I would like to ask what the patent and or licensing restrictions of the MP3 file format are, and when did these arise?

  • I'm not 100% sure this is within scope for patents. I'll migrate it, but it may get rejected... – Rory Alsop Oct 19 '16 at 14:22

The compression and decompression algorythms of MP3 are patented by the owner, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, and thus are not freely available for commercial products or commercial use of the technology. personal use of the MP3-software is allowed. Open-source-encoders and decoders are being allowed.

a patent-free alternative for MP3 is OGG Vorbis. other alternatives are free for non-commercial use, like SHN and FLAC, but in controdiction with MP3, those two don't loose quality, while MP3 does.

[EDIT] woops! I just realised I forgot to source this! source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP3#Licensing.2C_ownership_and_legislation

  • FLAC is an open format with royalty-free licensing (not only for non-commercial use). SHN is an obsolete format. And as you said, these are lossless codecs, not alternatives to MP3. Both Opus and Vorbis are supposed to be patent-free modern alternatives to lossy codecs. – Pere Jan 25 '17 at 11:04
  • @Pere FLAC is indeed a lossless codec, though it does compress the audio by 30-50% and could thus server as a replacement to MP3, for as far as SHN goes, it's not being updated and there are codexes way better than it, that doesn't mean it can't be a replacement for MP3 if neccesary, though FLAC would be much better option. either way, both codexes do compress and can replace MP3 for that reason – Grey Jan 25 '17 at 12:26
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    in some cases (i.e. MP3 320kpbs) FLAC may be seen as an alternative. But for most cases, the royalty-free alternatives to MP3 are Vorbis and Opus. – Pere Jan 25 '17 at 15:59

The MPEG-LA group and Sisvel (Philips) prevent developers from adding MP3 support to their software packages without paying royalties.

from http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Mp3

MP3 has at least three separate companies that claim to have patents, Alcatel-Lucent, Thompson and AudioMPEG. All their claimed US MP3 patents are listed in the automatically generated MP3 patent list. The last of these patents expires in April of 2017. If you only look at the MP3 patents filed before December 1992 (one year after the decoding spec was published), then the last decoding patent expires in September of 2015. AudioMPEG claims that their patents cover MPEG-1 layers 1,2 and 3. The other companies just talk about Layer 3. So, at the minimum, fully decoding and encoding MPEG-1 audio is patented.

from http://www.osnews.com/story/24954/US_Patent_Expiration_for_MP3_MPEG-2_H_264/

TL;DR: All MP3 patents could have expired in US after April 2017.

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