Let’s hear the community’s voice: the FAAD 2.5 licensing issue

I thought I blogged about this before, but it seems like I didn’t and I just talked about this on bugs and on IRC.

If you don’t know FAAD, it’s a library used for decoding AAC streams, used by many Free Software projects like MPlayer, FFmpeg, xine, VLC and others too. The 2.0 release was the only release available till some weeks ago, and suffered from a huge quantity of troubles, especially with respect to 64-bit cleanness; the fix for some of them resulted in a slightly API- and ABI-incompatible version in Portage, that thus disallowed users from just using FAAD in software installed manually without taking into consideration this difference in the API.

Both MPlayer and xine, to fix the issues present with FAAD itself, and to allow playing HeAAC (AAC+) and 5.1 AAC files, imported a copy of the library in their own code and maintained almost a “fork” of it there.

In Gentoo, the latest versions of VLC uses FFmpeg (with its code wrapping around FAAD) to decode AAC instead of FAAD directly, to be safe on the API change.

Some of the issues were already fixed, when we decided to apply the patch for good, in upstream CVS; unfortunately Ahead/Nero (the company behind FAAD) used GPL as base license, but adding an advertising clause that is by all means incompatible with GPL, which disallows using newer versions of the library in GPL-licensed projects, while the GPL requirements disallow using the library for more shallow-licensed projects.

We all hoped that Ahead would have cleaned up this situation before the release of a newer version of FAAD, but they instead persited in their choice even in release 2.5, even if their forums had at least a couple of threads on this topic.

Some time ago me and Tony (Chainsaw) got in a discussion because I forgot to close the bug about bumping FAAD with the text about the license, so he bumped it without knowing that (FAAD is still advertised as “GPL2 licensed” from upstream, although the copyright notices on the source files says otherwise). To clear up the situation, after closing the bug with a blurb about the need for a proper licensing in FAAD2, I’ve mailed Free Software Foundation, hoping they would be able to take care of contact Ahead and clean up the issue or at least lobbying for that; the answer was to mail Ahead: «We would encourage you to raise your concerns with Ahead, just as other distributors have already done.» .

So of course I contacted Ahead; the answer, that seems like a canned response, came 9 days ago, and I’m reporting it here (as there was no note about confidentiality of the mail in the first place, so I think I’m allowed to… besides, I’m cutting the half of it, the bottom half containing mostly advertising blurbs).

Dear valued customer,.

thank you for your email and your interest in our software.

The problem has been checked of our development and legal department.
Thanks for the notice. We will consider this in the future.

Should you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us again.

One could start pointing out that I”m not really their customer, and that I’m not actually interested in their software as much as I’m interested in having their license cleared, but the main point is that they don’t seem to get in any hurry to fix the situation, that currently provides a FAAD2 package licensed under such terms that you need to buy a commercial license for it for using it even for a GPL-licensed software.

As a single mail from a distribution developer served no purpose, and seems like I wasn’t the first anyway (from FSF’s mail at least), I would like now to see if the Community Voice can do something about this; it’s a smaller issue, not of the size of nVidia or ATI drivers disclosure, but it can show whether the community can actually do something or if we really just need developers to scratch common itches.

So I invite you all to send a mail similar to the following to Mpeg4AAClicense@nero.com :

Hello,

I’m a free software user, and I’d like to be able to easily play AAC streams with my favourite GPL-licensed media player; unfortunately because of the license you applied to newer versions of FAAD2, your library cannot be used as a Free Software product, and thus it cannot be used in that project.

Although the COPYING file that ships with the library appears to be
just a standard GPL 2.0 or later text, the license blurbs on the files
contain this advertising clause:

<pre>
** Software using this code must display the following message visibly in or
** on each copy of the software:
** “FAAD2 AAC/HE-AAC/HE-AACv2/DRM decoder © Nero AG, www.nero.com”
** in, for example, the about-box or help/startup screen.
</pre>

This clause is incompatible with GPL licensing, so you’re restricting
your code from being used in other GPL projects (as they cannot abide
to both the GPL and the advertising clause) as well as other projects
that, using a simpler license, could abide to the advertising clause but cannot abide to the GPL.

Please, rectify this situation by licensing FAAD under a normal GPL v2, so that your library can again serve a purpose for Free Software, rather than being just a set of source files that nobody can use.

Thanks,

yournamegoeshere

Maybe they’ll finally consider fixing the issues, so that xine, VLC, MPlayer and others can update to the 2.5 version of FAAD, allowing a better support for HeAAC and 5.1 streams.

Edit: thanks to everybody who is sending the emails to Ahead; I’ve updated the template mail with some hints from Andrew Wang, so that it’s clearer; thank you very much Andrew!