Legal Concerns about patented algorithms in multimedia packages in ubuntu

Registered by Reinhard Tartler

We need to discuss on guidelines how we want to handle packages like x264, faad and ffmpeg in ubuntu

Blueprint information

Not started
Needs approval
Series goal:
Milestone target:

Related branches



For my best understanding, patent related questions occur because some packages use patented algorithms, mostly to produce or play back various media formats. Patent owners require a royalty for using their patented algorithms. Some jurisdictions allow this, some not.
In the current situation, on demand for a media codec Ubuntu offers a suitable one to download, informs the user that it may be illegal to use that package, and asks what to do. Therefor the legal liability is pushed on the user, who, in most cases, does not know anything about the legal concerns that arise in that situation. That kind of user wants to watch a movie or encode some mp3, therefor the answer is usually YES, and the user - for example in the European Union - has just arrived to illegal territories. However, paying the patents on a global level is not possible - funding is missing.

Possible solution: it would nice to have a patent-broker service. Imagine an example scennario: the user wants to encode mp3 files. To do that legally, based on her jurisdiction, she should pay royalties for the mp3 patent owners. Ubuntu informs her about the situation, and offers an easy payment method like PayPal or other micropayment systems for the patents. Such patent fees are generally low, say, approx. 5 USD for mp3. If the user chooses to pay, a completely legal version of the lame encoder package can be automatically installed, some authentication information also submitted to the user (in case of a reinstall or such), and she can make mp3 onwards. The patent owners are happy, the user is happy (she lives in legalhood), the broker also can be happy - it is quite reasonable to ask for a small fee for the broker service. Canonical maybe? Or Canonical and others - free market?

Other scennario: the user wants to encode mpeg-II video with some modern patented codecs with kdenlive. On installing kdenlive, Ubuntu informs the user, that based on her jurisdiction, she ought to pay patent royalties for encoding some formats. A panel lists the problematic formats, and offers a selection of them. The user can select the formats she thinks will need, and pay the patent royalties through an internet payment service with her credit card. Ubuntu installs the needed libraries with the requested codecs available, others disabled. The patent-broker service pays the royalties to the patent owners, so legal questions are solved. If the user needs other patented codecs to use, she can reconfigure her video editor, and request the needed codecs.

This is something like a "free software legal advisor application" backed up with a network service. In the resulting setup, an Ubuntu user can
1. use free software (as in freedom) on patented algorithms legally
2. fine tune what she pays for.

(I wanted to propose this as a goal, but I don't have the privileges to do that. Regards: Gergely Máté.)


Work Items

Dependency tree

* Blueprints in grey have been implemented.