CBC condones "software piracy"

(A variation of this posting has been sent to the CBC via their "Contact Us" page)

In the past, I've explained to friends why the CBC's use of Windows Media Player's streaming format disables access to the site for Linux and FLOSS users. The gist of this argument has been that there's no Windows Media Player software available on Linux. This forces the Linux user into purchasing a copy of Microsoft Windows in order to listen.

Recently, a friend sent me a link to the updated "Listen to CBC Page" which now contains a solution for Linux users. The technical solution now proposed on the CBC web page is MPlayer.

This explanation really irks me, it literally translates to "to listen to CBC, Linux users must use Windows software".

Explaining this statement requires an explanation of how (basically) Mplayer plays audio streams. All audio streams are encoded (represented as 0's and 1's) using a specialized algorithm called a codec. The various audio formats you might encounter on the Internet (OGG Vorbis, MP3, Windows Media, Real etc) all represent different codecs. Mplayer includes software to translate many different codecs. Some of these formats are proprietary: the companies that devised them are not interested in sharing the workings of the algorithms in a way that permits other software authors to play the encoded audio. Windows Media format is one of the formats controlled in this way.

The authors of Mplayer are really smart programmers, they discovered a clever technical solution to this problem: they just use the codec software that came with Microsoft Windows. How they accomplish this feat is beyond the scope of this posting. If you are interested in how this is possible, there are plenty of technical documents on the Mplayer web site.

An end-user faces a major problem with this solution: they may not have a valid Windows license. Just because it is technically possible to use the software provided with Microsoft Windows to listen to Windows Media audio on Linux, this does not mean that the user is legally permitted to use this software. To legally use this software, the end user must have acquired a legitimate copy of Microsoft Windows (I, for example, was required to purchase such a license with my new laptop).

Relating back to the CBC's technical recommendations for Linux users, this means the CBC has essentially suggested two options for Linux users by recommending:

  • Linux users buy a copy of Microsoft Windows to listen to the CBC on Linux (this was the existing option)
  • Linux users acquire an illegitimate copy of a subset of Microsoft Windows software

Essentially, the CBC technical staff has expanded previous suggestions to include a suggestion to illegitimately acquire Microsoft Windows. Therefore, the CBC condones "software piracy".

Update (April 3, 2006).

I've downloaded the Windows Media codec package from http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/format/codecdownload.aspx (the link which appears one the CBC page mentioned earlier in this post). The EULA included with the download includes:


"2. General Terms and Conditions of Your Use of the Client OS Components.

"2.1 Provided you comply with all applicable license terms and conditions contained in the Client OS Software EULA (which are hereby incorporated by reference except as set forth below) and this Supplemental EULA, Microsoft grants you the right to reproduce, install and use one copy of the Client OS Components on each of your computers that is running a validly licensed copy of the Client OS Software."

Clearly, Microsoft requires that software from the Microsoft Windows product line be used to host the audio application playing the media stream.

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Few pirates exist

Almost all computers bought today come pre installed with windows. Someone would have to build their own computer or be able to buy a computer without windows to not have a license. Installing Linux dose not take that license away to my knowledge.

"Almost all"

We need to be working towards the day where there will be a completive and compatible marketplace for computer software, and should not be allowing our public broadcaster to promote the products or services of a convicted monopolist.

You do not have to build your own computer to buy a computer without windows on it. In fact, it is not legal under competition/anti-trust legislation for Microsoft to mandate that customers buy windows with a new PC, or even for Microsoft to give preferential pricing to computer builders who install Windows on all the computers they ship whether customers wanted it or not.

As to the legality of running the codecs on other operating systems, I wouldn't be so certain that there are no problems for those who own a redundant copy of Microsoft Windows. As I don't have any computers which run Microsoft products I don't have a copy of the license agreement handy, but I doubt the license agreement allows you to pick-and-choose components of Windows to run outside of the Windows environment. Microsoft also likes to charge for each copy of an operating system that is running on a computer, charging more money for those running multiple copies of Windows under virtual machines than those running only a single copy.

While you 'might' be able to extract these specific DLL's on your own, you certainly are not authorized to download a package that contains the right DLL's from some other site.

Whether Microsoft's license agreements are legally enforceable is another question that I suspect people would not be willing to pay the money to be the test case for.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

CBC has created a grey area

While may be true that many computers come with Microsoft Windows preinstalled, there is still a legal grey area as to whether those components are legitimate for use with Mplayer. The components are also difficult to extract from the Microsoft Windows environment (which is why there's a link to an archive of the Windows Media codecs on the Mplayer site).

Previously, CBC required the use of Microsoft Windows. You very astutely point out why they still require the use of Microsoft Windows. My point was that by adding a recommendation to use Mplayer, the CBC has suggested a new second option: use a portion of Microsoft Windows illegitimately.