Writing a book is a learning experience, and sometimes a shocking one. Software patents are an issue in preservation; if you need permission to implement a format or distribute documents that use it, there aren’t going to be as many implementations, so future support for it is more in doubt. I hadn’t realized till yesterday that if you want to implement an MP3 encoder or decoder, you’d better have $15,000 a year to hand over to Technicolor. There are no exemptions, even for free software. As a consequence, there’s only one open source MP3 encoder in general use. The producers of LAME distribute it only as source code, arguing that the source is only a “description,” not an “implementation,” of the algorithm. So far they haven’t been sued, probably more because they don’t have enough money to be worth going after than because their argument would hold up. The good news is that unless someone comes up with a new trick, all patents on MP3 will expire by the end of 2017.

You also need to pay Technicolor, which handles the licensing of MP3, if you distribute MP3 files, but only if you’re a commercial operation with revenues of $100,000 or more. Distributing MP4/AAC files doesn’t require any licensing, though creating encoders and decoders does.

Patent restrictions aren’t the only factor in choosing a preservation format, but they need to be taken into account.

The Kickstarter campaign is now at $912. If you’ve been dithering on whether to support, please decide soon. As the total gets higher, others will see that the goal’s within reach and join in.