Friday, 3 September 2010

Open != Absolutely free

The organisation who handle licensing for MPEG, MPEG-LA, have announced that they will not charge royalties on using MPEG4 encoders ever. This is an extension of their earlier stance which had a time limit.

I think this is very good news, but my somewhat vocal encouragement of MPEG-LA in this direction (through BIMA) did surprise some people. One very senior person in the MPEG fraternity thought I believed that the owners of MPEG shouldn't receive recompense for their efforts. But this misinterprets my perspective, which I see in the larger context of the value chain for creative tools of any kind.

The announcement from MPEG-LA means that you will never have to pay royalties to encode your movies using MPEG4 and put them on the internet. Anyone making an encoder or decoder will still have to do so, and presumably so will broadcasters using MPEG4 for digital TV, as does HDTV in the UK. This seems fair. I likened it to to Kodak selling me film and Nikon selling me a camera but not having any financial interest in the photographs I took. I think it goes without saying that any standard will only succeed if people use it, and being open is a big step towards that.

One current argument over the meaning of open is that between supporters of Flash and those of HTML5, which usually stems from Apple not allowing Flash on the iPhone.

The BBC's Erik Huggers recently discussed this on a blog and illustrated the BBC's support for open standards by referring to DVB, Digital Video Broadcasting, which is the specification behind digital TV. This does seem to have caused some confusion as open standards are not necessarily the same as the use of the word open when talking about software like Apache or PHP (see comment 9 on that BBC blog page). It's getting back to money again, because you probably have to pay a licence fee to use open standards like DVB, whereas you don't pay to use open source software such as Apache or PHP. The key word in the definition of open standards is actually nondiscriminatory, meaning that everyone pays (or doesn't pay) a fee on the same basis. It might not be the same fee because that might depend on the size of the organisation (for example), but anyone can join the party. It's also worth adding that in many cases (including DVB) the money from licences is used only to support the development of the standard.

So we have a triumvirate of proprietary/open standards/open source from which to choose, often for the same kind of thing and sometimes for exactly the same software. How are your companies addressing this question? Is HTML5 the new sliced bread?

No comments:

Post a Comment