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!

Weekly News Roundup (3 July 2016)

July 3rd, 2016

Seventeen years ago today, I was sitting in front of a computer monitor, very much smaller and squarish than my current one, typing things, uploading files and images and wondering if anyone will visit my new website when I launch it tomorrow. Tomorrow, Digital Digest turns 17 (almost old enough to vote, and drink here in Australia), and it’s been a roller-coaster of a ride. Things have changed so much in that time, from when DVDs first started appearing on store shelves in 1999, to now where the latest discs now has 24 times more pixels (and costs half as much at least). That is, if you’re still using discs and not downloading or streaming – legally now, as opposed to grainy AVI files from the days past. So much as changed, but so much remains the same – . The formats have changed (and we at Digital Digest have changed with it), but we’re still buying and watching movies, playing games, listening to music – but maybe doing a lot more of it now, and in much better quality, of course. Here’s to another seventeen years!

As for news, there was a lot this week for some strange reason. Let’s get started!

Copyright

Game of Thrones - High Sparrow

Game of Thrones piracy didn’t raise the roof this season

So season six of Game of Thrones has ended. For those that haven’t watched it, don’t worry, no spoilers from me, other than to say that it was a hell of a season, and the finale was no different. What is different this time is the complete lack of any new piracy records being broken. It’s not that people have stopped downloading GoT though – it will still end up being the most pirated TV show in 2016 – it’s just that with HBO’s new anti-piracy measures, it’s a lot harder now for a single torrent to break the record. HBO has been asking torrent sites to remove torrents for the show, but new torrents are uploaded, more are removed, and then more are uploaded. So people are still managing to download the show and in great numbers, but it’s a lot harder now to break the record. So really, HBO’s actions won’t really have a great impact on piracy, but it does help to prevent more “GoT breaks piracy record” news stories, which may convince shareholders that something is being done about the problem.

This is perhaps the rationale behind VR gaming company Oculus’s move to add DRM to software purchased from the Oculus store, to prevent them from working on non Oculus headsets. This is despite earlier promises from the company not to do exactly this. The move serious hampered work on the Revive hack, which attempts to make Oculus work on the HTC Vive headset. The developers behind Revive have been patching and re-patching, playing a game of cat-and-mouse with Oculus to bypass the DRM in recent weeks, but then out of nowhere, Oculus appears to have removed the DRM.

Maybe not out of nowhere, since there was a sizable public backlash to Oculus’s attempt to go back on their word. One more example of how complaining on the Internet can actually get things done!

New Netflix UI

Chrome DRM bug makes ripping Netflix streams possible

There’s another DRM related story this week that showed why DRM, and why protecting circumvention by law, is a bad idea. A bug in the DRM used by Google Chrome to stream protected content, such as Netflix, has emerged, a bug that apparently has been there for the better part of five years. The bug allows video content that is for streaming to be downloaded in decrypted form, which was the only thing the DRM was supposed to prevent (queue the “you had one job” meme). The reason that the bug has existed so long may be due to several factors, but a disturbing possibly could be related to DRM anti-circumvention law, and how it prevents security researchers from finding bugs like this. You see, trying to break a DRM, even if it’s to find a bug with the protection system, is considered illegal in many places. This does not prevent pirates from breaking the DRM for their own purposes because they don’t care about the law, but does prevent researchers from finding and fixing security holes. How’s that for messed up?

So while Netflix are working hard to create an offline mode, it appears Chrome’s DRM has already done it for us!

High Definition

Panasonic DMR-UBZ1

Ultra HD players are a rare breed, but despite this, disc sales are doing well

Now for something that fits nicely into the thoughts I’ve tried to express in the intro. The transition to 4K via Ultra HD Blu-ray was always a tricky one. In this day and age, do people still want a new disc format, even if it is to carry an absolutely pristine transfer? The early answer appears to be a ‘Yes’, with the latest stats showing that Ultra HD Blu-ray is better than plain old Blu-ray was at the same point in its history. This is despite there only being a single Ultra HD Blu-ray player on the market in the US, and only a handful of TVs. But to be fair, that single UHD player is a lot cheaper than the first Blu-ray player, and 4KTVs aren’t carrying nearly the same premium as you might expect from say when SD became HD.

I guess the marketing has also helped. Not only are there a good number of UHD releases already (including some big titles, like ‘Deadpool’), it also helps that the new format carries the well known “Blu-ray” branding. And the fact that Netflix and others have already been laying the groundwork for 4K for some time now, it all made things easier for the new disc format.

Frozen Blu-ray

Frozen is the best selling Blu-ray of all time

Not that Blu-ray is about to become obsolete. For each Ultra HD Blu-ray copy being purchased, dozens of standard Blu-ray will be sold, and that’s likely to continue for some time. To appreciate just how much work UHD Blu-ray has to do, just take a look at the top selling Blu-ray titles of all time. Based on the number of units sold, ‘Frozen’ is the title to beat, with more than 7.1 million copies sold in the US alone. ‘Avatar’ wasn’t too far behind, and it actually earned more than ‘Frozen’ in terms of total revenue.

The top earner of all time won’t be a surprise to those that read these pages. ‘Star Wars: The Complete Saga’, the box set that features the first six movies in the franchise, has earned more than $200 million already. While that title is a Fox property, Disney’s ‘The Force Awakens’ is already the third best selling Blu-ray in terms of discs sold, and this despite it only being available for around three months. Disney are on to a winner here!

In fact, Disney titles occupy the top 50 more frequently than any other studio, with no less than 18 entries. In fact, three of the top four belonged to Disney, with it’s relationship with Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar all proving to be extremely productive. Its re-releases of timeless classics, such as ‘Snow White’ and ‘The Lion King’, has also been very profitable.

And with more Star Wars and Marvel films coming, things can only get better for the company.

——

So that’s that for this pre-anniversary edition of the WNR. Nothing too special, I have to admit, and I’m not planning anything special either (not just saying that so to lay the groundwork for some surprises – I literally forgot about the anniversary until just yesterday, which is something I seem to do every year).

Weekly News Roundup (26 June 2016)

June 26th, 2016

Exits are all the rage this week, so naturally, I had to take advantage with a story this week where the MPAA threatens a “MPAAExit” from Europe (kinda) if the EU bans geo-blocking. I also threw some eggs out because they were way past their used by date – “Eggexit”. I still have a running nose from whatever plague I was infected with last week: “Phlegmexit”? You get my drift.

A very quiet week again, so on to the news …

Copyright

Netflix: Not Available

Geo-blocking bad for consumers, good for movie studios?

Everyone is picking on the EU this week, the MPAA has joined in the fun as well. The MPAA has warned Europe not to outlaw geo-blocking, or else they will risk fewer movie productions and higher prices for consumers. This is apparently because without geo-blocking, and regional based releasing (even within EU countries), investors will be less likely to invest in films and somehow this will lead to higher prices for all. In other words, by not being able to gouge individual markets by making consumers pay higher prices for the same thing, and then using technical measures like geo-blocking to prevent true competition, investors may be less willing to invest in productions.

Now I don’t know much about movie productions, but if their business models is reliant on a bit of geo-blocking code that’s easily bypassed, then maybe they need to rethink things a bit. Especially considering how much a boost to piracy things like geo-blocking gives.

Back in the US, where geo-blocking really isn’t an issue (not when you get everything first, and very likely at the cheapest price too – Canadian Netflix occasionally excepted), it’s pretty clear to see that improving access to legal options (ie. making it cheaper, more readily available) is having an effect on piracy. The latest Sandvine report shows that BitTorrent usage is down again during peak usage times, while Netflix, iTunes, and especially Amazon Video usage in the last year have all become more popular, at least when it comes to bandwidth usage.

Netflix’s share of peak bandwidth is actually down a bit – now whether that’s down to declining market share, or more likely, due to bandwidth saving technology that has been implemented in the last year, it’s unclear. But Amazon Video’s share is up, rising above BitTorrent for the first time. Both services will probably see a rise in bandwidth usage next year, when high bandwidth 4K and HDR streams become more popular. BitTorrent usage is down to 3% during peak hours, from the almost unbelievable 31% it used to occupy (back in 2008 though).

The report noted that Hulu and HBO usage may not be indicative of each service’s popularity because the data captured by the report, in March, may not be when the most popular programming on these services are first released (think new seasons of TV shows on Hulu, and Game of Thrones on HBO).

But its clear that people are now watching more stuff through legal outlets than via illegal ones like BitTorrent, and that’s not because of DRM or geo-blocking (quite the opposite, I think).

Gaming

Xbox One S

Xbox One S to compete with the Neo?

The PS4 Neo could be coming in 2016, a full year before Microsoft’s Xbox One ‘Scorpio’. I don’t know about this. If the Neo is so close to being released, why didn’t Sony reveal it at E3 (I don’t buy the “we tried to keep our E3 purely focused on software” line)? But it also does make sense because how else would Microsoft be sure that it’s Scorpio would be the most powerful console on the market when it is released for holidays 2017 (if it’s coming a year after the Neo, they will have plenty of time to make sure their claim is true).

If the Neo comes this year (or early next year), why is Microsoft’s updated console coming so late then? It could be because Microsoft was caught off guard in regards to the Neo and couldn’t come up with their own version quickly enough. If Microsoft’s Scorpio is just a somewhat late reaction to the Neo, then this could explain why Microsoft’s console would be coming a year later, and why the company needs to release two new consoles – the S would compete in part with the Neo, at least in terms of 4K media support. Microsoft “beating” Sony to the punch by announcing the Scorpio a full year and a half before it’s even available, may also be just a bit of strategy on Microsoft’s part, to cover up the fact that they’re actually going to be way late to the game.

Don’t mind me, I’m just guessing out loud.

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And with that, we come to the end of another WNR. See you next week, when the WNR will most likely also have exited the EU (will last one out please turn off the lights).


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