Here’s the deal: today’s “free forever” MPEG LA announcement was mostly a PR coup. It changes very little: critics of the use of the patent-encumbered, royalty-bearing format in HTML5 video were aware that the free end user license might be extended.
But, boy was it a PR coup, because the words “forever free” starting spreading around the Web, and some people got the wrong idea. You’re not free to use MPEG LA’s technology as a content publisher if you want to use H.264 as your distribution format for on-demand or for-sale video. More importantly, you’re not free to ship H.264 encoders or decoders.
That means if you’re making, say, a truly free and open source Web browser like Firefox, you can’t distribute H.264 support without paying millions for a license or breaking the law. Giants like Apple and Google and Microsoft pay anyway, so it’s not an issue for them. But it is an issue for free software developers.