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Re: MP3 decoder packaged with XMMS

Quite, but there is the issue of GPL section 7 making this particular library non-free. The patent licence terms for MP3 technology are very clear, even for free software decoders:

Section 7 is very clear, "if ... conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) ..." Thus, absent a court order barring a particular practice or someone agreeing to not perform a particular practice, Section 7 is not triggered.


"Q: I have my own/third party mp3 software. Do I need a license?

A: Yes. Use of our patents is not related to a specific implementation of encoders and decoders, which means that a license under our patents is needed. "

GPL section 7 refers to "any other pertinent obligations", and I'd say that for a business operating in the USA or Europe, the patent system does create very pertinent obligations.

Just because a patentee says you need a license does not either (1) make it true or (2) trigger GPL Section 7.

I think the existence of the http://mp3licensing.com/ site shows that it is actively enforced. I can think of a couple of reasons why SPI may not have had a demand for payment yet. One is that this library is well hidden in the xmms package. Another may be the perception that the Debian project doesn't have any money, so isn't worth chasing.

Another is that the patentee knows her patent would be proven invalid or not infringed in court.

When a business or other organisation wants to redistribute Debian packages, it would be useful to be able to split off the sub-packages with known patent licensing problems. At the moment Debian doesn't offer a choice about MP3 support in xmms because of the way it is bundled in. Free software alternatives to MP3 do exist, in particular Ogg Vorbis, so xmms is still a useful package without MP3 support.

I fail to see what the "patent licensing problem" to which you refer. Everyday tons of patentees go around making threats. The most I can see here is a general threat made to the entire world. I am aware of no specific allegation being made against Debian.


Daniel B. Ravicher
Legal Director
Software Freedom Law Center
1995 Broadway, 17th Fl.
New York, NY 10023
(212) 461-1902 direct
(212) 580-0800 main
(212) 580-0898 fax

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