Google admits it infringed MPEG H.264 patents

Almost three years after Google released its WebM video encoding technology as a “free” and open alternative to the existing H.264 backed by Apple and others, it has admitted its position was wrong and that it would pay to license the patents WebM infringes.

Google got away with stealing Java code, so I guess it thought why not steal some video codecs too.

  • Google gets away with stealing A LOT of stuff.

  • K. Langoso

    Well, maybe now we’ll have an end to the whole h.264/WebM HTML5 Video Tag débacle.

  • Dave Brandt

    Roughly Drafted also has some great articles about WebM and the Flash/H.264 fight. Years earlier, about the WMV vs Quicktime war & how Steve broke the back of the WMV monopoly.

  • Joe

    I don’t see anywhere where Google ‘admits’ to anything. Even MPEG LA’s press release only says it patents may cover WebM.

    • rattyuk

      Unfortunately while Google definitely did this the people actually reporting the true reason for the license is not very high. Seems like everyone is trying to cover for their Google masters.

    • They do not need to admit to anything. They “thanked” the MPEG LA for allowing them to take a H.264/AVC licencse, instead of dealing with a new VP8-Pool that was in progress, as per July 2011 there were already 12 MPEG LA members claiming patent violations in WebM/VP8.

      Being fully aware of these 12 existing claims, Google did still proceeded to pressure the W3C to accept a codec they did not own as a standard.

      A dedicated VP8 Patent Pool meant unknown pricing and unknown conditions. H.264 licensing terms were the much safer bet.

      They do not need to admit to anything. The facts are crystal clear.

  • I have no words.

  • Well look at that. I was giving Google more credit that they were due. When this WebM option was being thrown around as the obvious and “open” solution to Apple’s draconian use of an actual honest-to-Zod standard, I dismissed WebM as fringe tech that wasn’t going to go anywhere because when all you have going for you is repeating the word “open” and “free” you might as well just assume no one but neckbeards is going to care.

    It never occurred to me that Google would attempt IP theft to get their project off the ground. I guess I cut them too much slack.

  • Anonymous Non-Google Engineer

    You’ve mentioned Google stealing Java on The Loop at least twice recently, and you couldn’t be more wrong about it.

    The court case revealed that Google developed its own independent version of Java without copying any implementation code. In fact, Google’s implementation was so different that Oracle’s patent claims against it failed. This is significant because it’s very easy to violate patents without intending to do so, since patents like the ones Oracle was using to protect Java are deliberately designed to cover obvious or optimal implementation techniques so as to trip up would-be competitors, suggesting that Google was taking deliberate care to avoid doing the wrong thing.

    The jury felt only a tiny portion of Oracle’s claims had any merit, those regarding copying of public Java API (Application Programming Interface) header files. In order to be compatible, Google’s equivalent headers closely resembled those in Sun/Oracle Java. (These are the same files people who write Java application software need in order to, well, write Java application software.)

    Open-and-shut case, then? Well, no. API header files are relatively tiny and trivial pieces of the whole thing, and, more importantly, there’s usually few-to-one ways to write them if you want to be compatible with someone else’s interface. They aren’t like English-language text, where two people can write similar essays on the same topic without needing to plagiarize a single turn of phrase. This is an imperfect analogy, but they’re more like simple lists of the (very limited) vocabulary codewords which two incredibly literal people must use when speaking to each other. Get something wrong in a minor way in one side’s version of the header — even a typo — and communication will break down.

    So, the only way to write interface-compatible software (or to write application software) is to do something which looks like copyright violation of API header files. Which is why Sun had to distribute those interface header files in public in the first place, and why Apple distributes Cocoa headers, and so forth. Oracle’s case was essentially “hey, we/Sun only licensed copyright on those files to permit Java applications to be written. Using them to write a different Java implementation is Right Out”.

    But copyright law was never intended to be a bludgeon for one corporation to use to block others from independently writing competing, interface-compatible software. Originally, copyright was just a solution to the problem of “how can society incentivize the creation of more original books, now that printing presses have suddenly reduced the labor needed to make a book copy by many orders of magnitude?”. Nobody then knew that computers would someday be a thing, much less how copyright law might apply to the lists of instructions which make them do useful things.

    As judges have become more educated about software technology, many of them have been making new copyright precedent specific to it. One is that many courts now consider APIs to be uncopyrightable. Judge Alsup agreed, and ruled that even though the jury found that Google copied APIs, no damages were owed because that’s not actually copyright infringement.

    Law isn’t rigid. Old laws are adapting to the digital age, and that’s actually a good thing.

    • “You’ve mentioned Google stealing Java on The Loop at least twice recently, and you couldn’t be more wrong about it.”

      Can you imagine the hissy fit Jim would throw if some other writer repeatedly misinformed their readers about a similar situation where Apple was the one standing accused?

      Anyway it’s a shame your post will be lost buried in the comments section. It’s very well written and an excellent summary of the facts of this particular situation. Thank you for taking the time to post it.

      Back to Loop “Insight”, I used to think Daring Fireball was a pretty average site operated by a hopelessly biased Apple fanatic. But I have to say reading Jim Dalrymple’s work for a few months has made me appreciate John Gruber a whole lot more. Gruber sometimes too is guilty of simply cherry picking quotes that fit a certain narrative. But it’s obvious to me he spends a whole lot more time carefully considering what external links to share, and how to frame his points and position before posting them.

      Jim seems a lot less thoughtful and trigger happy, carelessly throwing around insults while commanding others to “stay classy”. Jim’s podcast should be called hypocritical.

    • Anonymous Troll

      So you’re saying Google made their own copy of Java without copying Java. Man, you Google fanboys are fucking insane – talk about reality distortion.

  • Lukas

    Dalrymple truly is the John C. Dvorak of the Mac community, making plainly wrong, inflammatory statements, just to get people riled up.

  • rj

    Why does the Loop persist in conflating theft and copyright infringement?

    • Lukas

      In this particular case, this isn’t even about copyright infringement. Google didn’t copy anything. MPEG LA licensed their patents to Google royalty-free. I have no clue what Jim is ranting on about.

      • rj

        My mistake, I should have said copyright/patent infringement.

        I find the Appleinsider article confusing. The headline says Google “admitted” to infringement, but the press release only says they agreed to “a license to techniques that may be essential to VP8 and earlier-generation VPx video compression technologies under patents owned by 11 patent holders”.

        That isn’t an admission of guilt. It looks like that neither side felt there was a point in wasting time and money in the courts resolving whether infringement did actually occur, and that licensing was the best resolution for both sides.