OStatic provides an excellent analysis of the dilemma facing Canonical and its Ubuntu distribution: to facilitate adoption of proprietary media codecs and, if so, how?
I have (incorrectly) criticized Canonical for including proprietary codecs in Ubuntu before, but others in the open-source world have been far more derogatory about any possible hint of proprietary software making its way into Ubuntu.
While I am sympathetic with the intent of such commentary, OStatic is absolutely correct to suggest that Canonical's decision to set up a for-fee way to add proprietary media codecs to Ubuntu is spot-on:
They could have taken the approach that every last Ubuntu user is vested in the "free as in speech" aspect of open source and does not own a single piece of media in a proprietary format. That would have been seen through immediately as either a blatant lie or delusional thinking. Or they could have thumbed their noses at the intellectual property laws in several countries, and refused to offer a legal alternative on the grounds that the laws are simply restrictive and misguided.
The laws are misguided. They are restrictive. They are still legally binding, though, and it is not Canonical's call to encourage (or require) that any Linux user violate them. For this reason, Canonical is doing the right thing in offering a legal alternative.
Canonical had to do a difficult balancing act, but I think Mark Shuttleworth and crew chose the right path. Offering a safe, legal way to include proprietary media codecs is the right thing to do in the short term for Ubuntu. Perhaps those codecs can be opened up in the future, but that's not for Canonical to take upon itself, not alone, anyway.