“The MP3 is dead, long live the MP3!”
-Dennis Stewart, security engineer
In a recent press release, the rights owner of the digital audio coding format MP3 officially terminated its licensing program.
The Fraunhofer Institute, which owns the rights to license the MP3 patent to developers, released an official statement thanking everyone for supporting MP3 over the years, and stated that it will move toward other formats in the future.
Today’s industry standard is AAC, or Advanced Audio Coding, which was also mainly developed by the Institute. With the MP3 licensing program terminated, it marks ‘the end’ of the popular format that helped revolutionise the digital audio industry over the two decades.
Or does it?
According to a leading online tech-source, the “MP3 isn’t dead, all your songs will still play, and you can keep buying MP3 tracks from music services.” Indeed, it appears that Fraunhofer’s announcement means that, as of April there isn’t anything to license because there aren’t any current patents covering MP3. What this really entails, is a reduction in earnings for The Fraunhofer Institute through the loss of its patent control.
In fact, the expiration of all the MP3 patents could lead to even wider adoption of MP3. Because a license for the patents was previously required per-user, it was uncommon for free or open source software projects to support MP3s ‘out of the box’. As that the patents have expired, there are no more license fees and now anyone can include MP3 technology in their software or hardware.
In the age of seamless streaming and the resurgence of vinyl format, the future of the MP3 is undecided. Yet, curiously, Rasmus Fleischer, a researcher and historian from Sweden, has suggested that Spotify was built upon ‘pirated MP3 files’ in it’s nascent days. More to come soon.