Google's open video proposal closes door on software freedom

Google/MPEG-LA deal showed promise, but Google's requirement for user licenses may bring a backlash

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Secondly, there's a "field of use" restriction. That means the patent grant you're getting only applies to specific uses; according to the definitions toward the end, that "means (and is limited to) encoding, decoding, transcoding, and/or playing VP8 Video." If you're writing any multipurpose code or if the way you're dealing with VP8 varies somewhat from the normal format -- perhaps you've added capabilities -- then the license doesn't apply. For open source, that chills innovation and leads to uncertainty over whether a specific program is covered.

Conflicts a-plenty

From my nonlawyer perspective, this approach seems unworkable for free and open source software. If the patent license Google is proposing for VP8 were part of an open source license, it would probably render the license in violation of the Open Source Definition. Specifically, the license appears to conflict with OSD 6 (no field-of-use restrictions), OSD 7 (no registrations), and OSD 5 (no discrimination against persons unwilling to be identified). It's arguable it also conflicts with OSD 3 since it is not sublicensable.

As a consequence, I suggest the license is flawed when considered in relation to open source projects and is likely to be negatively received by many communities that value software freedom. Doubtless a case can be made that the patent license is optional, but I suspect the community issues may remain.

Once again we're left with our fingers crossed. Google's making the right noises, but this draft agreement seems like a particularly unworkable approach for free and open source software. Its failure to allow sublicensing seems like a major flaw. Even if this doesn't result in a requirement for all end-users to sign the agreement, the discrepancies between this document and the OSD leave it disruptive to open source adoption of VP8.

The irony of this situation is Google has asserted plausibly that there's no need to have a license anyway in connection with MPEG-LA's patents. As Washington, DC, attorney David Balto recently found, patent pools like MPEG-LA offer a tool for anticompetitive behavior that deserves scrutiny. This document seems to me to be an effective outcome for those in MPEG-LA's patent-holder community who want to see VP8 disrupted. It has provoked an autoimmune response that must have Google's enemies smiling wickedly.

This article, "Google's open video proposal closes door on software freedom," was originally published at Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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