Furor Subsides as MPEG-4 Licensing Terms Are Set

MPEG LA, a group of patent holders to the MPEG-4 format, finally reached
agreement on Monday regarding final licensing terms after initial terms,
released in February, outraged the digital media community.


Under the new terms, due to go into effect this September, Web sites can
license the latest video and audio compression format for 25 cents per
subscriber or 2 cents per hour, subject to a $1 million annual cap. Also,
MPEG LA set a minimum threshold so that content owners with fewer than
50,000 subscribers aren’t subject to royalties. The fees are applicable to
Web site operators that benefit commercially from use of the technology,
through either paid advertisements, pay-per-view services or subscriptions.


“The licensing fees under MPEG LA were prohibitively high and it seems as
though they have reached a compromise,” said Ryan Jones, an analyst with the
Yankee Group. “It seems to be one that most parties can be happy with.”


Larry Horn, vice president of licensing and business development for MPEG
LA, agrees, noting that making the format usable for its customers and still
a viable commodity for the patent holders is why the group exists.


“Obviously (the compromises) were hotly debated among the patent holders,”
said Horn. “You do your best and come up with things that would actually be
attractive in the market.”


MPEG-4 is the latest compression technology for digital multimedia created
by the Moving Picture Experts Group, the group which also which also
produced MPEG-1 (interactive video on CD-ROM) and MPEG-2, the core
compression technology in transmitting, storing and consuming digital media.


MPEG-4 features significant strides in compression technology allowing
greater quality over less bandwidth.


Controversy erupted after the proposed licensing terms were announced in February.
The proposed uncapped playback fee of 2 cents per hour for MPEG-4 streams or
downloads that a service provider would have to pay concerned Apple and
others involved, who felt the price tag would lead to the technology’s
demise.


“We learned a lot in the process,” said Horn. “The January announcement was
very helpful because many of the principles have survived, but we have tried
to make them more acceptable to the user. We couldn’t have gotten as
meaningful a response had we not gone through the process as we did.”


The originally proposed terms also lacked an exemption for smaller Web
sites, a clause which is included in the latest licensing agreement.


“That’s a critical thing to drive acceptance of a new standard,” said Jones.
“If you are charging high licensing fees to Web sites or media companies
that are just experimenting with the new standard and dont have a lot of
following yet, you really squash a lot of the most important development
aspects of that technology.”


In February, Apple delayed the
release
of its Quicktime 6, which fully supports the MPEG-4 format,
until MPEG LA settle a more reasonable fee-structure. Apple ended up
holding out, until it released the new
version
at the beginning of June.


Industries outside of the Internet, including cable and satellite, have a
slightly different pay structure.


Current cable television, direct satellite television and over-the-air
broadcast that one day may allow a broadcaster to address its broadcast to a
specific viewer or subscriber will pay a royalty of $0.25 for the right to
manufacture and sell each decoder and encoder and the party providing
content service to the subscriber will pay a royalty of $1.25 for the
paid-up right to use a decoder to decode and use encoded MPEG-4 Visual
information.


For stored video, the replicator or content provider will pay $0.01 per 30
minutes or part to a maximum of $0.04 per movie, with the price falling to
$0.005 per 30 minutes or part thereof to a maximum of $0.02 per movie where
the content is 5 years or older. Videos of 12 minutes or less pay a
standard $0.002 fee


In addition to the MPEG-4 Visual Patent Portfolio License, MPEG LA will
offer optional licenses under patents that are essential to the MPEG-4
Systems Standard (without MPEG-J) and to the MPEG-J part of the MPEG-4
Systems Standard.

News Around the Web