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Re: MP3 decoder packaged with XMMS

On Mon, Jul 18, 2005 at 09:27:55AM +0100, Daniel James wrote:
> Hi Steve,

> > We're certainly all well aware of the patents that are being
> > enforced against mp3 encoders, and Debian does not ship any mp3
> > encoders.

> So it's OK for Debian users to 'consume content' in MP3 format but 
> they can't make and distribute their own music in the same format? 
> It's not really in the spirit of free software, particularly if you 
> consider that an encoder is to an internet-using musician what a 
> compiler is a to developer.   

But that's hardly an argument grounded in concerns of legality, now is it?
We seem to have wandered far astray from your original concern -- and far
away from the topic of this list.

In any case, I don't think denying our users access to files they have every
legal right to use is an appropriate way to try to kill off the mp3 format.
Even if it were, would you really have us do so by treating unsubstantiated
patent claims about mp3 decoding as if they were valid?  This would mean not
only that Debian wouldn't support mp3 players, but also that we wouldn't
support mp3 *converters* for extracting legacy data.  Is that really helping

> > I'm actually not aware of *any* C&D's over mp3
> > decoding/playing that have actually stuck

> That's because it doesn't suit the patent holder's agenda to clamp 
> down on the non-commercial distribution of decoders. It's more 
> important to them that MP3 remains the de-facto standard among end 
> users than that every single user pays up - and they know chasing 
> Debian for payment probably won't be cost effective.

Are you speculating, or do you have oracular insight into the validity of
the respective patents that the rest of us lack?

I share your suspicions regarding the patent holders' motivations, but this
explanation is plausible whether or not the patents themselves are valid, so
offers no guidance to us.

> > the absence of some concrete support for the claim 
> > that mp3 *players* are patent-encumbered.

> I think Debian is in denial here.

And I think you're engaging in FUD.

> The claim comes from exactly the same patent holders that you have removed
> encoders to satisfy. They don't make the distinction between encoders and
> decoders you have, and "we've got away with it until now" is not a great
> legal defence.

The fact of the matter is that encoding and decoding are two *very*
different operations, and if the same patent holders do have patents
covering both, they are most likely separate patents.  Moreover, encoding is
invariably a more complex process than decoding, and consequently lends
itself much better to patent protection in general.

You simply haven't presented any evidence that the mp3 decoders Debian ships
infringe valid, enforceable patents.  Debian's standard for handling patent
infringement claims is a quite reasonable one, and it has served us just
fine for years.  We're not about to start rolling over every time someone,
somewhere, makes a vague claim that some bit of software we distribute
infringes an unspecified patent -- we'd have no software left to distribute
by the time we were done.

> What if a commercial distributor of Debian code gets sued, then drags 
> Debian and SPI into the case?  

I'm not used to thinking of Debian's redistributors as being under the
control of rat bastards of such caliber.  I suppose it's possible, and I
suppose that if such a thing came to pass, we would need to take steps to
ensure they didn't redistribute Debian in the future.

Steve Langasek
postmodern programmer

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