H.264 license issues

Google called the MPEG-LA’s bluff, and won article has one interesting point on H.264 to think about: those H.264 licenses embedded in Windows, OS X, iOS, your ‘professional’ camera, and so on, do not cover commercial use.

This means according to article that if you shoot a video with your camera in H.264, upload it to YouTube, and get some income from advertisements, you’re in violation of the H.264 license.

H.264 is heavily patented. It seems that H.264 is a legal minefield where you need be careful where to walk. You have been warned. You can’t legally view and create H.264 videos for whatever purpose you like.

That ultimately means products that come with an H.264 codec don’t also come with a license to use the codec commercially — in order to distribute H.264 content in a way that makes money, the distributor has to pay for a separate license. So products like Windows 7, Mac OS X, Final Cut Pro, Avid, and modern video cameras aren’t licensed to distribute video for commercial use — they all have fine print somewhere that says they’re for personal and non-commercial use only. It’s language that feels incredibly aggressive and broad.

It apparently conflicts with the MPEG-LA’s general position that only the final link in the chain has to pay royalties for using the H.264 encoder (the party selling or distributing the video to the end user) . There is one exception still valid for some time and works for many applications. Using H.264 to distribute free internet video to end users doesn’t cost a thing, and won’t cost anything until at least 2015. There is worry was that the MPEG-LA would lock developers into the license while it was free and then begin charging for use.


  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Mozilla Brings Native H.264 Video to Desktop Firefox

    The latest nightly builds of desktop Firefox now support the ubiquitous H.264 video and MP3 codecs. When the current Firefox Nightly arrives in final form later this year, Firefox users will no longer need the Flash plugin to play H.264 web video in Firefox.

    Firefox for Android and Firefox OS already support H.264 and MP3, but on the desktop the new H.264 support is, thus far, only available in the Windows 7 Nightly release.

    Mozilla long opposed supporting the H.264 codec because it’s patent-encumbered and requires licensing fees. For better or worse it’s also the most popular codec for HTML5 video on the web, which drove Mozilla to take the pragmatic approach and add support to Firefox. Instead of including the codec directly in Firefox, the browser will rely on OS-level tools to play H.264 video.

    Eventually all platforms except Windows XP will get OS-native codec support for H.264 video. Windows XP, which lacks OS-level tools for H.264, will continue to use the Flash plugin to play H.264 movies.

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