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May 2005

This month's report looks the Revenge of the Sith, the Death of the Broadcast Flag, the Introduction of DisplayPort, and Ajax.

Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars Episode 3 opened on May 18. In its first 24 hours it grossed $50,013,859 from an estimated 9,400 screens at 3,661 theaters. That's the biggest day ever for a single movie in history. Also on the same day, an unauthorized work print appeared on the Internet. It is a window dub (with time code on the screen). It is estimated that over 16,000 people have attempted to download it. I predict that the financial impact to Lucasfilm in terms of lost ticket sales will be zero: There is no fan who is interested enough to download an unfinished copy who will not also be first in line to see it in theaters. These copies will be kept and studied, but will not interfere with conventional spending. If the fans were permitted to pay for downloads of official workprints, I believe that Lucasfilm could have made some extra money.

MPAA sees the situation differently:

There is no better example of how theft dims the magic of the movies for everyone than this report today regarding BitTorrent providing users with illegal copies of Revenge of the Sith. The unfortunate fact is this type of theft happens on a regular basis on peer to peer networks all over the world.

Pirate DVDs have appeared in London and other cities. The financial impact of pirated product is real, and could be completely avoided by releasing official DVDs earlier.

Broadcast Flag

On May 6, 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decided the case of American Library Association v. the Federal Communications Commission. The court decided against the FCC.

Because the Commission exceeded the scope of its delegated authority, we grant the petition for review, and reverse and vacate the Flag order insofar as it requires demodulator products manufactured on or after July 1, 2005 to recognize and give effect to the broadcast flag.

That means that the Broadcast Flag Rule will not go into effect. The Court determined that the FCC had not been given the power by Congress to make such a rule. The MPAA issued a press release saying

It is important to remember that this decision is only about the FCC's jurisdiction, not the merits of the Broadcast Flag itself.

Their point is that since the Court decided narrowly on the question of the limits of the FCC's authorization, there is no reason to doubt the legitimacy of a Broadcast Flag Rule should Congress extend the FCC's powers. However, I believe that the judges considered this question, if only indirectly, when ruling on the question of standing. The meaning of standing here is that at least one of the plaintiffs must demonstrate injury as a result of the defendant's intended action. The Court determined that

The FCC does not dispute that the NCSU Libraries’ activities are lawful...if the regulations implemented by the Flag Order take effect, there is a substantial probability that the NCSU Libraries would be prevented from assisting faculty to make broadcast clips available to students in their distance-learning courses via the Internet.

Therefore, the Court observed that the Broadcast Flag Rule could prevent libraries from performing lawful media services. The Court did not further consider the problem of regulations requiring the use of technology that frustrates lawful action because the issue of the FCC's limited authority was so clear.

MPAA has said

We will continue working aggressively on all fronts to make sure consumers will have access to high-value content on broadcast television.

The next front is the Congress. I suspect that MPAA will have a more difficult time now in the Congress because the public is beginning to take notice of this issue. Also, the lack of a Broadcast Flag does not appear to be an issue in the digital transition.

VESA

On May 9, 2005, VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association) announced the development of a new digital display interface specification for broad application within most forms of displays, including LCD, plasma, CRT and projection displays, as well as PCs and other sources of image content.

The DisplayPort™ interface specification will accelerate the adoption of protected digital outputs on PCs to broadly support viewing of high definition and other types of protected content through an optional content protection capability, while enabling higher levels of display performance.

This appears to be competitive with HDMI.

Format War

The press continues to report that Sony and Toshiba are in talks to unify BluRay and HD-DVD, and that the talks have broken down. There is no indication that any progress has been made, or is likely to be made.

Ajax

The next big thing in web applications is called Ajax. The term Ajax comes from an essay by Jesse James Garrett. He describes an architecture in which browser applications are able to obtain data from a server and render it using JavaScript. It avoids doing a page replacement for every user action. The result is applications that are faster, more responsive, more efficient, more pleasant.

On May 9 and 10 in San Francisco, O'Reilly (a leading technical publisher) and Adaptive Path (a web consulting company) hosted the Ajax Summit, inviting some of the top web designers and developers to discuss Ajax as it is currently practiced as well as future developments. I was invited to speak at this summit because of the work I did with JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). JSON has become the preferred data representation language for Ajax applications. It is significantly more efficient than XML.

I think that Ajax could be used to develop a User Interface Standard for Consumer Electronics that is significantly more flexible and more useable that CEA-2027. By combining JavaScript with efficient data messaging using JSON and by building on top of standard web technologies, it will be possible to make systems that are attractive and easy to use. I believe that Ajax is a better client technology than conventional web architecture or Java.