Sunday, July 15, 2007

So ABC, where are the Open Codecs?

The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) has started offering program videos for download from their website. While this is a great start, there are some things that would make it even better. The BBC is currently under flack from the free and open source advocates in the UK after it proposal to release a video player (iPlayer) which was only provided for the Microsoft Windows operating system using the Internet Explorer. Content which is distributed by the national broadcaster is ment to be unbiased[1], non-discriminatory[2], and freely accessible by all[3]. A deliberate failure to provide any of these would certainly cause a public outcry. The programs and content available from the ABC website are available in several formats but they all currently use restrictive formats, namely Flash and Windows Media player formats. There are a couple of arguments used to justify not using open codecs and protocols. None of them address the three areas mentioned above. Regardless of whether the codecs can be downloaded by the end user for free[4], non-free[5] codecs:
  • restrict access to only the supported computer platforms
  • reduce availability for community members
  • loss of options of assistance and contributions from the greater community
  • cause alienation from viewing public and new media opportunities
Why is this issue important? If you are part of the Australian public that uses restrictive licensed software and codecs you may well have avoided these issues by paying for a license. The downside is that these licenses will continue to have to be paid for. Ubuntu, the popular Linux software distribution, offers built in support for many free and open codecs, straight out of the box, no additional downloads or restrictive licenses required. Support free and open codecs where you can.. more information soon. Notes
  1. Unbiased - as in field of conduct, pursuit or occupation.
  2. Non-discriminatory - against sex, race or religion (etc.).
  3. Assessable - publicly available to everyone.
  4. Free - as in no cost.
  5. Non-free - as in restrictive distribution terms.

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