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[school-discuss] Re: need advice on building multimedia software

I make a lot of assumptions about Linux based on what I've read.  I've
just found another fallacy in my assumptions about Linux.  My
assumption was that libre distributions approved by the FSF would be
the best place to look to find out what software had the least legal
issues.  It seems that the FSF and the libre distributions I looked at
are only concerned about copyright issues.  They don't appear
concerned about patent issues.

Here's a list of software that the FSF avoids:

The interesting thing is that they'll take issue with a GNU licensed
program linking to a BSD licensed program like openssl.  They consider
that a copyright violation.  However, they don't list any issues where
software is using patent encumbered technologies.  Issues like
problems combining OSI licensed copyrighted code could actually hurt
the spread of Open Source software rather than improve it.

I did find out the best place to look for information on what software
would give the least legal concerns is with Linux distributions
provided by companies making money from them.  If the companies are
big enough targets, they need to worry about the legal situation.
Here's a list from Red Hat as to what they consider issues:

Note they include DVD playback in general and mp3 use as issues.  They
also have some interesting information on how other distributions may
get around this (only in certain regions).

As to ffmpeg, it appears to have mpeg and aac support in the ffmpeg
code, not just in the libraries.  So, it doesn't look like a matter of
just using libraries with open codecs.  One would need to rip out code
from ffmpeg.  This left me wondering why there wasn't some flag or
mechanism to avoid using the code or some alternative software that
would avoid the issues.  I think most of the major Open Source video
players out there use ffmpeg or similar libraries.  (Here's something
I found posted at the vlc site:
http://www.videolan.org/press/patents.html)  I also noticed mention in
more than one place that distribution of patented technologies as
source code only was considered okay because it's considered free
speech, but actually building the source code was another issue.  I
have a hard time understanding how this could be considered "legally"
safe when similar situations that would involve copyright infringement
(such as plagiarism) or trademark infringement would not fall under
the category of being protected by free speech.

The technologies that look like they might have the most issues with
patents appear to be MPEG (2 and onwards which includes MP3 format),
AAC ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Audio_Coding#Licensing_and_patents
), H.264.  One other disturbing thing, now that most countries have
switched over to digital for television transmission they are using
MPEG with their digital signals.  So, not only were publicly owned
airwaves sold by the US government, the replacement now appears to be
patent encumbered.

Unfortunately, I can see where schools in areas that need to deal with
patent laws are more comfortable buying their software than using Open
Source.  I can't help wondering if there's anything that can be done
about the situation.  It would be nice if a school could create,
distribute and use its own Open Source distribution without having to
deal with a legal minefield.  Any ideas?
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