Monty Montgomery of Xiph.Org Foundation has responded to Steve Job’s threat. Xiph is the foundation responsible for taking care of Ogg, Theora and many other codecs. If you have missed the on-going codec wars, now would be a good time to catch up. Check out our previous article on Steve Job’s veiled threat to Theora before proceeding.
Here is Montgomery’s response:
Thomson Multimedia made their first veiled patent threats against Vorbis almost ten years ago. MPEG-LA has been rumbling for the past few years. Maybe this time it will actually come to something, but it hasn’t yet. I’ll get worried when the lawyers advise me to; i.e., not yet.
The MPEG-LA has insinuated for some time that it is impossible to build any video codec without infringing on at least some of their patents. That is, they assert they have a monopoly on all digital video compression technology, period, and it is illegal to even attempt to compete with them. Of course, they’ve been careful not to say quite exactly that.
If Jobs’s email is genuine, this is a powerful public gaffe (‘All video codecs are covered by patents.’) He’d be confirming MPEG’s assertion in plain language anyone can understand. It would only strengthen the pushback against software patents and add to Apple’s increasing PR mess. Macbooks and iPads may be pretty sweet, but creative individuals don’t really like to give their business to jackbooted thugs.
Montgomery’s comment is both straight to the point and piercing. He is right in highlighting the fallacy of software patents. Instead of encouraging competition and innovation, they promote bullying and stifle the little guy. It’s ironic that Apple is trying to portray itself as open and also going after an open source project like Theora at the same time.
Update: Xiph’s Greg Maxwell has also responded to this controversy by trying to clear up the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) that companies like Apple and Microsoft are trying to generate around open codecs like Theora. You can read his take over here.