Patent issues with automatic codec installation (was: Automatic installation of DVD CSS support)

Aaron Whitehouse lists at
Sat Dec 1 00:35:30 UTC 2007

> > I would like to draw attention to a proposal that I think is very
> > important for Ubuntu as a desktop deistribution: the possibility of
> > automatically enabling CSS decryption support for DVDs, like it is already
> > possible to retrieve support for certain audio/video endcodings automatically.

> Please read the comments in the bug you linked to for explanation as
> to why this will not happen.

As the comments in the bug state, the reason DeCSS is not included is
(I imagine) to avoid violating the DMCA.

The more that I think about the automatic codec installation of
Ubuntu, the more that I am concerned that the current approach places
the distribution in murky legal territory. Allowing (encouraging?) a
user to install patent-violating codecs may not infringe the DMCA or
copyright, but it still may not be the best idea. Think of Napster
being sued for allowing others to infringe copyright.

A large number of people respond to this by saying that they live in
Europe and that their country does not enforce software-only patents.
That doesn't matter much, considering that a patent-holder would bring
any proceedings in countries that did enforce their patents.

Fedora handles the situation with - which
allows users to purchase non-infringing codecs from Fluendo.

Perhaps a good compromise would be to default to Codec Buddy and have
a button for "Multiverse Codecs". When the user clicks the button,
they could be presented with a message *actively discouraging* them
from using the multiverse versions and highlighting that they are
likely to break the law if they do so.

In an attempt to disarm critics, I ask you to read:
"On the patent question, Fluendo's official stance is that it opposes
software patents, but that in areas where they are the law, it has no
choice but to obey the statutes. Perhaps more importantly, customers
have no choice either. Some critics of Fluendo's plugin products are
quick to point out that there are freely available, often GPLed
libraries that decode the same formats. That is, however, irrelevant:
the non-free formats are non-free not because of the license on the
source code, but because of the patents on the format.

Wherever possible, Fluendo encourages its customers to use patent-free
formats. "In GStreamer we try to make sure Ogg and Dirac support
everything that is possible to do with the non-free formats. So at the
end of the day we feel that by moving people toward Linux and now
Solaris, and to using an open source framework like GStreamer which
has top-notch support for free codecs, we do more good than evil for
the goal of removing the plight of patented codecs, even if our way of
achieving that is by offering those non-free codecs for sale."
Non-free media formats are fundamentally at odds with free software,
not because of source code licensing but because of patents. Ignoring
that fact can mean taking a serious legal risk. As Dave Neary of Wengo
so concisely expressed it on his personal blog: "People should realise
that proprietary codecs are just that -- proprietary. And if they cost
money, that's a great way to realise.""

I am in no way associated with Fluendo (except for being a participant
in the codecs beta testing). I am simply concerned that Ubuntu makes
it too easy to infringe patents.

As I raised on the mailing list and in a bug report:
users often end up infringing patents that they never even use because
the codecs are distributed in composite packages.



FSF Associate Member: 5632

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