Apple Rumoured to Be Preparing to Sue Open Source Codec Developers

An e-mail reportedly from Steve Jobs has recently surfaced which suggests that Apple may be preparing to sue Theora and other open source video codecs. The dispute would revolve around patent laws.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

It’s been one wild weekend in news so far and the craziness doesn’t seem to be stopping. An e-mail has been posted by Hugo Roy of the Free Software Foundation.

According to CNET, the e-mail was in response to an open letter by Roy which disagreed with the use of proprietary video codecs. Steven Jobs issued a response:

All video codecs are covered by patents. A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other “open source” codecs now. Unfortunately, just because something is open source, it doesn’t mean or guarantee that it doesn’t infringe on others patents. An open standard is different from being royalty free or open source.

Apparently, suing open source isn’t for SEO anymore. One might be puzzled as to why, after all these years of open source video codecs have been around, has Apple chosen to litigate open source now? CNET suggests that Apple and Microsoft have been rolling out HTML5 and h.264 would be part of the HTML5 strategy. It’s not hard to see that litigation might be a way of removing the competition.

The case has its similarities to the way file-sharing has played out in the US. Business entities saw the potential of file-sharing, but litigation saw the end to the business side of file-sharing. That didn’t mean the end of file-sharing, rather file-sharing moved further underground with many developers opening up the source code to their clients to ensure the clients would live on. The jump from over ground to underground wouldn’t be as huge given that the codecs are already open source. The only difference is that development would move further underground should patent disputes occur. One could easily draw the conclusion that, with the way things are going, it’ll eventually be illegal to even give your own content away for free.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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