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AAC codec may be removed from Ubuntu repos

Ubuntu 10.04 users wishing to play or encode AAC format audio may find themselves out of luck.

A closer examination of the libfaac codec, a free software project containing an AAC encoder installable and used by various packages in the Ubuntu repositories, has turned up a conflict: the codec cannot be freely distributed under the LGPL, a common license used for the distribution of media libraries in free software, due to the inclusion of several other licenses’ which are incompatible with the LGPL. This is despite the fact libfaac declares itself as compatible with LGPL.

FAAC contains some code which is published as Free Software, but as a whole it is only distributed under a proprietary license.

For now nothing is being removed. James Westby, writing on the bug report that broaches this issue, does state, however: –

“…by my reading this makes libfaac un-distributable, due to the conflict between the LGPL and this license, as well as possible ambiguity as to whether we would even be able to use the code under the original license (do we “claim[…] conformance to the MPEG-2 NBC/ MPEG-4 Audio standards?”)

Therefore it looks to me as though this package should not even be in multiverse.

I’m not going to act on this until we have consensus between ubuntu-archive and Reinhard [Tartler, who maintains several multimedia packages in Debian]”

Background on AAC

Wikipedia states that “…no… payments are required to be able to stream or distribute content in AAC format.” This makes it an attractive alternative to the legally encumbered .MP3 format.

ITunes-aacp

It goes on to inform that “a patent license is required for all manufacturers or developers of AAC codecs. It is for this reason FOSS implementations such as FAAC and FAAD are distributed in source form only, in order to avoid patent infringement.”

Solutions/Alternatives

The FFMPEG project ship an AAC encoder that is free. Sadly it’s lacking somewhat and the version of ffmpeg included in Ubuntu 10.04 doesn’t feature it

Reinhard Tartler offers up a wonderful comment amongst the discussion: -

“I hope that removing it will motivate (more) people to contribute to ffaac, ffmpeg’s internal AAC encoder,
which still lacks some features only libfaac has.”

Let, indeed, hope.

Thanks to Savvas