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H.264 vs WebM War: DoJ Launches Investigation of MPEG LA

Posted by: , 15:05 AEDT, Sat March 5, 2011

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The US DoJ is launching an investigation into whether the MPEG LA is trying to stifle Google's VP8/WebM and being anti-competitive

The battle between the MPEG Licensing Authority (MPEG LA) and Google has intensified as a third party, the US government's Department of Justice launches an "anti-trust" investigation into the MPEG LA's possible anti-competitive behaviours.

A little background: the MPEG LA licenses patents for the industry standard H.264 video format, one of the contenders for the video codec of choice for HTML5. Google is on the other side, supporting VP8/WebM for HTML5, promising a royalty free alternative to H.264. Google released WebM after it acquired video technology company On2 and its VP8 codec. 

But the MPEG LA claims that VP8/WebM also uses patents that is covered by its member companies, which include Microsoft and Apple, and has rubbished suggestions that WebM will remain royalty free, despite Google's intentions. "I can tell you: VP8 is not patent-free," stated MPEG LA CEO Larry Horn.

But now, the DoJ is launching an investigation into MPEG LA, claiming that it could be operating like a monopoly, preventing WebM from getting off the ground.

MPEG LA claims that it is merely a "convenience store" for video patents, a company which licenses patent pools for video technologies such as MPEG-2 and MPEG-4. They say they have no interest in which video codec ends up the winner, and only that the winner, whether it's Google's WebM or H.264, pay up for patents that it uses, or de-design the codec not to use any patents.

It is unknown what promoted the DoJ investigation, whether Google had any hand in "nudging" the DoJ into taking some action against a perceived threat.

WebM's problem, as with most advanced video codecs, is that it is essentially hard to avoid existing patents when dealing with video compression technology. Litigation may be the only way to prove once and for all if WebM infringes on existing patents or not.

The war is just heating up.

Do you think the DoJ is overreaching in its investigation, or do you think the MPEG LA has acted wrongly in trying to scrutinize WebM's patent position? Post your opinion in this article's comments section, or in this forum thread:


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