Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

When the patent lawyers strike

dBpowerAMP Music Converter, the program I use for ripping music CDs, will no longer offer MP3 encoding for free starting with the next release. According to this forum thread, the developer has been told by the MP3 patent holders, the Fraunhofer Institute, that he must pay $0.75 for every copy of the program downloaded that decodes MP3s, plus $2.50 for every copy that encodes. dMC does both, so that’s $3.25. This means that, as a free program, the developer cannot afford to pay these fees.
As such, MP3 encoding will still be included but it will cease to function after 60 days – the user must then pay $9 to be able to encode MP3 files.
Thankfully, other formats, like Windows Media and Ogg Vorbis are not affected by this, since MS is very relaxed about licensing and Ogg Vorbis has no patents whatsoever. But this is the reason why I begrungingly use MP3 – I do not agree with how it has been patented or how its patents are being enforced. The problem is that there enough big companies who can offer MP3 support in their free products (Apple, AOL, MS, Real etc.) and who can pay the fees, but by doing so they’re making the format more ubiquitous and then putting the smaller developers in a more difficult position. After all, you wouldn’t download a music player that couldn’t play MP3s, would you?
Sadly, the main MP3 patent (5,579,430) doesn’t expire until 2012 at the earliest so we’re going to have this problem for some time.

5 Comments

  1. How does something like CDex afford the licence fee?

  2. They don’t. However, The Fraunhofer Institute probably doesn’t care about them as much. My guess is dBPowerAMP is going out to way more people than CDex. However, once the Fraunhofer Institute finishes with dBPowerAMP, I wonder which of the free rippers will be next…

  3. There have been multiple discussions about this on the CDex forums: Encoding MP3 Legal Stuff and Lame MP3 legal question
    I think the fact that CDex is open-source may have something to do with it. In order to comply with the patents, CDex would simply have to stop distributing the binary files of the LAME MP3 encoder to people in countries where the MP3 patent is valid. I imagine it would be hard to enforce this. On the other hand, for non-open source software like dBpowerAMP, you have a single point of pressure – the developer.
    I disagree with Neil’s assertion that is Microsoft is “relaxed” about licensing for Windows Media. If you look at the pricing page for Windows Media licenses, you’ll note similar per-decoder and per-encoder pricing for non-Windows computers and hardware as Fraunhofer uses with MP3.

  4. Woops, I pinged the wrong post! 🙁 Can you delete the trackback pointing to the music post. That’s now the right one… Sorry…

  5. When the patent lawyers strike

    When the patent lawyers strike dBpowerAMP Music Converter, the program I use for ripping music CDs, will no longer offer MP3 encoding for free starting with the next release. According to this forum thread, the developer has been told by the MP3 patent…