LWN got a really interesting article discussing how Google have included H264 and AAC support in their Chrome browser using ffmpeg and the legal discussion that has come from that. It seems Chris DiBona and the Google lawyers have decided they can work around the LGPL by licensing patents for the ‘application’ instead of for the library implementing the functionality in question. Of course most of us would think that if you ship a library as part of your application, it is a part of your application, but Chris DiBona seems to feel that he licensed the H264 codec for use with the bookmarks list of Chrome and not the media engine :)
More seriously though DiBona tries to weasel out of the situation by claiming that the language of the LGPL saying ‘For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Library by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Library. ‘ only applies if there is a specific language in the patent license hindering re-distribution of the code. He even manages to refer to the fact that the FSF made the language on this subject even clearer in the LGPLv3 as proof that his reading is correct. While at the same time claiming that what the FSF thinks about these issues is irrelevant.
Well I guess Chris is right about Google taking their responsibilities very seriously, at least as long as they say what he wants them to say :) Can’t help but feel that Google somewhere along the line went from ‘do no evil’ to ‘we are google, hence no evil can have been done’ which while sounding similar actually are very different.
Funniest part though is that another part of Google, Android, seems to think its not even legally fine to ship a LGPL media framework combined with Apache licensed codecs with their stack. But I guess the Android and Chrome departments have different lawyers, so if we are lucky maybe the Android department ends up suing the Chrome department ;) Or maybe Chris DiBona wakes up and realize he could resolve this issue quickly by combining the Apache licensed H264 implementation in Android with his ffmpeg stack and thus resolve this issue.