Douglas Crockford

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June 2006

Broadcast Flag

Broadcast Flag is MPAA's term for a code in the digital stream that inhibits unencrypted high quality outputs. MPAA tricked the FCC into producing a Broadcast Flag rule by saying they would cause the best content to be withheld from digital broadcasting, causing the transition to digital broadcasting to fail. The FCC gave in to the terror threats and issued a Broadcast Flag rule until the Courts found that the FCC had exceeded its authority.

So MPAA went to Congress, attempting to buy legislation that would empower the FCC to set DRM rules on consumer electronics gear. After many attempts, they got nothing.

Until now. They have buried some language in S. 2686: The Communications, Consumer’s Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006. It will create Federal Requirements for onerous DRM. This is very, very bad. It makes stuff more expensive. It makes stuff not work right. It isn't even in Hollywood's interest, but they seem powerless to stop themselves. Fortunately, you can help. The bill gets marked up this Thursday, so call Barbara Boxer today at 202-224-3553 and tell her you don't want any form of Broadcast Flag. Ask her to protect Fair Use.

Blu-Ray

The first batch of Blu-Ray titles are on their way: XXX, 50 First Dates, Underworld: Evolution, The Fifth Element, House of Flying Daggers and Hitch. My advice: keep your money in your pocket. It is not clear that Blu-Ray will beat HD-DVD in the market. You don't want to be stuck with Betamax again. Besides, regular DVD with HDMI output looks really good, and is a whole lot cheaper and has an infinitely greater number of titles.

It is too early still to call a winner in the HD disc war. It is entirely possible that neither format wins.

There won't be a new music disc format to replace CD. Instead, we have general purpose computer gear and networks. The same may happen to video. It might turn out that there will not be a successor to DVD. Instead, video goes to general purpose computer gear and networks.

HD-DVD and Blu-Ray have to win real soon, or Moore's Law will overtake them.

The Window is Closing

I think that Toshiba knows that what I say is true. (Lots of people do, I don't mean to single Toshiba out in that respect.) They know that if there is to be a new HD disc format, that it must be established soon before Moore's Law renders it unnecessary. They also know that there will be no establishment until there is only one format in the market. And they know that their first-to-market strategy failed because their first generation players were way overpriced and of surprisingly poor quality.

That is a lot of whereases. Now the therefore: Toshiba is once again offering to talk to Sony to come up with a single unified format that allows both companies to claim a partial victory before the window of opportunity closes forever. "We have not given up on a unified format. We would like to seek ways for unifying the standards if opportunities arise," Toshiba President Atsutoshi Nishida told an annual shareholders' meeting.

Will Stringer listen this time? And if so, will the companies be able to cooperate? And if so, will it matter?

State Sponsored Piracy

The country that seems to be striking the best balance between the rights of copyright holders and the rights of citizens is France. We saw this last year in the Mulholland Drive case, which determined that copy protection is incompatible with blank media tariffs.

Now the national legislature has passed a copyright bill that requires DRM interoperability. From the citizen's perspective, this means that you can purchase music from any legal online music store, and that you can play your music on any legal digital music player. This is completely reasonable from the perspective of citizens, who expect that buying music entitles them to listen to it. Apple has described this as "State Sponsored Piracy". The tension here is that DRM interoperability does not currently exist. It may turn out that true interoperability between proprietary DRM systems is impossible. The French law might effectively make proprietary DRM illegal because it is incompatible with the rights of citizens.

Amazingly, when the French make copyright law, they consider the rights of citizens. Will this radical idea catch on in other countries?