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24 May 2010, 09:13

Phipps: WebM/VP8 "not currently open source"

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According to OSI board member Simon Phipps, the VP8 codec, which Google released last week as part of the WebM project, is "not currently open source". In a blog posting, Phipps notes that the licence used by Google has not been submitted to the Open Source Initiative (OSI) for approval and that it "possibly can't be approved". The problem is that although the licence Google uses for VP8 is based on the Apache licence, it includes a "field of use" restriction in the patent grant section which is limited to "this implementation of VP8".

Historically, the OSI has approved licences as open source according to the Open Source Definition. As it stands Google's VP8 licence could potentially conflict with the OSI's requirement that an open source licence has no restriction on "field of use". Phipps hopes, speaking as a member of the OSI board, that Google will submit a "templatised version" of the licence for approval, even if it means "slight embarrassment" for the OSI over increasing licence proliferation.

Phipps also expresses worries about the patent situation around VP8 and points out that companies, such as Apple, can't get indemnification from patent actions. "Wanting insurance isn't an attack. It's just a desire for mitigation of risk in a world where software patents have gone out of control". Phipps says Google should also contribute VP8 to a standards group, to give an assurance of interoperability, rather than relying on the code itself and the specification derived from, but also including, some of that code. He concludes that "Google's do-it-all-ourselves mentality has made them forget or avoid addressing three very important issues" and hopes that Google will address the issues soon so he can "cheer loudly" about WebM.


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