[Foundation-l] Re: File format policy

Gregory Maxwell gmaxwell at gmail.com
Wed Feb 15 05:45:02 UTC 2006

On 2/14/06, Andrew Lih <andrew.lih at gmail.com> wrote:
> Gregory, there is a big difference between "free content" as with a
> copyleft license, and using a patent-free format for delivering said
> content. The former talks about the legality of copying and altering
> the work, and the latter is only about the technical delivery
> mechanism. So I think in this case, free has a triple chance of
> confusion - free as in freedom (to copy), free as in beer and free as
> in delivery payload (implementation regarding patents).
> In short - they're not the same.

I don't agree. If I take some content, place it in a safe, and make it
illegal for people to open the safe unless they agree to pay me money
and abide by certain other conditions, and then distribute it
widely... Well..  I can *claim* all I want that the 'content' is free,
but that would a meaningless claim. The content would be just as
unfree as if I'd added an oddball license which places odd
restrictions on the next hop of the distribution chain.

The difference between putting a file in a proprietary format and
putting it behind DRM is slim indeed. Both inhibit the uses for the
file for which you'd be naturally entitled, and both can be
circumvented by someone with special authority or someone who is
willing to ignore the law.

Not only is the outcome similar, but there may be little difference
legally: Modern compression schemes are a far more complex
transformation than the constant addition in GF(2^8) used Adobe's
early ebook reader... which someone was brought up on DMCA
circumvention charges over.  As far as I'm aware, none of the
conventional legal players for the suggested formats offer a 'save to
non-proprietary-format' button... I would not be shocked to see
someone make an argument that using ffmpeg2theora is circumvention.

> We have to recognize honestly that Theora installations lag far far
> behind QT, Real and WM by a large margin and the user experience is
> not the same to find and download the player/codec.

We give people two click access from our media help page to a number
of solutions. How can you claim that theora is fundamentally harder to
install for someone already at our site?

Now, perhaps the media help page could use some improvement. But based
on the discussion here it doesn't seem like the people complaining
have even looked at it.

> One cannot reasonably think the number of folks with Theora codecs
> installed even closely approaches the number with Quicktime or Real.
> Even for the lesser Quicktime, every iPod owner who installs iTunes
> (nearly all) by necessity installs Quicktime. (Over 30 million iPod
> units shipped in 2005.) Real Networks has been around since the dawn
> of the dotcom industry (1993) with tons of legacy content and new
> content being generated. So it is a bit of a stretch to draw
> equivalence between Theora and the other non-WMP codecs.

Well a real player from 1993 (or 2004 for that matter) won't likely
play content released for real today. ... But, I never argued that
there was as many qt or real users.. Just that the number of
QT/Real/Xvid/etc codec users is *far* fewer than the number of Windows
desktops because Windows doesn't usually ship with them.... and
moreover, that installing theora is just as easy as installing

If a user has QT/Real/ or whatever third party video players/codecs
installed there are few reasons why they couldn't install the theora

> > The complexity of getting working players to users is high enough that
> > a great many video sites such as video.google.com and youtube are
> > using flash and java based players.
> This is certainly true, and they've recognized the value of a smooth
> user experience.

They also prioritize financial gain over all other interests, do you
think that Wikipedia should be on the same path?

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