[rtcweb] Current H.264 licensing practice

Florian Weimer <fw@deneb.enyo.de> Thu, 07 November 2013 19:30 UTC

Return-Path: <fw@deneb.enyo.de>
X-Original-To: rtcweb@ietfa.amsl.com
Delivered-To: rtcweb@ietfa.amsl.com
Received: from localhost (localhost []) by ietfa.amsl.com (Postfix) with ESMTP id 9CE9121E814F for <rtcweb@ietfa.amsl.com>; Thu, 7 Nov 2013 11:30:56 -0800 (PST)
X-Virus-Scanned: amavisd-new at amsl.com
X-Spam-Flag: NO
X-Spam-Score: 0.35
X-Spam-Status: No, score=0.35 tagged_above=-999 required=5 tests=[AWL=1.110, BAYES_05=-1.11, HELO_EQ_DE=0.35]
Received: from mail.ietf.org ([]) by localhost (ietfa.amsl.com []) (amavisd-new, port 10024) with ESMTP id lj11vNuWPCaU for <rtcweb@ietfa.amsl.com>; Thu, 7 Nov 2013 11:30:51 -0800 (PST)
Received: from ka.mail.enyo.de (ka.mail.enyo.de []) by ietfa.amsl.com (Postfix) with ESMTP id 001D811E826B for <rtcweb@ietf.org>; Thu, 7 Nov 2013 11:30:45 -0800 (PST)
Received: from [] (helo=deneb.enyo.de) by ka.mail.enyo.de with esmtps (TLS1.0:RSA_AES_128_CBC_SHA1:16) id 1VeVHk-0006As-2f for rtcweb@ietf.org; Thu, 07 Nov 2013 20:30:32 +0100
Received: from fw by deneb.enyo.de with local (Exim 4.80) (envelope-from <fw@deneb.enyo.de>) id 1VeVHj-0004pt-VN for rtcweb@ietf.org; Thu, 07 Nov 2013 20:30:31 +0100
From: Florian Weimer <fw@deneb.enyo.de>
To: rtcweb@ietf.org
Date: Thu, 07 Nov 2013 20:30:31 +0100
Message-ID: <87haborovc.fsf@mid.deneb.enyo.de>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Subject: [rtcweb] Current H.264 licensing practice
X-BeenThere: rtcweb@ietf.org
X-Mailman-Version: 2.1.12
Precedence: list
List-Id: Real-Time Communication in WEB-browsers working group list <rtcweb.ietf.org>
List-Unsubscribe: <https://www.ietf.org/mailman/options/rtcweb>, <mailto:rtcweb-request@ietf.org?subject=unsubscribe>
List-Archive: <http://www.ietf.org/mail-archive/web/rtcweb>
List-Post: <mailto:rtcweb@ietf.org>
List-Help: <mailto:rtcweb-request@ietf.org?subject=help>
List-Subscribe: <https://www.ietf.org/mailman/listinfo/rtcweb>, <mailto:rtcweb-request@ietf.org?subject=subscribe>
X-List-Received-Date: Thu, 07 Nov 2013 19:30:57 -0000

After reviewing the end-user patent licensing statements regarding
H.264/AVC of various products (Microsoft Windows, Adobe Flash, a Canon
camera, Skype, and some Cisco manuals), I'm puzzled what the net
effect of the Cisco licensing effort will be.

The most striking aspect of the current licensing regime is that the
existing platform codecs are exclusively licensed for "personal,
non-commercial activity".  As far as I can tell, this means that I
cannot use these codecs to develop my own software and distribute it
without a separate MPEG LA license.  Furthermore, if I engage in
commercial activity involving H.264 streams (such as paid teaching or
technical support over Skype, to give an example that seems fairly
relevant to me), I need a separate license as well, even if I use
already existing software for which the vendor has acquired patent
licenses.  This even applies to professional video (conferencing)

I wonder what this means in the context of WebRTC.  Would web
application development be covered?  What about commercial use of such
web applications?  Under the existing licensing practice, the answer
appears to be that these activities need separate licenses.  To me,
that suggests that even after the Cisco effort, H.264 is still not a
replacement for a royalty-free codec.  Freedom from royalties for
browser vendors is not sufficient if (web) application developers and
end users do not benefit.

(I know that the concrete licensing terms are not published yet, but I
find it rather unlikely that Cisco has negotiated a better deal for
the non-paying general public than for its own paying customers.)