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Tue Aug 30 17:20:58 CDT 2005

Tumultuous Response to Alleged Change in MP3 Licensing Conditions

Ever since the early morning heise online has been receiving a swelling
stream of disapproving comment on alleged changes to MP3 licenses:
According to a posting at Slashdot[1] Thomson Multimedia, the exclusive
licensor of MP3, is said to have erased a passage from its licensing
conditions according to which no licensing fees were due for
free MP3 decoders.      

 In doing so the company was said to be referring to the official table
fees[2], according to which a fee of 75 US cents per MP3 decoder or a
one-off payment of 60,000 US dollars (for patent and software; 50,000 US
dollars for the patent only) was due. As a matter of fact this rule has
been in force for about eighteen months now[3]. At that time not only
the web design of modified, in the course of the
of the then new MP3Pro the licensing conditions were also adjusted.
decisive passage was also scrapped at that time: "No license fee is
expected for desktop software mp3 decoders/players that are distributed
free-of-charge via the Internet for personal use of end-users".

By inquiring with the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits
and MP3Pro developer Coding Technologies[5] heise online was able to
the existence of this link -- the tumult has hence been pretty late in
coming. Given that Thomson Multimedia has since then not taken any legal
steps against developers or distributors of non-commercial MP3 decoders,
does not appear that the future of free MP3 decoders is in jeopardy.

As it is, for Thomson to take drastic legal measures in this matter
not make much sense: There is not much money to be had from freeware and
open source developers who have created their own MP3 decoders. This is
probably the reason why the licensor has refrained to date from taking
appropriate steps. 

The situation appears to be different with regard to encoders for the
creation of MP3 files, however: As a rule in these cases the Fraunhofer
Institute as well as Thomson insist that the licensing conditions be
an open source packet called lame does, however, exist (whether, in the
event, its self-referential Gödelian acronym reading LAME Ain't a Mp3
Encoder has enough protective charm is a moot point).

It is also not to be feared that such popular players as Winamp or the
Musicmatch Jukebox will in future be distributed free-of-charge only
without an MP3 decoder: Nullsoft as well as Musicmatch are among the
official licensees of MP3(Pro), in the case of Musicmatch this statement
also applies to its integrated encoder.

Whatever the merits, if any, of the changes in licensing conditions, Mr.
Emmett Plant, CEO by profession of Foundation has expressed his
considerable delight at the turn of events. In an open letter[6] he
Thomson Multimedia. "Thank you for the huge amount of free advertising
our benefit created by your announcement that licensing conditions had
changed," Mr. Plant wrote. The letter closes with: "We support all
on the part of Thomson that make it plain that MP3 costs money. Once
thank you and good luck."

Unlike MP3, Ogg Vorbis, recently published in its version 1.0 (according
its developers' statements), is free of patent protection and subject to
the GNU Public License; hence, even in future no license fees of any
would be due for this compression process. It is not a good idea as yet
rely exclusively on Ogg Vorbis, however: Even if Ogg Vorbis manages to
close the quality gap between it and MP3 or even manages to get ahead of
the latter, it will still take some time before Ogg-capable portable
players make their appearance as hardware. (Robert W. Smith) /

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Copyright 2002 by Verlag Heinz Heise

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