In the United States I would like to know if it is legal to use propriety video and audio codecs in Ubuntu. Specifically I would like to know if I can play mp3 files on Ubuntu, and if I can install and use the libx264 library to do video editing and export mp4 files.

I went to Computex in Taiwan today and I went to the Ubuntu booth. A person there told me that Canonical has paid for the right/license to use proprietary audio and video formats/codecs. Is this true? I asked the person if he could show me anything online that said this and he could not find anything. Is there any list of codecs/formats that can be used legally in the United States for the purpose of listening to audio, watching video and audio and video editing?

I want to use OpenShot to edit some video and export it to mp4 using libx264 but I want to do it legally.

  • I don't feel that my question is being answered.
    – Nick
    Jun 9 '12 at 13:50
  • Ubuntu doesn't include any illegally distributed software – neither on the installation medium nor in the official repositories. If that were the case its distributor Canonical would be fighting legal battles about it. Both libx264 and the MPEG4 multiplexer program are open source software and legal to use and redistribute in the U.S. May 25 '16 at 11:31

Selling/distribution of MP3 codec binaries is illegal because they are bound by patents, mainly by the Fraunhofer Society. For libre use, there are open source implementations of the standard ( iso.org/iso/iso_catalogue/catalogue_tc/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=31537 ) and it is NOT illegal to distribute their source code. There is:

  • LAME for encoding (http://lame.sourceforge.net/)
  • MAD for decoding (http://www.underbit.com/products/mad)
  • Mpadec for decoding (http://sourceforge.net/projects/mpadec/)

and probably even more.

For more information:

  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP3#Licensing_and_patent_issues
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_open_source_codecs

Concerning Canonical, they can't provide codecs with their installation media, as this would be considered as reselling patented software, that's why they provide such functionality via their ubuntu store:


From my own understanding, for Ubuntu to fall under the open-source license, they can't have any propriety software contained, which is why it is installed afterwards.

So it is legal.


I'm not a legal advisor. But even if Canonical has paid for the right/license to use proprietary audio and video formats/codecs, You can edit your own stuff legally, and without any problems. But if you are editing other person's work, to that is illegal in any country. But what do I know, as I said I`m not a legal advisor.

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