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.

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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.

Weekly News Roundup (17 April 2016)

April 17th, 2016

Having watched The Force Awakens on Blu-ray (having already seen it twice at the cinemas), I can honestly say that it is one fun movie (at least for Star Wars fans). Sure, it may be derivative, but it’s proper Star Wars in the sense that the prequels weren’t, and one that even casual fans will enjoy. And add to it JJ Abrams’s latest slip of the tongue (or deliberate use of the good old mystery box) about Rey’s parentage, the anticipation for the next instalment is going to be insane.

There’s no Star Wars related news this week though, but there are stories about zombies, conspiracy theories and popular video game characters.

Copyright

The Walking Dead

This photo shows anti DMCA abuse protesters at a protest event

The latest season of The Walking Dead has just ended, and a new season of Fear the Walking Dead has started in its place. So while there’s still plenty of zombie action on TV, there’s also apparently lots of zombie action online as well, at least according to the head of a copyright group. The head of the pro copyright group Copyright Alliance says recent online protesters, demanding an end to DMCA abuse, are just like walkers, biters and roamers, that their protest lacks both “effort or brainpower”.

The online protests centered around the issue of DMCA abuse, or when rights-holders abuse the DMCA submission process to submit invalid requests, sometimes due to negligence, and also for more sinister reasons (such as to cripple a competitor). However, according to the head of the Copyright Alliance, Keith Kupferschmid, these protests are meaningless because they were submitted via an automated online form, where a pre-written message was provided for protesters. Despite the fact that users can and many did choose to submit additional comments in addition to the pre-written messages, and despite the fact that the Copyright Alliance runs similar automated campaigns (sometimes without even an option to submit additional commentsa), Kupferschmid still likens these protesters to “zombies in The Walking Dead” due to the “lack of effort”.

Those still wanting to join the horde can still do so on the offiical TakedownAbuse campaign website. And despite what Kupferschmid says, zombies, especially those in The Walking Dead, can be quite effective when trying to achieve their goals (eat humans), so underestimate them at your own peril!

Those that want to legally watch The Walking Dead, however, may find things a little more difficult after the MPAA’s WhereToWatch website removed the ability to search Netflix. WhereToWatch was set up by the MPAA to promote legal content, trying to silence critics who say the piracy problem is partly due to how difficult it is to find legal content online. Conspiracy theories sprung forth from the well that is the Internet, some suggesting that maybe the MPAA no longer considers Netflix as a legal source.

But the actual explanation was much more simpler – Netflix no longer allows third parties to search its library. The abundance of Netflix search sites seems to suggest otherwise, but these crawl Netflix’s site to retrieve a listing of content, and this is very much against Netflix’s terms of service, something the MPAA owned WhereToWatch wasn’t prepared to do.

Still, the critics’ original point stands – it’s can still be exceedingly hard at times to find legal content, and with content being more and more fragmented across a variety of SVOD platforms (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and FOX, CBS and others own SVOD platforms, each offering a subset of content), it really is hard at times to determine just which one of your many subscriptions has that show, episode or movie you want to watch (sure, you can buy it all on iTunes, but I’ve left my American Express Black Card in my other pants).

Gaming

Wii U

Nintendo will hope the NX sells better than the Wii U

Onto gaming news now, with E3 just around the corner, the rumour mill is now working over time on everything from the PS4.5, to the Xbox Next, and the most mysterious of them all, the Nintendo NX. Theoretically coming out next year, we still don’t really have an official name (I doubt it will be called the NX, which sounds more like project codename). The latest rumours suggest the NX will be “noticeable” more powerful than the PS4, and that some of the most popular Wii U games will be ported over to the NX at/near launch.

Assuming Nintendo has learned the lessons from the relative failure that is the Wii U, launching a console mid-generation that’s barely better than what’s already on the market, with games from some of the biggest Nintendo franchises missing, is not something the company will want to see a repeat of with the NX, even if the price is low enough. So I hope the NX will be powerful, maybe more powerful than the much touted PS4.5, and there will be a nice collection of Mario, Pokemon, Zelda and Super Smash Bros. games available at launch, even if some are just ported/enhanced editions of previous games. If they can do this, and introduce a bit of Nintendo magic in again changing the way we play games, then the NX looks to have a bright start and an even brighter future.


So that’s another week done and dusted. Have a great one and see you in seven.

Weekly News Roundup (10 April 2016)

April 10th, 2016

It’s all copyright all the time for this week’s WNR, and there’s even a bit of “Panama Papers” discussion to jump on that particular bandwagon.

Copyright

WordPress Logo

WordPress is sick of having to deal with bad DMCA requests

We have a trio of copyright related news this week, one quite ridiculous, while the other two seems far too sensible for something copyright related.

So the real question is, should I start with the ridiculous one, or the two more sensible ones? Hmm, I think I’ll go with sensible first, leaving the froth inducing, fist shaking one til the end, to get you all worked up ready for the upcoming week. I know, I can be a real d*ck sometimes.

Once again, it’s up to a tech company to come up with some sensible suggestions for changes to existing copyright law, this time it’s the company behind WordPress, Automattic, suggesting it’s time to introduce penalties for those that submit invalid DMCA takedown requests.

It’s a well known fact that DMCA takedowns are often abused, sometimes intentionally to cause harm to be competitor, but most of the time, because of lazy copyright holders not bothering to check their machine generated submissions more carefully (just last week, there was a story suggesting a third of all DMCA requests sent to Google are “questionable” at best). But right now, there are no penalties for this, while there are plenty at stake if service providers do not act on the requests in time (even if it’s obviously invalid).

This is why Automattic wants statutory damages to be introduced for blatant misuse of takedowns, as well as the use of legal bonds to ensure copyright holders are made accountable for their actions. A very reasonable request that will no doubt be ignored because it’s not biased enough (or biased at all) towards rightsholders.

Over in Europe, common sense appears to be coming back to copyright law as well, with the European Court of Justice’s advocate general making the audacious suggestion that linking isn’t the same as uploading. While the advice is limited to one particular case, it could still have a major impact on how copyright liability is viewed in Europe. The advisory suggests that if a piece of copyrighted content is already publicly available, then linking to it is not the same as “making it available”, because someone else has already done it. This isn’t to say that the linking party isn’t guilty of facilitating the discovery of pirated content, but it’s just not copyright infringement.

Of course, the advisory also makes it clear that the intention and purpose of the site should also be taken into consideration. While sites like The Pirate Bay also merely “link” to pirated content and not host it, the site’s main purpose is clearly tilted towards the copyright infringement side, but a personal blog or a news website who links to copyrighted content would be treated differently, according to the advice.

Ransomware

Anti-piracy company wants to employ tactics similar to ones used by ransomware operators

So now onto the ridiculous. Controversial and not-very-profitable-lately anti-piracy monetization firm Rightscorp has a new plan to defeat piracy and make a quick buck – hijack the web browser of suspected pirates! The company wants to work with ISPs to send copyright infringement and “settlement” notices directly to people’s browsers. And if they ignore it like they ignore Rightscorp’s emails and don’t pay up, then Rightscorp wants their web browsers to be locked until the payment clears. So nothing like ransomware, which locks up people’s computers or web browsers to elicit a payment.

The relationship between ISPs and Rightscorp have not been great so far, so it’s hard to see any ISPs jumping on the “let’s make our paying customers really angry” bandwagon, even if Rightscorp may promise revenue sharing (which they’re not). Rightscorp’s big selling point to ISPs? Do this and you’ll reduce your liability, Rightscorp says, but ISPs can already do this if they have a reasonable and enforceable repeat offender policy, leaving browser hijacks to sketchy ransomware operators.

In minor copyright news, the much talked about Panama Papers (click here if you don’t know what it is) has some surprising copyright links too, it appears. The fate of Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, whose name has appeared in the papers and suggests an attempt by him and his wife to hide assets in offshore accounts, could mean a rather surprising victory for the country’s Pirate Party, which (even before this latest scandal) is actually polling as the most popular political party in Iceland. While Gunnlaugsson has taken temporarily leave (and not resigned as first thought), an autumn election is set to take place, and if the Pirate Party can continue to poll well until then, it could be a very interesting election to say the least.

Also listed in the Panama Papers are two former Megaupload employees. The two used the services of the law firm at the centre of the scandal, Mossack Fonseca, to start an offshore company. According to the two, Dutch programmer Bram Van der Kolk and Slovak designer Julius Bencko, the company was started to work on a project unrelated to Megaupload, but kept hidden because Mega’s Kim Dotcom did not like employees to work on their own projects. But according to Dotcom, the two were actually working on an unauthorised project that used Mega’s source code and would have been in competition with the now defunct file uploading service, which explains why they wanted to keep things secret. Interesting, but not particular important right now given the fate of almost all file uploaders, unauthorised clones or otherwise, since the Mega takedown.

——

That’s it for the week, thanks for reading. I don’t know how you’ll be spending your next week, but I shall be locking myself in a darkened room watching The Force Awakens Blu-ray on an endless loop, with an occasional break to watch the newly released teaser trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (AT-ATs!). Good times ahead! See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (3 April 2016)

April 3rd, 2016

Hello all! You might have noticed I didn’t really bother posting anything for April Fools. The problem with April Fools articles is that if you make it too obvious, then it’s just silly, but if you make it too believable, then you open yourself up to a defamation lawsuit (especially if your site’s main points of discussions involves the litigation happy peoples of the MPAA, the RIAA and other anti-piracy groups). Plus, the real news that I post these days are absurd enough already, and when it comes to our overly biased copyright law, we are all being made a fool all of the time.

Oh right, the real news, which wasn’t very forthcoming this week …

Copyright

Google DMCA Stats

More DMCA takedowns does not equal less pirated downloads

Two copyright stories, but very much related. With rights groups submission millions upon millions of links for piracy takedown, it was only a matter of time before they realised how futile it all is. The BPI, Britain’s RIAA, was this week’s chosen candidate to speak out against the current copyright regime, saying the whack-a-mole must be modified in their favour.

What they want is “take down, stay down”, something I’ve covered before here and with increasing frequency recently I might add. So instead of rights holder identifying the link that needs to be taken down, they only want to identify the piece of content that they want removed, and then it’s up to Google or whomever to do the actual search and destroy. So the whack-a-mole becomes one where the player simply points at the mole and says “mole bad, destroy mole”, and then Google becomes the one that then plays the endless game of whack-a-mole. So no surprise that Google doesn’t want to do it.

Google also rightly point out that despite all the brouhaha over search engines, only 16% of traffic to piracy sites actually come from major search engines. The rest comes from people typing the piracy site’s URL into their browsers, bypassing search engines completely. Don’t be fooled, rights holders are fully aware that Google has never been the main problem. The focus on Google is really just the thin end of the wedge, because Google is a well known company and a very visible target. Once they can get Google to do their bidding, they may very well turn their sights to ISPs and even browser makers, to force them too to play the game of copyright whack-a-mole.

Browsers

How long before browser makers are asked to block access to piracy sites?

There’s also another very good reason why Google and others should resist the calls for “take down, stay down” – it’s going to be hugely inaccurate. A new study has found that nearly one third of all takedown requests received by Google are “questionable”, but despite this, many are approved and action is taken anyway. This means there are a lot of legitimate sites that have been targeted, or at the very least, the takedown request should never have been made in the first place.

This high rate of false positives occur because rights-holders employ anti-piracy companies to do the hard work, and these companies often just use a bot to crawl the web and find URLs to de-list. The quality and accuracy of these bots can be questionable, since human intervention and verification is rare. And then when they submit these URLs to Google, Google also have their own bots to process these requests, erring on the side of rights-holders and making it the job of the affected site to clear their name in cases of mistaken identity. So with not a human in sight in the whole process, it’s little wonder as to why things can get very inaccurate very quickly. Except with “take down, stay down”, there will be even less verification and more legal pressure on Google and others to take down URLs as quickly and as liberally as possible.

Again, all of this presents a clear strategy from rights-holders to shift the legal responsibility of piracy to other parties, from search engines, to ISPs to eventually browser makers, and even makers of computer software and hardware. This must be resisted because it’s dangerous, and also because it’s not going to work. Those intent on pirating stuff will continue to do so, no matter how much censorship, how many filters and site blocks and lawsuits are used to stop them. And those that can’t afford to buy stuff still won’t, even if it getting pirated stuff because too hard for them. It’s a fool’s errand, which I guess is kind of appropriate given what this week means.

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And that’s all we have this week. Not a very fun edition, I must admit, but hopefully there will be more of that next week. Until then, have a great one!

Weekly News Roundup (27 March 2016)

March 27th, 2016

Can’t believe it’s Easter already, and here I am, absentmindedly thinking it’s still 2015 from time to time.

Quite a bit of news to go through before we probably encounter the Easter/post Easter lull, so let’s get on with it, shall we?

Copyright

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Blu-ray

People will still buy this disc even though a pirated copy is already available, almost two weeks before the official release date

Well, it was unfortunate and probably predictable, as the Blu-ray edition of Star Wars: The Force Awaken, not due on store shelves until another week and a bit, has been ripped and uploaded online illegally. I say it’s predictable because, as one of the biggest movie releases ever (and possibly a record breaker for Blu-ray too), there was just no way this wasn’t going to get leaked early, especially considering how many people will have had access to the retail discs before the embargo date. While the official release date isn’t until April 5th, stores that plan on selling the disc will most likely already have received stock, stock that has been made and packaged long before – all the steps on this production and distribution line will be vulnerable to leaks, and for a release this big, it would have been amazing if there wasn’t a pre-release leak.

With that said, will it really affect sales? Probably not. This is one of the biggest movies ever, and true fans will not be sated until they get their (my) hands on the retail Blu-ray package, the existence of an illegal pirated download is not relevant (we might still download it though) – they (I) would have pre-ordered their copy months in advance anyway, and they won’t be cancelling it for the rip. There might be a few lost sales here and there, but these people were never really that serious about buying the disc anyway, and it’s not going to make a huge dent on the predicted huge sales numbers.

High Definition

The Peanuts Movie Ultra HD Blu-ray

As UHD Blu-ray releases go, The Peanuts Movie wasn’t a popular one

Speaking of Blu-ray sales, the Blu-ray sales stats I published this week contains the first set of numbers for Ultra HD Blu-ray, and there are both good and bad news for the new 4K format.

The Peanuts Movie is one of the first new releases that happens to be released simultaneously on Blu-ray and UHD Blu-ray, and long story short (actually, story isn’t that long anyway), not many UHD copies were sold at all. UHD discs for this movie were only 0.27% of total disc sales (which includes standard Blu-ray and DVD), or just under 0.5% of total Blu-ray sales (in other words, only one UHD copy was sold for every 203 standard Blu-ray copies, or 166 DVD copies).

Okay, perhaps this wasn’t the best movie to show off the UHD format, and according to disc buyers, it was ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ that was the UHD demo disc of choice. It had a much more respectable UHD sales share of 6.19% (so one UHD copy for every 6 Blu-ray copies sold, or every 8 DVDs).

It’s still early days, but it looks like its going to take some time before UHD Blu-ray becomes a major factor in disc sales.

Gaming

What might help accelerate UHD Blu-ray’s adoption would be if the PS4 was upgraded to support it – and this might actually happen, if you believe the rumours. Apparently, game developers are already being briefed on a new mode of the PS4 that will support 4K gaming (the current PS4 only supports 4K for images and video files), which necessitates the use of a new GPU. If such a major hardware change is to occur, then chances are, Sony might use the opportunity to also upgrade the optical drive in the PS4 to support Ultra HD Blu-ray. It will make the new PS4, dubbed PS4.5 (or PS4K, as I’ve read about it in some quarters), more expensive, but this “premium” PS4 would not be aimed at the budget conscious anyway.

I think it makes good sense for Sony to make this move, and if they do, it would also fill the rather obvious looking gap in Sony’s Blu-ray player line-up – the company does not even have any current plans to release a Ultra HD Blu-ray player at all!

Wii U Boxes

Wii U sales have been bad enough to maybe force Nintendo to bring the NX’s release date forward to 2016

So while Sony (and Microsoft) are all thinking about making their flagship consoles better, Nintendo might be trying to abandon it altogether in 2016. Reports, which was later somewhat weakly refuted by Nintendo, suggests the Japanese company is going to cut their losses and stop production of the Wii U in 2016. The PS4 has sold three times many units globally than the Wii U despite being released a whole year later, and the situation is not going to get any better. But with Nintendo’s next console not coming out until 2017, it’s extremely unlikely the company will end Wii U production before then – not unless they bring up the release date of the NX to 2016.

It’s actually not too difficult to see what went wrong with the Wii U. It wasn’t powerful enough compared to the other current generation consoles, it wasn’t cheap enough either thanks to the price war between Microsoft and Sony. And while it had a good stable of first party games, there were some obvious absentees (Zelda!), and third party support was lacking. It was probably lacking because the Wii U failed to bring anything really innovative to gaming unlike the Wii – the tablet controller is good, but is often underutilised, even by first party games – and third party developers just weren’t excited about what the Wii U brought to gaming (that’s not to say that the PS4 and Xbox One were innovative, they weren’t, but they didn’t have to be because they were superior in almost every other way).

So it’s a bit early to eulogise the Wii U, but let’s just hope Nintendo has learned their lessons and give us something that will either be revolutionarily different and/or powerful enough to make Sony and Microsoft look over their shoulders with nervousness. Plus better launch games (Zelda!)

——

Okay folks, that’s it for this week. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of the WNR, Happy Easter, and see you next week.


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