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Canonical Offers Sale of Proprietary Codecs for Ubuntu 427

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the just-trying-to-help-the-users dept.
ruphus13 writes "Playing DVDs on Linux that required proprietary codecs has been a source of much pain. Ubuntu (or anyone else, for that matter) is not legally allowed to redistribute these codecs. So, users were left with sub-optimal choices. Convert the multimedia to an open format, acquire new media, or use a codec 'found' on the web, which may be illegal. In its continued effort to have a seamless and slick user experience, Canonical made the hard choice to offer the sale and support for proprietary codecs that users had to actually purchase for Ubuntu. This is not a fight Canonical can fight alone, and they are sure to get some grief for the decision."
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Canonical Offers Sale of Proprietary Codecs for Ubuntu

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  • Finally! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by clang_jangle (975789) * on Friday September 19, 2008 @02:47PM (#25075241) Journal
    Every time I convert someone to Ubuntu, the first thing I always do is download and install the "illegal" mplayer codecs. Otherwise, the poor user will click on some multimedia file and get that god-awful "search for codecs" dialog, which is usually enough to freak them out. It makes them feel they are dealing with a lesser OS, because it doesn't "just work" like they've come to expect (of course, they usually didn't install Windows either or they'd know better).
    I hope Canonical will just sell the install media (and download) with the codecs already in it. That would work really well for a lot of people. A boxed Ubuntu with all codecs on the store shelves for about $30 - $45 right next to the Windows Vista boxes (on sale for JUST $199!) would probably do quite well. Plus the word would start getting out how much easier it is to install and live with than Windows.
    Yes, I wish we lived in a world where all formats, protocols, and standards were Free, but they never will be so long as capitalism remains our official state religion. Meanwhile, we still want to watch our movies and play our music.
    • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Friday September 19, 2008 @02:51PM (#25075337) Homepage Journal
      If they want to make deals with the devil then they could bargain for better proprietary drivers for crap like advanced photo printers and iPods. Does Ubuntu have a decent zero-config wireless utility yet?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Pysslingen (544910)
      Though in fact it's not that simple... win xp doesn't come with a built in dvd-player. Often it comes bundled with one already on the computer; but nothing built-in. Windows Vista Home Basic doesn't either as far as I've been able to discern. Microsoft has a site pointing you to lots of "pay for something that should be free options", including upgrading to a more expensive version of vista. Mac OS X ships with a DVD-player, and has for a long time. Petty that something so basic should be still considered a
    • Re:Finally! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zancarius (414244) on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:04PM (#25075567) Homepage Journal

      Yes, I wish we lived in a world where all formats, protocols, and standards were Free, but they never will be so long as capitalism remains our official state religion.

      I think it is more appropriate to blame a broken patent system than capitalism itself. Patents impede competition which is an important concept in capitalism.

      • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by fermion (181285) on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:42PM (#25076331) Homepage Journal
        I am not sure that this is a problem with the patent system or capitalism. The patent system is largely protecting the inventor. I don't think any of the right holders of these codecs are poor, although the inventors might well be. Likewise the market is doing what it always does; provide products. This is why, for the most part, market economies do not have empty shelves, or people waiting in line for hours for product that does not exist. This is the working part of the market system. It is not feasible to create a product, and then deny it to the market. This is why we have knock off Gucci bags.

        Of course, the other half of the market system is a legal framework that does not encourage socialism. That is, make producers liable for the products, and prevent the government from limiting those liabilities. Of course, in the name of public safety and stability, there is some benefit to some market meddling. Of course, the problem occurs when government socializes businesses while stil leaving them in large private hands, as has happened this week in the US. The executives reap huge rewards while the taxpayer takes a bath.

        So, in this case, there is no simple legal and free way to get a driver for linux, so the market created one, in terms of gray market drivers. The market has also created a 100% above board driver. The only question remains, for a market point of view, is it worthwhile to prosecute those that use the grey market download. Certainly from a socialist point of view it is, because the government will pay the bills, and the right owner will reap the reward. Perhaps from a law and order point of view this is also prudent. But what it comes down to is that patents do not be defended to remain valid, the money lost through these grey downloads are likely not significant, and like MS Windows, the benefit of universal access probably outweighs any issue of lost revenue.

        • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Teun (17872) on Friday September 19, 2008 @04:05PM (#25076805) Homepage

          The patent system is largely protecting the inventor.

          Indeed and for me rightfully so.

          But patents on Software (formulas you know) are not right.
          Some sort of reward for a developer might be appropriate but it has to be tied to the industry.

          And in software that means maybe only for 3 or 5 years max.

          • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Zancarius (414244) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:27PM (#25078313) Homepage Journal

            But patents on Software (formulas you know) are not right.
            Some sort of reward for a developer might be appropriate but it has to be tied to the industry.

            And in software that means maybe only for 3 or 5 years max.

            Exactly, and well said. It's unfortunate that those of us who speak out against software patents are labeled amongst the tin-foil hat socialist crowd that is somehow against inventors, the free market, or demand government intervention (which is what patents are). As you suggested, software for specific purposes is very limited in duration (presumably because it becomes outdated within that time frame). I think patents are a very important protection for tangible inventions, but they're a horrible thing when it comes to software--or formulae, as you stated. As an aside, I love that simplification you offer, because it brings everything to the crux of the matter which is that software patents are oftentimes very narrow in scope and involve either an algorithm or a user interface that is so blatantly obvious, prior art has likely preceded any patent by years!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by qoncept (599709)
      "Yes, I wish we lived in a world where all formats, protocols, and standards were Free, but they never will be so long as capitalism remains our official state religion."

      Good call. Maybe one day North Korea will wake us up from our current state.
    • by roc97007 (608802)

      > ...right next to the Windows Vista boxes (on sale for JUST $199!)

      Isn't that the upgrade price?

    • by trisweb (690296)
      Amen! The reality is that the codecs mainly in use in the world today were developed under proprietary licenses and are not free, despite the fact that so many people would wish and hope they were. A moderate price for some proprietary codecs that keep everyone happy - both the owners of the IP and the users alike - is a win-win.
    • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Tatsh (893946) on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:17PM (#25075845)

      I agree they should definitely box up Ubuntu (Shuttleworth has got the funds) and start selling it right alongside Windows Vista. Even I might buy it just to support more GNU/Linux/FOSS development (Ubuntu is just one facet in the whole thing). $30-$45 is definitely a reasonable price for an OS that is 50x better than Windows and with that, free upgrades (I am assuming). People may not flock immediately, but with word they will.

    • by Arthur B. (806360)

      1) What makes Ubuntu great and cheap is precisely the fact that it resists putting copyright protected software. This is a bad move. It would be much better if the codec were sold separately by a different entity than canonical.

      2) Capitalism is about private ownership of the means of production, not about government enforced laws of copyrights. Many radical advocates of capitalism oppose IP laws.

      3) Where do you see capitalism being the state religion ? Are you joking ? As we speak the state is bailing out t

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MightyYar (622222)

      Free, but they never will be so long as capitalism remains our official state religion.

      I'm no poly sci major, but I think patents constitute government interference in the free market.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Warbothong (905464)

      Yes, I wish we lived in a world where all formats, protocols, and standards were Free, but they never will be so long as capitalism remains our official state religion. Meanwhile, we still want to watch our movies and play our music.

      You do realise, of course, that such places do still exist, and as far as I'm aware Canonical is in one since they are a UK-based company, and is not bound by retarded US laws like the DMCA and pretty much all software patents?

      From your use of dollars to describe prices, I assume you're American and were previously unable to get these legally, except directly from Fluendo, but I think it is a slippery slope for a UK business to willingly bend over before the laws of another country. Firstly in not offering

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by westlake (615356)
      Every time I convert someone to Ubuntu, the first thing I do is install the "illegal" mplayer codecs. The poor user will click on some file and get that god-awful "search for codecs" dialog. It makes them feel they are dealing with a lesser OS, because it doesn't "just work" like they've come to expect (of course, they usually didn't install Windows either or they'd know better). A boxed Ubuntu with all codecs for about $30 - $45 right next to the Windows Vista boxes (on sale for JUST $199!) would probably
    • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Aphoxema (1088507) * on Friday September 19, 2008 @04:07PM (#25076843) Homepage Journal

      Sometimes the easiest way to give something away "for free" after no one will take it is to put a price on it. It's a little disturbing to see how often this is necessary at yard sales. People ignore the 'free' sign on the little end table that has nothing wrong with it, but the second I put a "25c" sticker on it someone comes along and goes "Is that really only 25 cents!?"

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Excelsior (164338)

        Holy crap, that explains a lot. All these years I've been trying to give my body away to women for free.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CodeBuster (516420)

      Yes, I wish we lived in a world where all formats, protocols, and standards were Free, but they never will be so long as capitalism remains our official state religion.

      Even Richard Stallman [wikipedia.org], hardly the high priest of capitalism (although he does look somewhat like an old testament prophet with that gnarly beard), does not deny the right of the creator(s) or even just the re-distributor(s) to charge money for their software or even GNU programs (provided that they adhere to the terms of the General Public License which makes charging money and getting away with it difficult in practice, but not expressly forbidden). The free in free software means free as in freedom and no

  • by pwnies (1034518) * <j@jjcm.org> on Friday September 19, 2008 @02:47PM (#25075251) Homepage Journal
    The big thing here is not that they're offering them for sale, but that they're streamlining the process of the sale. The codecs have always been available for sale through fluendo's store, [fluendo.com] canonical is just making the process of sale slightly easier. The only thing I'm concerned about is that users will get the wrong message. New convertees to ubuntu (and there are a lot of them) might think that this whole "linux is free" thing is just a scam. Time will tell.
    • Depends. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DrYak (748999) on Friday September 19, 2008 @02:54PM (#25075399) Homepage

      New convertees to ubuntu (and there are a lot of them) might think that this whole "linux is free" thing is just a scam. Time will tell.

      It depends how the streamlined process puts it.
      If it is clearly stated that mostly all of linux is free, but in some legislation, there are patent fees applying for some technologies needed to access media.
      If its clearly worded, the convertees could even better understand why everyone is making such a fuss about the patent system with this concrete example : There this nice thing called Linux, should be free for anyone to use, but no, because of some obscure patent, you're forced to pay.

      Of course this problem is mainly constricted to English language where the word "free" collides two separate ideas of "freedom" and "costs nothing".

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:30PM (#25076095)

      Here is the real win for Canonical... OEM pre-installs.

      Its doubtful that anyone who downloads Ubuntu for free will pay for these things... they will find the no-cost alternatives and use them.

      What this does do however is give OEMs who want to pre-install Canonical a legal way to include these encumbered bits of software and roll the cost into the sale price of the computer/device the customer is purchasing.

      So really this is a mechanism aimed at people buying computers with Ubuntu pre-installed, who won't be given a choice as to whether or not to spend the money on these things. The cost will be included in the price tag of the device.

      It's actually a pretty smart move, and makes Ubuntu more attractive to OEMs.

      OEMs and Ubuntu boxsets.

  • ...this actually makes sense. (What that says about the legal structures in place, of course, is a separate question.)
  • otherwise Linux would always be viewed sceptically for it's need of illegal software. My only question is, how much will it cost?
    • by Dr. Manhattan (29720) <sorceror171@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Friday September 19, 2008 @02:54PM (#25075397) Homepage

      My only question is, how much will it cost?

      Streaming media and web stuff: USD$40 [canonical.com]. DVD playback: USD$50.00 [canonical.com].

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by pembo13 (770295)
        At that point, people distributing Ubuntu to friends need to specifically say that it costs $90. Unless they believe that said friend doesn't want streaming media or dvd playback.
        • by X0563511 (793323) on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:27PM (#25076045) Homepage Journal

          Or, like me, they will say "fuck that" and use "illegal" codecs, laws be damned.

          I'm not creating content with your proprietary codecs, so you can fuck off with your royalties.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by itsdapead (734413)

          At that point, people distributing Ubuntu to friends need to specifically say that it costs $90.

          Those in the know will use the free drivers (and tell their friends where to get them).

          Free-as-in-speech software purists need proprietary codecs like a vegan needs a steak-knife, so they have nothing to complain about - unless they think that Joe Potential-Switcher, given the choice between (a) sticking with Windows/Mac or (b) converting their entire media collection to open formats (which you can't do without a codec for the source format anyway) is going to choose (b).

          ...if you do decide to fork out $9

      • by Nimey (114278) on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:47PM (#25076425) Homepage Journal

        Splorf! When you can get a cheap new DVD player for $20 to $30 at $BIGBOXSTORE, $50 to enable the codec on your computer is a /bit/ excessive.

        They're pricing themselves out of the market. If I started feeling guilty about installing ubuntu-restricted-extras and not paying the intellectual-property tax, I might consider paying $10 to $15 to play DVDs and media files, but not $90.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by smoker2 (750216)
        Those prices are higher than fluendos. You can get a complete bundle [fluendo.com] that plays everything for €28 which works out at $40.
  • It's a good thing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by steveha (103154) on Friday September 19, 2008 @02:56PM (#25075433) Homepage

    Whatever you may think about software patents, the fact is that Canonical only has three choices here:

    0) Not offer this software

    1) Include the software for free, and break the law in some countries

    2) Offer legal software, and pay the licensing fees

    Ubuntu is my favorite distribution, and I'm happy to see legal, supported DVD playback.

    I'm really tired of reading reviews that say "Great distribution, but it can't play back any of my media."

    Now let's get Dell, Gateway, etc. to start pre-installing Ubuntu with the extra media options. It will be a better out-of-box experience than Vista.

    steveha

    • by Shados (741919)

      Just in case there's some confusion (since the standard WinXP Pro didn't have DVD decoders built in), Vista Home Premium and Ultimate do have DVD playback support out of the box.

      Now if you were (which is more likely) refering to out of the box Vista experience being inferior, regardless of codec, thats fine. I just wanted to clarify in case it was because of DVD playback :)

    • by mweather (1089505)

      Now let's get Dell, Gateway, etc. to start pre-installing Ubuntu with the extra media options.

      They already do. At least Dell does. Not sure about HP.

    • All dell ubuntu boxes that have DVD drives come with the software. Even the mini 9" has MP3 codecs already installed.

  • Good on 'em! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LocutusMIT (10726) on Friday September 19, 2008 @02:56PM (#25075435) Homepage

    One of the things I've always liked about Ubuntu is their decision to give the users the choice between running completely free and open source software or accepting proprietary [(though often still free (as in beer)] software on their computers.

    While I think it shameful that the DVD producers have decided that I need to pay extra to run a DVD that I already own, I applaud Canonical for giving me the option to do so easily.

    • Re:Good on 'em! (Score:4, Informative)

      by stubear (130454) on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:02PM (#25075529)

      "While I think it shameful that the DVD producers have decided that I need to pay extra to run a DVD that I already own,..."

      No, they have not decided this. They charge a license for codecs to DVD player manufacturers as well but those are built in to the devices out of the box so the costs are already part of the price set by the manufacturer. With computers, you do not purchase the ability to use your system as a DVD player simply y purchasing hardware, you purchase the codecs, and subsequently, through the OS or similar solution such as the one offered by Ubuntu.

  • by Mad Merlin (837387) on Friday September 19, 2008 @02:57PM (#25075441) Homepage

    It looks like the final piece has dropped into place for Linux! Linux is getting preinstalls from major vendors (in Netbooks especially, but moreso in general too). Wine had a 1.0 release quite awhile and is still improving rapidly. Now, the multimedia perplex is also solved.

    For those of you not already familiar, World Domination 201 [catb.org].

  • Good for them! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by thered2001 (1257950)
    Not only does this move make it easier for newbie end-users to adopt Ubuntu, it should make it more palatable to corporate types who are used to paying for products. ("It can't possibly be good if it's free, can it?") Users not wishing to pay can always get these codecs the old fashioned way.
  • Unless Canonical signed an agreement not to distribute DVD player software, there is no lawful prohibition of that for them.

    There is no default restriction on DVD player software, only on copy circumvention, and even a default Ubuntu system with the css decoding component will not copy a DVD - you must install or write some copying software or alter the product to make it do something which it was not capable of doing.

    This has been true since CSS technology stopped being a trade secret.

    • by mweather (1089505) on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:14PM (#25075803)
      Let's test your theory. Put DeCSS up on a website hosted in the US with your name and address on it, then mail a link to the FBI.
      • by Bloater (12932)

        DeCSS is a modification for a system to make it circumvent. the CSS component used in a linux player does not save anything. it only performs decoding for the players on the system.

        You would need an illegal mod to turn an Ubuntu system with the CSS component into a circumvention device.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Sloppy (14984)

          DMCA [cornell.edu] prohibits merely accessing scrambled content (and trafficking in tools that help you do that). It doesn't say anything about saving/copying.

  • This is a great step in legitimizing Ubuntu as an alternative OS, however it is a give and take. If Ubuntu is going to suggest people pay for something, they had better get "Compatible with Ubuntu" stamped on every single piece of software they endorse. The fact that the corporate world has forced the issue this far is a very good sign. I hope Canonical knows how to play the game to their benefit now.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LWATCDR (28044)

      Actually I have wondered for a long time why Ubuntu did create the software equivalent of an iTunes store for Ubuntu. I keep hearing about Linux versions of games but I can never find a place too buy them I admit that I haven't looked all that hard. I know this will tick off some people but if Ubuntu offered a place where people and companies could sell Linux software I think it would be a great thing.
      People could have a choice between buying software and free software.
      They would compete and frankly the g

  • uh huh (Score:5, Informative)

    by David Gerard (12369) <slashdot AT davidgerard DOT co DOT uk> on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:08PM (#25075659) Homepage

    'Cos, y'know, it's not like you can just install VLC from Synaptic [ubuntu.com].

    (VLC is also my favourite media and DVD player on Mac.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by GFree678 (1363845)

      The version of VLC that is available in the official Ubuntu repositories does NOT have the necessary codec to go along with it, for legal reasons. To enable support for encrypted DVDs (i.e. the ones people want to watch), you need to install libdvdcss2 from something like Medibuntu, which is the whole issue due to its questionable legality. The alternative is to download and compile VLC themselves from the main Videolan site, but that takes even more work.

  • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:09PM (#25075701)

    A little while back there was a supreme court decision about patent exhaustion. (I think that was the term.) It basically said that if company A licenses a patent to company B, and company B produces a product utilizing the patent and sells the product to company C, C does not need to pay A for the patent.

    I wonder if this is a useful defense against "illegal" codecs. I mean, the patent holder license the patent to the media creator and the media creator sells us the product. Shouldn't the patent obligation been handled between the licensor and the media company? Aren't we in fact, entity "C?"
     

    • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:19PM (#25075895)

      http://spie.org/x26516.xml [spie.org]

      So, if patent exhaustion is more expansive than previously thought.

      If we purchase a DVD, should we not have also (included with the purchase) rights to the patent used in the product, i.e. the compression algorithms?

      The used the "IP" to produce the product and paid the license to do so. Why should we be further encumbered? It isn't as if we are creating new content with the codecs, we'd use free ones for that.

      Any lawyers want to start a class action for EVERYONE that owns a DVD player?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Warbothong (905464)

        The problem is that the makers of a Free Software implementation, like LAME, will not get a license to use the patents because they are not the distributor, EVERYONE who gets it is a distributor. Apple can pay fees based on the number of iPods sold, but with Free Software a license fee for a single unit could be payed, then the recipient of that single unit can copy it indefinetly around the globe without paying anything.

        If, on the other hand, the recipient had to pay for the number of copies distributed (a

  • I have about six DVD's that don't play well on my MythTV boxen. If I add these, will they then play correctly?

    Anyone? Anyone?

  • Most moral/ethical issues seem clearcut to me. This one really doesn't.

    As a libertarian I am reluctantly forced to concede that it can be acceptable to sell ones and zeroes, and to forbid the buyer, as a condition of that sale, from redistributing those ones and zeroes without the seller's permission. This is acceptable because all things that are not forbidden are allowed, no matter how repugnant we might find them, and the only things that are forbidden are those which violate people's rights (namely, i

  • Woohoo! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheDarkener (198348) on Friday September 19, 2008 @03:29PM (#25076091)

    How can anyone see this as bad? Canonical is giving you a CHOICE - *not* vendor lock-in. You can still install codecs in any other fashion suitable for your situation - but for those who don't WANT or have the knowledge of HOW to install them illegally, manually, or what have you - this is a new option.

    Go Canonical! Go choice!

  • by stonewolf (234392) on Friday September 19, 2008 @04:03PM (#25076771) Homepage

    I am very glad to see this software available. It is about damn time.

    OTOH, I have to say the way this is being done pisses me off no end. First off, why only 32 bit? I have 64 bit computers so no codecs for me...

    But, that is OK... After seeing the prices I lost interest. I was flat assed shocked at the price. The total cost for DVD play back and a complete set of media codecs is $90 US. $50 just for the DVD player. I can buy a complete stand alone DVD player for under $30. How is $50 reasonable? $90 is just a few bucks less than the upgrade price for Vista. It is a long way toward the full price of Vista.

    One must wonder why the price of a set of codecs for Ubuntu is nearly the same as the price of an entire OS from Microsoft? A quick google search shows that the royalty rates for these codecs is measured in cents per user per codec. Looks to me like a reasonable rate for these codecs is more like $9 than $90 dollars. Who is ripping off Canonical?

    I actually trust Canonical... I run Ubuntu on all my computers. So, I have to believe that they see this as the only reasonable solution to the problem. But, instead of pushing a set of **gossly** over priced commercial software packages why don't they just sell the "illegal" packages for the royalty rate plus a few bucks to support cleaning them up?

    What am I missing here?

    Stonewolf

  • by smoker2 (750216) on Friday September 19, 2008 @04:04PM (#25076783) Homepage Journal
    My Fedora 9 installation offered me direct links to Fluendo for codecs, and Firefox also has direct links to Fluendo for plugins.
    So is it just that ubuntu has woken up that makes this news ?

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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