Weekly News Roundup (18 October 2009)

It’s been a busy week news wise, so there’s no problem at all filling up the 2,000 odd words required, I mean necessary, for this edition of the Weekly News Roundup. However, as I was feeling quite the stats nerd during the week, I decided to get out the spreadsheet software and then tabulate and graph the Blu-ray sales that I’ve been gathering since May 2008, you know, just for fun. The analysis doesn’t contain too many surprises, but for those who want to know just how much Blu-ray sales have increased, it may be worth a read. Anyway, on to the news, of which there’s quite a few.


Starting with copyright news, anti-piracy has become a real business, that’s not too surprising. But has the business of fighting piracy become more profitable than actually stopping piracy?

That’s what one anti-piracy firm thinks, and it even made a presentation showing just how more profitable it can be, for them and content owners alike, to allow piracy to continue and to make money off it by suing people, or threatening to sue them, for copyright infringement. They estimate that a quarter of all people they scare pay the penalty that they’ve arbitrarily set, and each successful claim is worth hundreds of legitimate downloads in terms of profit. This follows a rather candid interview that was given by a similar anti-piracy outfit not too long ago, where they revealed that they’ve put out content on P2P networks to lure people in, and they’ll only go after the people who they can make a good profit from. Stopping piracy, seems to be a distant second objective to making a bundle of cash by exploiting people’s fears about going to court, people’s lack of knowledge of the law, and the anti-piracy crusade that content owners are hell bent on pursuing. And your government is not only allowing it, but probably helping and profiting from it as well. Is this really acceptable?

Speaking of governments and unacceptable practices, have you heard about the proposed anti-counterfeiting/piracy treaty, that will be discussed in South Korea next month by several leading countries. The plans that could cause your iPod or laptop to be searched at the airport for suspect pirated content, or make file sharing illegal, or use legislation to turn ISPs into copyright cops? You haven’t heard of it? Well, that’s no surprising, because the US government is making sure nobody knows about the proposals until they’ve been passed, citing “national security” reasons. Only a handful of selected individuals were privy to what’s on the agenda, and even they had to sign non-disclosure agreements beforehand. Has counterfeiting and piracy, and not even the kind that takes place on the seas, become such a major issue that it’s being treated in the way as the war against terrorism or the war against drugs, and no public discussion is even allowed on the subject? Incidentally both of the wars I’ve mentioned just now seems to be the never ending types of which winning is all but a distant dream at the moment – a glimpse into the future of the war against downloads perhaps.

Ringtones is a public performance, just one of the many zany things that the ASCAP claims

Ringtones are a public performance, just one of the many zany things that the ASCAP claims

But before the governments can agree on how long to lock people up in Gitmo for downloading the latest Miley Cyrus album or a screener of Zombieland, the RIAA and MPAA have to do things the hard way. One method they’ve tried before is to attack BitTorrent networks, using techniques such as “piece attack” and “connection attack”, both of which designed to frustrate the downloading experience for other users. However, a study has shown that despite the millions of dollars given to anti-piracy firms to implement these methods, they do not work, and at best, they are a minor annoyance to downloads for only a couple of minutes. More millions down the drain, millions that could have been used to give people what they want, which is cheap, accessible music and movies. Instead, they’re doing things like trying to get royalties from ringtones, or to charge people to listen to the 30 second previews on iTunes. This, and many other claims, are being rejected even by the copyright friendly courts, as the ASCAP found out this week. The content owners, and the people who have been profiting from royalties, are doing everything they can to hold on, even asking Congress to make it a law so that they never lose their cash cow. Instead of embracing change, they’re fighting it, and you wonder how long they can go on doing the same thing. The longer that legitimate and comparable alternatives to illegal downloads are not implemented, the more likely that illegal downloads will be accepted as acceptable practice by the general public.

And many things that have been adopted as common practice, such as recording TV shows to your VCR/DVR or ripping your CDs to MP3, are now considered legal. But they won’t be legal if the Canadian group Access Copyright have anything to do with it, and they propose that any of these acts should carry a fee that goes toward the content owners, or at least the people who profit from giving out licenses, such as Access Copyright. It seems that the copyright debate has gone all the way back to pre Universal vs Betamax times, and the content owners are still trying to fight innovation, even if that particular innovation (the ability to record stuff) is a couple of decades old already.

Nobody likes the MPAA, not even the studios that it represents

Nobody likes the MPAA, not even the studios that it represents

This anti innovation drive has a lot of people angry, and has given agencies such as the MPAA quite a bit of bad PR. So what do they do about it? Instead of calling it “anti-piracy”, anti-piracy is now called “content protection“. Protecting the content from those pesky and annoying people called customers, perhaps, and also protecting profits again innovation. The studios are also unhappy at the MPAA’s approach, calling it not aggressive enough. The shift in strategy will mean that the MPAA will now go after ISPs and network operators, to clamp down on the spread of information from a higher level. Yes, this should make them more popular. And this brings us quite nicely into the iiNet trial, the landmark “studio versus ISP” case that could determine the future of the Internet. It’s the second week of the trial, and you can read the summary in the linked post. Suffice to say, if ISPs are to become copyright cops with the power to kick people off the Internet, then you have to wonder, due to the ever increasing importance of the Internet to people’s way of life (and work), whether this infringes on people’s rights in a democratic society. Finland has just made 1 Mb broadband a basic legal right for anyone who lives in the country, and they will up the speed to 100 Mb by 2015. This seems to be the direction many countries are going towards, making Internet a basic utility just like power or water. But if the Internet is a basic utility, then how does the three-strikes system (or as in the iiNet case the “one-strike” system) affect this basic legal right. Can you be denied water or electricity because you’re a suspected criminal? Can the government deny anyone the ability to make a phone call, and even so, is it something they can enforce at all unless that person is in prison, or under house arrest. And in the end, will any of this actually protect the profits of billion dollar movie and music studios, or will kicking people off this brand new global distribution platform actually hurt profits in the long term. And why is the government doing anything to protect profits of private companies anyway, especially at the tax payer’s expense?

But let’s end this section on a slightly happier, and sane, note. Danny Boyle, director of Slumdog Millionaire and 28 Days Later says that perhaps the best way to fight piracy is to cut movie prices, because the cinema still has something unique to offer in terms of the viewing experience, compared to a poor quality screener. It’s a crazy suggestion, so it might just work. Or we can just ban the cinema, so nobody can bring a camera into the cinema and record it. Problem solved!

High Definition

In high definition news, the CEO of Netflix says that DVDs may be on the way out. But instead of Blu-ray replacing the format, it will actually be streaming. Of course, he’s referring to movie rental, not sale-through, and his director of corporate communications had to soften the statement by saying that growth is positive on all the formats.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings based his opinions on the fact that more and more people are opting for the cheapest DVD rental plan, while still keeping the most fully featured streaming option. I think the convenience of streaming, instant access, no need to wait for the disc in the mail and post it back, might be the reason for this shift. But until HD streaming becomes an affordable reality for everyone, which means bandwidth speed and allowance will have to increase, Blu-ray is still the only show in town if you want the best quality HD movies.

TDK's 100 GB Blu-ray Disc: May not work on current Blu-ray players

TDK's 100 GB Blu-ray Disc: May not work on current Blu-ray players

What may be not so good for Blu-ray, or actually Blu-ray owners, is the news that 50+ GB discs may not be compatible with current players. So if the movie studios ever decide to use 100 GB discs, say for TV series box sets, then Blu-ray owners will have to upgrade their Blu-ray players again. And I say again because many have already had to upgrade their profile 1.0 players to 1.1 or 2.0, to access features like PiP and Internet content. Chances are, this won’t ever happen, because it will just hurt the format too much if people are yet again forced to adopt new hardware with new disc drives, which further highlights just how out of date the idea of using discs is in the age of digital distribution. And I don’t think people mind having a bunch of discs in a box set, as I think it actually makes it look like more value.

China Blue HD, which is HD DVD for China, is being imported into Europe, along with cheap movies. Can’t see the studios being happy about it, since they licensed movies to CBHD for sale in China only, and the cheap player that comes with a dozen free movies may confuse buyers when they’re out there shopping for Blu-ray.

And for Trekkies or Trekkers, and those who don’t mind a bit of DRM, then this might be for you: A Starfleet badge shaped USB thumb drive with a copy of the latest Star Trek movie on it? How can one resist!


Not much going on in gaming, as everyone is waiting for the delayed NPD stats (due on Thursday, but has been delayed until Monday). It is expected that the Sony PS3 will jump to first place, from third, for the first time since its launch in 2006. Most expect the Wii to be second, with the Xbox 360 third. Microsoft has already came out with a pre-emptive attack on the numbers, calling it a temporary bump and saying that the 360 will still be the number one selling console for 2009.

2010 is looking like a decisive year for this generation. Sony has it’s Wii like motion system, but Natal may trump it as the must have casual gaming gadget. Nintendo has been quiet, which makes me suspect they’ve got something up their sleeves.

The NPD analysis for September 2009 should be posted sometime during the week, so until the next edition of the WNR, I hope you’ve had a good time reading this, have a good week and don’t forget to tip the waiter.


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