Software patents have almost arrived in Germany

May 20, 2010

FOSS patents reports that the German high court declares all software potentially patentable (19.05.10, fosspatents.blogspot.com)

“After a landmark court ruling, the German perspective on the validity of software patents is now closer than ever to that of the US.”

When looking at the financial situation in Europe we should ask ourselves if we can afford these dangerous kind of situations. The H.264 licensing fiasco will probably go on for a while and might cost some (Apple…?) more than they would like to.

Update 1: Bundesgerichtshof ebnet Weg für Softwarepatente and BGH-Urteil zu Softwarepatenten stößt auf viel Kritik (www.heise.de)

Now what if political instability (due to the financial situation in Europe) is the next thing…? If my to be founded company will suffer in the future thanks to this (I live in Germany) I will remember that it were Microsoft’s FAT patents that brought us to this. Will those people ever learn? Will they ever be held responsible for their greed? This is the second time within a few weeks that Microsoft’s actions/patents are potentially threatening my future as an independent artist/filmmaker (first the H.264 licensing fiasco and now this).

Update 2: The discussion on Slashdot German High Court Declares All Software Patentable (yro.slashdot.org)

Entry for this particular patent, Xa ZB 20/08 (a Siemens patent), in the End Software Patents Wiki (en.swpat.org)

The part that worries me: (from the second http://www.heise.de article above)

“So gehen sie etwa bei der “Verbesserung des Kontrastes” eines Bilds oder bei der effizienteren Aufteilung von Arbeitsspeicher durch eine auf einem Computer laufende Software von einem “technischen Effekt” aus, der schutzwürdig sein könne.”

In short this basically says that enhancing the contrast of an image might be “a technical effect” that could be patentable…

Seems like an invitation to patent trolls, maybe from the video codec department…? At least we’ll have a very public discussion about why one would (not) want to use an H.264 camera…!

From a comment on http://www.heise.de (user B-E-N):

“Er hat, was es Computersoftware betrifft, ein
Urteil im Sinne von “Alles unter der Sonne ist patentierbar”
getroffen. Damit sind wir selbstständigen Softwareentwickler und
kleinen Firmen im Abmahnland Deutschland juristisch gesehen tot,
beziehungsweise alle mit einem Bein im Knast. Der gesamte Kampf um
die Softwarepatente in Europa ging gestern für das größte und
wirtschaftlich bedeutendste Land der Union verloren.”

The user basically says that now “anything under the sun” could be patented, de facto a legal disaster for all small shops/software developers.

On a personal level this is just extremely disappointing, and having followed patent troll cases on Slashdot for the last ten years or so I now also have to consider the options of:

* leaving the country

* going back to analogue film/video

or

* changing profession and

* becoming an atheist monk in the Himalayas

Well done ladies and gentlemen from all those institutions/companies/corporations in this world that hold patents on software, well done!

You made my day.

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H.264 List of Shame: all the patent holders

May 18, 2010

The following organizations hold one or more patents in the H.264/AVC patent pool:

(Source: Wikipedia MPEG LA)

Apple Inc.
DAEWOO
Dolby Laboratories Licensing Corporation
Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute
France Télécom, société anonyme
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V.
Fujitsu Limited
Hitachi, Ltd.
Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V.
LG Electronics Inc.
Microsoft Corporation
Mitsubishi Electric Corporation
NTT docomo
Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation
Panasonic Corporation
Robert Bosch GmbH GmbH
Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
Scientific-Atlanta Vancouver Company
Sedna Patent Services, LLC
Sharp Corporation
Siemens AG
Sony Corporation
Ericsson
The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York
Toshiba Corporation
Victor Company of Japan, Limited

Further reading

Why Our Civilization’s Video Art and Culture is Threatened by the MPEG-LA

No, you can’t do that with H.264


Is H.264 a legal minefield for video pros?

Why this list…?

It’s a reminder for myself when it comes to spending money or investing in equipement. And yes, I like to share this list with everyone who cares about free artistic expression and who thinks that the moving image is too important and precious and should not be controlled by anyone and surely not by corporations or patent pools. (Software) patents are the cancer of this economy: they encourage greed, create monopolies, discourage innovation and as we are now seeing with the H.264 licensing fiasco they can seriously harm your video business, specially smaller ones.


Save free web video incl. my own movie “Vincent”: vote with your browsers (dump all your Apple/MS browsers!)

May 16, 2010

If the MPEG-LA, the patent pool behind H.264 and MPEG-2, has it their way I am an endangered species: “Vincent“, being 44 min. long would not qualify for the MPEG-LA’s “free” offer, latest after 2015 and there is no way that I (or someone else) will be paying protection money to a fucking patent pool for “Vincent”.

My work would simply not be available online any more (thanks to software patents no alternative). Welcome to the age of Corporate Fascism. It’s standing at your and my front door. But you can still act now:

* vote with your browser: since Apple and Microsoft – both H.264 patent holders – are pushing for H.264 as the future web standard for video: simply dump your Apple/MS browsers now and use Firefox, Chrome or Opera. If not: you might be paying for the rest of your life with more ads (yes, H.264 is “free” for the end user…).

* let others know what is at stake here: those people would like to/are about to establish a MONOPOLY ON THE MOVING IMAGE (lock-in via video codec) – a pretty scary systemic change:

Why Our Civilization’s Video Art and Culture is Threatened by the MPEG-LA

And for all my younger – and not so young – readers: if this was a Harry Potter movie Dumbledore would say:

“Dark times lay ahead, Harry. Soon we’ll all have to choose between what is right — and what is easy.”


H.264 may You find the grace to give me my daily fix of decoding today

May 10, 2010

Hail to our new Overlord,

The One and only,

Owner of all legal moving pictures compression algorithms of this world,

Great conqueror of Theora, Dirac and all the other “open source” algorithms,

Master of all moving pictures distribution channels that legally exist:

May You find the grace to give me my daily fix of de/en-coding today.

Hail to MPEG LA!

Hail! Hail! Hail!


H.264 licensing explained: it’s like “Schwarzer Peter” (“Old Maid”)

May 6, 2010

H.264 = last one pays (= gets the looser card)

As explained on engadget:

“…the person who sells the encoder and the person who sells the content are the ones who have to pay.”

So this here (also quoted from engadget) is *not* good:

“Yes, but it’s not as bad as it seems. First off, we’ve directly asked MPEG-LA whether or not using an H.264 camera simply to shoot video for a commercial purpose requires a license, and the answer is no.”

They are lawyers! R-e-f-r-a-s-e your question…!!!

“We’ve also asked whether an end user watching H.264 videos would ever have to pay or be licensed, and the answer to that question is also no. Yes, the license terms are worded poorly, but those are the answers straight from the patent horse’s mouth. Everyone can breathe again, ‘kay?”

Someone down the line will have to pay: “…the person who sells the content are the ones who have to pay”.

And what do you think will hold up in court? The written agreement you bought with the camera or what a clever lawyer says who obviously was sent to this H.264 PR event…? Those a l-a-w-y-e-r-s!!! Make them sign their own statements and be very careful with your wording…!!!

H.264 based video business = lock-in as soon as you push that record button

So if you are having a video business licensing fees for your H.264 recorded footage will be due down the line!

Basically your business will be *disadvantaged* over the business that avoids the H.264 lock-in!

H.264 licensing = the last one in the distribution chain pays, he gets the “Schwarzer Peter” (= the looser card – an old children’s card game here in Europe).

So what are my clients going to say when I sell them footage that they will need to pay licensing fees for…?! My guess is the bill will land on my table, at least it will weaken my position when it comes to selling/licensing my own video clip/3D footage!

I’m not so stupid and will build my business upon that model, pass on the “Schwarzer Peter” card (= looser card) to my clients!

As a film and video maker I like to 100% own my work.

What a lock-in business model it is that Apple, MS, the MPEG LA and all those companies that hold H.264 patents have built!

H.264 is the appropriation of your work from the moment you press that record button on your H.264 camera.

Why on earth is this legal? I can see the word m-o-n-o-p-o-l-y written all over this, specially when thinking of Steve Jobs/Apple (quoted from Open Letter to Steve Jobs): “All video codecs are covered by patents. A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other “open source” codecs now.”

I guess it comes down to this:

All video codecs are equal, but some codecs are more equal than others.

Hello FCC…, hello EU commission…, hello consumer rights advocates…, hello film and video makers of this world:

This is our wake-up call…!!!


H.264 and The Tunnel of Babel

May 5, 2010

It’s (almost) free, use it…!!! *)

Every time I read a longer document or blog entry about H.264 licensing (www.engadget.com) my head starts spinning, every article that tries to explain H.264 gets complicated when it comes to the dreaded fine print of what you may or not may do…

And that’s the point, you see!

It’s the same trick as used on your average (mobile) phone/flat rate ad in the streets:

“It’s (almost) free to use, anywhere, anytime. Try it…!!! *)”

*) The fine print: It may cost you dearly.

The MPEG LA says they are “The Standard for Standards”. (How exclusive, almost noble that sounds…!) And to achieve that they have dug both very deep and wide and built something…

At least that’s how I think I dreamed it last night…

The Tunnel Of Babel

Here I was. A dark entrance. There was a sign but I did not have to read it, I knew that this was the entrance to

The Tunnel Of Babel

I hesitated. While being a film maker and looking for a good moving pictures (post) production infrastructure I knew what the deal was… By entering The Tunnel Of Babel you accept a set of rules:

1) Every motion pictures compression algorithm belongs to the Authorities Of The Tunnel Of Babel

2) No other motion pictures compression algorithm may exist outside The Tunnel Of Babel

3) Every time you use one of The Tunnel Of Babel’s Almighty Algorithms (known as TBAAs or ToBAAs), in particular the TBAA know as i.OU (sometimes also spelled i.Ou) you may – or may not – need to pay licensing fees. But no need to worry…! The Authorities Of The Tunnel Of Babel will let you know the moment your fees are due.

4) *New!* For distribution via the Intertubes there is now a special offer: for non-commercial use it’s free!!! *)

*) At least until 2015…!

Before I could decide not to enter The Tunnel Of Babel I woke up and realised that this was only a bad dream…

But then I looked around and saw my new Samsung WB1000 camera next to my bed and started thinking about that footage that I shot in the last couple of weeks, the footage that I now possibly can’t use commercially because it’s H.264 tainted (= possible licensing fees down the road) from the moment I pressed that record button.

Looking at the headlines on news.bbc.co.uk I was reminded of the financial situation in Europe…

What if one day I wake up living in a country that is (no more) an EU member and respects software patents…? Update 21.05.10: The EU is still standing, but software patents may be on the way to Germany

And thinking of my camera:

Could I shoot footage with that camera in a country that respects software patents and still 100% own my H.264 footage…?

Could I use H.264 recorded footage coming from a country that respects software patents…?

What about selling my footage to a country that respects software patents…?

Could I sell my camera on eBay to an American an s/he use it commercially…?! (Or is this where ACTA might come in one day, restrictions like the region code system on DVDs but for all sorts of goods…?!)

What about transcoding to an open format for editing? Where is the free, worldwide legal to use de-coder from the MPEG LA for H.264 to PNG etc. for H.264 camera owners in order to legally escape the lock-in…? Should that not be mandatory, an open-source app for all operating systems, available as a download from the MPEG LA’s site…?!

I realised I was daydreaming already and quickly got up.

And while drinking my coffee I started thinking about all the options I now still have when it comes filmmaking and staying 100% independent.


Who owns your H.264 footage…?

May 2, 2010

For the last couple of days I already had a bad feeling about my new camera that does 1280×720 H.264 encoded video @ 30 fps – I was thinking about patents, H.264 while shooting footage that I was planning to use for a (possible commercial) project…

This here is an eye opener and will make you think twice about ever wanting to use H.264 again, anywhere in the production or post-production process:

Why Our Civilization’s Video Art and Culture is Threatened by the MPEG-LA (www.osnews.com)

You may not know it, but one day you might find out, that you’ll have to pay licensing fees for your own (H.264 recorded) footage that you shot with the camera that you bought with your own money!

Some business models, as it seems, are more successful than others – and there is one for the music, one for moving images (lock-in via codec) and another one on top of that, just to make sure that it all works out:

RIAA – MPEG LA – ACTA

Do you own your own footage…?


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