Google, Inc recently achieved something that perhaps no other company or organisation on the planet could have done – it secured an agreement from most of the major corporate owners of patents relating to digital video coding standards, which will enable developers and users to access digital video on the web without payment of patent royalties.
At least, this is what will happen if the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) takes up the opportunity that Google has created. However, Google’s recent publication of the proposed terms of a royalty-free cross-licence for implementers of it’s digital video technology has drawn predictable criticism from a number of sources, including Open Source Initiative President Simon Phipps (‘proposal closes door on software freedom’) and FOSS Patents blogger Florian Mueller (effectively accusing Google of hypocrisy and disingenuousness).
It is easy to be cynical about the motivations of a company as large and ubiquitous as Google. But it is worth having a closer look at exactly what Google has achieved here, regardless of its level of self-interest. In my opinion, the deal that Google has struck is a significant step forward for royalty-free and open standards on the internet. And while it is never going to satisfy those individuals and organisations at the more radical end of the free software and/or anti-patent movements, as a practical matter the deal will give the vast majority of internet users an assurance that there will be an open source and royalty-free video standard available for use on the World Wide Web.
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