The MPEG Licensing Authority - the group behind regulation of the popular H.264 video codec - has responding to the growing popularity of Google's rival WebM codec - by making H.264 free, forever.

In a surprise announcement, the MPEG LA stated that the licence for "Internet Broadcast AVC Video" - in other words, the use of H.264 to stream video over the Internet - would remain free to end users. It's also free for anyone to implement on a site so long as the service that provides is a free one.

Such usage of H.264 has been free since the codec's inception, but there was always a deadline in place of 2016 - after which, the MPEG LA had hoped, H.264 would be the clear and dominant standard, and a charge could be levied that no one would dare not pay for fear of being excluded from the video streaming party.

It was a strategy that could have netted the Authority a great deal of money, but it's clear that the group believes the threat from the open-source - free-as-in-speech as well as free-as-in-beer - WebM codec released by Google is great enough to sweeten the deal with a guaranteed free licence for video streaming sites.

The news will be a shot in the arm for the use of the technology as an alternative to Adobe Flash for video streaming, but restrictions in the distribution of the codec will make it difficult to adopt for many software developers - meaning that H.264 support is unlikely to appear as standard in Firefox and other open-source browsers.

The MPEG LA isn't giving up on its profit projections just yet, of course: the use of H.264 in set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, personal media players and smartphones will still require a paid-for licence from the group.

Are you pleased to see that the MPEG LA's deadline is a thing of the past, or are there still too many restrictions to make H.264 the obvious choice above alternatives like WebM? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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