[sip-comm-dev] Using G.729 Codec


#1

I read with interest bug #176, "support for g729", at
https://sip-communicator.dev.java.net/issues/show_bug.cgi?id=176 . I
work with the Asterisk PBX, and I can offer some insight into how
SIP-Commuicator can support G.729 without violating legal constraints on
either SIP-Communicator or G.729 .

  G.729 is a patented codec algorithm. That means that any software that
encodes data into G.729 format, or that decodes G.729-encoded data into
any other format, must operate under an explicit license originating in
the G.729 patent holder. It's not clear (in murky US
patent/DMCA/whatever law) whether you are prohibited from writing and
operating code that implements a G.729 codec (either/both encode and/or
decode) *if you do not distribute it, and do not derive any commercial
gain from it*. In other words, research and education *of yourself* are
commonly believed to be safe, even if you do not have a license to do
so. This freedom might not be protected by law - I am not a lawyer, and
I don't know of any actual court cases, especially under the G.729
patent - but the practice is widespread, specifically with G.729 codecs.
In other words, the audio processing community "conventional wisdom"
that is being used by many developers and researchers around the world
says that it's OK to do R&D by writing and testing G.729 codecs without
a patent license.

  The patent is separate from the code. There are several "reference
implementations" of G.729 codecs in executable code distributed as
source code. There are various licenses that come with those code
samples. Intel, for example, offers a code package that is widely used,
but which prohibits use in commercial applications. There are a few
other restrictions on the Intel code, but it is expressly supplied for
R&D, and used as such fairly widely. Other implementations are offered
with similar freedom for R&D. Again, they are covered under copyright
restrictions, which are independent (and in addition to) the patent
license restrictions.

  If you want to use someone's codec, even a commercially available
binary codec, you also need to have a license originating in the patent
holder. Code offered commercially for execution in commercial
environments usually (always, AFAIK) comes with a patent license.
Sometimes those licenses are expensive, especially for multiple
concurrent instances of a running codec (the terms under which the
patent license is usually offered). However, Digium (the company that
produces and publishes the fairly open-source Asterisk PBX) sells G.729
codecs, with patent licenses they relicense from the patent holder, for
the lowest price I know. It's $10 per concurrent stream (ie, 2 streams
for a typical 2-person phonecall means 2 codecs means $20 in licenses).
The money pays for the license, and compensates Digium (which it also
invests in its other operations, including open Asterisk development).
There are other relicense sources, but they're all more expensive than
buying them from Digium, except at large numbers of concurrent
streams/codecs (eg. 10,000 or so, maybe fewer).

  I would recommend SIP-Communicator operate in this Intellectual
Property environment in the following manner: Code SIP-Communicator with
an interface for *any* codec as a module, including G.729, the generic
G.711, maybe GSM or some other popular codecs, all with the single
"codec" API. Developers can use the Intel or other reference code in R&D
to develop the API, as long as they do not distribute the G.729 code
they used in violation of its copyright license (eg. noncommercial).
Offer G.729 as an addon module. Then, with some finesse, perhaps the
project (or someone using the project's products) can make a deal with
Digium or some patent relicenser to bundle a licensed G.729 executable
for a $fee, or include in an installer script an online ecommerce
transaction for purchasing licenses for bundled code, etc. The optional
G.729 codec can be the kind of option that distinguishes commercial
installs from noncommercial. I recommend using Asterisk's G.729
inclusion techniques as a model: http://www.google.com/search?q=site%
3Avoip-info.org%20asterisk%20(g.729%20OR%20g729) .

  It's worth it, because G.729 is high quality for the low bandwidth, and
is very popular with VoIP/PSTN gateways, and very widely supported in
terminals (which means minimal transcoding, therefore maximal
performance). Some gateways, especially those with low per-minute prices
(and small minimum minutes committments), require G.729 to connect. So
including some way for SIP-Communicator to use G.729, despite the
patent/license hurdles, is a very valuable feature. I hope I can help
this project to achieve that goal.

···

--

(C) Matthew Rubenstein

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