On open video and exclusion

Important note: This post is my own opinion. Nothing more, nothing less.

No doubt you’ve heard of Youtube and Vimeo launching their beta HTML5 <video> players. There’s been a lot of talk around the codec that these use: H.264. While Firefox has great support for HTML5 <video>, it doesn’t support the (patented) H.264 codec, so you can’t use those players in Firefox. This is because Mozilla believes (and I concur) that H.264 is not good for the open web.

If you haven’t already, I recommend you read…

Yea, I know that’s a lot of reading. But they’re worth it.

Anyway, some people have suggested the following solutions:

  • Use the codec that comes with the OS (if any)
  • License H.264 and only ship it with binary versions of Firefox (leaving other distributors, embeddors, and other less well-funded browser vendors in the cold)
  • Only ship H.264 in Firefox to people living in countries where software patents are not enforceable (live in the US? Too bad!)

These solutions are, frankly, selfish. What these solutions propose is that it’s okay for only the privileged to have access to the web. This is not okay. It is not okay to exclude people from the web. Not because of the hardware they have, the OS they run, the client software they use, where they live, or how much money they have. Not for any reason. The web is meant to be participatory – let’s keep it that way.

9 thoughts on “On open video and exclusion

  1. The funny part is how many people mouthing off on the third suggestion above live in countries where H.264 is in fact patented….

  2. Most people seem to really just want Mozilla to just not dignify software patents with any recognition of validity whatsoever and just use an open implementation of h264. Problem is that no matter how bogus those patents may be, they’re held by companies with enough power to (ab)use to enforce them. Everyone would like this confrontation to be settled, but none of us really want the mess that would be.

  3. Selfish seems to be a common word thrown out amongst this discussion. It is wrong to call users selfish for simply wanting a better experience.

    Mozilla’s stance will achieve nothing. Flash based players will remain the only real solution for developers who rely upon one simple thing: cross browser compatibility.

    The *only* cross browser solution developers can rely on in the foreseeable future will Flash plugin based video unless Google gifts Mozilla an On2-based codec that surpasses the poorly-perceived Theora AND the EU forces MS to support Theora and/or a mystical free On2-based codec.

  4. I don’t see how using OS codecs qualifies as selfish. On OSes with sensible codec frameworks, the user can always install an appropriate codec. Thus, using the OS codecs changes the problem from “never supported” to “improve your OS and it’ll work”.

    As for the people who just want to ignore the patents: obviously Mozilla cannot ignore the patents itself, but using the OS codecs allows the *user* to choose for themselves to ignore patents.

  5. anonymous, that just fractures the web on OS lines, which is really against the nature of the web. What are the Linux users going to do if they, legally, want to play h.264 video?

  6. The perils of unenlightened self-interest.

    There do seem to be a lot of people that get it, though. The real problem is Apple first and foremost, then Google and Vimeo. (Obviously there’s also MS, the patent system and so on, but Apple, Google and Vimeo have the power to easily Do The Right Thing — but they aren’t.)

    What’s amazing about this is that Mozilla might end up being screwed because it becomes a selling point for the other browsers from organisations with fewer principles. [sigh]

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