Open Source in MPEG

Covenor of MPEG, Dr. Chiariglione gives the history of the Moving Picture Experts Group and explains the characteristics of the MPEG open-source software process.

Through a completely different process, MPEG—as representative of the world of audio and video—has come to a conclusion similar to the world of data-processing regarding the need to provide open solutions expressed in software (or, as the case may be, hardware) to technologies that are considered part of the “infrastructure”. The outstanding difference is that while the data processing world likes to define fully open technologies, MPEG bows to the reality of the world of digital audio and video where patents are found all over the place. Therefore, reference software (and reference hardware description) is copyright-free but, in general, not patent-free.

MPEG-21, a project to define an ecosystem of content on the network, places standardization of the infrastructure one level higher compared to what has been done so far. As the provision of reference software, be it normative or informative, is now an integral part of MPEG standards, it can be expected that considerable challenges lie ahead when MPEG will need to accommodate libertarian spirits with other, more mundane considerations. But, I believe it is better to deal with this problem in a group of technical experts than in a court of law or in a parliament.

The cooperation of all parties is sought.


Leonardo Chiariglione was born in Almese (Italy). In 1971, he joined CSELT, the corporate research centre of the Telecom Italia group, where he is head of the Television Technologies Research Division. He originated the ISO MPEG (Moving Pictures Experts Group) standards group, of which he is the Convenor, in 1988. The next year he began Image Communications, a EURASIP journal for the development of the theory and practice of image communication, of which he is the editor-in-chief. In 1994, he originated the Digital Audio-Visual Council (DAVIC) where he served as president and chairman of the board until 1995. In 1999, he was appointed Executive Director of the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) to develop specifications enabling multiple business models of electronic commerce of secure digital music.