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LAME is a free software application used to encode/compress audio into the lossy MP3 file format.


History and development

To begin with, LAME was a recursive acronym for "LAME Ain't an Mp3 Encoder"[1]. Mike Cheng created LAME 1.0 around mid-1998 as a set of modifications against the "8Hz-MP3" encoder sources. After some quality concerns raised by others, he decided to start again from scratch based on the "dist10" MPEG reference software sources. His goal was only to speed up the dist10 sources, and leave its quality untouched. That branch (a patch against the reference sources) became Lame 2.0. The project quickly became a team project. Mike Cheng eventually left leadership and started working on tooLAME (an MP2 encoder).

Mark Taylor then started pursuing increased quality in addition to better speed, and released version 3.0 featuring gpsycho, a new psychoacoustic model he developed. This marked the beginning of the development toward quality.

A few key improvements, in chronological order:

  • May 1999: a new psychoacoustic model (gpsycho) is released along with LAME 3.0
  • June 1999: The first variable bitrate implementation is released. Soon after this, LAME also became able to target lower sampling frequencies from MPEG-2
  • November 1999: LAME switches from a GPL license to an LGPL license, allowing it to be used with closed-source applications.
  • May 2000: the last pieces of the original ISO demonstration code are removed. LAME is not a patch anymore, but a full encoder.
  • December 2003: substantial improvement to default settings, along with improved speed. LAME no longer requires user to use complicated parameters to produce good results
  • May 2007: default variable bitrate encoding speed is vastly improved.

Patents and legal issues

Like all MP3 encoders, LAME implements some technology covered by patents owned by the Fraunhofer Society and other entities.[2] The developers of LAME do not themselves license the technology described by these patents. Distributing compiled binaries of LAME, its libraries, or programs which are derivative works of LAME in countries which recognize those patents may be considered infringing on the relevant patents.

The LAME developers state that since their code is only released in source code form, it should only be considered as an educational description of an MP3 encoder, and thus does not infringe any patent by itself when released as source code only. At the same time, they advise obtaining a patent license for any relevant technologies that LAME may implement before including a compiled version of the encoder into a product.[3] Some software is released using this strategy: companies use the LAME library, but obtain patent licenses.

In November 2005, there were reports that the Extended Copy Protection rootkit included on some Sony Compact Discs included portions of the LAME library without complying with the terms of the LGPL.[4][5][6]

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