MythTV / licensing / GPL / Patents

Pete Dijkman pete_dijkman at
Sun May 16 20:48:36 UTC 2004


MythTV is an example of a great free
software project. It converts your GNU/Linux box into
a wonderful personal video recorder.
An australian company is using this software to sell a
PVR based on that software. See
According to:
they seem to adhere to the GPL by also putting all the
source on the device.

I think there might be some problem though. MythTV and
libraries like FFMPEG use all kind of patents. And
non-royalty free patents and the GPL are pretty
incompatible if you read the GPL:

"7.  If, as a consequence of a court judgment or
allegation of patent infringement or for any other
reason (not limited to patent issues), conditions are
imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or
otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this
License, they do not excuse you from the conditions of
this License. If you cannot distribute so as to
satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this
License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a
consequence you may not distribute the Program at all.
For example, if a patent license would not permit
royalty-free redistribution of the Program 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 Program."

So the people of D1 should get a patent license for
all the patents they infringe, but to adhere to the
GPL they need not only to get a patent license for
their customers but also for all the people who obtain
that code via redistribution. Since this can be a
sheer amount of people, they basically have to get a
patent license for an almost unlimited number of
people. It's very unlikely that patent holders will
license their patents in such a way. Unless you pay
them a gazillion euros of course.

Another thing somebody could do, is buy 1 box of D1
and then copy the software to sell his own boxes. If a
patent holder then knocks on his door, he just says he
got his code under the GPL from D1 and that they
should go and bother D1 about patent licenses.

Also something strange is the following text on the
FFMPEG website 

"Commercial use of FFMPEG: Few people has asked about
using FFMPEG usage in commercial (closed source)
applications. While you can definately use FFMPEG for
those purposes (don't forget to follow the LGPL
license), you still need to contact the MPEG-LA or
other patent holders in order to license the patents
which covers the various codecs you want to use. Most
of the Patent holders know about FFMPEG and they
follow the development, and so far none of them sued
or asked to remove any code, but that doesn't mean you
don't need to pay them if you're using this code

Non-royalty free patents and the GPL just seem
uncompatible to me or am I missing something??

Any comments/thoughts??


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