[FFmpeg-devel] Potential license violation in Google Chrome

niko niko
Fri May 29 21:36:54 CEST 2009

In preparing for the upcoming boom of HTML5 <video> tag integration, 
it's fairly well-known that all major web browsers (except for IE) are 
planning on integrating patent-free Ogg Theora and Vorbis decoding 
support alongside the HTML5 spec.  But I was just informed of an extra 
move by Google Chrome to implement H.264 decoding as well, using code 
from FFmpeg in a very fishy way that smacks of a license violation.  The 
post in question is four posts into a thread which started by 
considering MPEG-1 PRF decoding (after confirmation of similar 
patent-free status) alongside Theora support, to which a Product Manager 
at Google admitted to including H.264 decoding in Chrome, and said:


So three things pop to mind concerning potential violation of FFmpeg's 

#1: Assuming that Google got a license from MPEG LA or whoever to 
distribute H.264 decoding support in Chrome (doesn't surprise me, I'd 
imagine they'd rather get a license than transcode all YouTube and 
Google Video content to Theora/Vorbis), then this would make their 
distribution of FFmpeg stuff violating the LGPL because the license 
becomes non-transferable.

#2: From the post, it seems that Google is only distributing the FFmpeg 
bits in binary-only form with Google Chrome, as opposed to also 
including the source code in chromium (not sure why they choose to do 
this or what they are hiding).  Dynamically loading the code at runtime 
is NOT an excuse, ask the FSF on that one.

#3: This is just speculation, but there may be GPL-violations on top of 
the LGPL ones.  From the README file in the FFmpeg trunk:  "The files 
libavcodec/x86/idct_mmx.c, libavcodec/x86/h264_deblock_sse2.asm, and 
libavcodec/x86/h264_idct_sse2.asm are distributed under the GNU General 
Public License"  While these files are not *required* persay to 
implement H.264 decoding, if they are walking over the LGPL then it 
would not surprise me that they would not pay attention to the GPL either.

I'm not an FFmpeg developer, so hopefully those who are more 
knowledgeable about all of this can take a look at these three points 
and figure out what's what.  It would be bizarre indeed if Google Chrome 
were to be added to the Hall of Shame, but hopefully we can take action 
on this before this development release of Google Chrome becomes stable.

       ?Niko Kern

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