Archive for the 'Intellectual property' Category

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DVDs, MP3s, YouTube, and other hindrances to free software

Update (2009-05-20): 1080p and standard definition videos of the talk in Theora/Vorbis are now available. See below for details.

I presented a talk entitled “DVDs, MP3s, YouTube, and other hindrances to free software” (abstract) today at FOSSLC’s Summercamp 2009 (#fosslcSC09) in Ottawa. Here are the slides:

Here are the videos (all videos are Copyright © 2009 FOSSLC, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Canada):

  • Videos recorded on JVC Everio GZ-HD40U video camera (high-quality; recording was started a few seconds into the talk):
  • Videos and data created by the ePresence system (low-quality, include slides):
    • ePresence page; Flash video with slides
    • Ogg Theora/Vorbis video at 320×240 (75.3 MiB). This video becomes out-of-sync during the Q&A period, but should be fine otherwise. If your browser supports the video tag with Ogg Theora/Vorbis, the video will appear below:
    • FLV Sorenson/Speex video at 320×240 (66.3 MiB). This is the source video used on ePresence page. I can provide details on how I transcoded it to Theora/Vorbis if there is interest.
    • Extra data from ePresence page (slide images, XML data) (3.5 MiB)
    • Slide timestamps XML file (part of extra data above). These would be useful for re-implementing the ePresence page using JavaScript and the video tag instead of Flash. If you have some code that does this, feel free to share it in the comments here. It is likely that such a solution could be easily adapted to work with other ePresence videos, including other FOSSLC videos.

Please feel free to re-encode or transform the above videos in whichever ways you wish. Besides syncing the videos with slides in a standards-based way, you may want to trim the videos to the start and end of the talk or re-encode them to a different resolution.

If you would like the source files for the HD version, which are in MPEG-2, please let me know. They are quite large (about 8 GiB in total) so I haven’t posted them here.

Slide errata:

  • The “Why do we care?” slide should have mentioned the Gdium Liberty, a netbook that uses a MIPS processor, as an example of a product made by a small company, which does not have the resources to license Flash or codecs. Reducing people’s reliance on Flash and royalty-requiring codecs will allow many more products like this to enter the market. As it is, there are very few small companies making innovative new computers.
  • The “What can we do about patented codecs?” and “What can we do about TPMs?” slides should have mentioned alternative music stores like Jamendo, which hosts music freely-licensed by the authors and offers it for download without DRM and in Ogg Vorbis format.
  • The “What can we do about proprietary formats?” slide should have mentioned Free Youtube! and Free Slideshare!, which allow you to view YouTube and SlideShare without using a Flash player.

RiP: A Remix Manifesto downloads

I have created Ogg Theora/Vorbis and XviD/MP3 versions of the excellent documentary RiP: A Remix Manifesto. You can find them at the following locations (Update – 2009-05-10: You can pay what you want for zipped versions of these, which are about 1% smaller, at

I encourage you to support the creator by paying what you can at one of these pages:

I recommend the Theora/Vorbis version because it is higher-quality (853×480 pixels) and because Theora and Vorbis are royalty-free codecs (see The codec dilemma for why this is important). I also provided an XviD/MP3 version since many DVD players support this format.

If you want to remix the documentary, check out Open Source Cinema, where you can upload your own modifications to it. The videos there and the downloads listed above are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported license.

Solving the codec problem

This is a response to John Dowdell’s Put down the Flavorade and slowly back away…. post, which is itself a reply to Tristan Nitot’s Making video a first class citizen of the Web. Here it is, starting with a quote from John Dowdell’s post:
Continue reading ‘Solving the codec problem’

Moonlight and the Microsoft Media Pack

You may have heard that Moonlight, the free software Silverlight plugin for GNU/Linux distributions, allows users to view certain audio and video encoded with Microsoft codecs. What may be confusing, though, is how you can do this if Moonlight is free software since the Microsoft codecs are patented (see “The codec dilemma” for details). I dug into this a bit and here’s what I found:
Continue reading ‘Moonlight and the Microsoft Media Pack’

Evaluating codec freedom

I was recently asked about how free the Vorbis and Theora codecs are, particularly with respect to gratis versus libre. The answer to this question is more complicated than it looks and requires a deeper look into the difference between a specification and an implementation.
Continue reading ‘Evaluating codec freedom’

The codec dilemma

Every day millions of videos are watched on video hosting sites like YouTube. Most viewers don’t think of how the videos are stored or how they get displayed on one’s computer. But these are critical questions in determining who is able to watch online videos and how much money they need to pay to do it, even on free hosting sites. Let me start by explaining what a “codec” is.
Continue reading ‘The codec dilemma’

Why Flash is doomed

In my previous post (“Why I haven’t installed a Flash player“), I tried to convince people why supporting Adobe Flash by installing a player was a bad idea. My hope was that efforts like mine would reduce the number of sites using Flash and eventually eliminate non-standard technologies like Flash from the web. Recent events made me realize why such efforts to get rid of Flash will pale in comparison to the natural phenomena that are already working together to seal Flash’s fate.
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Flash required for Gmail voice and video chat

You may have heard about Google’s new voice and video chat plugin for Gmail, which lets you use voice and video through the Gmail web interface. You may have also heard that the plugin is standalone (does not require other plugins) or an alternative to using Flash for voice and video chat solutions. Like many, I thought that because Gmail voice and video chat was a plugin, it did not require Flash at all. However, further research showed that this was not the case.
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Positive change: Green Party on copyright

Along with their commitment to free and open source software in government, the Green Party of Canada takes an excellent stance on copyright reform. According to a response from Green Party candidate Glenn Hubbers and the Green Party response to the Canadian Conference of the Arts questionnaire, the Green Party will:

  • Remove the Levy on Blank Audio Recording Media and replace it with private copying exemptions;
  • Introduce a formal notice-and-notice mechanism for dealing with copyright infringement online, thereby affirming common carrier status for Internet Service Providers (ISPs);
  • Renounce the Crown Copyright applied to all government produced documents, thereby immediately releasing them into the public domain;

It seems almost coincidental that the Green Party’s stated goals so closely match my own. Let me elaborate on why these reforms are necessary.
Continue reading ‘Positive change: Green Party on copyright’

Clarifying the restrictions on DVD playback

A recent article on Slashdot, Canonical Offers Sale of Proprietary Codecs for Ubuntu, opens with the following line:

Playing DVDs on Linux that required proprietary codecs has been a source of much pain.

This statement is misleading. The primary reason that DVDs cannot be played by default under most distributions is CSS. To play a DVD with CSS, you need a licensed player that has a key to unlock the CSS or you need to circumvent the CSS. In both cases, the openness of free software is at odds with the desires of the motion picture industry.
Continue reading ‘Clarifying the restrictions on DVD playback’