Subject: Re: Mp3, patents, and Ogg/Vorbis
From: 'Don Marti' <>
Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2007 22:04:26 -0800

begin Lawrence Rosen quotation of Wed, Feb 28, 2007 at 07:19:30PM -0800:

> I'm confused about the intellectual property at issue here that presumably
> prevents Linux from running MP3 drivers. The email refers to "legal" risk as
> if that is one subject. MP3 is a patented technology. Is there a fear that
> Linux drivers can't implement MP3 because they don't have a patent license?
> Or is this a copyright-related fear, that it might be a DMCA violation to
> decode MP3 data streams within a computer running Linux? 

This isn't a patent issue, but a DVD CCA license
issue.  AFAIK the actual data on a DVD is MPEG, so
it's decodeable with an MPEG-licensed decoder which
you can get for Linux.  But the anti-user encryption,
called CSS, is (was?) a trade secret of DVD CCA.

> Keith Frechette wrote that, "[for] example, enabling the user to transfer
> DVD movies to other media (video tape, for example) via the S-Video port
> would likely have triggered a flood of lawsuits." Certainly that would be a
> risk if the enabling of copyright infringement were the motive or primary
> use of that technology.

The DMCA talks about "access control" as well as
copy control -- so a circumvention technology that
allows a user to do some action other than copying
(such as skipping the "unskippable" commercials on
some DVDs) could be just as much a DMCA violation as
a copying program.

> Nor is it an infringing act to ship a product that the consumer herself
> later "hacks" in order to infringe; connecting your radio to loudspeakers at
> the shopping mall is an infringing act, but not for the manufacturer of the
> radio or the loudspeakers! 

Yes, but if it's, say, an XM radio, and the XM license
requires the radio's features that limit the user's
actions to be "robust" then the radio manufacturer can
violate its contractual oblications to XM if the user
succeeds in making the connection.

> What intellectual property is preventing Linux-based computers from loading
> MP3 drivers and playing MP3 DVDs?

The MPEG patent pool and the DVD CCA trade secrets
on CSS.

> Remember the exhaustion doctrine: If I buy
> a Dell computer with Windows and later replace the operating system with
> Linux, what other licenses do I need in order to play my own MP3 DVDs? 

The Windows license probably requires you not
to split out the MP3 decoder from the rest of the
Windows product.  But if you buy the computer and boot
Linux without ever accepting the Windows license,
can you hack out the instructions implementing MP3
from the rest of Windows Media Player and use them?
I don't see why not.

> In
> fact, what specific MP3 licenses do I need in order to load Linux on a Dell
> computer to start with, given that I'm buying legal DVDs?

I think that the patent holders want a royalty from
those who sell MPEG content and from the manufacturers
of playback devices.

> Is there anything
> that prevents Dell from obtaining MP3 patent licenses on behalf of its
> customers for its computers regardless of which operating system runs on
> them? 

Yes -- the fact that they're already getting an MP3
license with each copy of Windows, and if they paid
for another one tied to the hardware they'd be driving
up the cost of their product to the Windows customers.

> Keith wrote this: "Under Linux, however, video drivers (X servers) are
> generally open-sourced, so handling Macrovision control logic in the video
> driver is not appropriate. Instead, the code is placed in a separate,
> binary-only, kernel driver." What is it about MP3 technology that is
> incompatible with Linux or the GPL? 

Keith isn't facing an MP3 issue here, but a DVD CCA
contract requirement.

Don Marti