their ground. Currently, Apple and Microsoft support H.264, while Mozilla and Opera support Google’s VP8 format.

Adobe is still pushing its dominant Flash format, and based on its current wide-spread use, it won’t be going away any time soon.

The h.264 format is already proving popular with many Web developers. The new licensing terms, coupled with the built-in h.264 support in Apple’s iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, could be just what the format needs to draw in even more supporters.

Comments

Khaled

Take that, google and Mozilla wink

Tiger

The gauntlet has been thrown down. Not only can it become a de facto standard, it’s totally free.

Developers will be on this like White on Rice. (yep, I’m from the South)

geoduck

So Apple and Microsoft support H.264 which is free.
Google and others support VP8 which is free.
Adobe is saying “But the web runs on Flash. It must be the best because everyone pays for it”.

Yeah, good luck with that.

Lee Dronick

My interpretation of this news is that if the H.264 video being streamed is free to the viewer then no royalty need be paid. However, if there is a fee for viewing then the royalty must be paid. I am not complaining about that, just mentioning it.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Actually geoduck, Flash player plays H.264. It’s the best codec to use for Flash right now. And, it’s part of the best way to make H.264 video available for both Chrome/Safari and IE. Use HTML5 for Chrome/Safari with a Flash backup for IE. To get Firefox in the mix, also encode in Ogg, and add that encoding option to your video tag.

You can find a sample here... Show the page source.

vasic

I would like someone to clarify this point for me now. Up until recently, Mozilla people were complaining that they simply cannot pay $5 million to MPEG-LA for licensing of H.264 codec, in order to implement rendering engine for Firefox, so that it would be supported in HTML5.

With this change, it is clear that MPEG-LA will never begin charging H.264 license from those who provide end-user content for free. Does Mozilla team need to buy the license from MPEG-LA in order to support the codec, or does this new licensing deal allow them to implement the codec in the rendering engine without paying for the license? Obviously, Mozilla is NOT charging for anything, and that includes content delivered via the rendering engine for H.264.

Any legal minds out there, familiar with the wording of this license (and its interpretation), could you please chime in?

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

From an interview with Mozilla’s VP Engineering earlier this year:

Mozilla has a number of clear and well-argued reasons for not buying the license. First, it’s very limited. Google, for instance, paid for a license that transfers to users of Chrome, but if you build Chrome from source yourself or extend the browser, the license does not apply. What’s even worse is that the license would not carry over towards, for instance, Linux distributors - not acceptable, of course, for Firefox.

“Even if we were to pay the USD 5000000 annual licensing cost for H.264, and we were to not care about the spectre of license fees for internet distribution of encoded content, or about content and tool creators, downstream projects would be no better off,” Shaver explains.

From a practical standpoint in my experience, there’s another reason why Ogg is good enough to not jump on the H.264 bandwagon. When I make training videos, I first make a full size, uncompressed movie. I then export to H.264 and Ogg. Ogg movies are typically 15% to 20% larger for comparable quality, but take less than 1/10 of the time to encode as H.264 (10 minutes vs upwards of 2 hours). So in the review process, I tend to work with Ogg and ask reviewers to view in Firefox. If Mozilla sticks to their guns and gain more market share, I could certainly see Ogg dominating user generated content for precisely that reason. The downside is that you have to scavenge for encoders. Apple certainly won’t include an Ogg codec in QuickTime, for example.

vasic

Well, I just took some time, looked up that license agreement (it’s only a few pages long), and read it carefully. I’m not a lawyer, but to me it seems that Mozilla is NOT covered by the free license. Those entities that develop and distribute encoders/decoders, whether for inclusion with an OS (via OEMs), or as separate components, or as a part of some other software package(s), must pay a license, which in Mozilla’s case would be $5 million per year.

If there are actual lawyers out there who can look at this text and confirm this interpretation, you’re welcome to respond.

MacKeeper_fan_Mod

This only applies to video which is free to end users, an important footnote.

that would not include iTunes, NetFlix, Hulu+, Amazon on Demand, etc

Choochus

To Vasic and others- Mozilla (and all other browser providers) still need to pay. Here is a
Create Digital Motion post that discusses the issue.

vasic

Mozilla people are right. The original free license term was to expire in 2014. By then, it is quite likely that H.264 may even be irrelevant.

This thing changes exactly NOTHING, and it affects NOBODY. It will only begin to affect people in 2014. At that point, the original license terms would require content providers or hosts (Vimeo, YouTube, etc) to begin paying royalties for every single free streaming video posted/viewed on their sites. With this change, it will continue to be free beyond 2014.

This was a remarkable PR coup for MPEG-LA.

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