Settle your questions about H.264 license cost once and for all (hopefully)

“Distribute” the capability of creating or consuming H.264 videos

Licensing is required if you give consumers the ability to create (a.k.a. encode) or watch (a.k.a. decode) H.264 videos.

Hardware vendors

This applies to device vendors that ship hardware H.264 encoder or decoder with their devices, like Apple, Samsung, Dell, HP, and Sony, for their smart phones, computers, and DVD players.

Software vendors

This group also includes software vendors whose products contain H.264 encoder or decoder, like Microsoft’s Windows OS, Adobe’s Flash player, Apple’s QuickTime player, and Google’s Android OS.

Hypothetical examples

If your software can encode or decode H.264 video, but it calls some API from the OS or the browser to do the job, you don’t need to pay the license fee since the hardware/OS/browser vendors already have you covered.

“Distribute” paid H. 264 content

Besides distributing “capability”, distributing H.264 content requires license fee too, but only if you charge people for the content, by title or by subscription (exception: broadcast on television is a different story).

Cloud transcoding service providers

I read through the full license agreement (requested from MPEG LA by email) and still find it difficult to decide what rules apply to cloud transcoding service like AWS MediaConvert. They sell encoding “service”, different from hardware or software product, and they typically sell to business instead of end users.

Zero fee threshold and annual cap

All being said, the license fee is 0 for small players anyway. That is, <100,000 units or subscriptions per year. “Unit” could be machines installed, devices sold, or software licenses activated. If your business doesn’t reach this threshold by any means of counting, you don’t need to worry about it.



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