Restricted Multimedia Formats - The Problem

The problem with restricted multimedia formats is complex, and can be divided in:

  1. the ones with Free Software implementations.
  2. the ones without Free Software implementations, but with binary-only Linux players.
  3. the ones without any of the above.

The proposed solutions for these limitations are discussed in RestrictedFormatsSolutions.

1) Restricted formats with Free Software implementations

Distributing support for these formats seems easy, but is restricted in some way. Ubuntu distributes "free" software, which means it is both free of cost and free to use in any way. Although reverse-engineering is specifically authorized by US law (17 U.S.C. Sec 1201(f)) and by treaty (World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty), the rules governing distribution are complex and depend upon the intent of the person using the software. Thus, Ubuntu has decided not to support directly these formats until it can be said they are truly "free." The following are affected by various laws and licenses which make them less than "free."

  • MP3 audio
  • MPEG-2 video with MPEG and/or Dolby Digital audio (DVD)
  • MPEG-4 video (aka DivX)
  • MPEG-4 audio (AAC / iTunes)
  • H.264 video (MPEG-4 AVC)
  • Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Windows Media Video (WMV)
  • QuickTime movies (old) with Sorenson video and QDesign audio

  • QuickTime movies (new) with MPEG-4 video and AAC audio

  • QuickTime movies (v7) with H.264/AVC video and AAC audio

Although many of these formats have legal (and free-of-cost) binary-only Linux implementations, distributing those is also complex: GPL applications can't legally link to non-Free packages, unless their authors make an exception.

2) Restricted formats without Free Software implementations, but with binary-only Linux players

Distributing non-Free software to decode these formats would be legal, but would conflict with Ubuntu's commitment to only include Free Software by default.

Although there are ongoing efforts to create Free Software implementations of these formats, they are still not mature enough to include them in Ubuntu. And even if they evolve to that point in the future, we'd have the problem of category 1).


RestrictedFormatsProblem (last edited 2008-08-06 16:39:53 by localhost)