US DOJ investigates MPEG LA over claims of stifling Google’s VP8 video codec

“The Justice Department is investigating whether a group representing some top technology firms is unfairly trying to smother a free rival technology for delivering online video that is backed by Google Inc., according to people familiar with the matter,” Thomas Catan reports for The Wall Street Journal. “Currently, video-streaming services like Netflix Inc. and Google’s YouTube pay patent royalties, as do makers of Blu-ray disc players and other hardware.”

“These firms pay royalties to an organization called MPEG LA, which is the target of the formal antitrust probe, the people familiar with the matter said,” Catan reports. “MPEG has amassed pools of patents covering widely used video formats and collects royalties for its members, which include Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp.”

“Antitrust enforcers are investigating whether MPEG LA, or its members, are trying to cripple an alternative format called VP8 that Google released last year—by creating legal uncertainty over whether users might violate patents by employing that technology, these people added,” Catan reports. “The probe, which pits Google and open-source software advocates against some technology giants like Apple, could help determine whether anyone will own rights over the creation and broadcast of online video in the next major Web programming language, called HTML 5.”

Catan writes, “At present, no patent royalties are charged for using Google’s VP8 format. But MPEG LA has questioned that status, and last month issued a call for companies to submit patents they believe may be infringed by VP8. ‘I can tell you: VP8 is not patent-free,’ Mr. Horn said. ‘It’s simply nonsense.’ The threat of future lawsuits has helped persuade some companies to forsake VP8. Apple’s chief executive, Steve Jobs, explained in an email to the Free Software Foundation last year that a patent pool was assembled to ‘go after’ a previous open-source format. ‘All video codecs are covered by patents,’ Mr. Jobs wrote. ‘Unfortunately, just because something is open-source, it doesn’t mean or guarantee that it doesn’t infringe on others patents.'”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]

40 Comments

  1. Sounds familiar. Remember an investigation into Apple over poor Adobe not being allowed to not play by Apple’s rules? Or calls for investigations into the iTunes monopoly? Anyone can petition the government to investigate cases of wrongdoing and such persons or organizations are well within their right to do so.

    Doesn’t mean there is anything there.

  2. So MPEG-LA is stifling VP8 by “creating legal uncertainty over whether users might violate patents by employing that technology”?

    Sort of like how Google has been “creating legal uncertainty” regarding the use of H.264 and “stifling” the transition of HTML5 video?

    Nevermind that VP8 is technically inferior to H.264. Maybe the DOJ asshats might want to look at that as why it’s not being adopted. It’s stifling itself.

    1. Nor have they prosecuted a single company/executive involved in the financial meltdown. Poor Bernie just didn’t have a venerable legal department to scare away the DOJ.

      Where’s Jib Jab on this topic?

      1. At the risk of looking hypocritical of my own words: you have to do something illegal for the DOJ to do something. Running a ponzi scheme is illegal (unless you’re the government of course, because that’s all Social Security is), but making bad investments is, or at least wasn’t, illegal, so there’s nothing to prosecute.

    2. Now why do you have to go and start stuff? I don’t mind when the discussions get political, but you’re not asking for a discussion, you’re inciting a flame war. Go away.

  3. Submarine patents, whose interests are protected by greedy lawyers who will surface once the codec is ubiquitous and Google is the enabler, the big doofus enabler who is trying to avoid paying any royalties whatsoever, by being first to establish VP8 as the video standard for HTML5.

    Where did VP8 come from and who created it? If it was a collective effort, then that should be disclosed before anyone decides to adopt it. Instead Google is attempting to hide all of the interested parties by claiming it an open-sourced project.

    There is no free lunch!

    1. It wasn’t developed collectively; Google bought and paid for it when they purchased On2 Technologies. In other words, this “standard” was developed in a black box by a for-profit company before being foisted upon the net as an “open” standard.

      1. Oh yeah, like when EBay bought Skype and it wasn’t disclosed until after the deal was signed that, EBay did not hold exclusive rights to the telephony patents? The creators of Skype kept those to themselves.

  4. It sounds like some serious “justice” is about to be served :/

    let’s get this strait once and for all:
    OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE LISCENCED UNDER THE GPL RARLY DOES ANYTHING GRATE!!
    it’s just plain hard to legally do cool stuff with it, sorry put it under a license that’s usable like bsd.
    (I don’t know what license vp8 is under by the way)
    and why is it suddenly injustice to have competition hmm?

      1. I would like to point out that the only os aspell is shipped with is linux (which is used by how many people?), if it were included with any other oses, those would have to be liscenced under the gpl, which is retarded so people don’t use it.
        and I don’t think it would do /any/ better then my
        closed source
        proprietary
        built in
        cocoa spell check
        and aspell is a /command line tool/ with no gui
        while the built in cocoa spell check is just a click away

        1. “I would like to point out that the only os aspell is shipped with is linux (which is used by how many people?),”

          I would like to point out that lots of people use Linux. This very website runs on Linux.

          “if it were included with any other oses, those would have to be liscenced under the gpl, which is retarded so people don’t use it.”

          GCC is is licenced under the GPL. You may find this page from Apple to be instructive:

          http://developer.apple.com/tools/gcc_overview.html

          Samba is licenced under the GPL. Apples ships samba with OS X:

          http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/unix_open_source/samba.html
          http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1568

          I suppose this means you think that Apple is “retarded”.

          1. “I would like to point out that lots of people use Linux. This very website runs on Linux.”
            last I checked, this website, in fact runs on MacOS 10 (BSD license o_0). I don’t know if they changed that during the recent changes but I doubt that.

            “GCC is is licenced under the GPL. You may find this page from Apple to be instructive:”
            odd if gcc were so great, then how come apple went through all the trouble to write there own c compiler (clang (again BSD license o_0))
            “Samba is licenced under the GPL. Apples ships samba with OS X…”
            probably because (other then talking with M$ win machines smb is pretty useless and apple didn’t want to put much work into so they just used samba
            yes this is one place were GPL makes sense

            “I suppose this means you think that Apple is ‘retarded’.”
            if you /read/ my post you’ll notice I said “…GPL, which is retarded…”
            not “…people who use GPL software, who are retarded…”

            I’m not against open source software (software who’s authors decided to release the source code) , I love it.
            And the GPL was good intentioned, but unfortunately does much more harm then good, that’s why I’m against it.

            1. “last I checked, this website, in fact runs on MacOS 10 (BSD license o_0). I don’t know if they changed that during the recent changes but I doubt that.”

              You should check again. Your doubts are unfounded.

              “if you /read/ my post you’ll notice I said”

              Okay, let’s read it: “so people don’t use it.” Apple has used GPL software and does use GPL software, as you have now admitted. Do you have any more wrongness available? I don’t mind putting it right.

  5. Let’s remember the core issue: possible patent infringement by VP8. How can the DOJ provide protection to a thief just because the victim is trying to get their property back? The only issue that needs to be decided is whether VP8 infringes on H.264 or any other patents. That’s a US PTO decision. The DOJ needs to shut up.

  6. This is basically a “put up or shut up” investigation request. VP8 is out there and in use. If it violates patents, MPEG LA can sue, ask for an injunction, then take the matter to conclusion. If they win, VP8 would be effectively shut down because no business entity would go near it.

    Instead, MPEG LA is trying to get the advantages of winning patent suit without ever filing one–“Use VP8 and we’ll suuuuuuuuuuuuuu you!” There would be only two reasons for MPEG LA to have not filed suit already—either their case isn’t is strong as they want people to think it is, or they want google out there investing in expanding onlilne video so MPEG LA can then get the proceeds of that investment as part of a later suit. Neither reason is terribly proper.

    1. mpeg-la isn’t threatening Google with a suit, they’re asking google to disclose all parties who have a financial interest in VP8, besides google.

      There is a 3rd possibility, mpeg-la has already reverse-engineered VP8 and found something peculiar about the product.

      1. “There is a 3rd possibility, mpeg-la has already reverse-engineered VP8 and found something peculiar about the product.”

        Why would reverse engineering be required? The specification and the source code are both available at http://www.webmproject.org/

        If the MPEG LA had indeed found something then they wouldn’t need to ask anyone else for help in finding something. But that’s exactly what they’re doing:

        http://www.mpegla.com/main/pid/vp8/default.aspx

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