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Re: [gNewSense-users] The mp3 issue

From: J.B. Nicholson-Owens
Subject: Re: [gNewSense-users] The mp3 issue
Date: Sat, 09 Dec 2006 10:12:47 -0600
User-agent: Thunderbird (X11/20061107)

Dean Linkous wrote:
What about the fluendo gstreamer plugin? Where does
that fall in the legal/patent/free issues?

Fluendo's MP3 software is pitched as being licensed under the MIT X11 license, but there's a second license some users have to contend with, a patent license. MP3 encoders and decoders implement patented ideas, the patent is held by Fraunhofer and licensed by a number of organizations, Thomson being one of the more famous because of their website detailing the license terms (

Like any program that implements patented ideas, Fluendo's MP3 software is non-free for me because I live in the US which has chosen to accept software patents. I cannot leverage the freedoms of free software for that program without getting a patent license from Fraunhofer/Thomson. The relevant patent licenses are carefully constructed so as to be incompatible with free software, so even if I get such a license and pass on a copy of the software's source code to someone else in the US, that program would not be free for them.

You might not have this problem because you might live in a country that doesn't allow software patents. If so, the Fluendo MP3 plugin might be free for you (it's impossible to say specifically without knowing more about where you live and what other restrictions might prevent this program from being free for you).

But it's key to remember that software freedom is defined in terms of a particular user. Free software is defined this way because the same program can be free for one person and non-free for another person.

As to distributing patent-encumbered software, I'm considering saying: try to find an alternative that is free for everyone (or even more likely to be free for significantly more people), then base the system around that. So I will distribute FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, and Speex audio files and not MP3 files because I don't want to put others in the same dilemma I'm in regarding patent-encumbered software. As a bonus, I also get to deal with codecs that are of higher quality than MP3 (as Ogg Vorbis has shown to be in every blind listening test I've seen).

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