OpenH264 in Fedora

Alberto Ruiz aruiz at
Mon Nov 4 14:46:07 UTC 2013

On Sat, 2013-11-02 at 18:36 +0100, Kevin Kofler wrote:
> Michael Catanzaro wrote:
> > Another important point is that future versions of Firefox will download
> > and "install" (I'm not quite sure where) the binary from Cisco's
> > website, unless some about:config setting is disabled. I imagine this
> > could possibly mean H.264 will work only in Firefox but not other
> > browsers, which would suck.
> IMHO, having such a setting enabled by default in Fedora is unacceptable. A 
> browser must not go and download binaries which are effectively non-Free 
> wherever the patent holds (because exercising your right to modification 
> under the copyright license voids your patent license) behind the user's 
> back.

While I agree that we shouldn't silently install non-free software (and
I'm sure Mozilla doesn't want to either), saying that they are
effectively non-free is a bit inaccurate, the _binaries_ are not
re-distributable under US jurisdiction, access to the source code is
granted, which makes them non-US, the software is free (the source
license does grant 4 freedoms). There are plenty of countries where
software patents are not valid making it perfectly fine.

Mind though, there's pretty much no line of code that is not potentially
covered by some US patent owned by someone these days.

So I'd say that what is broken here is the US patent system not the
code, and we have to deal with it. Strictly speaking, we wouldn't be
promoting non-free software here, but circumventing a policy that is
broken (not so different to what the GPL does).

It's a trade off, would you rather have users not being able to play a
hugely widespread codec that happens to be free software or would you
rather make the default experience in Fedora and Firefox better for our

I think we should _inform_ users of what's going on when the codec is
being downloaded and let them opt-in/out depending on their criteria.
There's plenty of people who just want to play a video and do _not want_
to understand the licensing implications, or how to opt-in for a yum
repository, or to understand what a yum repository is at all.

Passed the point where we made an effort to inform the user I don't
think we should design our software in a way that makes it particularly
hard to make a choice about how much you care about freedom, after all,
you can just go to rpmfusion and/or other repositories and get all sorts
of non-us and non-free software if you chose to, it's just harder to do
that. The problem is that the people who do not have a grasp on how the
underlying system works have a hard time figuring these things out,
which takes their away their freedom to make a choice.

Otherwise, the perception of people is going to be this: "heck, I can't
watch videos on Firefox/Fedora and I don't know what to do about it,
hence, Firefox/Fedora is pretty bad". So while trying to preserve
freedom, you are in fact, harming the perception of the quality of our
software and the ability of people to get their stuff done.

So my suggestion is that we wait for Mozilla to come up with an actual
mechanism to install this, we review it, and we make up our minds about
how to preserve freedom of choice while letting the user make an
informed decision.

Alberto Ruiz

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