The Null Device

MPEG-LA's stranglehold on digital video

Did you know that, if you shoot any video with a modern digital video camera and attempt to utilise it commercially, the holders of the video encoder patents are entitled to royalties on each copy made? This is why, for instance, all digital video cameras, up to the highest-end HD ones, are licensed only for non-commercial use; commercial users need to negotiate with a shadowy private consortium named MPEG-LA:
I was first made aware of such a restriction when someone mentioned that in a forum, about the Canon 7D dSLR. I thought it didn't apply to me, since I had bought the double-the-price, professional (or at least prosumer), Canon 5D Mark II. But looking at its license agreement last night (page 241), I found out that even my $3000 camera comes with such a basic license. So, I downloaded the manual for the Canon 1D Mark IV, which costs $5000, and where Canon consistently used the word "professional" and "video" on the same sentence on their press release for that camera. Nope! Same restriction: you can only use your professional video dSLR camera (professional, according to Canon's press release), for non-professional reasons. And going even further, I found that even their truly professional video camcorder, the $8000 Canon XL-H1A that uses mpeg2, also comes with the exact same restriction. You can only use your professional camera for non-commercial purposes. For any other purpose, you must get a license from MPEG-LA and pay them royalties for each copy sold.
Even worse: uploading video shot with one of those cameras in a free codec doesn't help, because exporting it to the free codec violates the licensing terms, and also it's not unlikely that all modern codecs fall foul of MPEG-LA's patents.
And that's how an artistic culture can ROT. By creating the circumstances where making art, in a way that doesn't get in your way, is illegal. Only big corporations would be able to even grab a camera and shoot. And if only big corporations can shoot video that they can share (for free or for money), then we end up with what Creative Commons' founder, Larry Lessig, keeps saying: a READ-ONLY CULTURE.

There are 2 comments on "MPEG-LA's stranglehold on digital video":

Posted by: dj Mon May 3 02:39:25 2010

I was thinking how ridiculous this was when I was reading the small print on a video camera manual that I bought the other day.

Posted by: Greg Tue May 4 12:08:32 2010

That's a great phrase - "read-only culture" - I hadn't seen that before.