Weekly News Roundup (August 7, 2016)

August 7th, 2016

You might be hearing a lot less from me during the next month. I’m taking a much needed vacation, and while I may still enjoy complimentary hotel Wi-Fi from time to time, these things are hardly reliable at the best of times. And who wants to do work on their vacation?

So this will most likely be the last WNR until sometime in September. See, it’s not all bad – I get a vacation, and you get a vacation from reading my inane drivel. A win, win!

Before then, here’s the news for the week.

Copyright

Torrentz

Torrentz’s “farewell” message leaves no clues as to what happened

Another week, another major torrent site shuts down. This time, it appears to be on the site’s operator’s own volition, or at least that’s what it looks like based on the limited information we have right now. Torrentz has decided to shut its doors, but has provided information, or even a proper farewell message. Instead, visitors are met with pretty much the same homepage as before, but when they try to use any of the site’s functions, a new message reads: “Torrentz will always love you. Farewell.”

A closer inspection of the homepage also yields one important change – an updated statement which reads “Torrentz was a free, fast and powerful meta-search engine combining results from dozens of search engines” – note the use of the past tense!

So the question remains why was Torrentz shut down. Legal pressure from rights-holders have always existed for the site, despite Torrentz not actually hosting any torrent files. But as was the case with KickassTorrents and other high profile take-downs, rights-holders and law enforcement usually like to make a big deal of it, and this doesn’t seem to have happened here. It could be that the operators of the site were made aware of pending legal action, or were worried about a KickassTorrents style investigation into their operators, and decided to take the proactive step of shutting the site down. Or it could just be because those running the site decided they no longer wanted to do it, and considering the number of fake torrents, impostor sites that have sprung up lately, who could blame them?

Speaking of impostors, the demise of KickassTorrents has led to a surge of them, each claiming to the new official home of the torrent site. The most popular of these “new” KAT sites claims to have obtained a copy of the site prior to its demise, and are now running it with new content. But upon closer inspection, this does not appear to hold true. Instead of being a mirror, the new KAT is actually using data from The Pirate Bay, with a KAT looking skin over the top. Multiple users, and news site TorrentFreak, have confirmed that the search results on this new KAT site are identical to the results on TPB.

While a KAT mirror with TPB content is hardly the worst thing in the world, it’s unclear if this will always be the case. Many may remember when popular TV torrent site EZTV was “taken over” – the site at first seemed to serve the same content, but reports of injected malicious content and ads soon surfaced. The same could happen with the “new” KAT. Or the present situation could settle to become something akin to the isoHunt clone situation, where the site continues, legitimately (well, for a torrent site), but with all new people running it – in a “the site died, but the spirit lived on” kind of thing.

For the record, there are sites that do seem to run a (no longer updated) copy of the KAT database, but users should also be weary of these too.

Windows 10

Microsoft won’t be in a hurry to add piracy “kill switch” to Windows 10

Whether a new king of torrenting arrives or not, it may all be moot if the latest plan by rights-holders comes to fruition. There are new calls for operating system makers, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, to put in a “kill switch” for pirated downloads, or to block them from being downloaded in the first place. This kind of OS level block would be the holy grail of technology based anti-piracy, and if it worked as promised, it could make domain seizures, ISP warnings and the whole she-bang unnecessary (of course, the issue of streaming sites will remain unsolved, but not everything can be streamed).

But it’s unlikely any one of Apple, Google or Microsoft, let alone all three of them, would be willing to do something like this. It would be fraught with false positives, and could lead to legitimate files from being downloaded, or worse, irreplaceable files being deleted.

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That’s it for me until September. I hope you enjoy your break from me, even though I will definitely miss all of you (sniff, sniff). Talk to you again when I’m back!

Weekly News Roundup (July 31, 2016)

July 31st, 2016

Slightly more news this week. Nothing like the earth shattering demise of KickassTorrents, but still some really interesting stuff. Something that may also pique your interest is my new site Meowware (meowware, malware, geddit?), which now mostly lives on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you’re interested in funny cat pictures, videos, but with a technology (and malware/security) focus, then Meowware may just be a site that you’ll occasionally visit when you can’t be bothered to do any real work. And even if you’re not particularly interested, please like, share, follow, retweet, forward, twist, turn, fax, churn or bake our pages!

Speaking of real work, here’s the news roundup …

Copyright

IsoHunt Logo

isoHunt’s legal troubles have only just ended, despite the site being shut down nearly three years ago

While KickassTorrents’ troubles are just starting (have a look at last week’s WNR if you’ve missed the big news), the legal worries for another once great torrent site, isoHunt, has just ended (not the clone that’s now in its place, but the original one that was run by one Gary Fung).

Fung announced that the last of the lawsuits against the now defunct isoHunt has been settled, and Fung can now move on with his life (to be fair, he’s already done that) with another $66 million in damages awarded against him. So that’s a combined total of $176 million “owed” by Fung, or rather, the now bankrupt isoHunt – money that the MPAA and Music Canada, the two respective plaintiffs in the lawsuits, will most likely never see.

It took 8 years from the very first take-down notice to this final judgement, and who knows how much money spent on lawyers, and while rights-holders rejoiced when the original isoHunt was shut down, the fact that a clone of the site is still operating and doing well, means that it could all be for nothing. And in terms of the isoHunt shut down and legal victories being a deterrent, that doesn’t seem to have been the case either.

The seizure of KickassTorrents, and the arrest the prosecution of its owner, might be a short term deterrent though, but all it will do is to make others who run similar sites be more cautions in the future, and to protect their identities better. The solution to piracy, I think, lies elsewhere.

Dolby Vision HDR

Technology for the home, like Dolby Vision, putting pressure on cinema chains

One potential solution, when it comes to movie piracy, has been suggested by none other than James Cameron this week. The director of Avatar has urged cinema chains to step up and give movie-goers a more “premium” movie experience, or they might face destruction at the hands of industry disruptors, including piracy. As a director, Cameron is especially sensitive to the fact that he often has to shoot to fit the lagging standards of cinemas, rather than to be true to his own vision, this, he says, is key to winning the war against piracy.

For the price we’re paying, I definitely feel that we’re not always getting what we’re owed in terms of the cinema experience. Whether it’s dim screens, or lackluster sound, it has become the norm that you can often get a better cinematic experience at home if you invest in the right equipment. And with new home theater technology such as OLED screens, 4K, HDR, wide color gamut, and Dolby Atmos becoming more common, and cheaper to access, the threat that Cameron mentions is very much real and getting realer by the day.

Gaming

With Nintendo stock rising tanks to Pokemon GO, and then falling when investors realised the hit AR game has very little to do with the company, Nintendo’s real profit results were a real disappointment. With hardware sales down 50%, the company’s next console can’t come soon enough. But that console, dubbed the NX, might be a very different console to what we’re used to seeing, if Eurogamer’s report is to be believed.

Wii U

Wii U’s Gamepad, underused, or overhyped?

The NX may in fact just be a gaming tablet. A very advanced one that plugs into your TV via a dock, and has two detachable controllers that allows for two player gaming instantly regardless of where you are, but still a tablet. It will be powered by a powerful Nvidia Tegra chip, but don’t expect graphics that will kick the PS4/Xbox One’s butt (let alone the Neo/Scorpio). And oh, game cartridges are back, at least for a gaming company’s flagship console.

I’m not sure how I feel about it to be honest. When I imagine a gaming tablet with two detachable controllers, I’m thinking either a huge-ass tablet that’s not particularly portable, or two super tiny controllers that are hardly worth the bother. And as good as mobile technology has gotten, there’s only so much tech you can fit into a tablet before it becomes too hot or too heavy – will it be good enough to deliver graphics that people might be looking at on 4K TVs (by the time the NX is near its mid-life, 4K might be more common than you think)?

Of course, all of this could be nonsense and Nintendo will give us just another run of the mill home console, but doing the same thing may not be a bad idea, as long as you do it right (like the PS4 has done). Getting innovative can have its rewards, like the Wii has proven, but it could also have its risk, like the Wii U has sadly proven.

Meanwhile, you can now get a Xbox One for $249, after Microsoft dropped the price of the 500GB version ahead of the arrival of the “S”.

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That’s it for the week. Don’t forget the visit Meowware – you can never have enough meowware in your computer!

Weekly News Roundup (24 July 2016)

July 24th, 2016

Also just like London buses. After the super busy week last week, this one is super quiet but for one, earth-shattering story (more on that later). But I’ve used the news lull to good effect, playing a bit of Pokemon Go, and deciding to launch my new Pokemon Go website, Help Me Poké (that’s Poké as in Pokey, not poke as in coke). Yes, I’m enthusiastically jumping on that particular bandwagon.

But more than just trying to latch on to the latest hype, Pokemon Go is actually confusingly complex for a game that doesn’t have a tutorial, or even a proper in-game how-to-play guide. I’m constantly figuring new things out, things that should have been made obvious via a tutorial, which is why I thought it would be a good idea to get a help site up and running. You can have a quick read of my Quick Start Guide, and that will get you playing Pokemon Go like a real master in no time (disclaimer: not intended to be a factual statement).

Oh yes, the news.

Copyright

KickassTorrents Logo

KAT is gone!

KickassTorrents is no more. Seizures, arrests and upcoming extraditions all lead to the simple conclusion, KAT is not coming back again. While mirrors, clones and fake sites will appear, the actual KickassTorrents, along with all of its prized data, is now in the hands of authorities. It’s Ukrainian owner, Artem Vaulin, has been arrested in Poland and now face extradition to the U.S. where he will be charged with massive copyright infringement, to the tune of more than one billion US dollars.

Worst yet, with authorities in possession of user data, downloaders, uploaders and moderators on the site could find themselves in deep trouble.

So how did the world’s biggest piracy site end up like this? The site’s downfall, it appears, was largely down to the site not learning the lessons of previous take-downs, including the Megaupload take-down. Out of all the places the site could have hosted its servers, some of the site’s servers were hosted in the U.S., allowing investigators there a way in to the operation. Worse yet, the servers that were in the U.S. were KAT’s email servers, and investigators from the Department of Homeland Security managed to clone the server’s drives without alerting the operators of KAT. This along with secret seizures of Canadian servers from web host Netelligent, provided them with information about who was running the site.

The killer blow was dealt by domain registrar GoDaddy of all people. The owner of KAT, Artem Vaulin, apparently registered domain names in his own name, before the site became a hit and before Vaulin would become a target of law enforcement. He also previously used Gmail accounts to communicate site related matters.

In short, it appears that the operators of KAT, including its owner, failed to take proper precautions in order to protect their identity and data. Too much of their data was stored in U.S. servers, or used U.S. services that investigators could have easy access to, and even when they tried to remain anonymous, via BitCoins, the company that handled Vaulin’s BitCoin exchanges gladly handed over user data to investigators. And you guessed it, Vaulin’s choice of BitCoin exchange was a company located in the U.S.

As a result of these careless actions, Vaulin now faces the possibility of spending the next few decades in a U.S. prison.

As for the future of piracy, as in who will step in for KAT, it’s worth noting that The Pirate Bay is still up and running (they appear to be wise to the fact that one shouldn’t rely on U.S. services), and who knows what other site will step up to fill the void. Whether they are willing to take the risk, now that KAT, and previously YIFY, have all been taken down in massive global law enforcement efforts, is anyone’s guess.

High Definition

Is Netflix in trouble? Probably not. Subscriber growth is slowing, maybe down to the recent price hike (due to the ending of grandfathered plans), or maybe because both Hulu and Amazon are stepping up their game (the former with more content, especially movies, and the latter with its standalone offering). And while the company continues to deny that saturation has been reached in the U.S, one cannot help but feel that anyone who wants Netflix, already has Netflix (even if they’re just leeching it off someone else).

That’s it for this slow week. Be sure to check out Help Me Poké if you have the time and interest. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (17 July 2016)

July 17th, 2016

Just like London buses. Lots of news to go through this week after the very much barren one last week. Writing news this week was made harder by the fact that my phone was always out of battery, and that I had to leave the comfort of my office frequently during the week.

Oh, did I forget to mention I started playing Pokemon Go? Did I also mention I’ll be launching my own Pokemon Go site soon, full of guides and tips on how to get the best out of the game?

Let’s get this thing started, I have to go out and run an errand later (totally not just because I’m running out of poke balls).

Copyright

Fair Use

Fair Use – does it help or hinder creativity?

Content owners in Australia are warning against the introduction of fair use, saying any erosion of copyright protection would harm creativity and innovation. The crux of their argument is that copy protection allows content creators to be financially compensated for their work, and any changes to the law could tip the balance against such an arrangement.

But I would argue that the copyright law as it is is already unbalanced, in favour of content creators, and more specifically, “big content” publishers and distributors. And the calls against fair use ignore its primary benefit – that fair use actually encourages creativity and innovation, by removing some of the restrictions when it comes to creating new work that may be based on existing works, and to allow greater criticism and analysis of protected content in order to make them better. The reality is that not having fair use only benefits a select few, and this usually comes at the expense of real creativity and innovation.

Look, when even the MPAA comes out in defence of fair use, you just know it’s not a bad thing.

The war against YouTube continues , with the MPAA's latest target being fake pirate uploads

The war against YouTube continues , with the MPAA’s latest target being fake pirate uploads

A new thing the MPAA is supporting may actually help pirates in the short term. Firing the latest shot in their on-going crusade against everything Google, the MPAA says Google’s YouTube must act against fake pirated downloads that have become far too prevalent on the video sharing service. You know the ones I’m talking about, videos promising the content you want, even has the right thumbnail, but end up being blank and with a link to some dodgy site that definitely doesn’t have the video you’re looking for.

The strange thing is that these videos are exactly why real pirates no longer rely on YouTube to get their pirated content, at least not for the really popular stuff. They’re the best kind of piracy deterrent, especially for those that managed to catch something nasty from the sites these videos link to. So wouldn’t it be in the MPAA’s best interest to have these fake uploads around, especially when copyright enforcement firms have been accused of uploading their own fake content in the past?

The problem the MPAA sees is that these videos are so numerous, it makes finding and killing real pirated videos (and they do exist on YouTube) really hard via YouTube’s Content ID system. But if I was the MPAA, I’d actually want to make sure these video stayed on YouTube to make it harder for pirates to find real pirated content, to give piracy a bad name, and to also give YouTube a bad name (which then helps the MPAA in their lobbying efforts against Google).

For Google though, pre-emptively removing content is not something they want to do, and it falls right into the MPAA’s hands (because the MPAA will ask if Google can pre-emptive remove fake pirated content, why can’t they pre-emptively remove real pirated content).

Perhaps not falling under the category of fair use per se is the act of sharing one’s Netflix or HBO password with others. But while it may be frowned upon by the likes of Netflix, is it really bad enough to be a federal crime? The question is actually moot, because despite what you’ve read in the media (and will read in the weeks to come, no doubt), no precedent has been set in any court case, at least not for Netflix password sharing. The case ruling which is the cause of this hoopla is narrow enough to not extend to the type of password sharing you and I will no doubt take part in at one time or another, but it won’t be a crime, let alone a federal one.

As for whether Netflix or HBO will come after password sharers, that’s another question. So far, both companies have taken the policy of turning a blind eye to the problem. Maybe it’s because they know that password sharing can actually lead to new customers, that it may really be just an “extended trial” for many.

Gaming

Nintendo Wii

The Wii was a huge success – the Wii U, not so much

The Wii U is easily Nintendo’s least popular console, still millions of units behind the GameCube, but it wasn’t always destined to be that way. In fact, in the early days of the Wii U, some within Nintendo thought the Wii U would be just as popular as the Wii, and would sell 100 million units, as opposed to the current 12.8 million figure. When told about the sales forecast way back when, current Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima (he wasn’t the president back then) wasn’t so sure about the optimistic projections, and that it would be no “easy task” to convince those that bought the Wii to buy the Wii U.

The NX will have to do the same, and it will also have to convince gamers why it’s better then the PS4 and Xbox One. No easy task indeed.

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That’s all we have this week. I’m sure next week will be a quiet one again, it’s always like this. See you then.

Weekly News Roundup (10 July 2016)

July 10th, 2016

It’s either a birthday present, or a birthday curse, but following the wild seventeenth birthday celebrations here at Digital Digest HQ, this following week has been incredibly boring, news wise. It’s definitely something, because just as the week ended, the news started flooding in and next week already looks like a really busy one.

So as a result, we barely have any stories to cover in this WNR, which is just as well, as I’m not really in the mood to write too much (still nursing a slight cough, and you know, Sunday). Let’s get on with it then.

Copyright

It seems we have finally found a reasonable solution, or compromise depending on where you stand, to the online piracy problem. Or more precisely, something that actually works in helping to reduce piracy. It’s not DRM, and it’s definitely not new laws, but something rather simple – choice! An official report from the UK body responsible for tackling the piracy problem, the Intellectual Property Office, has found that legal streaming services like Spotify and Netflix have helped to greatly reduce online piracy. Dropping 18% in just a year, 44% of users surveyed for the report now only use legal means to get their content, and a whopping 80% of music listeners now rely solely on legal options.

Spotify Logo

Spotify helping to reduce piracy

This is in stark contrast with just a couple of years ago, when nobody wanted to pay for music, and they mostly didn’t thanks to the likes of LimeWire, MP3 download sites and BitTorrent.

I think a couple of things are responsible for this changing consumer behaviour. I think for starters, people have finally felt natural to pay for digital content, whereas in the early days of the “Wild West” Internet, digital usually meant free. Secondly, the removal of DRM from digital purchases and the increasing use of the cloud has meant that you can now buy once and play it everywhere, and you no longer have the feeling that you had to buy the same content multiple times just so you can enjoy it in a way you want – this increases both value and usability. Now, this point applies mainly to music right now, as for video content, DRM and lack of interoperability is still a major issue.

Thirdly, and this was the crux of the Intellectual Property Office report, the increasing popularity of a new way to consume content has helped to greatly increase the value proposition for consumers, and hence, decrease their need for piracy. Of course, I’m talking about streaming, and it’s here, that the greatest impact on piracy has occurred, for music and, in a greater degree, for TV/movie content. Subscription streaming gives you access to enormous amount of content, something that no normal person would ever be able to afford if they went down the purchase route (either physical or digital). Again, increasing value and usability has made paying better than free.

New Netflix UI

Netflix (and YouTube, and iTunes, and Google Play, and …) have helped too

And on the piracy reduction side (but perhaps not directly translating into increasing revenue), the emergence of more free options for content (such as YouTube, for music videos, Spotify for ad-supported listening, and free catch-up services from major TV networks) has allowed legal options to be competitive with piracy. I know content holders don’t like to be put into a position where they have to compete with piracy, but that’s the reality of the situation and ignoring reality has never been a good idea. If for nothing else, having free content help consumers develop a habit of relying on legal options, and this can be important when people have to make a decision to pay for not pay for something later on.

Some to sum up, making legal better is much more productive than trying to make illegal harder (or more legally dangerous), because the sad truth is that piracy will always be pretty easy, even with DRM, and as long as people feel justified in pirating content (because the legal alternative is just too difficult, or too expensive), they will be willing to disregard the law, rightly or wrongly.

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And that turned out to be more of an op-ed than a news roundup, but you make do with what you have, and we didn’t have much this week. Things will be different next week, I promise. Until then, have a great one!


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