Sunday, May 02, 2010

You own the jelly but who owns the jelly jar?

Imagine you were a guitar player. You're no Leo Kottke, but you can hold your own on open mike night at the local bar. How would feel if you discovered, buried in the fine print in the owner's manual that came with your Martin D-15, something that said you could only perform with said guitar for "personal use and non-commercial" purposes?

Or suppose you were an artist - a painter - and discovered the brushes you used to paint your last masterpiece came with the same restriction: for "personal use and non-commercial" purposes only? Or a writer, with the same restrictions on anything that came out of your word-processor?

Freaking ridiculous, eh?

Guess what, all you photographers shooting digital video, your camera may have the same restriction. It's about the technology used to encode the video (the "codec").

OS News (one of my favorite technology sites) has a long article about the licensing restrictions placed on one of the more commonly used codecs -- h.264. Author Eugenia Loli-Queru does a fairly brilliant job of describing the situation. You can thank MPEG-LA, a firm that advertises itself as "packager of patent pools," as being responsible for this particular piece of nonsense.

While you may think you control any content you create, MPEG-LA controls the container that holds the content. And without a key to the container, you're screwed.

Of course, you're under no obligation to buy a camera that uses this encumbered technology, but good luck finding one that doesn't use it, or advertises the fact that it uses it in the first place. It's not the sort of thing manufacturers advertise on the packaging.

 The real problem is our patent/copyright/trademark laws, and the whole abomination that has morphed into the concept of "intellectual property." As usual, greed and self-interested parties with lots of influence (and money) fuel most of this.

Lawrence Lessig has written extensively on the current sorry state of software patents, copyright abuse and intellectual property, as has the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). If this sort of thing concerns you, I'd advise you to see what they have to say.

In the meantime, got a camera that records video?

Check the fine print.

Thanks yet again to Slashdot for the tipoff!

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