We’ve all had time to reflect upon MPEG LA’s announcement of a DASH royalty pool. In my case, it led to the realization
that this is the first royalty on free internet video and that things could get a whole lot worse.
Let’s start with a quick recap. The royalty
is 5 cents per unit after the first 100,000 units
of either a DASH Player or DASH Initiator. A
DASH Player is any product “capable of parsing a Media Presentation Description and accessing or playing DASH Segments,” which
should include browsers that can play DASH
videos, like Edge, and off-the-shelf (OTS) players like DASH.js and JW Player. However, for
at least the first year of the license, there’s an
exclusion for players that load temporarily to
play DASH video, which would exclude these
OTS players. However, it seems highly likely
that this category will be taxed once MPEG LA
figures out how to administrate it.
Initiators are “products capable of initiating
transfer of Media Presentation Descriptions
[MPDs] associated with DASH Segments.” In
plain English, these are apps on mobile devices, smart TVs, OTT devices, or game consoles
that call an MPD for playback on another player. By definition, Initiators must be associated
with DASH Segments distributed by the web
service, or bear the brand name, which would
exclude general-purpose browsers. There is no
exclusion for apps that load temporarily to call
the MPD, and then disappear.
Now that you have the background, let’s explore the implications. As far as I know, there
never has been any kind of royalty on the use
of free internet video. With H.264, there was the
threat of this, though MPEG LA ultimately demurred, with MPEG LA CEO Larry Horn commenting, “The patent holders wanted to align
the royalty obligation with the actual receipt of
revenue, as we do with title by title or subscription licenses” ( go2sm.com/h264royalties). So
H.264 gives rise to a royalty when used to encode
video for pay-per-view and subscription, as does
HEVC under the HEVC Advance Patent pool.
I asked Bill Geary, MPEG LA vice president of
business development, whether there would be
a similar demarcation for DASH. He responded,
“The free/subscription dichotomy in H.264 is for
content, and in DASH there are no content roy-
alties, so the dichotomy would not apply. Right
now the temporary players aren’t licensed. It is
possible this will change in the future and if it
does, we would not base the royalty on the type
of DASH video viewed through the player.”
So, immediately, DASH videos distributed via
apps by churches, schools, and charitable and
governmental organizations are subject to the
royalty. In 12 months, web videos distributed by
the same organizations may also give rise to a
royalty. Geary’s statement that “in DASH there
are no content royalties” is a difference with-
out a real distinction. If you distribute DASH-
formatted video, you owe a royalty.
Another fear comes from my scanning the
patents in the DASH pool. Specifically, the AVer-
Media patent, filed in 2006, is for “A system for
processing multimedia data outputs [and] multi-
ple digital data streams of different compressed
ratios or types to adapt to multiple limitations of
storage spaces and transmission bandwidths.”
I am not a patent attorney, but if this applies to
DASH, it would seem to apply to HLS, and other
adaptive streaming technologies. I asked Geary
if additional pools were coming, and he replied,
“We frequently look at different possibilities for
patent pools. I can tell you we don’t have any
active pool work on the standards you mention,
although such work is not precluded if we see a
patent thicket and a market need for a solution.”
So one view of the DASH pool is a first step to-
ward multiple pools over all ABR technologies.
And the industry response to this pool, which
has yet to meaningfully coalesce, may control
how far MPEG LA, and the patent owners they
represent, tries to pursue this strategy.
How Bad Will They Get?
Jan Ozer ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a streaming media producer
and consultant, a frequent contributor to industry magazines
and websites on streaming-related topics, and the author of
Producing Streaming Video for Multiple Screen Delivery.
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