☞ Governments Protecting Outdated Business Models

  • Good pointer here by Glyn to an action we can take to check the effects of pro-patent lobbying in Europe. He misses a trick when he doesn’t point out that even RF licensing of patents in standards can be toxic to open source.

    If the patent holder uses a non-royalty-based restriction – such as the requirement that all legal entities must register for a no-charge license – the lack of a single legal entity to take that action for many open source communities makes it a show-stopper. Worse, if any license so obtained is non-sub-licensable then even the existence of a legal entity would still mean an insurmountable practical barrier existed for the project. Any implicit requirement that the license was necessary would also breach the terms of the license for many projects.

    In summary: RF is only of if it means “restriction-free”, not “royalty-free”.

  • Shameful action by the European Commission, who are pressing for patent infringement to be included in the scope of ACTA.
  • If Ruby on Rails is a bit ambitious for you, why not build your next project in Cobol on Cogs?

☏ URGENT: Has Your MEP Signed The ACTA Written Declaration?

Geeks Vote Too logoHere is a list of MEPs for UK constituencies. As of now, none of these MEPs has signed the Written Declaration on ACTA.It’s entirely possible one of them is representing you – or rather, failing to do so.

Since we now only need nine more signatures in the next two days to enact this Written Declaration (which is not extreme – it makes very reasonable statements about the European Parliament’s attitude towards ACTA), you can make a real difference by calling your MEP or if you prefer using WriteToThem, and asking them to sign the Declaration so that the attempt at an end-run round democracy is rejected by the Parliament. You might want to say something like:

As a constituent I am worried that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement that’s being secretly negotiated internationally may well use a treaty to impose terms that have neither been discussed nor agreed by you in the European Parliament. Please will you sign Written Declaration 12/2010 right away (before it expires on Wednesday night) so that the Commission knows that the Parliament will not accept a fait accomplis?

The following had NOT signed at 11pm UK time on Monday:

  • William (The Earl of) DARTMOUTH
  • John Stuart AGNEW
  • Richard ASHWORTH
  • Gerard BATTEN
  • Godfrey BLOOM
  • Sharon BOWLES
  • Philip BRADBOURN
  • John BUFTON
  • Martin CALLANAN
  • Michael CASHMAN
  • Derek Roland CLARK
  • Trevor COLMAN
  • Nirj DEVA
  • Diane DODDS
  • James ELLES
  • Nigel FARAGE
  • Vicky FORD
  • Ashley FOX
  • Julie GIRLING
  • Daniel HANNAN
  • Richard HOWITT
  • Stephen HUGHES
  • Syed KAMALL
  • Sajjad KARIM
  • Timothy KIRKHOPE
  • Elizabeth LYNNE
  • David MARTIN
  • Linda McAVAN
  • Arlene McCARTHY
  • Emma McCLARKIN
  • Claude MORAES
  • Paul NUTTALL
  • Brian SIMPSON
  • Peter SKINNER
  • Struan STEVENSON
  • Catherine STIHLER
  • Charles TANNOCK
  • Geoffrey VAN ORDEN
  • Derek VAUGHAN
  • Glenis WILLMOTT

If you can’t remember who your MEPs are, open WriteToThem in a new tab or window, enter your postcode and check down the list. If you’re in Europe but outside the UK, the list on Quadrature can be sorted by country for you to check.

☞ Innovation, and how to prevent it

  • The trend for VC-free startups is strong, and Dale’s article makes for interesting reading. ForgeRock is another example of a VC-free startup, and I’d say we fit Dale’s profile pretty well. This is not to say we will never seek investment now we’re bootstrapped, of course, but the idea of a VC-funded company aiming solely at an exit to recoup the initial investment was one we all disliked.
  • Well worth taking the time to read this story of the attempt by Thomas Edison to take control of the nascent movie industry using patent suits, an industry association as a heavy-handed enforcer and then a patent pool as the weapon against any company daring to innovate or meet actual customer demand.

    Yes, there is nothing new in the actions of Paul Allen, the RIAA and BSA or of MPEG-LA, it’s all been done before. Reading this really leaves me wondering why massive patent and copyright reform haven’t both happened already.

☞ Modern

  • This free sampler album (only downloadable by people with US Amazon.Com accounts) has some great electronic/dance tracks on it, especially the ones from Late Night Alumni and Kaskade.
  • “The problem with these sorts of lawsuits is that they have become just part of doing business in the world of technology. They don’t hurt big companies, but they make it harder for smaller ones to innovate without fear of running headlong into a lawsuit that will burn through startup capital. And they’ll continue to be a drain on the technology industry’s ability to innovate until someone manages to ban software patents and put their protection under copyright where it belongs.”
  • It’s just possible this is the most important step towards middle east peace we have yet seen.

☞ Webmink’s Law of Preservation of Win

  • I coined a new (tongue-in-cheek) law yesterday – “For every epic fail there is an equal and opposite epic win” – and this could well be an instance of it. A clever and keen bunch of people are being liberated from the expectation someone else is going to do the job and motivated to establish a fully open, fully Free Unix kernel in the Illumos project. I’m now on the look-out for the counterbalancing “win” for some other “fail”…
    So, I don’t think so. But it does liberate Illumos.


  • It appears that Apple are happy to play open but Facebook aren’t quite so keen to join in. That’s the deal with “open” – it cuts both ways.
  • Another member of the Sun diaspora, with a very worthwhile idea.

⚐ Gosling Webcast

Duke, the Java Mascot, in the waving pose. Duk...

Image via Wikipedia

Next week JavaZone, the conference that brought you Lady Java and Java Forever will be held in Norway. To celebrate the opening of the new ForgeRock Norway office, we’ve arranged for a party just before the conference starts, on Tuesday evening. If you are in Oslo and would like to attend, please send an RSVP to the address on the web site.

As part of that, James Gosling and I will be “beaming in” via webcast to give short talks and maybe even answer a few questions. If you’d like to join the webcast (using DimDim), please register on our website.

★ H.264 Is Not The Sort Of Free That Matters

Mushroom forestAt the end of last week, the MPEG-LA consortium announced they were extending the arrangement whereby they allow ‘web uses’ of the patents reading on the H.264 standard that they administer for their members to be licensed without charge. The arrangement, which runs in five-year periods, has now been extended to the expiration of the patents in the pool.

At first sight, this sounds great. Headlines have popped up all over the place which might lead one to believe that everything is now fine in the area of video streaming on the internet and we can all proceed without fear of having video taxed. But I’d suggest leaving the champagne corked for now.

Unpacking The News

The statement actually takes a lot of unpacking, probably intentionally so. H.264 is the widely-used “MP4” video format created many years ago by the Motion Picture Experts Group, MPEG. Those “experts” were mostly associated with various corporations and research labs, and the international standard they created was heavily encumbered with patents.

Realising that no-one much would use the standard if each user had to go negotiate patent licensing terms with a large number of separate parties, the patent-holders wisely decided to get together outside the scope of MPEG and create the “MPEG Licensing Authority”, MPEG-LA.

Despite the name, MPEG-LA is nothing to do with the standards group itself. It’s a for-profit company devoted to making the patent problem worse in the name of making it “easier to handle” by creating patent pools for all sorts of other technology areas, beyond the media formats they already police. Go looking for the exact terms under which they are offering “free use” in this case and you’ll find they are not keen for you to know. The best available are summaries that are sketchy about the exact definitions of terms.

They had indeed in February decided to waive licensing charges for what they describe as “where remuneration is from other sources” than direct payment by the viewer to the broadcaster. Their original commitment was to leave such uses untaxed until 2015 and thenceforth to tax at a rate no greater than on-demand internet TV viewing. Their announcement last week commits to never charge under these circumstances.

Chain Of Taxes

Their use of language helps us understand what’s really happening, though. For H.264 video to reach your browser, there is a chain of events that has to happen, and MPEG-LA is taxing every one of them apart from, now, the last.

First, the H.264-format video needs to be created – but that isn’t free under this move. Then it needs to be served up for streaming – but that isn’t free under this move. There then needs to be support for decoding it in your browser – but adding that isn’t free under this move. Finally it needs to be displayed on your screen.

The only part of this sequence being left untaxed is the final one. Importantly, they are not offering to leave the addition of support for H.264 decoding in your browser untaxed. In particular, this means the Mozilla Foundation would have to pay to include the technology in Firefox.

If they could do that. But they would not be able to do so, since the software they create is open source and thus needs to be able to be freely used by others, as a whole or as a kit of parts, without any restrictions. A license bought from MPEG-LA would not be “sublicensable”, meaning they could not gain the right for any arbitrary open source community member to do the same as Mozilla was allowed with H.264. Consequently they are unable to benefit in any way from this apparently generous action by MPEG-LA.

Why Now?

Why are MPEG-LA taking this action now? They wouldn’t say clearly when they were asked, so we’re left to guess. It seems likely that it’s an action induced by Google’s WebM CODEC. At a minimum, MPEG-LA owes to its members a duty to maintain the commercial competitiveness of H.264 over WebM.

But there may be more to it than that. When WebM was announced, MPEG-LA made predatory noises and tried their best to instill fear, uncertainty and doubt in the market through veiled threats of patent litigation against Google and WebM. It may be they are getting ready to launch that attack, seeing this as the ideal moment for the opening of a third front of patent litigation against Google after Oracle and Paul Allen have started the war.

Whether or not that “Axis” forms, the news is nowhere near as good as other commentators would have us believe. The future of the web and of web video depends on open source software, and H.264 remains unusable in open source because of patent threats. MPEG-LA’s apparently magnanimous gesture offers as little to open source as their original tactical move.

Given the tendency for commentators to stick to directly-causal explanations, they seem to be getting away with it despite the fact it really changes nothing with respect to modern adoption of H.264. We should not be affording them so much credit for it.

[First published on ComputerWorldUK]

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