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are there legal reasons for that?

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I would rephrase the question as either "Why aren't multimedia codecs included by default?" or "Why are multimedia codecs not included by default?". As it now stands, a double negative is used and thus should be read as "Why are multimedia codecs included by default?" –  Antony Aug 3 '10 at 10:08
    
You could also try Linux Mint. Which is a derivative of Ubuntu with a few UI improvements plus media codecs installed by default. Essentially, the rest of the distro is Ubuntu. –  Evan Plaice Sep 17 '10 at 0:11

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Some are for legal reasons - some video/audio formats require further license agreements or don't quite fit under the Ubuntu license schema. You can read more about this on the Ubuntu Wiki: Restricted Formats page.

I know that Ubuntu Studio comes with a lot of these codecs and "drivers" already installed. However for an average desktop user it's a lot of overkill as it's designed for multimedia market.

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Medibuntu.org provides an easy way to install many "non-free" codecs and multimedia applications that are not available in the main distribution for legal or philosophical reasons. It is up to you to ensure that it is legal to use such codecs in your country.

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