Multimedia on the web is dominated by closed formats, encumbered by patents owned by large companies. This means that any advanced technology to create video and audio is subject to licensing fees, and innovators face threats of patent lawsuits. Even multi-billion dollar companies are at risk: one court ruling, which was later overturned, ordered Microsoft to pay $1.5 billion for alleged MP3 related patent infringements. How can we bridge the digital divide and bring rich content to people all over the planet when patent threats loom over key technologies?
The Wikimedia Foundation only hosts videos and audio files that are available in open formats, most notably the open source standards Ogg Vorbis (audio) and Ogg Theora (video) developed by the non-profit Xiph.Org Foundation. These standards are unencumbered by patents and can be used by anyone freely to build any kind of video or audio technology. As such, they provide a secure baseline for innovation.
The Mozilla Foundation, the non-profit organization behind the Firefox web browser, agrees. We’re very happy to share the message below, posted by Wikimedian and long-time free software supporter Greg Maxwell on the Foundation-l mailing list. Some background about Ogg, Theora, Vorbis, and free software in general can be found on Wikipedia. You can also view some samples of Ogg Theora videos on the Wikimedia Commons.
(thanks also to the WM UK Chapter’s David Gerard for keeping us posted on the development)
[Foundation-l] Theora and Vorbis support in Firefox 3.1a2
Wed Jul 30 22:27:15 UTC 2008
“Mozilla is committing to include native support for OGG video and
audio in its next release that includes support for the video element
This is an announcement that Mozilla will be supporting the WhatWG
HTML5 multimedia tags as well as including Xiph’s unencumbered media
codecs as part of Firefox.
The WHATWG HTML5 <video/> and <audio/> tags allow supporting browsers
to naively display multimedia content just as they display still
images: without the need for plugins or extensions and with full
integration. Mozilla’s commitment to including a set of reasonably
performing and unencumbered codecs as a baseline means that web
developers and users have an opportunity to have multimedia that Just
Works without licensing obligations adding friction to the free flow
of knowledge. Together the native multimedia support and the baseline
inclusion of unencumbered multimedia codecs are an essential step
forward in preserving the open and unrestricted qualities of the web
which are so important to our mission.
The Wikimedia projects have long had a strong commitment to free media
formats, and Wikimedia Commons is probably the largest repository of
videos in Ogg Theora on the web. But our commitment has, at times,
been a costly one: As an early adopter of free media technology we’ve
suffered from more than our share of complications and incompatibilities.
After years of effort driving adoption and our own work improving the
state of the art for free media formats we’re now seeing the beginnings
of a true mainstream adoption which will allow these multimedia formats
to be truly costless for producers and consumers of knowledge. I know
from my own involvement that Wikimedia’s adherence to free formats has
been essential in moving things this far, and everyone who has worked
on multimedia within the Wikimedia projects should be proud of our
collective contribution here.
This could never make it into the mainstream without the groups
developing and promoting these free codecs — particularly Xiph.org,
spreadopenmedia.org, and the FSF’s PlayOGG campaign. The W3C’s policy
of only accepting royalty-free technology has played an essential
role by not allowing encumbered codecs as part of the standard, but
there has been a stalemate in the adoption of a useful, royalty free
baseline codec set. Because of this, I’d like to personally extend
thanks to the Mozilla Foundation for joining our leadership in this
important area of web standards. Without their help Web Video would
have no hope of escaping the environment of incompatible, proprietary,
“de facto standards” with their related costs.
The Wikimedia projects have had integrated video playback support
for some time now via the OggHandler extension. OggHandler supports a
multitude of playback methods (such as a Java player using Cortado, and
the VLC browser extension) in an effort to get unencumbered multimedia
format support working for as many people as possible. OggHandler has
been a great success, already working for a vast majority of readers, but
the native support in a popular browser will make OggHandler even better
(smoother performance, zero install or an easy upgrade to FireFox, etc).
The new <video/> tag in Firefox has been supported as a playback method
in OggHandler since day zero so the new Firefox builds will automatically
use their native playback ability on the Wikimedia sites.
The code for native support for Ogg Theora and Vorbis
was checked into the Mozilla mainline last night and is
already available in nightly builds marked 3.1a2pre or later
[http://ftp.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla.org/firefox/nightly/latest-trunk/ - be sure to grab versions marked 3.1a2, not 3.1a1!].
The support is new and pretty raw: There are obvious outstanding issues
with things like timing and audio access on some platforms (such as many
GNU/Linux distros). Once the known bugs are fixed I’ll be soliciting
Wikimedians to check for bugs in both our own player code as well as
the Firefox test releases.
Now would be a good time to start building up some material on commons
to showcase this support for Firefox’s official release. Although
we’ve had video on our projects for a long time it’s still largely a
new and unexplored territory for us. There are many opportunities to
make important contributions and to have a lot of fun.