H.264 is royalty-free for Web use through 2015, but still not a good idea
Thursday, February 4, 2010 9:19:30 PM
I still don't think it's a good idea to use H.264 as the standard video codec on the Web.
One should be careful about reading too much into the announcement, but one might suspect that the MPEG LA really wants H.264 to become the standard video codec on the Web, and they may be seeing Theora as a real threat. After all, Theora is supported by a much greater share of the browser market that supports HTML5 VIDEO. By postponing the new licensing for Web video, they are tackling one of Theora's advantages head-on.
Furthermore, they may be betting on people not thinking about the long-term effects. If they can manage to sell H.264 as a "free" codec now, they can reap the benefits in a few years if they successfully make H.264 the HTML5 codec of choice.
"The first hit is free", as they say. And after that, it will likely be very expensive. And they will get away with it because the Web will have started to rely on H.264, and we won't have a choice.
I think we should think longer term than just a couple of years into the future. The licensing terms for H.264 are rather hostile, and basically seem to state that anyone who produces or even watches H.264 video is responsible for licenses being paid. So if that site you are watching videos from did not pay their license, you as the user could be held personally accountable. Are you sure that site has a valid license?
You also won't be able to use H.264 encoded video for anything other than free, private, personal use unless you are willing to pay.
H.264 might be free for free Web streaming for the next few years, but it's still bad for the Web. And once the free period is over, we will all be in a quagmire of licenses, and a MPEG LA eager to make up for the lost license income for those years.
H.264 might be free for now, but we shouldn't be tricked into painting ourselves into a corner of closed, proprietary codecs as a fundamental building block for the Web.