Should We Fight for Ogg Vorbis?

I'm a big fan of Richard Stallman and his work – even though, the first time I interviewed him, he proceeded to criticise my questions before answering them, not a journalistic experience I'd had before. Without his vision and sheer bloody-mindedness in the face of indifference and outright hostility, we would not have the vast array of free software we enjoy today.

More recently, he has built on his growing success in creating a flourishing free software ecosystem by moving on to address important related issues. These include fighting DRM (“Digital Restrictions Management



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Aminorex's picture

> Are you advocating that US citizens break the law and that distros
> should assist them to break the law?


> In that case, why even mess with this Linux stuff -- you can just use a
> pirated copy of Windows for free ;)

The concepts don't seem to be related. Pirating Windows means that
I am (1) doing evil and (2) using inferior software. Violating an evil
law is a good thing to do -- indeed, is morally obligatory -- and using
Linux means that I enjoy improved usability, functionality, and productivity.

NO! Bad to recommend breaking the law here

Sum Yung Gai's picture

That's not a good recommendation. Matter of fact, it's a downright bad one. That's like telling someone, "go ahead and pirate Microsoft Windows and MS Office" instead of saying, "hey, here's an Ubuntu CD; be Free *and* stay legal!"

A much better recommendation is to move from MP3 to Ogg Vorbis, and from Winblows Media / QuackTime (and MPEG4) to Ogg Theora. Then, not only are you remaining within the law, you also are using a *SUPERIOR* data format. Yes, the Ogg formats are in fact superior, not just legally, but technically as well.

As for the "evil" angle, if you continue to "just say OK" to a patented format like MP3, then you are, unfortunately, furthering Fraunhofer's evil. You're right; violating an evil law is the right thing to do (e. g. Harriet Tubman, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr.). But when you can simply avoid the stupid law in the first place, in a legal fashion, then you should. That's what Stallman did with GNU. One example is to take your entire MP3 collection and convert it to Ogg Vorbis. That's what I did, and I'm much better off now for it. Or, if you're ripping your CD's, then rip them to Ogg Vorbis instead of MP3. To hell with MP3; we don't need it any more than we needed GIF.

So, with Ogg Theora/Vorbis, you get to have your cake and eat it, too.


Jogging - 2 devices with MP3, 3 with Ogg Vorbis

Alan Peery's picture

I go jogging.

I carry a phone so people can catch me on the run, and so I can call my wife for a ride home if I overreach.

I use music to keep my pace higher. By using the speaker built into my phone for speaker phone functionality, I can listen to my music and hear traffic much more clearly than with headphones. And there no headphones to fall off.

I use a GPS wristwatch (Garmin 305) to monitor my pace and pulse over the run.

If I insist on Ogg Vorbis, I probably have to carry three devices rather than the two I currently carry... After all, the requirement wouldn't just be Ogg Vorbis -- but Ogg Vorbis and a speaker. Have you looked for speakers built into MP3 type players? They are very rare.

I think the author is dead on--there are much better places to spend our energy.

I don't think that is what

Sunit Das's picture

I don't think that is what either Seth or Aminorex was advocating. We're talking in circles and arguing the same point (or a similar point). I believe that Seth's point at the end of his post was that illegally using an MP3 encoder (or decoder in the case of mp3pro) on GNU/Linux is as morally questionable as simply pirating all of MS Windows, if the issue is simply playing one's MP3 music library. If one wants legal/patent protection, one needs both a free, patent un-encumbered codec, *and* a free OS.

I think Aminorex stated, in contrast, that simply breaking the patent license requirement and using MP3 on GNU/Linux is, in fact, morally superior to just pirating MS Windows, due to his own system of justification. While I see the point there, I question why pirating closed-source MS Windows is "doing evil", while flouting U.S. patent law is morally acceptable. One could make a point that pirating MS Windows is also a form of protest against whatever morally evil law you believe is propping up MS revenue. At any rate, I don't believe that this comment really addresses the Ogg Vorbis issue. Besides, by advocating the use of GNU/Linux, he really is advocating Ogg Vorbis anyway, because it does ship natively (for the reasons already stated) on modern distributions. Why not use what's already there?

So, back to the original response to Ms. Moody; what you suggest is already done. But it is a loophole that does not correspond to the current U.S. legal situation. Even when the patent does "run" out, the point has been made in above comments that there is no guarantee that this patent, like others, might somehow be extended. So, to reiterate, the safest position (especially for a business trying to market these audio tools on a distro as a product) if one wants legal/patent protection, starts with a free, patent un-encumbered codec, and a free OS.


Ramakrishnan's picture

LAME is a very good implementation of MP3 encoder. But LAME cannot circumvent problems in the MP3 standard.

To get an idea, take a wav file ripped from your favorite music track and encode it using LAME, faac (a Free AAC encoder) and Ogg at 32 kbps and see for yourself.



Davis's picture

hm, the result wasn't that bad. thank you

MP3 good enough?

Glyn Moody's picture

Certainly; but my point is that the success of MP3 shows that maybe it's good enough for most people. Which means that LAME is also good enough for most. Choice is always good, which is another reason why it's great to have Ogg Vorbis too.

Agreed. Good enough IS good

Bjorn Solstad's picture

Agreed. Good enough IS good enough. The VHS/Betamax war showed that very clearly. It's not the best technical solution that wins the market. It's the most clever vendor.

"Good enough"?

Anonymous's picture

I can agree that there are significant issues that need to (continue to) be addressed and battles that need to (continue to) be fought by the Free Software movement, and that their relative priorities can be debated and valued differently among different people.

Personally, I see the Ogg Vorbis fight as one of many battles in the software patent war. As such, I really do believe it's worth fighting, regardless of when the MP3 patents expire. The fight against software patents is not simply a legal one; it can also been seen as a conceptual and philosophical fight. Because of this, the popularity of MP3 increases the significance of this particular battle in my mind.

MP3 has certainly been successful, so maybe it is indeed "good enough for most people". But is success and adoption in that sense really a valid metric of what is "good" for most people? Windows has been enormously successful in that sense as well.

MP3 Patents

Ramakrishnan's picture


I think MP3 patents are not going to run out by 2011. There are not one or two but several patents on audio coding. They are not specifically targetted at MP3. The newer codecs from ISO, like AAC also use those patents and they continue to come out. AAC added a new section called Spectral Band Replication about 3 years back or so and it has several patents by a company called Coding technologies in Sweden.

So, let us first digest that it is definitely not a war against MP3. MP3 happens to be the most popular. There are many such codecs.

To get a glimpse of Audio Coding patents, go thru these, adding 20 to their issue dates are not giving me 2011.

5. ...
6. ...



ve3sre's picture

It looks like you need to be a patent lawyer to figure out whether or not the mp3 file format is going to move into the public domain in the next five years or so. So campaigning for license-free ogg vorbis sounds like a good idea to me.

If nothing else, it'll educate the public about the existence of the ogg vorbis file format. A case in point. Recently I was in one of the "The Source by Circuit City" stores (the folks who've taken over Radio Shack's outlets in Canada).

I saw an iRiver player on sale at a very good price. I knew that there were some iRiver players that supported ogg vorbis and some that didn't. Couldn't remember which was which.

So I asked the clerk in the store whether this particular model was one of the ones that supported ogg vorbis. To which he replied "What's ogg vorbis?" So I ended up having to educate the guy as I often have to do in "electronic toy stores". Afterwhich he snottily replied "well nobody would know that!"

I've since discovered that it doesn't support ogg (it was an H10) and Rockbox doesn't work very well on that particular I took a pass! Right now I'm sticking to my little Samsung Yepp which does support ogg and allows me to listen to Linux podcasts on the daily commute.

I think its a myth that the general public is using certain software because they find it "good enough". They use these things because they don't know of alternatives. I've illustrated the problem with ogg vorbis but it's exactly the same with Linux over Windows, Open Office over Microsoft Office, Thunderbird over Outlook Express and believe it or not Firefox over I.E.

It seems highly doubtful

ArtInvent's picture

It seems highly doubtful that Ogg would be truly exempt from patent suits. The MP3 patents are convoluted and wide ranging. There are cross-patent agreements among the different proprietary format holders that cover this. So if Ogg really got popular, Fraunhofer et al. would probably try and sue it's users. It's a mess and lamentable but it's reality and Ogg is not such an ironclad solution to that problem.

Also it is HIGHLY doubtful that patent terms will be extended beyond 20 years. Patents are much different from trademarks and copyrights. The point of a patent is that it's SUPPOSED to be open information and transfer the public domain after a reasonable time. That is the tradeoff and it's well established in law. MP3 will most likely be public domain relatively soon.

MP3 is the de facto lossy music standard and will most likely be public domain before Ogg gets much of a foothold. MP2 is also clearly the most popular audio codec for videos. If you like Ogg and want it to be usable, I would say support things and Rockbox that allows end-users to free their hardware up.

I can't say that Ogg is pointless. The problem is video. Blu-Ray and web videos and IPTV are the future, and it would be far better to have this media in patent-free formats. Does Ogg Vorbis have a shot there? Maybe, but it's a long shot.

Hmm, you make an interesting

Anonymous's picture

Hmm, you make an interesting point, and may have just answered WHY Stallman and the FSF are pushing ogg formats. Stallman has seemed to me at least, to be picking his fights carefully, and this one makes good sense. The mp3 is everywhere, and it is a rather small item in the grand scheme of things, but you get people to start using ogg, instead of mp3, and the tide begins to change. With Vista for example, take away the mp3 format, and you strip some of the control they have with DRM. A very small piece, but a piece none the less.
Then get people to move away from wmv, and quicktime, to ogg theora, once again, a small piece, but a piece none the less.

"It seems highly doubtful that Ogg would be truly exempt from patent suits. The MP3 patents are convoluted and wide ranging. There are cross-patent agreements among the different proprietary format holders that cover this. So if Ogg really got popular, Fraunhofer et al. would probably try and sue it's users. It's a mess and lamentable but it's reality and Ogg is not such an ironclad solution to that problem."

It may be that the FSF knows what the patents are, (I mean, they do have a lawyer or two don't they :)) they know what has to change to avoid patent issues, this may be a very strong reason that Stallman has chosen now to start this fight.

Up until this article I wasn't aware that there was even any hardware that supported ogg natively, I knew that there are some wrappers, and such, then again, I don't own any mp3's or players anyway. I have everything recorded in ogg, and only listen to it on my home computer.
I have been advocating linux for a few years now, (I have an XP machine, but it is a gaming box only). I use linux, and solaris at home, and work. I have gone so far as to bring it into open discussion with guild members in wow, mostly because I know that there are Linux gamers there.

If people really want to start putting a hurting on M$, move into the gaming arena. If a group of people, were to put out a game on Linux, (that absolutely will not run on windows) that was so mind numbingly beautiful, and so well designed, that it took off among the community like Halo did on windows, how long do you think it would take before people starting trying out free linux disks, just to play this game? Hell make a distro specifically for that purpose! Put all the software that everyone knows and loves, but use a specially designed kernel or something.

Tired of playing the game? Well why don't you take the time to look at all the others things that this disk has to offer? It would work. Nevermind the damn near impossibility to actually get the talent together to make such a game. (Of course use the vorbis and theora formats.) Which just for the sake of saying so, ogg vorbis was used as the sound format in splinter cell double agent. You can't tell me it's not catching on.

Linux only games ...

Anonymous's picture

Good Linux-only games is never going to happen because the programmers aim for a variety of platforms. Most aim for Linux+WinDos and some even include Solaris or OpenBSD/FreeBSD in their list.

For one example of a game that's been in development for a number of years now, see

There are many others of course which use free cross-platform graphics frameworks such as 'OGRE 3D'.

If you dared suggest to these programmers that they shouldn't include WinDos in their build, you're begging for an awful lot of abuse.

Vorbis in games

AdamG's picture

Anonymous poster said: "[O]gg vorbis was used as the sound format in splinter cell double agent. You can't tell me it's not catching on."

It was also used in Unreal Tournament 2004 IIRC. According to the entry for Vorbis on Wikipedia, it was also the format of choice for GTA: San Andreas. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the national public broadcaster in Canada) also provides it's radio streams in the Vorbis format. Unfortunately their podcasts are MP3 only.

"Unfortunately their

Anonymous's picture

"Unfortunately their podcasts are MP3 only."

Not true, they just obsfucate the ogg feeds for some reason; they're very poorly advertised. For example, the CBC Radio 3 full feed is

In Amarok I have the ogg feed; I can't seem to find a link for it right now, but lo and behold, the URL goes thusly:

I bet adding /ogg onto alot of the CBC podcasts would yield a similar result. At least, I hope so.

As for UT2004, it's worth mentioning that ogg is the default musical format for the Unreal Engine starting with version 2.0. Nowadays it's powering tons of games, and many shiny new ones are coming out based on version 3.0 (Gears of War and R6:Vegas are two high-profile examples). The developers over at Epic Games are pretty smart and tend to go for the best solutions rather than the most "popular"; the choice of Vorbis has Tim Sweeny written all over it, and more power to him. Speaking of UT2004, it did also come out for Linux and Mac OSX; the engine itself is designed to be as cross-platform as possible, which is another reason why Ogg Vorbis was a perfect choice for them.