ACLU Urges High Court to Uphold Free Speech Ruling
The Court announced this morning that it will hear an appeal of a lower court
ruling in FCC v. Fox Television Stations, et al. that found the FCC failed to
provide adequate justification for its regulations governing the broadcast of
"fleeting expletives." The Department of Justice is appealing that decision on
behalf of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Contrary to its practice over the last several decades, the FCC recently began
leveraging large fines against broadcasting companies for use of even isolated
profanities aired on their stations. Last summer, Fox Broadcasting Company asked
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to reverse two such indecency
findings against the company, arguing that the FCC had not historically fined
broadcasters for fleeting expletives on live television.
The circuit court agreed, ruling that the FCC's enforcement of indecency
findings were "arbitrary and capricious," and ordered the FCC to provide better
justification for its new policy. The Justice Department appealed that ruling to
the Supreme Court.
The following can be attributed to Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the
Washington Legislative Office of the ACLU:
"The FCC's new policy of policing television broadcasts with a vengeance doesn't
survive First Amendment scrutiny. Giving the Commission the ability to leverage
arbitrary fines based on a vague set of standards will have a chilling effect on
free speech, because broadcasters trying to avoid the penalties will err on the
side of caution and begin censoring content that wouldn't actually be considered
"The government should let parents do the parenting. Parents have access to all
the tools they need to manage what their children see and hear, from channel
blocking to language filters and don't need the FCC looking over their
shoulder/second-guessing their decisions. The Second Circuit was right that the
FCC has overstepped its bounds and, in fact, the Constitution, and we believe
the Supreme Court should uphold that decision."
Congress is also considering a fleeting expletives bill, which the ACLU has
called unwise, unnecessary, and unconstitutional. The bill would reinstate the
Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) ability to prohibit the use of any
profanity from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on broadcast television.
Blu-ray's HD-Format Victory Could Be Short
The high-definition DVD format war has been officially over since
mid-February, when HD-DVD backer Toshiba threw in the towel. While studios and
hardware manufacturers are adapting to the triumphant Blu-ray format, its
victory could be short.
Microsoft has moved into the acceptance phase with a recent acknowledgment by
CEO Steve Ballmer that its Windows operating system will support Blu-ray. The
software giant said last month that it would stop manufacturing HD-DVD players
for its Xbox 360. But Ballmer also told reporters that he considers a
high-definition format a transitional medium, because eventually more
high-definition content will be delivered over the Internet than by discs.
In addition, for a Blu-ray victory to endure, prices for players need to
fall. Last week Sony Electronics President Stan Glasgow said prices for Blu-ray
players would drop slowly. Sony's players are now upwards of $400, but Glasgow
predicted prices under $300 by Christmas and under $200 by the end of next year.
Other Blu-ray player manufacturers, such as Sharp and Samsung, are also expected
to lower prices.
But Glasgow told The New York Times that the Blu-ray Association would try to
avoid the extremely low prices that hit DVD players by not licensing the
standard to Chinese manufacturers. He indicated there will be made-in-China
players, but not soon.
As for the discs themselves, prices are beginning to fall. Amazon and other
retailers are reportedly pricing some Blu-ray movies under $15. Some observers
are predicting Blu-ray discs below $10 within a few months.
But the big question is whether consumers will buy the format. Paul
Jackson, an analyst with industry research firm Forrester, said numbers are not
yet out, although he added that anecdotal reports indicate consumers are
beginning to move toward Blu-ray.
Yankee Group's Josh Martin noted that about 35 to 40 percent of American
households have high-definition TVs, a significant rate of adoption but smaller
than the installed base for DVD. The comparison to DVD
adoption is inevitable, although both analysts point to other differences.
Jackson noted that the existence of enhanced DVDs and TV sets means that, for
some consumers, there isn't the same need to upgrade as there was when consumers
went from VHS to DVD.
Jackson agreed that the future for high-definition content is delivery by
high-speed Internet, but he added that a super-high-definition format may emerge
before discs decline as a distribution medium. Martin
said regular DVDs will remain as a format for some time, since its installed
base is so large. He also predicted there might be a super format, perhaps using
But he added that it would be best for the industry if any new format doesn't
arrive for at least five, maybe 10, years because of "consumer exhaustion."
Toshiba Acknowledges Defeat As Blu-ray Wins Format Battle
The biggest consumer electronic format war in a generation is officially
over. Toshiba, the Japanese electronics giant, threw
in the towel on its HD DVD technology Tuesday, announcing that it would no
longer develop, produce or market disc players for the format. In doing so, it
ceded victory to Sony's competing Blu-ray format, which now looks set to become
the global standard for high-definition DVDs.
In a pitched two-year battle, Sony and Toshiba tried to woo Hollywood studios to
release movies in their formats and to persuade computer and game console makers
to use their disc drives. The struggle was reminiscent of the 1980s battle
between the VHS format of Matsushita and Betamax from Sony to become the
standard for videotape.
Toshiba's chief executive, Atsutoshi Nishida, said the death blow for HD DVD
came last month, when the movie studio Warner Brothers, a unit of Time Warner,
decided to drop the format in favor of Blu-ray. He also cited a decision last
week by Wal-Mart Stores not to stock discs and players using the Toshiba format.
''The sudden change by Warner Brothers was like a bolt from the blue,'' Mr.
Nishida said at a news conference at Toshiba's headquarters in Tokyo.
He said Toshiba had already informed two of its biggest HD DVD partners, the
studios Universal and Paramount, of its decision. Other partners included Intel
and Microsoft, which sold HD DVD drives for its Xbox 360 game consoles.
Mr. Nishida said Toshiba would halt all production by the end of March,
though it would continue offering customer support. He also said Toshiba had no
plans to begin producing Blu-ray players.