Monday, May 03, 2010

Camera licensing for compression

The recent archive on by Eugenia Loli-Queru has created quite a stir, revealing that camera licensing from MPEG-LA (for MPEG2 and AVCHD encoding) is for "personal use and non-commercial" applications despite the professional nature of the cameras for which this restriction seems to be attached. This was then picked up by Matthew Jeppsen at In both articles CineForm is mentioned, fortunately in a positive light, so I decided to have a go at the subject.

We (CineForm) are an MPEG LA licensee (just like everyone else in the video business) as we decode MPEG2 and AVCHD (H.264) sources when converting them into our format. These decoder licenses are straightforward, and are not expensive - after all decoding of distribution formats is to be expected and widely available. Yet a video camera that encodes to a distribution format seems to be burdened by an ill-fitting license model (wasn't it already burdened by ill-fitting compression ;) .) An MPEG2/H.264 encoder can be used for one off encodes (non-commercial use) or for producing a bit-stream that is going directly out cable or satellite (which we should expect to have a greater license fee.) When patent holders joined MPEG-LA (a good idea to have one licensing clearance house) they were thinking of an asymmetric system, one encode per million decodes (satellite to cable box.) Cameras changed that by introducing many more encoders, and this model emerged after MPEG-LA was established (we were all shooting analog or maybe DV back then.) If you wanted a truly professional camera-friendly license, MPEG-LA would have to go to all the patent holders to re-negotiate -- that is not likely to happen. The camera vendors chose a license from the existing MPEG-LA agreements that is the least onerous to them.

Well that is my total guess on the subject. I'll extend that guess as I believe that camera owners/shooters are not what MPEG-LA was setup to seek licensing from, and those users are not likely to be a source for additional licensing fees in the future.


Rob:-] said...

Could you guys be a contender for THE standard codec on cameras and the Internet? It seems like a wavelet based codec has many advantages such as fast decoding of lower resolutions that could make dynamic bandwidth adjustments.

I think Matt's article said that you own all your IP. That would put you in a good position for this.

Just thinking outside the box (Steve Jobs is trying to put us in).



David said...

Unfortunately we do go down to the H.264 bit-rates, as we targeting the other end of the quality spectrum. The distribution market is just a curiosity for us, we are focusing our compression for acquisition, post and mezzanine archive.

lordtangent said...

That could change really fast if Canon woke up and started recording RAW on their HD-SLRs. Given that you already have a totally working system in place, you guys are perfectly positioned for that stuff David! Now would really be the time to push the issue with Canon again.

hazydave said...

This seemed like big news when the report first came out, but it's not really a big deal. Or a change over many previous cameras. I have several AVCHD and AVCCAM camcorders, and I read the license.

The first thing to realize is that the license is buried in the manual. It cannot have any direct effect on the usefulness of the product as intended -- you didn't sign anything.

In fact, the point of the license is additional use. The camera manufacturer has licensed the AVC/H.264/MPEG Part 10 CODEC for recording and playback on-camera. They don't grant, and in fact, can't grant, use of that CODEC for other things.

Which is actually no big deal. If you transcode AVC, the program decoding your AVC file is already paid up on the ability to do that. If you schelp your video over from the camcorder, it has the license to do that. Transcoding into Cineform or some other CODEC leaves behind any AVC/MPEG-LA involvement.

The main point of the licence is that recording in AVC (or, for that matter, MPEG-2) doesn't give you a licence to use that AVC recording for other things. You can't drop that file onto television, as-is, or onto a Blu-Ray, and expect to escape the otherwise normal MPEG-LA fees that may be involved with that activity. You still have to pay the MPEG-LA fees, just as if you had shot in DV, DVCPro, RedCode, VP8, or some other non-MPEG-LA CODEC.

The mis-interpretation have people believing that the MPEG-LA is claming some control over your video, regardless of any future form it may take. They're not.