Douglas Crockford

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June 2004

This month's report focuses on the Digital Tuner Mandate and Digital Rights Management.

Digital Tuner Mandate

The FCC has created a schedule for the inclusion of ATSC-compatible digital tuners in digital television sets. This schedule applies only to integrated television sets, not to monitors. This is shown clearly in What to Consider When Purchasing a New Television for the New Digital Age by FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy:

What Do I Need to Know to Buy a Digital Television?

In order to receive and enjoy the benefits of DTV as the transition takes place over the next few years, consumers will have to purchase a new television set. Currently, consumers have two main options: (1) a digital monitor, or (2) an integrated set that includes a digital monitor with a built-in over-the-air digital tuner.

Digital Monitor

A digital TV monitor gives consumers the enhanced quality and clarity of digital programming but does not allow you to receive DTV signals over the air. Consumers may receive some DTV programming from cable or satellite operators. However, there are no current FCC requirements that cable and satellite providers carry a broadcaster’s digital signal. To receive broadcasters’ DTV signals, you may also need to buy a separate over-the-air tuner and an antenna. You may want to ask your cable and satellite provider about the services they offer before deciding if a digital monitor is right for you.

Integrated Digital Television

If you are getting ready to purchase a new television, you may want to consider an integrated set with the over-the-air digital tuner built-in (currently available in stores). The FCC has required that all broadcast television receivers with screen size 13 inches or larger have an over-the-air digital tuner by July 1, 2007, according to the following schedule:

Screen size Deadline
Receivers with screen sizes 36 inches and above 50% of all manufacturers’ products by July 1, 2004;
100% by July 1, 2005
Receivers with screen sizes 25 to 35 inches 50% of all manufacturers’ products by July 1, 2005;
100% by July 1, 2006
Receivers with screen sizes 13 to 24 inches 100% by July 1, 2007

CABLE AND SATELLITE

If you purchase a digital monitor or any of the integrated digital television sets described above, you may still need a cable set-top box to receive digital services from your cable company, or a new dish and receiver in order to receive HDTV programming from your satellite provider. If you subscribe to cable or satellite services, you should ask your retailer about what other equipment (e.g., set-top box, dish, or receiver) that may be needed to enjoy the benefits of digital television before making any decision regarding the purchase of a new digital television set.

DRM (Digital Rights Management)

There are two forces behind the current activity in DRM. The first is the Content Industry, particularly the Motion Picture Studios and the Music Labels. The second is portions of the Computer Industry, particularly Intel and Microsoft.

Each has a different motivation.

Music Industry The disintermediation caused by the Internet, combined with decades of mismanagement, has put the Music Industry in a very precarious position. This is one of the industries that Digital Convergence will cause to disappear. They are depending on DRM to prevent the inevitable termination of their business.
Studios The Studios are driven by irrational fear of change. The Internet is not a real danger to the Studios. The Studios fought against Free Television, Pay Television, and Home Video. Every time they lost the fight and become more profitable by discovering new markets. By partnering with Intel and Microsoft, they may ultimately become subservient to them.
Intel Intel thinks that digital media can expand its markets. It produces DRM to appease the studios in order to accelerate the development of the market. There is also a licensing revenue stream.
Microsoft Microsoft wants to use DRM to strengthen its Monopoly position against Linux and Real Networks. Further, Microsoft's ambition has always been to make money on every computing device sold. It will use DRM and WMP (Windows Media Player) to achieve this.

The DRM effort is happening on many fronts, some technological, some political, some legislative, some industrial.

All DRM schemes are intended to stop pirates without restricting the Fair Use rights of individuals. A DRM scheme is bad if it does not stop pirates but restricts Fair Use. It is much easier to make a bad DRM scheme than a good one. It will not be possible to make a good DRM as long as there are general purpose computers in the world. I believe that a bad DRM scheme will cause consumer backslash which will ultimately hurt the industry very badly.

An example of bad DRM is CPRM (Content Protection for Recordable Media) / CPPM (Content Protection for Pre-Recorded Media), a standard developed by Intel, Toshiba, IBM, and Matsushita. It has already experienced user backlash and boycott in the PC music arena. It is doing better in the recordable DVD area because the Studios fear pirates more than they fear angry consumers.

Assuming that DRM will fail to stop pirates, additional stopgap measures are called for. Digital watermarking is the process of placing invisible identifying data into an image or sound. The mark can be used for three purposes:

  1. Identify the work and its owner
  2. Identify the original holder or consumer
  3. Declare the rights of the holder (to view once, many times; make copies, etc.)

The theory of digital watermarks is that they cannot be removed, even when the content is cropped, re-sampled or converted to analog. The theory has not been proven. I believe that digital watermarks can be removed or altered.

Having a digital watermark, when pirate copies do appear (because of bad DRM), it will be possible to determine which copy was used as the master, and then take legal action against the holder. This threat of legal action makes digital watermark an extremely unfriendly technology for consumers. People do not like being threated with legal action.

RIAA

RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) represents the world's largest Music Labels, including Warner Music, Bertelsmann AG's BMG, EMI Group, Sony's Sony Music and Vivendi Universal's Universal Music Group.

RIAA has been suing people for exchanging music on the Internet. These are not pirates, they are just people (usually kids) who like to listen to music. I don't think that these kids are doing anything wrong. However, RIAA is asserting that they are wrong and is trying to shake them down. Last week they went against 482 more people, bringing the total number so far to 3429. So far no case has gone to trial. 600 of them settled with RIAA for $3000 each. A number of individuals have been named in fresh lawsuits after they failed to reach such a settlement. RIAA's behavior is terrible. We can only hope that it is the last shameful act of a dying industry.

This week Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the "Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act of 2004" (or "The Induce Act"). It will make it easier for RIAA to go after kids. It will also allow RIAA to go after companies who provide products that allow kids to exchange music. This could be very bad for Consumer Electronics and Computer companies. The Induce Act has been presented as a measure to protect children from pornography, which is a misrepresentation.

RIAA also wants a Broadcast Flag for Digital Radio. It submitted a proposal to FCC last week.

There are other signs that the retail model that RIAA is defending is becoming obsolete. The 46-year-old NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers) is going to merge with the the 23-year-old VSDA (Video Software Dealers Association). In recent years both groups have seen membership rolls plunge as both the CD and DVD businesses shift away from specialty shops to mass-merchants chains.

The mass-merchants (such as WalMart and Costco) sell CDs and DVDs at below cost in order to attract customers to their stores. Music and Home Video retailers are not able to compete in this environment. The future of home video may be as promotional material for WalMart. This is a radically different business model. We are evolving to a model where musicians will sell their music directly through the Internet to their fans. P2P music trading will serve the same promotion and advertising role that radio did.

The Personal Technology Coalition is a group of Consumer Electronics and Computer Companies (including Intel, Philips, and Sun (and not Microsoft)) and others to lobby for Fair Use.

Broadcast Flag

The most famous of the DRM measures is the Broadcast Flag. The Broadcast Flag is a concession to the Studios to induce them to allow their products to be displayed in digital broadcasts. The Broadcast Flag was not designed for Broadcasters. Broadcasters have been pumping their programs into the ether for free for nearly a century. Their business model is not dependent on any form of DRM. Quite the opposite, they benefit from their programs being seen as broadly as possible.

The Broadcast Flag isn't really a flag. It is the PSIP Redistribution Control descriptor (rc_descriptor()), defined in ATSC A/65B. The purpose of the Redistribution Control descriptor is to convey a certain type of redistribution information held by the program rightsholder for audio, video, or data events. The descriptor's existence within the ATSC stream shall mean: "technological control of consumer redistribution is signaled." The standard does not say how the receiving device should react.

According to the NAB Office of Science and Technology:

“The so-called broadcast flag effectively has only two states, assertion that redistribution to the Internet should not occur (the descriptor present) and no assertion.…It says NOTHING about copy once.”

It relies on "Authorized Digital Output Protection Technology". It specifically is not a Copy Protection scheme. The FCC claims that the broadcast flag is only intended to prevent redistribution over the Internet. It is not intended to prevent home recording or any other Fair Use. It is not intended to interfere with legacy systems. (Therefore, if you want to stream uncompressed HDTV movies to the Internet, buy your digital tuner before the new rules go into effect on July 1, 2005.)

The FCC's order is in the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 73 - RADIO BROADCAST SERVICES, Subparts L & M (Digital Broadcast Television Redistribution Control).

The key section contains

  1. (a) A Covered Product shall not pass, or direct to be passed, Marked Content to any output except
    1. to an analog output;
    2. [to an 8-VSB, 16-VSB, 64-QAM or 256-QAM modulated output] , [to the output of an 8-VSB, 16-VSB, 64-QAM or 256-QAM modulator included in such Covered Product:
      1. that, if capable of receiving and modulating any content other than Unscreened Content or Marked Content (e.g., any content received through an unprotected analog or digital input)("Unknown Content"), does not output Unknown Content unless it first inspects the EIT and PMT and determines that the Broadcast Flag is not present in such Unknown Content; and
      2. which Covered Product and modulator are not capable of themselves inserting the Broadcast Flag in Unknown Content;]
    3. to a digital output protected by an Authorized Digital Output Protection Technology, in accordance with any obligations set out on Table A applicable to such Authorized Digital Output Protection Technology;
    4. [where such Covered Product outputs, or directs to be output, such content to a Downstream Product solely within the home or other, similar local environment, using a Robust Method;]
    5. where such Covered Product outputs, or directs to be output, such content to another product and such Covered Product exercises sole control (such as by using a cryptographic protocol), in compliance with the Robustness Requirements, over the access to such content in usable form in such other product;
    6. where such Covered Product outputs, or directs to be output, such content for the purpose of making a recording of such content pursuant to Section X.4(b)(2), where such content is protected by the corresponding recording method; or
    7. where such Covered Product [is incorporated into a Computer Product and] passes, or directs to be passed, such content to an unprotected [output operating in a mode compatible with the Digital Visual Interface (DVI) Rev. 1.0 Specification ] as an image having the visual equivalent of no more than (a) 350,000 pixels per frame (e.g. an image with resolution of 720 x 480 pixels for a 4:3 (non-square pixel) aspect ratio) and (b) 30 frames per second. Such an image may be attained by reducing resolution, such as by discarding, dithering or averaging pixels to obtain the specified value, and can be displayed using video processing techniques such as line doubling or sharpening to improve the perceived quality of the image.
  2. A Covered Product shall not record or cause the recording of Marked Content in digital form unless such recording is made using one of the following methods:
    1. a method that effectively and uniquely associates such recording with a single Covered Product (using a cryptographic protocol or other effective means) so that such recording cannot be accessed in usable form by another product except where the content of such recording is passed to another product as permitted under this Section X or
    2. an Authorized Recording Method, in accordance with any obligations set out in Table A applicable to such Authorized Recording Method (provided that for recordings made on removable media, only Authorized Recording Methods expressly identified on Table A for use in connection with removable media may be used).

Simply, if a program carries the Broadcast Flag in its PSIP data, then the tuner's digital output must be shut off unless the signal is down-rezzed to 480p or unless the digital output conforms to Table A. Table A is a list of DRM systems.

The FCC left the specification of Table A to MPAA and its CPTWG. The burden (and risk) of deciding which schemes to license and support is left to the Manufacturer. The list includes HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) and DTCP (Digital Transmission Content Protection). Table A is clearly an unfinished working document. There is evidence of bitter disputes between Philips, Microsoft, and the other CPTWG members. I will be attending the CPTWG meeting in July.

HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) is used with HDMI and DVI. There is evidence that HDCP is cryptographically weak. DTCP (Digital Transmission Content Protection) works with IEEE 1394. These will add to the price that the consumer will pay, but will create no value for the consumer. They may degrade the viewing experience by increasing channel changing latency and introducing new error modes. Vigorous compatibility testing is essential.

Broadcast Flag is important because it is the only way that the Government can force consumers to adopt DRM. Assuming that television is a necessity of life, when the analog switchoff happens in 2006 or 2009 or whenever, consumers will be forced to buy digital tuners with DRM. If given a choice, consumers will choose no DRM.

I spoke with a friend who is a technology attorney with EFF and CommonKnowledge. He is on the team that is taking the FCC and the Broadcast Flag to court. He is confident that his team will win and the FCC will be forced to revoke the Broadcast Flag rule. He thinks the process will be at least a year. I am hopeful but not as confident.

ClearPlay

ClearPlay has a modified DVD player which is sold at WalMart. It censors the movies it plays, deleting potentially offensive images and sounds. It comes with a subscription service which provides "filters" which can be used to remove the good parts from specific movies. The filters have 14 switches:

  1. Strong Action Violence: Filters excessive or repeated violence, including fantasy violence.
    • Strong Fantasy/Creature Violence
    • Sustained/Repetitive Violent Actions
    • Crude Comic Violence
  2. Gory / Brutal Violence: Filters brutal and graphic violent scenes.
    • Fierce, Brutal Violence
    • Graphic/Bloody Violence
    • Rape/Rape Scene
    • Torture
  3. Disturbing Images: Filters gruesome and other disturbing images.
    • Macabre Images, Dead/Decomposing Bodies
    • Bloody/Horror Imagery
    • Gruesome/Disturbing Imagery
  4. Sensual Content: Filters highly suggestive and provocative situations and dialogue.
    • Highly Sensual Dialogue and Situations
    • Highly Provocative and Revealing Clothing
    • Highly Provocative Innuendo
  5. Crude Sexual Content: Filters crude sexual language and gestures.
    • Overt Crude Sexual Language
    • Overt Crude Sexual Actions or Gestures
    • Crude Sexual Slang or Idiomatic Expressions
  6. Nudity: Filters nudity, including partial and risqué art nudity.
    • Rear Nudity
    • Topless/Front Nudity
    • Partial Nudity/Veiled Nudity
    • Nude Photos/Art
  7. Explicit Sexual Situation: Filters explicit sexual dialogue, sound and activity.
    • Sex Scenes
    • Sex Related Sounds
    • Sexually Explicit Actions/Images/Dialogue
  8. Vain Reference to Deity: Filters vain or irreverent references to God or a deity.
  9. Crude Language and Humor: Filters crude language and bodily humor.
    • Crude Scatological Word/Sound
    • Crude Scatological Image
  10. Ethnic and Social Slurs: Filters ethnically or socially offensive insults.
    • Racial Slurs
    • Social Slurs
  11. Cursing: Filters profane uses of hell and damn.
  12. Strong Profanity: Filters swearing and strong profanities.
  13. Graphic Vulgarity: Filters harsh and vulgar words and phrases.
  14. Explicit Drug Use: Filters vivid scenes of illegal drug use.
    • Drugs being used in a vivid/graphic manner.

The creative forces at the Studios are greatly offended by this, particularly the Directors' Guild. They feel that their work has artistic integrity and should not be tampered with. There is also a secondary concern that the copyright of a film could be weakened by the sale of derivative works in the form of filter scripts. The Studios are always in favor of weakening Fair Use, not strengthening it.

MPAA, representing the Studios, took the issue to the Congress. The Religious Right, which is much more effective at lobbying than MPAA, likes censorship in general and ClearPlay in particular. Congress does not want to offend the Studios or the Religious Right, so it put pressure on the two sides to come to an agreement. They failed to do that, forcing Congress to do what only Congress can do: Legislate.

Last week Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced HR 4586, "The Family Movie Act". It modifies Federal Copyright and Trademark law to make ClearPlay's activities strictly legal. Jack Valenti testified against the Act, but there is a very good chance that it will pass.

The interesting point here is that the state of the Law right now is extremely fluid. What is legal and what is illegal is shifting and sliding as Congress passes Acts, as Agencies make rules, and as Courts decide cases. The Digital Technology Convergence is forcing changes to Law just it is forcing changes to Business Models. It would be good if Congress and Agencies and Courts were forward-looking and visionary. They are not, so the process of redesigning the legal landscape is going to be disruptive and inefficient.

Digital Home

The Digital Home Working Group has renamed itself the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA). Their summer meeting is August 30 - September 3 at Waikoloa, Hawaii. This group seems to have a lot of momentum.

They are developing interoperability standards for home entertainment systems. It is being driven by Intel, which wants computer technology woven into the home. In their jargon, a TV Monitor is a DMP (Digital Media Player).

Soul Plane

Soul Plane is a motion picture that premiered this month. It did very poorly at the box office. The producers claim that the film bombed because of video pirates. The film has been available in a high-quality bootleg version since April.

"We're the first movie that can demonstrate a direct relationship between digital piracy and box office sales," producer David Scott Rubin said. "Even if the movie isn't any good, if a movie is out on the streets for two months with your core audience, the word of mouth works against you."

There are some important points here. Audiences did not stay away because they had already seen the bootleg version. The pirate distribution network is incapable of delivering that much product. People stayed away because it was a really bad movie. In this case, the pirates may have performed a public service by informing people about the badness of the movie.

The bootleg was not copied from a consumer product. "It came straight off a digital master... The bootleg copy was not even the final cut." The Studio did not control the physical security of their own product. No amount of DRM could have prevented this.

It is easier to blame pirates than bad management.

Two years ago, activity on the Internet helped to make The Eminem Show a bit hit. The CD was leaked to the Internet before its release. It then sold much better than expected because it got very good word of mouth.