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Re: MP3 decoder packaged with XMMS

On Mon, Jul 11, 2005 at 01:32:21PM +0100, Daniel James wrote:
> Hi Steve,

> > patent-encumbered works cause problems whether they're shipped in
> > non-free or in main.

> 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:

> http://mp3licensing.com/help/developer.html#5

These license terms are only an issue if we recognize the validity of the
patent.  An *issued* patent is not the same thing as a *valid* patent; and
in practice, the distinction between the two is, for us, whether or not the
patent is being enforced, since we don't have the money to fight a patent
that's being enforced even if it is invalid.  It's a pretty good heuristic
anyway, because the more someone tries to enforce an invalid patent, the
higher the risk that someone will call them on it.

> "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.

- Not for Europe, where software patents are not legal.
- In the US, GPL section 7 would render such software undistributable *if*
  the patent is recognized as valid.

> > However, the reason Debian continues to include the mp3 decoder
> > library is that this patent, like so many other software patents,
> > does not appear to be actively enforced.

> I think the existence of the http://mp3licensing.com/ site shows that 
> it is actively enforced.

I think that's a website.  Evidence of active enforcement are cease and
desist letters, out-of-court settlements, or lawsuits.  A website named
http://mp3licensing.com isn't evidence of enforcement at all, it's evidence
of propaganda.

> 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.

All of which is irrelevant speculation, really.  The standard is not that
the patent holder try to enforce it against *us*, but that we know the
patent holder is enforcing it against *anyone*.

And apt-cache search mp3 will quickly show that xmms is not the only package
in Debian with mp3 decoding support.

> 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.

When it's known to be an actual licensing problem, I'm sure Debian will
address it.

Steve Langasek
postmodern programmer

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