7 June 2010

WebM and VP8 Released under the BSD License

Just another iteration in the web codec saga; Google's WebM project and the included VP8 codec has been released under the unadulterated open source BSD license. For me this is the turning point in the open vs proprietary battle as video is arguably a prominent aspect of computing. With previously dispersed standards and licensing, video support in computers and devices like smart phones and DVD players was difficult and expensive. We now have the ability to serve the best possible video to even the cheapest of devices and now that it's open, thanks to the BSD license there's a good chance that digital video as a whole will stay open.

As can be expected; Google once again takes an active approach to open standards. Initially they amended the BSD license with patent clauses that would deter patent pirates like Microsoft from entering into lawsuits against Google. Those clauses would effectively disallow the use of WebM and the VP8 codec by the suing party if a lawsuit was filed based on any of those technologies. The Open Source Initiative was not happy about this because disallowing the use of source code in any manner, flies in the face of open source principle. I agree with the OSI on this point but Google is not one to ignore the voice of the people.

Regarding copyrights; as i've mentioned, Google has decided to use the BSD license unchanged. However, they have separated patent legalities from the copyrights and have written patent rights which will allow Google to demand royalties from suing parties. The difference now is that those parties will still be able to use the source code but any derivative works will still be released under a compatible open source license. So we as consumers won't be burnt by corporate politics, at least not when video is concerned. A major victory for open source and open standards which in turn is a major benefit for us as consumers.