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Revision 26 as of 2007-06-28 01:05:36
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''But unluckily, certain restrictions (such as software patents) make it illegal to distribute Ubuntu with such support, in certain countries like the United States of America, or Japan.'' ''But unluckily, certain restrictions (such as software patents) complicate Ubuntu's ability to support the formats consistently with its commitment to Free Software.''

Restricted Multimedia Formats - The Post-Install Assistant

This is the basic specification for the "Post-Install Multimedia Assistant", one of the solutions proposed in RestrictedFormatsSolutions, for the problem described in RestrictedFormatsProblem.

The idea is to enable legally-entitled users to add support for many popular multimedia formats (MP3, DVDs, MPEG-4, etc) in a semi-automated way.

The Assistant should basically work this way:

1) After Ubuntu's installation, and if there is an active Internet connection, present a standard dialog to the user. It could pop automatically, or on request (via Desktop shortcut?). The text of that dialog could be something like this:

Free Software offers excellent support for the most popular multimedia formats (like MP3, MPEG-4 aka "DivX", or DVDs).

But unluckily, certain restrictions (such as software patents) complicate Ubuntu's ability to support the formats consistently with its commitment to Free Software.

If you live in a country with such restrictions, please click "Cancel". You'll be able to play some restricted formats by installing non-Free Software (like RealPlayer), or keep enjoying content in Free formats (like Ogg Vorbis audio or Theora video).

If you live in a country without those restrictions, feel free to install the necessary packages to unlock restricted formats, by clicking on "OK".

2) If the user clicks on "Cancel", the dialog could just close, or offer him the option of installing RealPlayer automatically.

3) If the user clicks on "OK", the Assistant would then add the necessary repositories to the sources list (Universe, Multiverse, and Penguin Liberation Front), and download / install the necessary packages (GStreamer plugins including FFmpeg, and libdvdcss2).

  • (NOTE: This Assistant is supposed to add support for the most common formats in one step, not on a per-case basis like EasyCodecInstallation)


  • RobJCaskey: Please note, some valuable comments were taken into consideration in production of this revision. Please see the page history. It would be much appreciated if original contributors would update their comments and place them here, but not inline in the proposal.

  • ArwynHainsworth: I just cleaned the page a bit further and removed the 'Alternate Proposal', since it was an implementation suggestion for EasyCodecInstallation, which is not what this proposal is about. The on-topic part of the deleted section was (not a quote): implementing a post-install assistant is a bad idea and on-demand codec install is better (see EasyCodecInstallation). Please see the page history for the full deleted text.

  • ArwynHainsworth: I agree that post-install assistants are not a good idea and that on-demand codec installation (see EasyCodecInstallation) is better, providing you have a good internet connection. For those that don't, perhaps a PackageCD with the above assistant set to autorun on mount would be a good idea?

  • AlanTam:

    • I also think that asking users to install actively-patent-protected and non-free software is not a good idea. Are we assuming that everyone possesses files of such formats? If not, we are actively encouraging people to use these formats, which is against the principal of Ubuntu to support free software.
    • On-demand sounds much better (yes, this means more trouble for Internet-disabled machines, but we don't seem able to do better).
    • If I open an mp3 file, I expect _at least_ the following to happen: (1) prompt me that MP3 is a "Restricted Format"; (2) tell me why Ubuntu cannot support "Restricted Format" out-of-box; (3) give me a link to wiki showing what I should do OR ask me whether I want to install it if I am in a country allowing so.
    • Without these happening, Ubuntu will face a lot of support tickets asking why they can't play MP3, DVD, etc, and a lot of bad press and blog saying we are not for human beings.
  • MicahCowan: I don't think the user clicking "Cancel" should result in further/alternate action or choices. Either name the buttons more appropriately, or make it a radio group along the lines of "Choose your legal status". You should probably have the non-free, legal binaries as a separate option (checkbox?) for users of both legal statuses: there will be some for whom Free implementations of restricted-format players are legal, but who are philisophically against installation of non-Free implementations of the other formats - and one should not assume that the user has multiverse repositories configured.

  • JackWasey I agree with the previous entry, but rather than 'choose your legal status' how about the whole EthicalInfo spec which covers non-free and real world ethical isues? There are several suggestions, but explaining why Ubuntu doesn't include apparently basic functionality is very important, even if no other ethical issues are addressed.

  • Christian67 The proposed user interaction is not sufficient, legally. To be on the safe side, you/Canonical have/has at least to

  • ask the user about the location of the system where the software in question is being installed
  • ask for the user's residence
  • ask for the user's nationality
  • ask for the user's age (a minor may not be able to understand what he/she is doing)

The user may answer this questions by selecting the answers from a prepared list (drop down menu etc.) The answers need to be verified (i.e. by checking the IP of the system against the WHOIS database - it must not happen that a system with a obviously US based IP can get access to the repos).

It is *not* enough (in my and many other major legislations) to let the user decide whether the legislation of one of the restrictive countries applies - the average user has no clue how to judge this. The author (Ubuntu/Canonical) is in charge to clarify the users' legal status by the answers the average user can actually easily answer (if not a minor).

In addition, there also needs to be a warning on the possible consequences if a user is giving wrong answers (high fines, even jail). Canonical might otherwise have a risk for not warning of possible heavy legal consequences explicitly enough.

Please be aware that Canonical faces a litigation risk from two sides here: From the holders of alleged "rights" stemming by the US-Japanese patent madness, but also from users that get in trouble by using your software.

While the legal risks can be assessed, mitigated and managed, the easier way IMHO would be to setup a customized edition of Ubuntu that is distributed by a separate legal body (preferably an individual / ULUG). Please keep in mind that Ubuntu is also targetting the corporate clientele, and such installers to could look like circumvention tools (they are not!) for patent restrictions could be used by the FUD machine of this well known software giant from Redmond to deter this corporate clientele from Ubuntu.


RestrictedFormatsAssistant (last edited 2008-08-06 16:38:05 by localhost)