Calling the H.264 video codec “a non-starter for Web video,” the Free Software Foundation has thrown its support to the Google-led WebM project, and it’s encouraging the industry to get behind it as well.

Brett Smith, license compliance engineer at the Foundation, said H.264 “is impossible to implement legally to provide users the ability to modify it and share those modifications.”

The H.264 codec is encumbered with multiple patents held under the MPEG-LA consortium umbrella, and it comes with relatively expensive royalty payments as well as limits on how developers license their own software. Google, on the other hand, “provides licenses that don’t conflict with free software licenses, and already has released a free version,” Smith said. “It is a strong candidate to be the standard for Web video.”

Smith said Google’s recent decision to abandon H.264 for WebM could also influence the World Wide Web Consortium to make WebM the standard codec for HTML5, which the W3C controls. “The W3C said HTML5 would be codec-agnostic before the WebM effort really got going, and we’d like to encourage them to push things to WebM.”

In a statement released today, FSF executive director Peter Brown said, “Through joint community effort in support of WebM, we can sustain the vision of the Web as free and unencumbered.”