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MP3 isn't dead, it's just sleeping

Despite the inventors of MP3 seemingly abandoning the format, industry experts say there's still some life in it yet.

Josh Miller/CNET

The tech industry says the lapse of the licensing program for MP3s doesn't mean that the format is now dead.

Industry research body Fraunhofer IIS, which began developing the MP3 format in the late '80s, recently said it had ended the "licensing program for certain mp3 related patents and software" as of April 23, 2016.

While several sites have surmised this means that MP3 is dead as a format, the industry is much more optimistic.

Nate Suo, director of operations of online CD-ripping service Murfie, said he didn't expect the end of MP3 licensing to have any effect on his company's business.

"We will continue to use MP3s as we have in the past, as the expiring license won't directly affect usage or the ability to transcode to the MP3 format," Suo said.

Meanwhile, Jeff Gamet at Mac Observer argues that the MP3 now follows the example of the GIF. The patent for GIF expired over 10 years ago, he says, but the format is now arguably more widespread than ever. But can MP3 follow this example and recapture the glory days of the early 2000s?

Fraunhofer states that while the MP3 is "still very popular amongst consumers" the organization says other codecs offer better efficiency and features, including MPEG-H which the company is also working on.

While MP3 is still dominant as a download format it isn't as common when it comes to streaming. Instead, services like Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal use the less-well-known formats OGG, AAC and FLAC respectively.

"Our bread and butter is providing lossless streaming and downloads to our members anyways, so we deal more in the lossless codecs," Suo said.

In 2016, both streaming services and vinyl records outsold digital downloads for the first time so it appears the industry is moving on.

What does the end of licensing mean for you the reader in practical terms? If you ever ripped an MP3 from a CD, or bought from an online store, then the company involved paid a licensing fee to Fraunhofer/Technicolor. Now, the company won't have to do this anymore, but your MP3s will still continue work as they always did.

Representatives for Fraunhofer didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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