Douglas Crockford

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January 2006

Circumvention

Nat Pepin had a very cool site on his experiences in Predicta Restoration. His restoration was successful, resulting in a beautiful television set that was perfect for watching classic TV shows.

Unfortunately, between 1958 and now, Macrovision happened. Macrovision has a product which is licensed for use in various media products that damages the video signal so that VCRs won't record it but TVs will display it. Modern TVs have features to strip out the Macromedia damage. The 1958 Philco Predicta did not, so when videotapes are displayed through it, dashed lines wander around the screen.

Nat corrected the problem by getting a Video Stabilizer. This is a device that corrects the damage that Macrovision causes. Video Stabilizers are primarily used to allow copying of videotapes, and so are seen as Circumvention Devices, which violate the DMCA. But the DMCA, as future-looking as it was, was not intended to outlaw classic television. There are sometimes very good reasons to circumvent. This was one of them.

Curse themselves they were not here

I usually attend the Consumer Electronics Show every year. I didn't go this year, and I'm surprised to find that I am really missing it. So I have been keeping a close eye on the web news and blogs coming out of Vegas. Yeah, it is better than nothing, and yeah, I don't miss the cab lines and crowds, but I definitely have the feeling that I am missing something.

All you want and less

One of the interesting applications of the coming-soon HD discs is that the greater capacity and aggressive codecs will make it possible to put a whole season of SDTV shows on a single disc. That is greater convenience for us, and lower cost of goods for the studios.

But there are limits on how much most people will spend for a single disc, regardless of the amount of stuff on the disc. The studios are hoping to use DRM to make us spend more beyond the purchase price of a disc in order to use the disc.

They are hoping that they can trick you into buying a disc in which most of the content is inaccessible, and that later, you will purchase additional rights which will allow you to watch that content. They call this Developing New Business Models.

The justification for DRM is that it stops piracy. It does not do that. Instead, DRM is intended to increase the amount of money that people must pay for entertainment. The piracy pretense creates legal support of DRM. This is necessary because given a choice, the marketplace would reject DRM.

Format War

When Sony's Blu-Ray and Toshiba's HD-DVD first emerged, the Studios, remembering VHS v. Betamax, said that they would not adopt either format until a clear winner emerged. Sony and Toshiba fiddled with their specifications, trying to improve their chances of an early win, but the result instead was to make the two formats more similar. Blu-Ray has a bit more capacity, HD-DVD discs are initially a little cheaper to produce. There is not a compelling advantage to either format.

The Studios insisted that Sony and Toshiba work it out. There was talk about holding talks, but neither company was interested in compromising with the other. The Studios continued to hold a hard line. In the impasse, Taiwan's FVD and China's EVD and the holographic HVD start to look like dark horse contenders.

And then Sony bought MGM. They commit the libraries of MGM, Columbia, Screen Gems, and TriStar to Blu-Ray. The other Studios panic. Warner, Paramount, Universal and New Line Cinema commit to HD-DVD. Disney goes with Blu-Ray. Fox supported both but committed to neither. Everyone knows that consumers will not buy both players, so the impasse continues.

Then it appears the market that decides the issue is game consoles. Sony obviously puts Blu-Ray into PlayStation. Sony won't deal with Microsoft, so HD-DVD goes into the Xbox.

Then it appeared that it might be decided by time-to-market. Toshiba had a big advantage there, but lost it due to DRM design problems. (DRM hurts everybody.) They will still get to market ahead of Sony, but not by enough to shut out Blu-Ray.

I have heard conjecture that the pornographers will decide the winner. (It has been suggested that tolerance of pornography was a significant factor in the success of VHS.) I have not seen any HD porn yet, but I don't know that I need that much detail, if you know what I'm saying.

It is not clear now that either format is good enough to support 1080p60 without overcompression damage.

Daytime Values

While the Christian Right has been hammering the broadcast networks, and now the cable networks, over the lack of proper values in primetime programming, they have for the most part left daytime alone. That is where you find the Soaps. These programs are not designed for the coastal elites. Soaps are designed specifically for the women of the heartland. In these programs, good people with good hearts who talk about the importance of family and community will invariably do wrong things, almost as if they were moved by the invisible hand of an Intelligent Designer.

The Guiding Light ("Nobody does temptation better") debuted on radio in 1937, and on television in 1952, making it the longest running drama in the history of the Known Universe (of which, on the whole, we know very little). In one of their current story arcs, a young bride leaves her groom at the altar, hooking up instead with her lowlife cousin.

This does not reflect proper Protestant Values (probably) but there is no danger that the Right will push the program off the air. This is because Protestant Women like their stories, and the Leadership will find itself in deep trouble if it tries to mess with them. So instead they campaign against programs that other people watch. The daytime shows about people who say one thing and do another are safe.

MPAA, Making Copies

The MPAA has long insisted that "Making copies of motion pictures without the consent of the copyright owners is illegal." They lobbied the Federal Government and Other Governments Around the World to create the laws that make that statement true, and they have been heavily promoting DRM to it make it technologically irrefusable. Their stance on this point has been completely binary. But it just went a little random.

The film This Film Is Not Yet Rated was submitted to MPAA so that it could be rated. (MPAA's other role is issuing those PG-13s and NC-17s.) They assured the filmmaker that "the confidentiality of your film ... is our first priority. Please feel assure [sic] that your film is in good hands." Then they copied it without the consent of the copyright holders after explicitly promising not to, and they got caught. It is very embarrassing.

Kori Bernards, the MPAA's vice president for corporate communications, told the Los Angeles Times: "We made a copy of Kirby's movie because it had implications for our employees." Bernards claimed that the filmmaker spied on members of the MPAA's Classification and Rating Administration, going through their dustbins and following them as they drove their children to school. "We were concerned about the raters and their families."

I have to side with the MPAA on this one. The particular film in question, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, is a documentary about the MPAA itself. The MPAA, just like all of us, prefers to work in the shadows, and does not ever want to be held accountable for its own actions. I totally understand their concerns about their raters and their families. I agree with the MPAA that family is more important than copyright law, or contracts, or honor. We need stronger Fair Use rights to protect our families. I applaud the MPAA for taking this bold stand to protect families by making illegal copies of a DVD. Like the MPAA, shouldn't we all be above the law?

Fixation

I am very happy with the decision in Field v Google. Blake Field, a professional lawyer and amateur writer, tried to shake down Google because material from his website was obtainable from Google's cache. Field felt that Google's cache impared the earning potential of the MAKE A DONATION/PAYPAL button on his site, so naturally he demanded statutory damages of $2,550,000. The court ruled that Google's caching is a Fair Use, and that Field should knock it off.

I think that We the People benefit from decisions that strengthen Fair Use. Our Fair Use rights have been significantly weakened by the Congress over the years. It is good that the Courts are still looking out for us.

I considered posting a snippet of Field's writing here so that we could see what all the fuss was about. Such a posting would be a Fair Use. Even so, Field might try to shake me down. I don't know what kind of lawyer he is, but I am confident that I could beat him in court. So here is a taste:

Good Tea

By: Blake A. Field

© 2004 Blake A. Field

It's truly a rare find, a good tea.  Most of the tea one can buy in the supermarkets have been run through so many mills and processes and sample groups that by the time you steep it, it's lost all of its tea character.

...