[clug] What can't be distributed with Linux?

James "Doc" Livingston doclivingston at gmail.com
Mon Mar 19 13:05:08 GMT 2007

On Mon, 2007-03-19 at 09:56 +1100, Sam Couter wrote:
> > What about things like win32codecs? I know most distros don't include
> > them by default, but I'm not sure whether they are distributable. If
> > they aren't, then how can they be downloaded from mplayer off the net?
> They're widely available all over the net. I don't know whether that's
> strictly legal or not, or whether it's legal to put them on a CD. Either
> way, Linux isn't a factor.

In the case of w32codecs, they are dlls copied from a Windows
installation. You *might* be allowed to copy them from your own Windows
installation, you'd have to read the Windows EULA carefully to find out,
but distributing them is certainly a copyright violation.

As mentioned libdvdcss has problems in countries which have laws
restricting the circumvention of copyright controls.

As well as those, plenty of codecs have patent issues if you live in a
country that has software patents (e.g. Australia). If you distribute
the codecs without getting a patent licence, you could be sued by
whoever holds the patent.

If you do get a patent licence, they fun doesn't stop there - the
licence of a reasonable amount of open-source software (notably anything
GPL'd) is possibly incompatible with the terms of the patent licence. 

For example Fluendo have a MP3 decoder plugin for GStreamer, whose
binary version has a proper patent licence. The source of the plugins is
MIT licenced, but that doesn't get you the patent licence, and the terms
of distribution on the binary version (as required by the patent holder)
and incompatible with the GPL. I've been told that several groups
(including Fluendo and Red Hat) have received legal advice that shipping
both the Fleundo MP3 plugin and any GPL'd software that uses it would be
a violation of the GPL, and as such you could be sued by the copyright
holders of the GPL'd software.

Multimedia things tend to have the biggest mess of patents and
licencing, but other things do too. 


James "Doc" Livingston
If at first you don't succeed, sky diving is not for you.

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