MPEG LA, the group who who licenses the h.264 video codec, has extended its royalty-free use (for free internet video) from 2016 until, well, forever. But Mozilla thinks that the better part of forever could belong to Google’s WebM format.
The announcement serves as MPEG LA’s not-so-indirect response to Google’s announcement of their own WebM format in May. You’d think that this news might persuade Mozilla to just go ahead and jump on board the good ship h.264 – one of their chief objections was that we’d wake up one day and the propriety standard wouldn’t be free anymore – but according to Mozilla’s vice president of engineering, Mike Shaver, this doesn’t change diddly:
The MPEG-LA announcement doesn’t change anything for the next four years, since this promise was already made through 2014…Given that IEC [International Electrotechnical Commission]has already started accepting submissions for patents in the replacement H.265 standard, and the rise of unencumbered formats like WebM, it is not clear if H.264 will still be relevant in 2014.
Update: Peter Kirn at Create Digital Motion points out that “free forever” is not necessarily that:
The “free” applies to end user, free, “broadcast” Internet video. It doesn’t apply to the tools you use even to view that video – including Firefox.
…That means if you’re making, say, a truly free and open source Web browser like Firefox, you can’t distribute H.264 support without paying millions for a license or breaking the law. Giants like Apple and Google and Microsoft pay anyway, so it’s not an issue for them. But it is an issue for free software developers.