≡ Menu

patent holder

Linux Illegal Codecs and adoption problem

So Do Illegal codecs (shady definition [1]) scare you as a Linux user? According to Adrian Kingsley-Hughes:

... I’m especially interested in rolling out Ubuntu onto older PCs and notebooks where installing Windows will put too much of a strain on the hardware. But there’s one aspect of Ubuntu, and Linux in general for that matter, that’s putting me off. This is the fact that to play a DVD or use WMA/WMV files I have to install codecs that are technically illegal to use.

Linux has a number of really strong points that go beyond the price (reliability, ease of use and low hardware requirements to name but a few), but the operating system falls short when it comes to legally supporting file formats such as MP3, WMA/WMV and DVDs. It’s not that you don’t have support for these formats available, it’s that adding support means entering into some really shady legal territory...

A good question, what do you think? Should patent holder care more about codecs or all downloaded music / mp3 and other formats? One can convert his / her collection to open formats. Luckily in my country there is no such stupid law exists.

Illegal Codecs Put Me Off Linux (via /.)

[1] In many countries (outside USA) codecs are not illegal.

This question is asked again and again. Why Linux don't support mp3, allow watching DVDs and selected wifi cards out of the box?

Short answer - copyright/IP laws prevent shipping all these software(s) and technologies/plugins with each Linux distribution. However some distribution comes with all these goodies but they are not free (try Linspire, which is not free but support is included for many common software). You need to purchase a subscription.

In the United States and many other countries, companies or developers or manufacturers must pay patent royalties to use an MP3 player or MP3 Encoder or Windows movie decoders. There is also conflicts between patent licenses and the licenses of application source code, so mp3 support is not provided out of box. This has been done for legal reasons. No one wants to get sued for breaking patent laws.

Most of these drivers are "restricted" because they are not available under a completely Free licence.

In short GNU/Linux and other distro try to follow rule:

  1. If something is proprietary, it cannot be included in Linux
  2. If it violates United States federal law (most popular distros are manufactured in USA), it cannot be included in Linux
  3. Patent-encumbered software etc

Following packages/drivers/encoder are not includes in most distros:
=> Nvidia /ATI graphics card
=> Vmware player kernel modules
=> Wifi chipsets
=> MP3 Support
=> Real Media and Player
=> CSS encrypted DVDs (DVD Playback)
=> Cryptography
=> Adobe Flash Player etc

The patent holder is not ready to give an unrestricted patent grant, as required by the GPL license. To get mp3 support for your distribution you must use third party repositories (or vendor site) to download application.

So how do I get working mp3 and other stuff?

You need to download RPM files or add selected repositories to your distributions. Following list summaries the work around for popular distribution:

Debian Linux

Use apt-get to install required software. However you may find Debian-multimedia repo good to install few codecs.

Add debian-multimedia.org repositories to your /etc/apt/sources.list file:
# vi /etc/apt/sources.list Append following line:
deb http://www.debian-multimedia.org sarge mainORdeb http://www.debian-multimedia.org stable mainJust update all packages list:
# apt-get update
Use apt-get command to install multimedia packages such as mp3 players, DVD players etc.

=> Download and more information available at debian-multimedia

Ubuntu Linux

Use Automatix which is a graphical interface for automating the installation of the most commonly requested applications in Debian based linux operating systems. See how to install and use automatix to run mplayer music player

For Intel Centrino wifi card and other graphics card you need to use Ubuntu binary only package called linux-restricted-modules. Common modules are:
=> nvidia-glx/ATI graphics card
=> vmware-player-kernel-modules
=> Wifi chipsets etc

Most of above are restricted formats and as an end user you need to download and install them on Linux desktop system.

Under Ubuntu Linux linux-restricted* package is installed by default. You can always update this package to get bug fix and stability via update manager or type following commands:
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install package-name
$ sudo apt-get install linux-restricted-modules-x.x.xx

Always use latest kernel. Replace x.x.xx with your kernel version number. Use uname -r to find out kernel version. If kernel version number is 2.6.17 use package name linux-restricted-modules-2.6.17

Fedora Core (Red hat and friends)

Dag's RPM/ RPMforge.net repositories provides support for following Linux distributions:

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux
  • Fedora Core
  • Old Red Hat Linux
  • Yellow Dog Linux
  • Aurora Linux
  • CentOS
  • Scientific Linux
  • TaoLinux
  • WhiteBox Linux
  • Lineox
  • BLAG

See how to play mp3 under Fedora Core Linux.

Download and more information available at following urls:
Dag's rpms

Don't forget to check out your distributions help documentation and official forum/mailing list :)

Please note that I am not a lawyer but just trying to answer a question which is asked by new Linux desktop users again and again. Hope this small how to provide answer and work around. If you have a better solution or thoughts on how we can help to solve this problem please comment back :)

Other possible solutions

If possible, use patent unrestricted formats such as Ogg Vorbis or FLAC.

Further readings

Updated for accuracy.