Weekly News Roundup (September 17, 2017)

September 17th, 2017

Sorry for the brief hiatus last week – things got a bit out of control on all fronts, and something had to give. Things are bad to a normal-ish rhythm now, and so the WNR continues!

A few things to go through this week, but it shouldn’t take too long.

Copyright

WordPress Logo

WordPress experiences a surge in invalid and abusive DMCA take down requests

DMCA abuse is real. And for a company like Automattic, the makers of WordPress, who deal with each and every DMCA take-down request manually, it’s a headache that’s growing exponentially. Automattic revealed that for the first half of 2017, the number of DMCA requests they received more than doubled, but the number of actual legitimate requests actually dropped in the same period.

This means that the number of false reports, some due to inaccurate information, others are deliberated attempts to silence critics, have dramatically increased. The problem is so bad now that Automattic have rejected 78% of requests in the first half of 2017. Now, it has to be said that the 9,000+ requests received by Automattic is not a huge number compared to what a company like Google receives, and so for now, Automattic can still deal with them manually, with a human behind every request to determine if they are valid or not. For others, it means an automated system to deal with these requests, most of which are also being created automatically by bots, and the legal threat of things means that these system will err on the side of caution, to approve requests even if many are not valid.

So it end up being a battle of bots, neither side accurate enough to avoid collateral damage, which is legitimate pages being removed for no good reason.

But sometimes there are good reasons to get something removed, even if the main motive behind it has nothing to do with copyright. Internet celebrity PewDiePie is in the news again for all the wrong reasons after using a racial epithet in a recent video. The Internet backlash was strong and totally expected. One indie game developer, Campo Santo, was finally fed up with PewDiePie’s antics, and no longer wanted him to make money off the firm’s game Firewatch. What Campo Santo did to force PewDiePie’s hand, on the other hand, was controversial. The game developer used YouTube’s Content ID, its DMCA take-down platform, to get the video removed. And they succeeded.

The problem with this is that even after Campo Santo made it clear that copyright had nothing to do with their wish to have the video removed, they still manged to do it, despite fair use probably being on the side of PewDiePie. And as this The Verge article explains, maybe it shouldn’t be this easy, or at least, it should be a lot clearer just who’s right in this legal clash.

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Apple TV 4K

Apple fully on board the 4K and HDR train with its updated Apple TV

So the big news in the tech world this week was the release of the Apple iPhone 8 and X. Big news, but hardly surprising because of all the leaks that, in hindsight, were spot on. Perhaps a little bit lost among the hype of the X was the announcement of an upgraded Apple TV that supports 4K and HDR.

Apple has always been a gatekeeper of sorts for the “mainstreaming” of previously niche technology. By now supporting 4K and HDR, perhaps it’s as official a signal as we’re going to get that these technologies are ready for prime time, ready to become mainstream.

The best part though about the announcement was the fact that there won’t be a price hike when it comes to buying 4K content – it will be the same as the HD version. In fact, if you’ve already purchased the HD version, you can automatically upgrade to the 4K version for free.

As for the X, nothing was too much of a surprise thanks to the leaks, but the removal of Touch ID was a “double take” moment for me. Samsung’s clumsy last minute addition of a fingerprint reader on the back of the phone was not the best move, but Apple removing it altogether because they couldn’t get the screen integrated fingerprint reader to work in time, could be worse. For those like me that tend to unlock their phone with the fingerprint reader the moment I pick it up and before I even look at the phone, the switch to Face ID might be hard. Apple will hope that it works flawlessly, or it will definitely be the point of attack for critics.

As for the lack of a home button, not even a virtual one like on the Galaxy S8, I know for a fact that some will find it annoying (at first at least, and then it will probably be like second nature to them).

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Well, that’s it for the week I guess. See you next week. Hopefully.

Weekly News Roundup (September 3, 2017)

September 3rd, 2017

Sorry for the brief hiatus, back and refreshed from warm Far North Queensland. Back into the freezing grey wasteland that is Melbourne at the moment. Spring can’t come soon enough!

A short one this week before I freeze my fingers off typing this WNR.

Copyright

The Hitman's Bodyguard

Studios are failing to protect their movies

Movie studios might need to rethink the strategy of having simultaneous theatrical and digital releases, after the Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L Jackson comedy action hit ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ was uploaded online in record time.

The source of the pristine, 1080p upload is speculated to be Netflix Japan, of all places, which somehow managed to secure the streaming rights to the film when other countries were still waiting for it theatrically (apparently, it’s being marketed as a Netflix Original Movie in the country, because it secured the exclusive distribution rights there). As good as it was for Japanese Netflix subscribers, this move might not have been the best for the film’s production company, Millennium Films.

Some time ago, I posted here that “if you can play it, you can rip it”. That’s still very much true, whether it’s DVDs, screeners, cams or streams. The only way to stop piracy is to stop people from actually being able to watch movies, and I’m not sure that’s what the film industry actually wants. Of course, giving a hit movie to Netflix, even in the far off land of Japan, may not have been the best idea either.

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You should have watched the GoT season finale by now, and so has millions of people who definitely did not watch it legally. Piracy peaked compared to the rest of the season, but did not break any records because of the increasing number of legal viewing options, and of course, streaming.

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HDR10+

Not another bloody HDR format!

The HDR format war is heating up (about the only thing with heat in my house at the moment) even more with the addition of a third major format into the race. With Dolby Vision gaining momentum thanks to Paramount, Warner Bros. and Lionsgate all starting to release titles in the format, the humble HDR10 format feels like it’s getting left behind.

And it’s not just branding at stake here. Dolby Vision does offer a few additional features that, in some cases, significantly improve the picture quality. The most important of which is something called dynamic metadata. Instead of having one set of HDR data for the entire movie of TV episode, dynamic metadata allows each scene to have their own set of data, thus allowing an even greater range of brightness for scene after scene.

HDR10+ aims to solve this shortcoming by adding basically just dynamic metadata support to the existing HDR10 standard. It’s something Samsung came up with, and is now supported by major rival Panasonic and studio 20th Fox, all in an attempt to not have to pay the high licensing fees associated with Dolby Vision. Amazon already supports the format too.

A format war is always bad for the consumer, but this one is not as bad as long as studios encode their Blu-ray releases in multiple HDR formats (as is the case with Dolby Vision releases so far). HDR10 remains the “fallback” format in all cases, so even if you don’t have a Dolby Vision or HDR10+ TV, you can still enjoy HDR.

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I think when your fingers and toes start feeling numb in the bitter cold that is my study, it’s probably time to stop writing. See you next week (when it’s hopefully a bit warmer)!

Weekly News Roundup (August 20, 2017)

August 20th, 2017

A chilly morning here in Melbourne. Winter was here, and should be gone soon, but I’m not waiting around any longer. I shall be making my escape to somewhere a lot warmer later this week.

But before that glorious event, there’s the news to go through for this WNR, and unfortunately, it was a quiet week again. As a result, this will be yet again a short WNR and yet again another one focused on Game of Thrones. I know, I know, I’m tired of covering it too, but (news) beggars but be choosers.

Copyright

Jon Snow

I hate to keep on talking about Game of Thrones, but people have to stop leaking episodes first

So another week, another Game of Thrones leak. Winter is supposed to be here, and I’m guessing most of the water (in the North, at least) have all frozen over. So why so many leaks?

At this point, it’s almost a sport now to see who can leak the next episode first. This time, it was HBO themselves, or rather, both HBO Nordic and España. HBO Nordic has history when it comes to leaking GoT episodes, so it’s good to see that no lessons have been learnt from past mistakes.

That’s the problem with digital distribution. In the past, it would have required a daring break-in into a TV station to steal the master tapes, whereas now, it could be as simple as an intern pressing the wrong button to make an episode go live much earlier than it was suppose to. Even a digital break-in, like the HBO hack, is a lot less risky and requires less of an “Ocean’s 11” style operation.

The HBO hackers though continues their digital rampage and public ransom negotiations this week, with the revelation that they appears to have threatened to release more sensitive HBO data. Specifically, they might have the logins of all of HBO’s social media accounts (cue rush to change passwords by said HBO intern), and more worryingly, access to the last two unaired episodes of GoT. The hackers want $6.5 million in Bitcoins, or they’ll release GoT S7 episode 6 and 7 “as soon as possible”.

Will HBO play ball? They’ve said no, but the hackers have released an email in which HBO offered the hackers $250,000 for their “kind” help in pointing out the security flaws in HBO’s systems.

Meanwhile, the hackers have leaked more unaired episodes, including episodes of the eagerly awaited return of Curb your Enthusiasm (so that’s a pretty, pretty, pretty bad development for HBO). But is this worth $6.5 million? Probably not. It’s not as if people are cancelling their HBO accounts just because leaked episodes are now appearing online.

And you can bet law enforcement is already well on its way to tracking the hackers. They’ve always caught up with them, even if it takes a long time, so I don’t know why hackers even bother with high profile hacks like this one. As for the people who leaked episode 4, a copy obtained from Star India, four arrests have already occurred on the subcontinent.

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So my previously mentioned escape will mean there will be no WNR next week. Which might be a good thing, as it might allow this while Game of Thrones leak-a-thon to finish by then (well, considering the season will be finished by next Sunday, I’d say our chances are pretty, pretty, pretty good).

Until next time, have a good one!

Weekly News Roundup (August 13, 2017)

August 13th, 2017

A broken iPhone, a format in decline, the ending of a deal and the continuing of leaks. That’s what we have in store for you in this week’s WNR. Read on to found out just what the hell I’m on about.

Copyright

Power leaked via iPhone

Using a broken iPhone to leak an unaired episode of Power – that doesn’t happen usually

There’s got to be a better way to do this. Playing a screener on an iPhone with a broken screen while holding up another phone to record the playback, all the while complaining about your sore arm. This “new” cam method may not catch on, but the man responsible for it may very well be easily caught thanks to his habit of turning the phone to record his face. STARZ, the owners of the leaked ‘Power’ episodes, has promised a swift legal response, but this whole thing is so ridiculous, it might just work in the favor of the accused.

But this incident does proof one point – if there’s a way to play it, there’s a way to rip (and upload) it. STARZ may have invested in the best security infrastructure to protect their content, but all it took in this case was a shared password and a (broken) iPhone, and viola, leaked episodes.

And even when the theft attempt is more ambitious and professional, as in the case of the HBO hack, the result is the same. The HBO hackers, after failing to extract a ransom from HBO, release more content this week. The “highlight” of this latest batch of leaks is the episode outline for the unaired episode 5 of season 7. Written a year ago, so some things will have changed from the final product to air this Sunday, the episode outline will no doubt still contain a few valid spoilers. There are also timelines, roadmaps and promotional strategies for HBO’s flagship show, the release of which will no doubt irritate the suits at HBO HQ.

More leaks will be on the way, unless law enforcement can catch up to the hackers sooner rather than later.

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Tomorrow Never Dies DVD and Blu-ray

Blu-ray and DVD s are on the way out, Netflix in

The DEG’s regular reporting of the state of the U.S. home entertainment industry is an interesting read. Not so much because of the surprises (there aren’t any), but because of the very clear trend it is showing in each and every report – digital is beating physical, and streaming is beating everything else.

So the latest DEG report, for the first half of 2017, shows subscription streaming revenue continuing to rise at the expense of purchases. Not something studios heads will like. And within purchases, digital is rising while sales of physical media is dropping at a rather alarming rate (Blu-ray faring better than DVD, it has to be said).

Distribution is now more and more in the hands of tech companies like Netflix and Apple, and that’s worrying for studios, as that used to be their job (and their revenue source). So it was no surprise to me that the most powerful of the studios, Disney, wants to take back distribution by launching their own proprietary streaming platform. This also means that Disney movies will cease to be on Netflix in 2019, when Disney’s platform launches (Lucasfilm and Marvel content may follow suit).

Disney content on Netflix

Disney to go it alone as it plans to remove content from Netflix

From a consumer perspective, this is bad news. The dream of an all-inclusive, single streaming platform where everything you’ve ever wanted to watch is just a click away, is dying. Instead, we might have to start getting used to fragmentation, where you have to juggle between half a dozen or more streaming accounts just so you can binge between episodes of Family Ties and Cheers, or run a movie night of the best zombie movies ever (which will never, ever, featuring Brad Pitt’s World War Z).

Or we might have to get used to some kind of super, meta streaming service: Netflix ($9.95) with the add-on options including Disney, HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ, et al. Did we just reinvent cable?

(and to be fair, Hulu is already doing something similar with its HBO, Cinemax and SHOWTIME – and now with a live TV option too. So I ask again, did we just reinvent cable?)

Whatever happens, it will most likely mean we’ll have to pay more to get what we currently get.

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So with that, we come to the end of another WNR. I’m off to watch the Disney stuff on Netflix before it all gets taken down. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (August 6, 2017)

August 6th, 2017

A heads up – this is going to be another short one for you, as it’s been a relatively quiet week again. And just because the news stories this week all revolve around Game of Thrones, it does not mean that I’ve spent the last week bingeing on old and new episodes of the hit HBO show and this is the actual reason why I haven’t bothered to write up any news stories. No, this is definitely not the case.

Copyright

Game of Thrones - Season 7, Jon Snow

Game of Thrones making all the wrong headlines this week

So while I wasn’t lying on the couch, munching on junk food and getting my GoT fix, this story about GoT happened: HBO got hacked! Terabytes of data were stolen in a brazen cyber-heist, and the point of entry may have been HBO’s Executive Vice President Legal Affairs Viviane Eisenberg’s account at HBO – her personal and banking passwords were also released as part of the hack suggesting she may have been the original target (or that she was careless enough to store all her passwords as plain text on HBO’s servers).

While the hackers may have been disappointed that they could not get their hands on any unaired GoT footage, they did get script and story overviews for the then unreleased episode 4 of the latest season. They did get unaired episodes of Ballers, Barry, Room 104 and Insecure. All of the stolen content were uploaded online to the website winter-leak.com (a reference to the weather phenomenon that is currently occurring in Westeros), which at the time of writing, has been taken down.

The recent trend has been worrying for Hollywood. The old problem used to be unauthorised leaks, usually via a third-party production or distribution company. Now, it’s brute force hacking that studios and supporting companies have to deal with. Netflix, Disney, and now HBO, have all fallen victim recently, as hacking groups vie for notoriety by trying to get their hands on the “best” stolen content.

So when a couple of days later, news broke that episode 4 of GoT season 7, the one whose script was leaked, was the subject of another leak, this time a much more serious one in which the entire episode was uploaded online. Ironically enough, this new leak was entirely unrelated to the HBO hack, and instead, came via the “old problem” I mentioned above – HBO’s Indian pay TV partner Star India appears to be the source of the leak based on the visible watermark found in the leaked video.

The digital revolution has brought about many positive changes. The ease in which content can now be stolen and shared, is not one of them.

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So I think that was it for the week. That wasn’t all of “it”, I’m sure, and I’ll definitely have more for you next week, and it’s definitely not because I am almost finished binge watching all 6 and a bit seasons of GoT. Nope, definitely not because of that, because I definitely didn’t do that last week instead of work.


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