[rtcweb] Current H.264 licensing practice

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

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From: Florian Weimer <fw@deneb.enyo.de>
To: rtcweb@ietf.org
Date: Thu, 07 Nov 2013 20:30:31 +0100
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Subject: [rtcweb] Current H.264 licensing practice
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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)
equipment.

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.)