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MP3 decoder packaged with XMMS


My company is creating a distribution based on Debian 
( http://64studio.com ) and one of the packages we wanted to include 
was xmms.  However, the Debian package of xmms includes the mpg123 
library bundled as a plugin.



The derived Ubuntu package contains the libmpg123.so library, so this 
issue is also relevant to Canonical:

It probably applies to other Debian-based distributions too. Neither 
Red Hat nor SuSE ship this library because the MP3 format is 
proprietary, and decoders attract a patent licence fee of US$ 0.75 
per unit shipped:


There is an annual minimum royalty of US$ 15,000 per calendar year. 

I believe the mpg123 library was re-licenced to GPL so that it could 
be included in Debian. However, the GPL specifically covers the case 
of patent licences in section 7:

"If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your 
obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, 
then as a consequence you may not distribute the Program at all. For 
example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free 
redistribution of the Program by all those who receive copies 
directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could 
satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from 
distribution of the Program."

On mp3licensing.com I see no exception allowed for not-for-profit 
organisations such as SPI, and companies redistributing Debian 
packages, such as Canonical or my own, could certainly fall within 
the scope of the patent licence. They may be unintentionally 
violating the GPL too.

As a short-term measure, I suggest that the xmms package in Debian is 
split into xmms and xmms-mpg123 with the latter package moving to 
non-free. I have cc'd the maintainers of the xmms package in Debian.

I'd be very interested to hear the opinions of debian-legal, the 
FSF/SFLC and Canonical on this issue.

Daniel James

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