Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

VideoLAN, or VLC, is a cross-platform media player and is my media player of choice. It plays everything and I just love it. It would be hard to live without it.

VideoLAN page
The end draws near...

VideoLAN is seriously threatened by software patents due to the numerous patented techniques it implements and uses. Also threatened are the many libraries and projects which VLC is built upon, like FFmpeg, and the other fellow Free And Open Source software multimedia players, which include MPlayer, xine, Freevo, MythTV, gstreamer.

Multimedia is a patent minefield. All important techniques and formats are covered by broad and trivial patents that are harming progress and alternative implementations, such as free software multimedia players.

The European commission has just passed its directive on software patents, violating democratic rules and procedures to the sole benefit of big non-European corporation and Ireland and to the detriment of small and medium sized businesses (which comprise 99% of the European software industry) and free software.

The European parliament will now be taking the last stand against software patents in a voting for which an absolute majority is needed. Such a majority is hard to come by in a parliament with a low attendance level.

But not all is lost yet as long as you decide it is time to make a difference and take action. This is our last opportunity to fend off software patents worldwide, there will be no second chance for the foreseeable future.

Signing petitions will not suffice. Contact your local EU representatives and educate them why software patents are a bad idea in the first place and why they must attend that parliament session to vote against them. Make it clear that they need to stop the machinations of the EU council and reaffirm the power of the EU parliament, the only democratically elected EU institution. For in-depth information and starting points to get active visit the software patent page of the FFII (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure) and

Wish us luck, we will need it.
VideoLAN - See the statistics

I've been speaking to a number of parliamentarians in Europe about the danger of software patents. This is a really important issue and here is a good example of a typical victim of software patents. I'm hoping that OSI will be able to help people avoid encumbered standards as part of the open standards initiative.

via ladi


Hi Joi,

It is still very hard to patent any software application, but this is an example how it can lead to an end of VLC.

May be PSP Casting is a new alternative for you - did you try it?

We wrote an Trend-Whitepaper about "Mediacasting" - starting with RSS, Podcasting up to PSP Casting. May be this interesting for you:


PS: Yeah - I wrote the first comment.

The same page on mplayer website too.
Same text, same content.

Thanks for posting this, Joi - I had no idea these plans had advanced so far.

Also, because it can be tricky navigating EU websites: UK readers wishing to get in touch with their various European Parliament representatives about this issue can do so easily via WriteToThem - - which lets you email and/or fax your MEPs via a web form. I just used the site to send a brief message asking my MEPs to take a stand on this (Though I don't have much hope that they'll take notice, to be honest.)

A lot of the formats they reversed engineered were created by companies whose income comes from licenses, etc. on the codecs and formats.

I'm glad you're for open standards, I am too, but that doesn't give VLan or anyone else the right to take closed standards and reverse engineer them. I don't understnad how this issue got all mixed up. Just becuase you're for open standards doesn't mean you should be for stealing or destroying the intellectual property of closed standards based companies.

This has been my problem with the EFF as well lately. I've been a member for several years but will not renew this year. In their fight to bring balance to the debate around IP they've gone to the point of wanting to completely destroy it. Look at Cory gleefully posting how to pirate PSP video games on Boing Boing.

For someone who has made some of his money in the software industry I don't understand why you're so eager to destroy any value it can create outside of going to a pure open source and services model. If I wrote a script to steal perl scripts from Six Apart and reverse engineered them to a PHP solution, would you be happy about that?

oh my god!, i don´t really kwow what i´m gonna do whithout it, damn patents

Ditto to Jason, and I also have to note that I too used to support the EFF when they were for things that I believed in. When I was studying CS at Carnegie Mellon, they came and we had a big demonstration against the school limiting access to the newsgroups.

That's the kind of freedom of speech and thought I can support, but that's not really what they've been up to lately, in my opinion. They are radicalizing themselves... Although it's never a bad thing to have a wide variety of viewpoints heard throughout the society, they've just moved out of the range of a viewpoint I can support.

As for this story, their admission in the first line of their page is a shocker:

VideoLAN is seriously threatened by software patents due to the numerous patented techniques it implements and uses.


I think this is why education about standards is important. There are many standards like mp3 and others that developers and consumers use thinking that they are unencumbered. They are widely adopted, and later companies can come and assert ownership and rights. Non-open standards should be clearly marked and those who would like to create a community of users and developers should try to use open standards without patents, particularly on the Internet. As the page says, many of the patents are trivial and broad and some designed, not to protect technological developments but market monopolies.

Thanks Trevor.

Joi I don't want to accuse you of being disingenuous, but what about Real Audio or Quicktime's codecs would lead any developer to believe that they're nonencumbered standards that they could reverse engineer at will? If even a layman like me knows that MPEG 3 and 4 are proprietary and need licenses, how can you believe that the developers were simply uneducated enough about this point, yet educated enough to REVERSE ENGINEER THE CODEC?

Also, I don't understand why you're taking VideoLan's claims that the patents are "trivial and broad and some designed, not to protect technological developments but market monopolies" at face value, when it's obvious that they would have a huge bias about this.

I know as a consumer I want one player that plays everything, just like you do. And it would be cool if it was open source. But the fact is that innovations in codecs, media, etc. are not free and the developers of these innovations will want some way to monetize them and potentially protect their innovation.

Why do they not have a right to do this but you have a right to become a multimillionaire off of software solving other problems?

I'm sorry I'm making this personal, and I really respect a lot of your ideas, but there's this huge cognitive dissonance happening in the weblog world, in my opinion. There is a lot of great work happening to promote free culture and free software, and a lot of great thinking about how to reform patent laws, but there is a danger of going too far and destroying incentives to innovation.

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April 18, 2005 8:31 AM

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