The key licence for use of the MPEG-4 digital-compression standard is now available, MPEG LA - a group of MPEG-4 patent holders - has announced.

The release ends a dispute around MPEG-4 licensing that earlier this year led Apple to delay the release of QuickTime 6, which uses MPEG-4 technology. MPEG LA, the licencing body behind MPEG technology, stirred a debate after releasing a proposal for licensing terms in February. The terms were updated in July, to the satisfaction of MPEG-4 users.

The final MPEG-4 Visual Patent Portfolio License, which sets fees for use of MPEG-4 encoders and decoders on devices including PCs, mobile phones, and in consumer electronics, is based on the July update.

Sebastian Moeritz, chief executive officer of Dicas Digital Image Coding said: "There is no excuse any more not to use MPEG-4."

Most important in the licensing terms are caps to provide cost predictability and user-threshold levels to minimize impact on lower-volume manufacturers, and encourage early stage adoption, said Moeritz.

MPEG-4 is a digital-compression standard for multimedia developed by the Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG). Many companies hold patents on parts of the standard. MPEG LA represents them in licensing matters.

Under the licensing terms, a provider of MPEG-4 video on the Internet or to mobile users that benefit commercially from the technology can choose to pay $0.25 per subscriber per year or $0.02 per hour of MPEG-4 video used, each subject to an annual cap of $1 million. No royalty is payable for the first 50,000 subscribers to a service per year, according to a presentation on the MPEG LA Web site.

Software companies, which make the MPEG-4 encoders and decoders, pay $0.25 per encoder and $0.25 per decoder sold, with a cap of $1 million on each, and no royalties on the first 50,000 encoders and decoders sold per year, according to the MPEG LA presentation.

MPEG-4, the successor to MPEG-2, will first be used on the Internet. It promises a much better picture at lower bit-rates than are common today. MPEG-4 is also expected to be used in many devices, including TV set-top boxes and mobile phones. Apple and RealNetworks are among the biggest promoters of MPEG-4 use on the Web.