Weekly News Roundup (22 May 2016)

May 22nd, 2016

A lot to go through, but I’m time constrained on this cloudy and cold Sunday, so I’ll try to keep it brief. Wait, is that cheering and applause that I hear? I’ll try not to take it too personally …

Copyright

YouTube Content ID

Content ID is not perfect, but the last thing we should do is to make broader and more automated

Now, I love a good rant as much as anyone, but have been responsible for a few of my own right here, but this one by musician Maria Schneider takes the cake. One simply doesn’t throw around terms like “racketeering”, “bullying”, “coercive” and “orgy”, and that was just in the first couple of paragraphs. Basically, Maria thinks YouTube is actively and deliberately encouraging piracy so it can make more money, all at the expense of rights-holders and “creators” (a term that was used often in Schneider’s open letter, one that I’m sure has been picked deliberately for effect).

Basically the crux of the problem comes down to the fact that YouTube assumes an innocent until proven guilty attitude, allowing content to be uploaded and waits for rights-holders to complain before acting. This isn’t just a YouTube policy though, it’s what the DMCA demands and it’s done so for obvious reasons. But Maria doesn’t like it. She wants a guilty until proven innocent policy that starts from the moment the clip is uploaded, and also want a “take down, stay down” approach (which, to be fair to YouTube, is already mostly there with their automated Content ID scanning system).

I’ve reported here time and time again about YouTube’s problematic and false positive prone Content ID system, but Schneider wants to go the other way and have Content ID block more stuff, faster, and with less checks and balances.

And while some of her points are valid, such as the relative high entry hurdle for joining the Content ID program, I’m just not sure she is the best person to launch the complaint. For one, she’s not exactly a prolific artist, with her most popular works (which has won Grammy Awards) barely having a presence online, legally or illegally (in other words, not too many people are clamouring to download or stream her stuff – her most popular video on YouTube only has 40,000 views). And if you do listen or watch her work (mostly as a big-band-leader), it’s the kind of stuff best enjoyed live in concert, as opposed to via a YouTube video. If anything, the illegally uploaded YouTube videos may help raise her profile and her work. Had a Taylor Swift or Drake come out with the same complaint, it might have held more weight, in my opinion.

Double Dribble

Double points for those that know what game this screenie is from

Look, the DMCA is not perfect, and neither is Content ID. But if anything, it’s already too prone to false positives, meaning legitimate uploads and creativity is already been impeded. This is already a too high a price to pay in my opinion, and we definitely don’t need more of it!

And just like clockwork, we have another example of why Content ID is flawed and why it should not be expanded. To summarise, Fox used YouTube clip in a Family Guy episode without seeking permission, and then used Content ID to get the original YouTube clip banned. Does this sound like something we need more of?

YouTube doesn’t block all illegally uploads. But only the really popular videos manage to do any harm to rights-holders, and these are easy to find and destroy (via Content ID, or just by reporting it). And in the end, only rights-holders can decide what should be and shouldn’t be allowed on YouTube, since just because a video wasn’t uploaded to an official account, it doesn’t mean that the artist isn’t aware or in support of the upload (but under the system Maria Schneider wants, artists and rights-holders may end up spending all their time apologising to legitimate partners for having their legal uploads banned, with practically no financial benefit).

High Definition

Netflix

Netflix has overtaken live TV in the US

Twice as many people now prefer Netflix over live TV as their preferred viewing choice, according to a new survey. This to me is amazing. Just ten years ago, this would have been unimaginable, and now, it’s a reality. That’s not to say video-on-demand wasn’t something people wanted back then – it was – but it was just hard to imagine having a service like Netflix, for such as relatively small price.

I think this is partly because we used to expect content to be overpriced (think how much it would take to fill an iPod back then with legally purchased music), but the subscription model completely disrupted the market (in a way that some rights-holders, mostly musicians, did not like) and finally gave us the value we were looking for. We want to consume (or have access) to a huge amount of content, that under the old “buy to own” model would never have been possible either due to physical space restrictions (I’ve long run out of shelf space for my movie collection) nor the astronomical cost of it. Subscription solved the problem, and ad-supported free listening also managed to win over the “I would never pay for it” pirates.

And “creators” and rights-holders simply have to adjust, even if it means lowering their expectations.

And to bring all of the stories I’ve mentioned this week so far back to a full circle, one has to talk about YouTube Red (which has just been launched here in Australia). A subscription model for YouTube would have been blasphemy years back, but I think people are finally open to the idea of paying (a small fee) for, what is essentially quite a lot more than what they would have gotten, even illegally, ten years ago. It’s a good thing for content creators, even if it means many won’t get much of that subscription fee. With that said, I’ve noticed seeing a lot more ads on YouTube recently – if this is Google’s way to further differentiate YouTube Red and make it seem like a more attractive product, then this isn’t a good development in my opinion.

Gaming

VR gaming is the all the rage these days, so it was only a matter time before the ugly head of DRM reared itself onto the scene. Those trying to make games from the Oculus store available on non Oculus hardware is now facing a new DRM that prevents just that. Oculus says it’s an anti-piracy measure, but others find it strange that it only seems to do anything on non Oculus hardware. Something to keep an eye (or two, via headset) on.

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Well so much for brevity. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (15 May 2016)

May 15th, 2016

Another quiet week, so I think we can get through everything in double quick time. A late apology for last week’s wonkiness, had a server hardware problem that was compounded with a software problem, but everything was back up again after two nights of lost sleep. Ah well, these things have to happen from time to time, even if it’s just to test our redundancy and backup process (which did okay, but could be and will be improved).

Let’s get started before the server blows up again.

Copyright

The Pirate Bay

The Pirate Bay’s Swedish domain names will soon go offline, but nobody really cares anymore

The Pirate Bay’s Swedish domain names, you know the ones that end in .se, are in the news again as a Swedish appeals court upheld an earlier ruling that would have seen the domain names seized. To be honest, this was always likely to happen, ever since prosecutors in Sweden started making noises about domain seizures, and as a result, The Pirate Bay is no longer depending on the .se domain names.

What’s confusing now is finding out who actually owns the domain names. Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij is the designated contact for the domain names, but he denies owning them – this is not unusual, the real owners can write in anyone as the owner, as long as the domain’s administrative contact emails point to the right person. Neij is suggesting he may appeal the verdict.

While all of this will have zero effect on the operations of The Pirate Bay, what this does show is how pointless legal proceedings against piracy sites can be at times. It has already taken years, and will most likely take even more time, to just seize two domain names – domain names that aren’t even used much anymore. It’s incredibly hard, and I assume costly, to keep things off the Internet or to prevent people from accessing something, and you’ll get a better return if you address the real reasons behind piracy and reduce or eliminate the need for piracy.

The same goes for HBO’s valiant, but ultimately futile attempt to keep Game of Thrones piracy off the Internet, by warning downloaders and removing torrents. While they, as the rights-holders, have the right to do all of this and more, it’s probably just easier to ensure people can watch your shows without having to jump through hoops or to get a second mortgage – or in Australia’s case, do both.

Which is why an Australian GoT fan has offered to pay HBO $10 per episode so he can continue to download illegally, because the legal alternatives, he says, is just not good enough. With the country’s sole pay TV operator having an exclusive lock on the show, with iTunes and Google Play locked out until the end of the season, GoT fan John Hyslop would rather (over) pay for illegal downloads than be subjected to the pay TV monopoly, and being forced to pay for channels that he doesn’t want (there’s no standalone product that would grant John access to GoT or HBO shows in general – you’ll have to bundle 40+ other channels in order to be able to watch the latest episodes). So in John’s case, it’s not even about the cost, which is high, but about the unfairness of it all.

If HBO doesn’t address this by being tougher on its partners about what they can and cannot do with their programming, I’m afraid more and more people will feel justified in downloading illegally.

Gaming

Metal Gear Solid V PS4

The PS4 (and Xbox One) are so good value that sales may have reached saturation faster than any other previous generation

It may or may not have been a while since I last reported on the NPD’s US video game sales results. Mainly because nothing ever actually changes. But this week being such a light week, and I actually managed to remember reading something about the NPD results this week, so I thought I should share. The PS4 won again, but hardware sales are down on a couple of reasons. The relative cheapness of the consoles is contributing to the lower dollar sales results, and both major console’s faster adoption rate (thanks largely to lower launch prices that has continued to drop ever since) means that sales may have reached saturation faster than in previous generations.

This probably explains both Sony and Microsoft’s intent to produce a “half generation” upgrade for their respective consoles. If people are willing to upgrade much more expensive phones at yearly (or at least bi-annual) intervals, then I guess Sony and Microsoft’s thinking is that maybe the same formula could be applied to game consoles at a slightly longer interval.

I’m personally not sure it will work though. Upgrading a phone is one thing, but other consumer electronics have never been upgraded in this way and gamers may not appreciate what appears to be a cash grab mid-generation.

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Short and sweet. Well, at least short. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (8 May 2016)

May 8th, 2016

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mums, including mine, out there. Why is Father’s Day on a different day here in Australia and in the US? And why is spending on Father’s Day so much less than on Mother’s Day? I smell a conspiracy …

No conspiracies in the news this week, but plenty of paranoia, anger, with just a hint of common sense. Lots of Australian stuff though, but that’s just a coincidence. Not a conspiracy.

Copyright

Infographics: Copy(not)right

Common sense copyright discussions are happening in Australia – but nobody (that can make a difference) will listen

Ah common sense. It can be so hard to find these days, but when they make themselves known and heard, it’s absolutely bliss. The pro-copyright Australian government’s copyright policy is all over the place, but we do have an independent advisory body here called the Productivity Commission, and it has released a draft report on copyright that’s the stuff of nightmares to rights-holders.

Why is it so scary? Because it’s full of common sensed goodness, stuff that we, the public, the consuming public, have been calling for all this time, and something rights-holders have been fighting against. Things like having limits on copyright for stuff that rights-holders are no longer making available (the so called “use it or lose it” rule), or introducing fair use (something even the US, the land of DMCAs and SOPAs, have), or more controversially, banning the use of geoblocking to promote competition and fairer pricing.

It’s unlikely the current, or the next government will adopt these recommendations, not if they want to avoid facing the wrath their Hollywood masters, but it’s still nice to see some common sense creep into the copyright debate from time to time.

It’s not just geoblocking that’s reducing competition and raising prices here in Australia. We’re a relatively small country and competition is not robust in almost any sector. This is especially true in the home entertainment industry, where we have basically just one pay TV provider. That provider, Foxtel, uses its might and buying power to lock up content like Game of Thrones in order to maintain market share. This leads to lack of competition and, as a result, we have some pretty high prices for cable. It’s possibly also why piracy rates for the shows that Foxtel have an exclusive on are sky high.

Only rarely does it lose something to a competitor, and when telco Optus stole the rights to the English Premier League soccer broadcasts from Foxtel, things took an interesting turn. Especially since because Optus doesn’t even have a broadcast network to show the matches on.

Piracy Love

People’s love for piracy may be due to their hate for the alternative

The mystery of how to distribute content without a distribution network was solve this week when Optus announced it would be using Internet streaming to get matches into people’s homes. Fair enough, but what wasn’t so fair was Optus’s insistence on users having an existing (and non related) Optus product in order to subscribe to the EPL channel. Imagine if Verizon forced you to have a phone plan before you could even pay for HBO (and imagine if Verizon doesn’t even provide a broadband service to a sizable chunk of the country). Queue public outrage.

So why is this relevant to this blog? Well guess what’s going to happen to people who don’t want to pay for or to switch to an Optus product, one they neither need or want, just in order to watch their favourite team play? Will they feel justified in using a pirated stream to watch the matches? If we had it bad in terms of Game of Thrones piracy, things may get worse when it comes to English soccer here.

Denying consumers access to content in they way they want it and not doing so at a price they’re willing to pay does more to encourage piracy than anything else. So if rights-holders are determined to do just that, then in my opinion, they should not get to complain about piracy.

So if piracy is unmet consumer demand, then surely there must be a way to use piracy data to research consumer needs. There is, and Hulu is already using piracy data to determine which shows to buy.

There is definitely a move away from simply labeling pirates as degenerates and criminals, and towards thinking of them just like any other consumer group (except they’re consuming pirated content), and this is a good thing. Then, we might finally grasp the notion that the solution to piracy isn’t enforcement and technological measures like DRM, but it has and always will be an access problem about unmet consumer demand (even if those demands, at first, seems unreasonable – like being able to access tens of thousands of titles for unlimited streaming for less than $10 a month).

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That’s it for another edition, I hope it met your demands. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (1 May 2016)

May 1st, 2016

Not a particularly busy week again, and my hope of a warmer Sunday here has been answered with not only more cold, but also wind as well. Must. Type. But. Fingers. Too. Cold.

Here’s the news that was …

Copyright

Jon Snow

Not even possibly finding out Jon Snow’s fate helped the season 6 premier of GoT to break any records

It’s that time of the year again, and the new season of Game of Thrones threw in plenty of surprises – one of which was the fact that it failed to break any new piracy records!

Yes, hundreds of thousands of people still downloaded in within hours of the airing via bittorrent, and millions have done so since, but it was no record breaker (which still remains with the season 5 finale).

Once again, Australians were very much over-represented in the download stats, with 12.5% of downloaders coming from the island continent (despite only containing 0.3% of the world’s population) – monopolistic practices, exclusivity deals both of which contributed to inequitable pricing, was probably responsible for this statistical anomaly. People who can afford to pay for it are not paying because they feel justified in piracy, usually due to usability, compatibility and quality issues with the legal source (not being able to watch it on your tablet in HD or with subtitles and other things people in other countries take for granted, all the while paying some of the highest prices in the world).

There’s also an apparent shift towards streaming and direct downloads, thanks to the increasing focus placed on torrenting, and HBO in the US offered a free preview weekend that helped to ease the piracy traffic there. Other notable shifting patterns include an increase in popularity of 720p and other HD sources over SD ones, which makes Australian broadcaster Foxtel’s decision not to offer HD streams for its digital only product an even more shortsighted one.

Swiss Flag

The Swiss have fallen foul of U.S. copyright interests

But things are changing in Australia and the current government (which may not be very much current for much longer, with elections on the way), and copyright laws have been toughened and site blocking may occur any day now. This has probably helped it to avoid becoming a copyright pariah, at least in the eyes of the U.S., unlike Switzerland, which has just been added to the USTR’s Special 301 Report.

Switzerland apparently had the gall to hand down their own legal decisions that aren’t the same as what the U.S. wants, and (despite happening six years ago) has made IP addresses private data. This means that copyright trolls and anti-piracy firms can’t use torrenting IP data to go after file sharers in the privacy conscious Switzerland, unlike in the U.S. and most other countries. This apparently was enough to get the entire country placed on the piracy watch list.

Canada still remains on it despite taking action on piracy last year (action that the USTR deemed not even worthy of a mention in their updated report). Maybe the USTR will be kinder next year when the report is updated again.

——

Told you there wasn’t much. Hopefully the week ahead will give us more to gripe, rant and babble about. See you then.

Weekly News Roundup (24 April 2016)

April 24th, 2016

Hello again! It has gotten unseasonably cold here in Melbourne, and it has given me just the motivation I need to make sure I write up this WNR as quickly as possible – so I can quickly finish, get under a blanket with a warm drink, and watch The Force Awakens again on Blu-ray. Oh yes!

But there’s just one obstacle to my nerdish plans – there’s actually quite a lot of news to go through this week. Oh no!

Copyright

The Expendables 3

The Expendables 3 does badly at the box office. One ‘Expendables’ movie too many, too much competition due to other blockbusters, or pre-release piracy to blame?

Starting with the copyright news as we have always done, Hollywood mogul Avi Lerner, the producer behind The Expendables franchise, has come out firing on all cylinders on what he perceives to be the lack of action to tackle online piracy. The target of his tirade? President Obama and Congress, for being too scared to take on Google.

Lerner is particularly angry about online piracy because he believes a pre-release leak of The Expendables 3 may have taken as much as $250 million away from the film’s actual $209 million global box office take. This means that according to Lerner, The Expendables 3 would have made $459 million at the box office without the pre-release leak. But the thing is that the previous film in the series, which was better received by critics, only made a combined total of $312 million (without any piracy intervention). To me, the third film’s $209 million makes sense given the movie’s poor reception, which according to the film’s star, may have more to do with ratings than downloads.

Most controversially, Lerner says that not only should people who help to pirate movies go to jail, even those that aren’t actively helping to stop piracy (like Google, I presume) should be punished in some way. So I’m guessing that removing 91 million links monthly and demoting piracy sites is apparently not considered to be “helping” by Lerner.

High Definition

Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens Blu-ray

The Force Awakens breaks more records, this time on Blu-ray

I’ve made it pretty clear I like The Force Awakens and enjoyed watching it on Blu-ray. It seems I wasn’t alone, as not content in breaking many box office records, the latest film in the Star Wars saga has also broken a few Blu-ray records. It helped Blu-ray sales better that of DVD’s for the first time ever (59% of disc sales belong to Blu-ray for the week in which The Force Awakens was released – the previous record was 48%), and an astonishing 82% of buyers chose to buy the Blu-ray edition of the film over the DVD-only edition (it’s normally under 70% for most new releases).

Some will note that the DVD-only edition was a bare bones edition without any special features, and that the Blu-ray edition does include the DVD edition of the film (in such a combo retail package, these sales count towards Blu-ray), but these records still took a long time to be broken. Note that the most successful Blu-ray of all time is another Disney title, ‘Frozen’ – could The Force Awakens break one more record?

Also interesting to note is that Disney chose not to release a 3D edition of the film, let alone a 4K Ultra HD version. This possibly hints at more double dipping later on, perhaps a new edition that includes more than just a couple of minutes of deleted scenes.

Disney has yet to really commit to Ultra HD Blu-ray, and only it and, surprisingly, Sony have yet to announce their release slate following Universal’s announcement this week. Universal’s first Ultra HD discs, to be released sometime in the U.S. summer, will be ‘Everest’, ‘Lucy’ and ‘Lone Survivor’, and the new releases to receive the 4K treatment will include ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ and the as yet unreleased ‘Jason Bourne’ and ‘Warcraft’ movies. Perhaps not the most exciting line-up ever considering all the films that Universal have access to, and definitely not as exciting as The Force Awakens, which is the kind of title that benefits most from a 4K treatment and would boost the format to no end if it becomes available.

Gaming

Metal Gear Solid V PS4

PS4.5, PS4K, or PS4 NEO – whatever you call it, the upgraded PS4 appears to be real

There’s something a lot more concrete to the rumors of a new “super” PS4, including a codename of the so far still unofficial console upgrade. The PS4 “NEO” will have a better CPU, GPU and faster RAM – not quite next-gen, but enough to make 4K gaming a reality.

As for how Sony will reconcile having two vastly different PS4 SKUs, the company has informed developers of several restrictions to how they can release games in the future. First of all, all games have to work on the older standard PS4s, but they are allowed to have a “NEO Mode” that includes support for better graphics. Games in “NEO Mode” have to have the same or better framerate than games in standard mode, even if the games are running at 4K (and games also have to be at least 1080p). Things like save games and online modes have to be shareable and compatible between the two modes.

What isn’t so clear right now is whether the included Blu-ray drive will be upgraded to one that can read Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. It seems like the perfect opportunity to add UHD Blu-ray playback to the PS4, but it all depends on how costly it would be to add the drive, and more importantly, how costly it will be to obtain the licensing needed to allow UHD Blu-ray playback.

Xbox 360 - Red Rings of Death

The Xbox 360 wasn’t always a success …

Microsoft may be working on their own upgraded Xbox One too, which FCC filings (and the Brazilian equivalent) pointing to at least two more SKUs. Interestingly, there’s information to suggest that all will be revealed at E3, but whether these proves to be the elusive Xbox One.Point.Five, or just a minor SKU refresh, we’ll have to wait and see.

What we won’t wait to find out is the fate of the Xbox 360, which this week Microsoft announced the end of production for. It’s been an incredibly successful decade for the 360, which didn’t start well (remember the RRoD?), but ended very strongly. With the Xbox One now having backwards compatibility, I guess Microsoft has decided the time was right to send the old beige, and eventually black box into retirement.

Rest well, 360, you deserve it.

——

So that’s it for the week. Not a minute too soon either, as I’m freezing my appendages off here. See you next week, when hopefully it’s a bit warmer.


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