Clash of the Bastards

MPEG-4 backers protest Microsoft license

So let's get this straight:

  • The MPEG-4 "open" "standard" (creative uses of both words) is so encumbered with patents that to use it, you have to pay 25¢ per decoder, and 25¢ per encoder, to make use of it.

  • Microsoft undercuts them by charging 10¢ per decoder, 20¢ per encoder, or 25¢ for both.

  • The MPEG-4 consortium cry foul because "the interest of consumers is best served by open standards."

This is another one of those, "who is more evil, Union Carbide or Phillip Morris" situations, isn't it?

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6 Responses:

  1. etherpunk says:

    You know, if this was Apple doing this people wouldn't call it evil.. they would just call it innovative marketing.

    The fact that Microsoft's name is attached to this situation just makes people all the more wary... maybe it will push the MPEG-4 consortium to actually do something more "standard" with their license if they want to make any sort of profit.

    • jwz says:

      You're right, nobody ever has anything bad to say about Apple's similarly predatory behavior.

      For example, the Sorensen codec for Quicktime: both Apple and Sorensen have been mutually blaming the other for there being no open version of it. Apple said "we can't release it, it's Sorensen's." Sorensen said, "we can't release it, Apple has an exclusive deal." Then Apple sues Sorensen for daring to license it to Macromedia. Yeah, Apple can do no wrong.

      I don't know which "people" you talk to who wouldn't call this behavior evil if Apple did it, but uh, maybe you should stop hanging out at Macworld or something. I don't know anybody who's that deep inside Jobs's reality distortion field.

      • jwz says:

        To spell it out, in case I wasn't clear, here's where the evil lies:

        • 1 point to Microsoft for creating a closed, patent-and/or-secret-encumbered proprietary system, and trying to ensure that everyone uses it, causing a constant flow of royalty payments and making it difficult to switch away;
        • 1 point to the MPEG consortium for same;
        • 1 point to the MPEG consortium for bastardizing the standards process by trying to get their proprietary system endorsed by a standards body;
        • 1 point to Microsoft for "software dumping" (selling below cost) just to crush the competition: a tactic they can only use due to their monopoly position's vast cash reserves.

        All of these are techniques for locking people in, rather than allowing inovation to flourish. There are no good guys here. You can take them all and make soup as far as I'm concerned.

        • baconmonkey says:

          well, MP3 is technically a proprietary standard, but it got pirated to hell. same with LZW compression in Gif files. recall the outcry when unisys decided that after allowing free use for all those years, they would suddenly start charging for it's use. But what standards these days are truly free? not that many. Jpeg and gnutella come to mind as the two most obvious free standards. isn't SSH an owned standard?

          Patents have gotten ridiculous. scam artists patent impossible products and tout the fact that it's patented as evidence of it's efficacy (hello http://www.alexchiu.com ). "Using a laser pointer to exercize a cat" is patented. There are patents on methods for tying shoes. I really think that computer and especially software patents need to be re-scaled to account for Moore's Law. But then patent in general ought to be time-scaled differently these days to account for the massive increase in the speed of technological development and rates of knowledge accumulation.

          • jwz says:

            The MP3 disaster is still playing out; they haven't flexed their muscles very far yet.

            The SSH protocol is not an owned standard; there is a company who owns the original SSH code, but it has been (legally) rewritten as OpenSSH (which is, not coincidentally, higher quality.)

            Certain of the algorithms that can be used by SSH and SSL are proprietary, but there are others that are not, and those are the ones that actually get used these days as a result. (This is ignoring the recently-mostly-repealed NSA export restrictions on crypto code, which were a whole other disaster.)

  2. pexor says:

    I say Union Carbide. Sure, Union Carbide only killed thousands in Bhopal, while Philip Morris arguably kills millions around the world. But that's the point, isn't it? "Arguably". Because that argument is horseshit. The staff at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal didn't choose for their government to knowingly endorse the shirking of basic safety precautions in the chemical plant they subsidized. Fuck smokers right in the ear. I have no sympathy.

    On the other hand, I give Dow Chemical huge kudos for buying Union Carbide in the first place, and while I think that they also get Union Carbide's obligations with their assets, we can't directly blame Dow Chemical for something they didn't do.

    Wait, what was the question?