Google Fixes WebM Licence


As an update to my story from last week about the WebM CODEC project started by Google, I am pleased to say that the project is now fully open source, with the copyright licensed under the BSD licence. Many thanks to Google for addressing the concerns that I and many other members of the community expressed over the licence under which the project was initially announced. We are spared yet another open source licence, something I welcome as an OSI director.

Google's resolution of the matter has been achieved by separating the copyright licence and patent grant language from each other. The original (perhaps hurriedly-created) text created a new licence, triggering the need for approval by the Open Source Initiative. As Google's announcement says,

Using patent language borrowed from both the Apache and GPLv3 patent clauses, in this new iteration of the the patent clause we've decoupled patents from copyright, thus preserving the pure BSD nature of the copyright license. This means we are no longer creating a new open source copyright license, and the patent grant can exist on its own.

This is a particularly good resolution as it offers the WebM source under the most liberal possible open source licence, allowing re-use in almost any context, while solving the one down-side of the BSD licence - the lack of a patent grant.

Google has also eliminated the incompatibility with the GPLv2 and GPLv3 licences that existed in the original language, which means that it will be possible for WebM to be readily incorporated in the GNU environment and in GNU/Linux. To quote Google's own words again:

As it was originally written, if a patent action was brought against Google, the patent license terminated. This provision itself is not unusual in an OSS license, and similar provisions exist in the 2nd Apache License and in version 3 of the GPL. The twist was that ours terminated "any" rights and not just rights to the patents, which made our license GPLv3 and GPLv2 incompatible.

While less-focused concerns about MPEG-LA's patent pool sabre-rattling continue, Google's correction of their earlier licencing and community-relations error is both timely and welcome and I congratulate the WebM project team. Now let's get WebM supported everywhere, for the sake of everyone's liberties!

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