MP3’s have been a fixture of the internet and the broader technological landscape since many of us first got online. While largely supplanted by newer audio compression schemes, including some that feature lossless encoding, MP3 is the fallback option for when you need an audio format that’s guaranteed to play on virtually anything from any era.
It was surprising, therefore, to see an announcement from NPR over the weekend that the MP3 was “officially dead,” even if the headline included the proviso “according to its creators.” A quick jaunt over to the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits’ website seemed to confirm this, with a statement reading:
On April 23, 2017, Technicolor’s mp3 licensing program for certain mp3 related patents and software of Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS has been terminated…
Although there are more efficient audio codecs with advanced features available today, mp3 is still very popular amongst consumers. However, most state-of-the-art media services such as streaming or TV and radio broadcasting use modern ISO-MPEG codecs such as the AAC family or in the future MPEG-H. Those can deliver more features and a higher audio quality at much lower bitrates compared to mp3.
This is all true, as far as it goes. MP3 has been superseded by better codecs, it’s not a cutting-edge technology any more, and Fraunhofer has other technologies, like AAC, that it still holds patents on. But what’s interesting about the way the way NPR framed the issue is that it presents MP3 as a technology that everyone will now simply move away from, in much the same fashion that the world moved away from vinyl records. But MP3, and digital standards in general, don’t work the same was as vinyl records.
What actually happened is this: As of April, the last patents on MP3 encoding that Fraunhofer could still validly enforce and collect royalties on expired in the United States. As a result, the institute has terminated its licensing program, because licenses are no longer necessary. And unlike a physical factory, there’s nothing stopping people from continuing to rip audio tracks into MP3–it’s no longer considered the superior format for doing so, but hey, if you want to do it, nobody is going to stop you. That’s rather different than physical audio standards, where corporate decisions about mass production dictate how you’ll be able to listen to a piece of music.
But the issue hasn’t been framed in this fashion to date. And without implying any negative intent on the part of any specific publication, it’s an interesting way of how conventional ways of thinking about products don’t always apply in the digital age. The expiration of MP3 patents won’t have an impact on consumers, because consumers never had to buy the right to play back MP3 products. It probably won’t have an impact on device design either, because it’s highly unlikely any company will drop support for a free standard that’s also the overwhelmingly popular format for audio playback support. MP3 compatibility is expected from basically any device that plays audio at all.
Of course, plenty of people will argue that MP3 should die, given that it’s based on a decades-old compression model that assumed an equivalent level of processing power to what you find in your average toaster these days. But those of you with several thousand songs ripped in the old MP3 format need not worry — you won’t see playback capability vanishing from current or future devices, not any time soon. If you’re curious about the development of the MP3 standard, the Fraunhofer Institute has published a retrospective of its own.
source : https://www.extremetech.com/computing/249306-mp3s-didnt-just-die-corporate-claims-contrary-notwithstanding