LAME, the MP3-exporting plugin for Audacity, enables software that doesn’t have built-in MP3 export capability (like Audacity) to spit out MP3 files. What does the acronym LAME stand for?
It actually stands for LAME Ain’t an MP3 Encoder – and for good reason.
You need to make MP3s, and Audacity (and LAME) are free and open source. The company that created the MP3 format charges money for each of their MP3 encoders that get distributed. That collides with the concepts and requirements of open source software.
LAME is an open source, reverse engineered version of the actual, official Fraunhofer-Thomson MP3 encoder that the company licenses for money. A group of software geeks got together, and working backwards from a finished MP3, figured out the process (or their version of the process) that T-F created to encode MP3s. Reverse engineering of a technical process is recognized around the world as not being a violation of patents or copyrights.
It’s as if a company figured out how to exactly duplicate the taste of Coca Cola, not by stealing the formula from Coke, but by working in a kitchen for days and months, trying different recipes until it discovered exactly the right combination of ingredients and how to create the soda itself, and then gave that recipe to any company that wanted to make that reverse-engineered product, for free.
And given the millions of auditions every year submitted using the LAME encoder, it’s clear that they got the recipe right. There’s no discernible difference between an MP3 file created with the Fraunhofer-Thomson encoder and one created with LAME.
So, you can safely add LAME to your sound recording software’s plugins and know that your MP3s will sound great, and without fear that Fraunhofer-Thomson will come knocking on your door someday, looking for a licensing fee.