Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The legal battle for MP3!

Did you know that there’s a legal battle regarding who owns the rights (patents) to MP3!

Imagine that a file-compression standard used to create billions of music files, circulating the globe through the Internet and sitting on millions of music players is owned by someone who wants money in return for your use, and money from the MP3 player manufacturers and everyone else involved!

Greedy, you may think. Well, according to international laws governing intellectual property rights, it’s the right of whoever created this technology to benefit from it, if it was patented (registered). Apparently, the problem is that several parties are claiming part-ownership of this music standard. And, as you would expect, a legal battle has been raging.

Like everything else being researched in today’s modern world, I first checked the Wikipedia entry for MP3. Here are some excepts of what I found.

“MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, more commonly referred to as MP3, is a popular digital audio encoding, lossy compression format, and algorithm, designed to greatly reduce the amount of data required to represent audio. It was invented by a team of German engineers of the Fraunhofer Society, who worked in the framework of the EUREKA 147 DAB digital radio research program, and it became an ISO/IEC standard in 1991.”

Now, fast forward to what happened last week. “Microsoft got slapped with a massive $1.52 billion judgement for infringing on Lucent's patents related to MP3, but the issue of who owns the patent rights to MP3 isn't exactly clear. Microsoft thought it was in the clear since the company had licensed the MP3 codec from Germany's Fraunhofer Institute (members of which are pictured above), which bills itself as "the birthplace of MP3", but there are a bunch of companies which claim to have had at least something to do with creating the codec.”

Thomson, Philips, and Bell Labs (which was part of AT&T, but is now part of Alcatel-Lucent) all played a part. Not to mention Texas MP3 Technologies, which came out of nowhere to sue Apple, Samsung, and SanDisk recently. That’s quite a mess, isn’t it?

Apparently, the real problem is that MP3 evolved as a standard which builds on the work of earlier codecs and formats, so it's easy for a variety of different entities to legitimately lay claim to having some patents related to its creation.

So, what does this all mean, if and when a party, or a group of parties, are awarded the MP3 intellectual property? It means there’s a lot of money to be made by these people. Every MP3 music player manufacturer will pay fee, every seller of MP3 music files will pay annual fee or share of profits and you, the consumer, will be paying that added difference.

It’s sickening! This fiasco makes you admire Apple more, for using Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) instead of MP3 in its online music store (iTunes) and iPod devices. It’s also a better standard which delivers higher quality sound, but most importantly it’s clearly the intellectual property of Sony (no legal battles there) and AAC files and players are being sold to the public within reasonable pricing!

The MP3 standard must be similarly managed, but it’s anyone’s guess what will happen now. Let’s wait and see.


At 10:00 PM , Anonymous Qwaider قويدر said...

Interesting ...
When Microsoft Came with WMA, people went berzerk ... and now you're applauding Apple!!?

Talk about dual standards ;-)
I demand freedom for all, Free Palestine .. Free Tibet ..
Oops ... wrong blog :D


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