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Google may face challenges open-sourcing VP8

Google may face challenges open-sourcing VP8. Oh shoot! Google may not have license to open source. Sadness.

Although Google has not yet officially announced that it will open-source the VP8 codec and push for its adoption in the HTML5 <video> tag, some sources think they may not have the right to do it. Modern codecs are all built on cross-licensed technologies: it’s hard to do something completely original that doesn’t build on others’ work.

Today, Betanews asked a video technology business source whether our theory held water — whether technology owners could legally challenge Google, or other users, if it attempts to offer a free license for technology without the owners’ consent or license. The source replied affirmatively. While Google may very well own rights to a proprietary version of VP8 for its own sale and licensing purposes, outside of On2’s own patents, if Google and other users are not licensed under applicable patents, the “patent-free” state of that codec could be challenged in court, Betanews was told.

VP8 is undoubtedly a better codec than Ogg Theora (built, as it turns out, on a very early On2 codec – VP3!) and would make a better choice for the open-source alternative in the <video> tag, but if Google doesn’t have the right to open-source it, then all bets are off.