“Conflict Through Consensus”: Europe’s Hybrid Broadbanders Paint on UK’s Project Canvas

A “Julius Stonian” observation:  standards groups aren’t “consensus organizations”, they are political organizations. Winners declare their way the “consensus”, and changes in political context shift the “consensus”.

So reflects calls in several slides at yesterday’s Hybrid Broadcast-Broadband (HBB) workshop to look deeper into Intellectual Property Rights and other control points in the new “broadcast+broadband” (aka OTT TV) standards initiatives.

Cases in point:  UK Project Canvas, see filing here, and HBBTV, a “consortium” claiming pan-European fait accompli authority that is questioned by the European Broadcasting Union’s workshop slides.
So Stonian kudos to MHEG vendor S&T and the EBU for frank, to-the-political-point, what’s-in-it-for-me observations:

  • “Do you know what IPR issues exist in new initiatives like HBBTV??? (S&T slide 45)
  • “IPR and patent issues shall be resolved prior to rolling out the HBB services” (EBU slide 9)
  • “Unresolved IPR issues (particularly “submarine” patents)” (EBU slide 28)

The EBU’s observations are perhaps most interesting, because they draw from a February 2009 EBU recommendation and initiative, cited below, that cuts to the chase of many of the fundamental political and policy interests that are at stake when “broadcast meets broadband”, many of which don’t fit neatly into the current standards landscape status quo, but require both regulatory oversight and clear, direct articulation of broadcasters interests (as well as other interests, public and private).


EBU’s observations are a frank step ahead of the BBC’s have-it-both-ways “standards-based

open environment” double talk challenged here (although neatly respected by Andrew Burke here), and miles ahead of the US ATSC Forum’s recent tepid “almost-as-good-as Europe” defense.

So who is Julius Stone?

Since his death in 1985, the influence of Julius Stone, one of the 20th century’s great legal scholars, has enjoyed a strange yet welcome renaissance.

Yorkshire born in 1907 of Lithuanian Jewish refugees, his first of 27 books, “International Guarantees of Minority Rights”, was published when he was only 25, and is still considered “the most authoritative and objective work in its field”.

From 1942 on an Australian law professor, Stone’s half-century of jurisprudence  once seemed destined to drift to dated obscurity. A review of a 1992 biography questioned the wisdom of bothering with a biography at all, since “as the spheres are aligned in the academic firmament today, Julius Stone’s star is not burning particularly brightly”.

But the generations he marked knew better, including this writer who was blessed in law school by Stone (he taught part-time in the US after his retirement) assigning one of his last books, “Conflict Through Consensus”, a thin dissection entirely unlike other law school casebooks whose title alone knifed a foolishness of his century, the 51 year quest to legalistically define the term “agression” to whitewash some of the century’s greatest criminal acts.

To this day the title “Conflict through Consensus” rings like an alarm in my head whenever I see such cover-up terms as “consensus organization” bandied about in standards groups process documents.  Of course there is no consensus when there is conflict, and only a nitwit self-deceiving “expert” couldn’t see, as Stone once far more artfully put it, “the realities disclosed by an examination of the definition.”

In 1999 an Institute of Jurisprudence was founded in Stone’s name, and nowadays the
accolades flow.

And a heavyweight annual lecture series that features dense yet topical speechs on international jurisprudence, such as one by a Harvard law professor warning of the dangers when “[w]e underestimate the power of expert consensus” or by a St Johns’ law professor on how overstated notions of “legal pluralism” mislead in a “new lex mercatoria” of pseudo-governmental venues.

The common Stonian thread?  A warning, really, of the dangers of overbelief, particularly in an international organizational context, as conditions evolve.  Overbelief in a status quo of expert consensus. Overbelief in the ultimately deluding dead-end thought process that others might be fooled by a “consensus covering up conflict”.  Overbelief in misleading notions of “legal pluralism” that see in the status quo of international organizations some sort of law, rather than just behavior.

So cut the “pan-European consortium” PR happy talk, folks, and put the interests on the table (here’s how).  Who owns what, and who will get what?  The EBU has had the courage and insight to do as much; so should everyone else.


“I begin with a simple “Julius Stonian” observation: the international world is governed.   The domain outside and between nation states is neither an anarchic political space beyond the reach of law, nor a domain of market freedom immune from regulation.   Our international world is the product and preoccupation of an intense and ongoing project of regulation and management.”

David Kennedy (Harvard Law School professor), “Challenging Expert Rule: The Politics of Global Governance”, in 2004 Julius Stone Memorial Address, Sydney Australia.

European Broadcasting Union Recomendation, “Television in a Hybrid Broadcast/Broadband Environment”, February 2009, http://tech.ebu.ch/docs/r/r127.pdf:

“The EBU recommends that EBU Members must foster, in cooperation with the industry and standardization bodies, the development of hybrid broadcast/broadband technical platforms with the necessary technical commonality to ensure the development of a European-wide
consumer market …

It is fair and reasonable that consumers should enjoy PSB [Public Service Broadcasting] ‘rich-media’ delivered over hybrid broadcast-broadband networks in the same way they consume broadcast-only content. They should be able to do so without organizations that have not contributed to the production process capitalizing on the process.

The EBU and its Members need to analyze the European and national regulatory frameworks, taking action where appropriate, to ensure that third parties associate their broadband services with EBU Member’s programmes only when authorized. For example, PSBs should retain editorial control of all content associated with their programmes (e.g. EPGs, surrounding text and rich multimedia, advertising and banners, picture-in-picture, interactive applications).”