H.264 Licensing for Education

I’ve had the opportunity to read the H.264/AVC licensing summary (PDF file), and then request the official AVC Patent Portfolio Licensing document. It arrived a few days later and I’ve had the opportunity to read the whole text when I’ve had free time during the last couple of months. The document outlines the official terms and conditions for using the H.264 video codec. It’s been a very interesting read (the whole set of documents is about 118 pages). Here’s what I’ve gathered in reading the document and doing a little research online:

  1. H.264 is different than most of the video codecs we use today in that in many instances there’s a royalty fee attached to the viewing of the video.
  1. I asked the MPEG-LA about any exemptions for non-profit organizations. This was their reply: “All Licensees sign the same AVC License and are subject the same terms, including non-profit organizations.”
  1. The MPEG-LA (governing body of this license) wants all content producers using H.264 whether you receive remuneration or not from your video to sign the licensing agreement. (See this post by Jan Ozer )
  1. This is one serious legal document. You should probably have your legal counsel view every detail of this document before you or your institutional representative sign it.
  1. You may be taking your chances if you’re thinking you can use X.264 without making any kind of royalty payments to the MPEG-LA (See http://www.x264licensing.com/faq and the comments of this post by Jan Ozer ).
  1. There are a few instances where no royalties are required. They include:
    1. Making your content freely available on the Internet.
    2. Videos sold under a Title-by-Title structure that are 12 minutes and under in length.
    3. Videos sold by a Subscription with under 100,000 subscribers.

Now where does educational content fit in to all of this? Students pay tuition in order to take classes and indirectly pay to view content specific to that class. If that content is in H.264 format and is not freely available on the Internet, which licensing model does it fall under?

In Article 1.43 of the AVC Patent Portfolio License it gives the definition of of Title-by-Title AVC Video as: “Commercial AVC Video which is Sold to an End User in connection with the End User’s request for the specific content represented by the Title of AVC Video and for which and End User is obligated to pay any form of remuneration.”

By-Title could fit if you’re thinking a course is a title and you’re interpreting the collection of videos used in the course as a title.

In Article 1.41 of the same document it gives the definition of Subscription AVC Video: “Commercial AVC Video which is not Title-by-Title AVC Video and for which an End User is obligated to pay any form of remuneration.”

Subscription could work just by default if Title-by-Title doesn’t apply to you. Students could be seen as subscribers to a particular course, just with a set time limit.

Now, I’m no lawyer, and I would strongly recommend you talk to one before signing any legal document, but you can see there’s no clear model that fits for education. I suppose you could pick a model that best serves your particular setup.

Whether the videos you are delivering in the Title-by-Title or Subscription models fit within the royalty-free structure or not, be prepared to do a little record keeping. Keep track of your viewers so you can provide records if needed. If you exceed the criteria for royalty free video, be prepared to pay the following royalties:

    • Title-by-Title longer than 12 minutes:
      • 2.0% of the remuneration paid in Licensee’s first Arm’s-Length Sale or $0.02 per Title, whichever is lower. (This could get a little tricky trying to determine the actually cost of the video from tuition).
    • Subscription greater than 100,000 subscribers:
      • 100,001 to 250,000 = $25,000
      • 250,001 to 500,000 = $50,000
      • 500,001 to 1,000,000 = $75,000
      • more than 1,000,000 = $100,000

H.264/AVC Video is fantastic video codec. You can get higher quality video with lower bit-rates and smaller file sizes. With all the electronic desktops, laptops, tablets and smart phones that use AVC hardware decoding, educational institutions need to be aware of the terms and licensing issues that come with the technology.

Oh, and in closing, Article 6.1 of the AVC Patent Portfolio Licensing document says: “This Agreement shall expire on December 31, 2015.” So be prepared to take another close look at this in a couple of years. These terms are subject (most likely) to change.

Side note: Always, always, always have a master file of your video projects so when the time comes, whether it’s an updated H.264 codec or some new technology, its easier to re-encode your videos!