Weekly News Roundup (26 October 2014)

October 26th, 2014

Another really quiet week until the last couple of days … might have to rethink when to write this WNR in the future. It seems I’m not the only one that slacks off and wait until the end of the week to get everything done.

Let’s get started!


The Simpsons: Tapped Out

Freemium isn’t just for stupid EA games that make you have the urge to spend real money on fake stuff … piracy is also a form of premium

Freemium is becoming annoyingly popular these days. From office applications to greedy EA games that makes you want to spend your hard earned dollars buying useless virtual things like donuts and squeaky voiced teens. But did you know that freemium has existed years before it was known as freemium, and that piracy is actually a form of it? I didn’t know or think of it that way either until Microsoft’s CEO, of all people, explained why piracy may be the oldest form of freemium yet.

You see, just because people don’t pay for Windows or Office, it doesn’t mean that they may not eventually pay, for new versions or upgrades. If they do pay, then piracy becomes a form of promotion, seducing the user with its zero initial outlay and then eventually encouraging users to want to pay for future versions because they’ve already invested so much time and energy into learning the software.

With competition in every software sector becoming more and more fierce, piracy may just be another form of advertising, where paper losses due to piracy is turned into promotional spending to help increase the user base and maintain a dominant market position. Change the word “piracy” in the previous sentence to “the freemium model”, and isn’t this exactly how freemium works?


The Pirate Bay

Sites like The Pirate Bay cannot really be harmed by search engine ranking drops

An update to last week’s news story regarding the new Google anti-piracy ranking changes. TorrentFreak has looked into the results of the new downgrading scheme and this new one is apparently much more potent than previous efforts by Google. Looking at the “search engine visibility” of top US and UK torrent sites (that is, how easy is it to find results from these sites in the search engines), the new algorithm change coincides with a visibility drop of more than half for sites like torrentz.eu.

Of course, big search engine sites don’t really depend much on search engine traffic at all. Most of their traffic are direct traffic, which is simply people entering the site’s URL directly into the browser (or via bookmarks). Even if Google completely removes sites like The Pirate Bay from the search results, traffic to TPB will still be strong (and if the same kind of demotion happens equally to other competing torrent sites, then the theory is that traffic to TPB might even increase as more people, frustrated with the search results, will simply change their behaviour and directly visit the big torrent sites. The current changes actually benefit smaller torrent sites, those that have not been the target of a sustained DMCA take-down effort, and will naturally rise in the search ranks to become the top results.

But whatever makes the rightsholders happy I suppose.


I want to cover this in more detail next week, but the Court of Justice of the European Union has just handed down a landmark decision in which it was declared that you cannot commit copyright infringement by simply embedding videos onto your website, even if the video contained unauthorised content. As usual with these kind of landmark decision, the case upon which it was decided was a distinctly eccentric one, one that on first glance has almost nothing to do with copyright – that one of the plaintiffs was a water filtering company, and not a Hollywood studio, says everything really. But the Court of Justice of the European Union’s job is to interpret law, and their interpretation is that embedding is not a new act of communication, but rather, just the same communication, in a slightly different form, of the original upload. A common sense decision that finally puts a limit on just how far the “trickle down” effects goes when it comes to who you can sue for an upload (if an embed is liable, then how about a link to the page that contains the embed, and so on and so on). Anyway, more on this and the reaction in next week’s WNR.


Everyone knows that the PS4 is doing pretty well, and doing better than the Xbox One. But how much better, no one really knows. Ars Technica tried to answer the unanswerable, and they’ve come up with a pretty good answer, considering – worldwide PS4 sales are at least 40% more than that of the Xbox One.

I’ll leave you to read the whole article on how Ars Technica came up with these numbers, but there is no doubt that the PS4 is ahead of the Xbox One and by a considerable margin at this time. If I had to make a bet right now, it has to be on the PS4 being the winner of this generation. It has already won the battle of perception, with most believing it is a better value console than the Xbox One (not just in pure price terms, but in terms of features and performance too), and this is the most important battle to win!


Alright, that’s enough for this week. See you again in 168 hours (plus or minus a few hours).

Weekly News Roundup (19 October 2014)

October 19th, 2014

I’ve recently become obsessed with a TV show called If You Are The One, a show that apparently has become a cult favourite here in Australia despite it being a Chinese dating show. It started airing on Saturday and Sunday nights here in 2013 (with subtitles), for the lonely hearts out there wanting to have fun at the expense of other lonely hearts (in China), and maybe learn a thing or two in the process too. Here’s hoping the show makes it to other English speaking markets, because it’s a real gem.


Google is getting tougher on “piracy sites”, sites that have received too many DMCA takedown notices. In a whitepaper released this week, Google outlined changes to its algorithm and search features that will make pirated results less obvious, and also do better to promote legal alternatives at the same time. Sites that have been targeted by the likes of the MPAA and RIAA with DMCA notices will drop down further in the search rankings thanks to new tweaks introduced this month, and for certain search terms that are likely to lead to pirated content, Google will either include ads to legal platforms for the said content, or will more links to free listening/watching options (such Spotify) to make going to pirated sites less of a necessity.

The whitepaper also explains in detail Google’s anti-piracy policies with its non search products, such as AdSense, Blogger and YouTube, with Google pointing out that the latter’s Content ID “piracy monetization” program has paid out over a billion dollars already to content holders in the seven years it has been running.

All of this is to avoid actually having to remove entire sites at the behest of content holders (as opposed to individual URLs), something that content holders ultimately wants Google to do (Google’s reason for not doing it: that takedown URLs for even the biggest piracy sites are only a small fraction of the total URLs indexed for these sites – so it’s unfair to remove these sites entirely).

The Walking Dead: Season 5

Hordes of The Walking Dead pirates come out during the show’s season 5 premier

What Google may not be able to do much about is the increasing popularity of The Walking Dead among downloaders. The corker of a season 5 premier has attracted record ratings, but has also broken records when it comes to pirated downloads, according to piracy tracking firm Excipio.

While all of this may only prove that “popular TV show downloaded more”, what I found interesting is that Australia, for once, was not the piracy leader for this “let’s not say the Z word” series. It could be that Game of Thrones is more popular with Aussies than The Walking Dead (because if there’s one things us Australians are known for, its our love of dragons and medieval themed political intrigue), but one look at the legal options for both shows and it may become clear why one is downloaded a lot more than the other. One show is available on iTunes (albeit on a 2 day delayed release schedule compared to the US airing time) and available on a cheaper non premium cable channel. The other is only available on premium cable packages, with no standalone digital options like iTunes. Guess which is which, and which show is pirated more!

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A standalone HBO streaming service is coming in 2015

The Game of Thrones piracy, or more precisely, the HBO TV show piracy problem in Australia may be reduced dramatically next year, but not for a reason that will make content holders and distributors here happy at all. HBO will be offering a standalone streaming product in 2015, possibly at the price point of $15 per month. With the right geo-unblocker (assuming HBO takes the same laissez faire attitude towards geo-unblockers as Netflix, which might be a big assumption at this time), Australians could get access to the latest HBO shows for a price that’s quite affordable.

So while all the talk is about Netflix being the loser in this new deal, and its stock prices has reflected this sentiment in the wake of this announcement, I think the real losers are the traditional cable and satellite providers, in the US and overseas. HBO and their shows has been the jewel, the only jewel sometimes, in their crown, and the only reason why many still hold on to their subscriptions. A standalone HBO product will remove this reason. Hulu Plus and Netflix aren’t real competitors because they’re trying to do different things, even though they offer some of the same content – both service complement each other, especially for us overseas watchers who don’t have timely access to the latest TV episodes. For this same reason, HBO and Netflix shouldn’t be considered competitors, especially when the two services are unlikely to have any overlap in content – they complement each other, and complement each other quite well. All we need now is a movie streaming service that streams the latest movies at the same time as the film’s Blu-ray and DVD releases, and all three services could co-exist and prosper (at the expense of cable/satellite, discs and other outdated forms of distribution).

Early 4K adopters without Netflix is set to lose out as the company moves its 4K offering to its most expensive $12 “family plan”. The extra costs involved with distributing 4K content may account for this move, but the change only affects new members. Existing members will get to keep access to Netflix’s limited 4K library without having to move up to the family plan.


Despite Michael Pachter predicting the Xbox One will outsell the PS4 in September, the well known gaming industry analyst was proved wrong once again with the NPD figures for September showing PS4 sales still topped that for the Xbox One despite Microsoft’s free games offer. The only glimmer of good news for Microsoft was that the hit game Destiny was more popular on the Xbox One than on the PS4, at least for standalone non digital copies of the game. The holiday period is just around the corner and sales will and Microsoft will hope that the recent discounting of the console plus game offers help to things turn around in time. If the PS4 wins these holidays, and right now it looks like the most likely outcome, then that’s this generation decided I think.

As for the Wii U, its sales grew by 50% compared to August sales, but with Microsoft and even Sony reluctant to release actual sales figures, we have no idea how far behind the Wii U is compared to the big two (and I assume it’s behind the Xbox One, since otherwise I’m sure Nintendo would have made a note of it in their PR releases).


And on that note, we come to the end of another WNR. Hope you’ve enjoyed this one, see you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (12 October 2014)

October 12th, 2014

Another short one this week, writing just before I head off to the cinemas to watch Gone Girl. I’ve read the book, so ready to be suitably disappointed. Spoiler alert: aliens took her!

Update-from-after-the-movie: Fairly satisfying movie to be honest, true to the book, but perhaps a bit boring if you already know what happens.


FBI Anti-Piracy Warning

Don’t download pirate stuff if you want to become the next Agent Mulder

Want to work for the FBI? If you do, then you’d better stop pirating episodes of Game of Thrones. Those applying to become FBI interns have always had to be squeaky clean in terms of drug use and criminal activities, something that seems fairly obvious. But a recently added rule means that those wanting to be a G-Man or G-Woman will also have to prove they’ve never downloaded pirated content, or at least haven’t been caught doing so. Responses from potential applicants are also subject to a lie detector test, and so those that choose to lie about downloading The Sopranos and get caught could find themselves being viewed just as unfavorably by the FBI as Tony S! Or at the very least barred from ever joining the FBI. You’ve been warned.

Another warning, this time for those in the industry using piracy download stats to calculate losses: don’t do it! New research conducted by the APAS Laboratory shows that the way downloaders choose what CAM releases to download is very different to how people choose what movie to go and watch at the cinemas. It seems downloaders of CAM releases simply choose whichever one is most visible, and their choice has very little to do with the movie’s popularity or review ratings, which is traditionally how those paying for a ticket make their choice.

The paper concludes that because of this key difference, it would be very difficult to find any correlation between the number of pirated CAM downloads and potential losses at the box office because of the different method people use to choose a download/movie. It could be that people simply choose to download whatever is available, perhaps even deliberately downloading something they would otherwise not pay for, rather than choosing the one they most want to watch.

This perhaps explains why clamping down on piracy and even reducing the pirate rate doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on the box office!

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UltraViolet DRM

Will Amazon join the UltraViolet alliance?

UltraViolet and Amazon may be joining forces in a move that will surely shake up the digital video industry. Industry sources say DECE, the group managing UltraViolet and Amazon are in deep discussions over Amazon becoming an UltraViolet provider. What this means that in the future, you may be able to redeem your UltraViolet digital copies on Amazon, and that your existing UV collection may become accessible on Amazon’s instant video platform as well.

This won’t solve the issue where you have to counter-intuitively create two separate accounts, one to manage your UV collection and another to actually watch it, but at least with the latter, you can now use your existing Amazon account. It means that for most people, it will be one less account they have to create and manage, and with Amazon’s reach across devices, it will also make it easier to view your UV collection.

For Hollywood studios, this will be a big step towards their goal of limiting the influence of Apple in the digital video space, this being their main goal behind setting up UltraViolet in the first place.


See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (5 October 2014)

October 5th, 2014

Welcome to another WNR. Another fairly short one this week, as the news was thinner than the too-thin aluminium that Apple used for the iPhone 6 Plus, apparently. This WNR doesn’t bend though (might fold, break, snap, but definitely doesn’t bend).

Let’s get going!


The developers behind DRM-free gaming platform GoG and The Witcher series have once again reiterated their hatred of all things DRM related. If this wasn’t the 28th time they’ve mentioned this, and if I hadn’t already written the same news story eight times, it might have been an interesting news story to write. But at this point I think it’s almost a lie to call this “news” (“olds”?). Slightly less repetitive was the developer’s views on downloadable content. They’re not 100% against it per se, but they do believe that gamers shouldn’t be forced to pay for a DLC that is only “one-thousandth of the whole game”. Take note EA!

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Blu-ray Player

Blu-ray players are not as popular as game consoles for streaming Netflix. Not as responsive or as easy to use?

New research shows that nearly half of U.S. broadband households are using their game console as their main connected CE device, with many consuming more than 10 hours of non-gaming content each week on these devices. I guess I would fall into the more atypical household where I *only* use my game console for non gaming related tasks (more than 20 hours per week), since after a hard day’s work, I just don’t have the energy to even think about playing games (watching Netflix in a semi-vegetative state, however …).

Interestingly (or not), the survey of 10,000 U.S. households found that the Xbox platform was still more popular than PlayStation – 35% compared to 27%. The Wii was up there too with 35%. Blu-ray players, on the other hand, are not being used as much as game consoles, with only 9% of households using these as their primary device. Smart TV lags behind game consoles as well. I think the poor responsiveness, lack of app updates on Smart TVs and Blu-ray player for app such as Netflix is why these devices aren’t being used more – a missed opportunity by the CE manufacturers, if there ever was one. Smart TVs, in particular, have been largely a disappointment, considering how much easier it should be to just turn on the TV, press a button to access Netflix, as opposed to using a game console that often doesn’t even have a dedicated remote control. A lack of a common app platform on TVs and Blu-ray players, which makes making/updating apps for each and every device a time consuming exercise, is probably why the equivalent apps on these devices are so poor in quality, performance and features compared to say the PS3’s Netflix app (that and the low capability processors found in these devices, compared to the powerhouse that is a game console).

Coincidentally, another study was released this week suggesting that game console Netflix usage is actually down, compared to standalone media players and smart TVs. The survey says that 28% of users now use devices like the Roku and Chromecast for their Netflix streaming needs in the living room, which is double what is was in 2013. Smart TVs usage is at 28% as well (up from 20%), leaving video console usage, while still top, at the reduced usage of 43%.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend

The ‘Crouching Tiger’ sequel will be available on Netflix and in the cinemas at the same time … cinema chains are not pleased

No matter which device you watch it on, one movie that many of these households will definitely be watching via Netflix next year will be the sequel to the Oscar winning ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, which will air exclusively on Netflix at the same time as the movie’s theatrical/IMAX debut. The reason for the Netflix exclusivity is because Netflix are one of the producers of the film – a Netflix original movie, if you will. This might just be the highest profile movie to have SVOD release window coincide with its theatrical run, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by U.S. cinema chains, most of which (Regal, Cinemark and AMC) have vowed to not screen the film in their theaters.

The chains have simply dismissed the movie as a “made for video” one, and they have cited this as the main reason why they won’t air it. But based on history, we know cinemas are notoriously sensitive to their exclusivity window, and are willing to do everything to protect it, including boycotting a potentially popular film. Even when all powerful Hollywood studios attempted to shorten the exclusivity window by a couple of weeks in order to bring forward the digital/disc release window and to fight piracy, the chains retaliated quite swiftly (even though the last few week bring in very few cinema patrons) and Hollywood eventually backed down. So Netflix’s recent move, which also includes signing up Adam Sandler on a four film deal, is sure to keep theater execs up at night, even if they don’t want to admit it.

Personally, I’m looking forward to Crouching Tiger Part II. Not so much the Adam Sandler films. Let’s hope they’re more ‘The Wedding Singer’ and ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ than almost every other film (although I liked ‘Click’ and ’50 First Dates’).

Chances are, the films that Netflix will be producing will also be made available in 4K to help Netflix promotes its nascent 4K service. So it’s good news that the licensing terms for Netflix’s choice of 4K codec, HEVC, has been announced and it’s actually better than the one for the current industry standard H.264. The MPEG LA has decided against charging any fees for the codec’s use on videos streamed over the Internet or sold on Blu-ray disc, which will surely help HEVC gain further industry acceptance. Products that can encode or decode HEVC will be charged at a rate of 20 cents per product, with the first 100,000 units per year free of charge. Yeah, you know it’s a slow news week when licensing terms and fees become a subject of discourse.


Windows Product Family

One Windows, many devices

Not that much happening in gaming (or anything else, really), except the somewhat surprising announcement of Windows 10 (skipping Windows 9 entirely … perhaps it was considered too confusing due to existence of Windows 95/98 (hopefully not on any actual in-use computers) and what it will mean for gaming on the Xbox platform. The unified approach, which didn’t really work with Windows 8 (okay for tablets, horrible for desktops), will be kicked up a notch by trying to unify not only desktops and laptops with smartphones and tablets, but also the Xbox One game console as well. Games made for Windows 10 could be made to be compatible across every Windows device, from 4″ phones all the way to 80″ TVs connected to the Xbox One.

I seriously doubt we’ll see “proper” Xbox One games also being playable on Windows PCs, due to the huge differences in architecture and differences in optimisation techniques between Xbox One and Windows games. So it will be more things like apps or perhaps even MMOs, that will have universal Windows support. At the very least, it’s something Microsoft can say they have that Sony cannot really compete, since Sony don’t make their own smartphone/tablet and computing OS. Sony can adopt Android as their own though, and port support for certain Android apps to the PS4.


And that’s all we have this week. See you next time!

Weekly News Roundup (28 September 2014)

September 28th, 2014

A lot of Linux “bashing” this week, as a Bash bug (one old enough to be able to vote) is causing mayhem for admins all around the world. There’s been a lot of misinformation floating around, mostly being distributed by the mass media, so I thought I would spend a bit of time trying to clear a few things up.

Bash Shellshock Bug

The Bash “Shellshock” bug in action

So what is Bash? It’s a shell for Unix/Linux based systems (including OS X). What is a shell? A shell is a command processor, basically something that lets you do everything from listing files and directories, to running programs and piping outputs from them to other programs, to running scripts. When you see hackers in unrealistic Hollywood movies, they’re usually typing a bunch of commands on a black screen with white/green text – then they’re typing on an (most likely made up) shell (with an extremely large font). So just to make it clear, the bug is not called Bash. Bash is the software that has the bug. The bug itself has been called the Bash bug (which I think is where the confusion comes from), although many are calling it by the rather catchy name of Shellshock.

So what is the Shellshock bug? It’s basically a rather silly bug that allows instructions to execute commands to be added to environment variables. It turns a fairly innocuous function that doesn’t really do much into one that can basically do everything.

So instead of running a command which simply set the variable “MyName = Sean”, hackers can instead set the value of the variable “MyName” to be “Sean” plus some command to execute. So instead “MyName = Sean”, they can do “”MyName = Sean; Plus run commands that sends all the password and credit card data on this server to the hacker’s server and then delete all the files on this server”, and this stupid bug will actually allow all of the latter instructions to be executed.

On the surface, a shell bug might not be all that damaging – one would have to already have gained access to the system before you can access the shell. The problem is that many internet-facing parts of a server that runs Bash, including the parts that render web pages and scripts, call upon shells like Bash to perform certain actions, including setting environment variables. This means that, with only a little bit of knowledge, one can potentially execute almost any program on a vulnerable server, programs that could allow the hacker to delete files, steal information, or just about anything really.

So why is this bug so serious? For starters, 60% of all web servers have the bug – a much higher rate than the Heartbleed bug because Bash is more integral to these servers – it’s such a basic part of the system, and such an old part of it, that nobody though it could possibly be buggy … until now. It also appears that OS X is vulnerable, although most OS X installs are not configured to allow attacks from outside. Most worryingly, it’s not just web servers that can be affected – any device running some version of Linux and has Internet access *could be* affected, including smartphones, routers, even things like Blu-ray players and in-car entertainment systems. Many of these Internet-of-things devices are also difficult/impossible to update in order to fix the vulnerability, and as there are so many of these devices and so many versions of them, even the manufacturers (if they still exist) probably won’t know which devices/versions are/aren’t vulnerable. To make matters worse, the first set of patches that went out to various server versions were incomplete, giving admins a false sense of security if they didn’t notice that there were subsequent updates.

So basically, it’s a bug that’s very commonly found, easy to exploit, can potentially do a huge amount of damage and hard to fix for some devices – so yep, very serious.

So why is this bug not as serious as some in the media are reporting it to be? While there are probably billions of devices that run some variant of Unix/Linux, not all of them include Bash. Embedded devices such as routers prefer the lightweight BusyBox, which uses ash and not Bash, for example. So luckily iOS*, Android* and a lot of devices aren’t vulnerable to the bug, but that still leaves maybe a few hundred millions devices that are still vulnerable. But even if these devices are vulnerable, it takes a combination of different things (web accessible script that uses Bash to change environment variables) for something malicious to be done, and so while a few hundred million devices may have this bug, a much smaller number can actually be exploited successfully.

* Rooted devices that may have had Bash installed, may be vulnerable.

Hope that clears up a few things. Sorry for spending so much time on this, but it’s not as if I have a lot of other things to write about this week, as you’ll find out below.


A follow-up to a story from a few weeks ago (edit: it was actually last week … jeez, I have no sense of time these days), Google has hit back in the war (of open letters) between itself and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. News Corp labeled the search engine a “platform for piracy”, and Google has now hit back with its own open letter titled Dear Rupert and cites all of the company’s herculean efforts in fighting the piracy problem (222 million web pages removed from Google’s indexes, for example). It’s almost a line-by-line debunking of all the claims made in the now infamous News Corp letter, well worth a read if you want Google’s take on the whole “is Google taking over the world a good thing or not” debate.

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I probably watch more Netflix than the average person, mainly because I like having certain shows on in the background while I’m working on the computer at home (yes it’s distracting, but in a good way!). I’ve already streamed through The Office twice this way, and I’m currently doing The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air via Mexican Netflix (as they have all the seasons). So the news that the average Netflix subscriber now watches 1.5 hours of content every day didn’t really strike me as surprising – I watch that much between lunch and afternoon tea.

Three Fugitives Poster

You too can influence how Netflix decides what movies to add to their library (Not Intended to Be a Factual Statement)

But if you actually analyse what people are actually watching, I think you’ll find it’s more The Nanny, than The Wolf of Wall Street or any other high profile movie releases. This is because most top movies are simply not available on Netflix. New research shows that only 16% of popular and acclaimed films are actually on Netflix at the moment, compared to 94% on sell-through platforms like iTunes.

The latter, 94%, has been used by the MPAA to suggest that availability is not a huge issue when it comes to causes for piracy, but in reality, it’s the former 16% that may still be fueling the desire to download. It would be interesting to see what the piracy rate is for movies that do make it to Netflix, compared to movies that have never been on the platform – surely this should provide us with more valuable insight than simply saying “94%”.

Speaking of Netflix, I may have found a way to influence how Netflix decides which flicks to add to their library. For the past few months, whenever I have the time, I’ve been doing a search on Netflix for the delightful Martin Short, Nick Nolte comedy Three Fugitives. I know it isn’t there, but I’m searching for it anyway in the hope that the data boffins at Netflix spots the numerous searches being made for the movie and something gets done. And it’s worked! The movie will be available to stream in early October, thanks to my efforts and my efforts only I can only assume (as I must be the only one to be searching for this movie on Netflix, or the Internet in general). A similar thing happened with Harry and the Hendersons, which I had been furious searching for in the preceding months, and finally watched again on Mexican (or was that Canadian) Netflix this month. So get busy and start searching (obviously a trick that works better for titles that has little commercial value, then say searching for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’).

Please note that the above advice contains zero scientific or logical merit, and is solely based on the flimsiest of empirical evidence, if you can even call it that.


And finally in gaming (and semi-copyright) news, Steam’s re-design of its web store now more prominently shows the DRM employed by the game (if any). A move that will surely be welcomed by gamers, tired of spending a sizable amount of money on a game, only to find it infected with DRM nonsense. A new notification is now shown on the right hand side of the game’s page, with a clear “warning: this is something that you probably won’t like” yellow background to make the DRM warning stand-out. Perhaps this will further discourage publishers from putting in bad DRM, because if we all start treating DRM just as something detrimental, such as a bad review or incompatibility problems, then maybe publishers will have less incentive to include them in the future.


Alright, that’s it for this week. See you in seven!

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