Although, according to Slashdot, the licensing authority has extended the royalty free period that was due to end this year until 2016, the core patents won’t lapse until 2028. It is possible that they will extend the royalty free use of the codec for online purposes right up until the end, but I rather doubt it.
Ben Schwartz posted an analysis of the h.264 license terms that suggests even with the royalty free grace period, we are wandering through a potential license minefield. To be fair, I haven’t seen any stories of Final Cut users getting slapped for making illicit commercial use of the underlying codecs. Outside of major studios, I suspect the licensing authority probably is ambivalent.
The problem, though, is that nothing stops that from changing at any time. These sort of camouflaged pitfalls and traps are why we need a good enough codec available under a license compatible with the W3C patent policy. This is why the failure to include one in the video portion of the HTML5 spec still stings even though the browser makers and content providers are otherwise going gang busters with HTML5 based video.