Weekly News Roundup (12 September 2010)
I posted the August US video games sales analysis yesterday here. Nothing too surprising, but we’re getting into exciting territory now (if, one can be excited about video game sales stats, that is), what with the Move and Kinect on the way. Many have already expressed their opinion that the Wii is doomed, but rather than looking at it at a glass is half empty perspective, I think the Wii has done extremely well given what it offers. It was never going to last as long as the Xbox 360 or PS3, due to the use of old tech in the console. And the fact that its core audience are casual gamers, and casual by definition means these are not the type of users to buy a lot of games frequently.
Let’s start with copyright news. Sometimes there is such a things as saying too much, and an anti-piracy firm based in India may have just admitted to too much in their pursuit of copyright infringing websites.
The managing director of AiPlex, Girish Kumar, has admitted that apart from requesting web hosts to shut down websites that are hosting or providing links to copyrighted material, they have even gone as far as to trying to “attack the site and destroy the data”. This could either mean actual server hacking, although it seems more likely to be describing an attack based on denial of service. Regardless, both acts are illegal in most countries (or at least frowned upon), and so using an illegal technique to pursue anti-piracy goals seems to be a bit over the top. Although if you consider that the likes of the MPAA and RIAA are willing to forgo even the basic tenets of democracy and rights to privacy, then a little hacking or DoS doesn’t sound too bad at all. While DoS isn’t a popular anti-piracy method, but anti-piracy companies have tried various similar techniques to make Torrent downloading a harder task. These includes uploading fake torrents, uploading invalid pieces to increase the number of errors, and massive leech based attacks, denying downloaders from connecting to seeds. As far as I know, these kinds of “attacks” are not illegal, although their effectiveness is highly questionable.
An update on the newspaper copyright trolling news last week, it appears that a Nevada Republican Senate candidate, Sharron Angle, has become Righthaven’s latest victim, being sued for up to $150,000 for allegedly copying/pasting a newspaper article. It will be interesting to see what happens, whether the settlement fee is paid up promptly, and whether this has any impact, positive or negative, on the actual election campaign. It was always a matter of time before someone prominent was sued by one of the copyright trolls, and it just made things a little bit more interesting. And if it was downloading one of the porn torrents I mentioned in the last WNR, then expect the fireworks to fly. On a side note, if I was running against Angle, I would use the slogan “Sharron Angle, She’s no Angel”. You see, that’s funny because people often misspell both words, and not a reflection or opinion on her actual character by this blog, since I have no idea who she is.
But one issue that has been raised before is whether an IP address is considered to be private data or not. If it is considered to be private data, then monitoring and storing it could in fact breach privacy laws in many regions. And one country seems to be moving in this direction, as a recent court case in Switzerland has pretty much made copyright trolling illegal. A government agency there actually took an anti-piracy investigation firm to court and won the case that basically confirmed that IP addresses are in fact private. Already, some are saying this ruling is a mistake which may turn Switzerland into a safe haven for copyright infringers. I like to think of IP addresses as akin to phone numbers (those with static IP addresses in particular, but those with dynamic ones, then it’s more like having a different pre-paid number every so often). Just like a phone number, an IP address is required to establish communications, and because of this, it means it has to be given out to other parties. But just because it can be seen publicly, like say in a phone book for phone numbers, doesn’t mean that it isn’t personal, private data. You can’t sell a list of my phone numbers for money without my permission, for example, and I think the same should apply to IP addresses. The fact that these companies are making money collecting other people’s IP address suggest there needs to be more protection on Internet addressing. Certainly, just like it was argued in the Swiss case, IP addresses should not be used so negligently in civil cases – criminal cases would be another matter, of course. Hopefully, other countries will follow suit, but somehow I doubt this will happen …
And this is also why making ISP liable for their subscribers potentially illegal activities is just so wrong. Of course, the powers that be aren’t asking ISPs to be liable for all crimes, just copyright infringement, which seems strange to me. Why would the ISP be more liable if one of their subscribers downloaded the movie Inception, then say if another user used their Internet connection to send spam or commit Internet fraud? Either they’re liable for everything, or they’re not liable for anything that their subscribers do. One of the more controversial points of the ACTA is the request for member nations to implement new laws designed to add liability for ISPs, but it seems that this provision is no more. So instead of forcing every country that is a signatory to the treaty to make their ISPs liable, the requirements will now most likely be much more vague, although many countries are still very keen to adopt similar legislation to France’s Three Strikes, for example. And again, I have to ask, why is copyright infringement so special that it requires special laws to overrule long standing privacy laws and practices, and to force liability onto ISPs, when other more or less serious “crimes” are not getting the same attention? I haven’t heard one argument that explains this, other than the fact that copyright infringement is far too common and so it needs something special. But I would argue that spam, spreading malware, hacking, DoS, fraud, identity fraud, Internet bullying and the myriad of other crimes that can be committed via an Internet connection all deserve more attention than helping the movie and music industry make more money. Spam and spam related fraud, for example, takes billions out of the economy each year, and yet, we see very little action (comparatively) from government agencies and industry bodies in combating this rather serious problem. Is this because the anti-spam lobby isn’t as rich or powerful as the anti-piracy lobby?
And all this misplaced attention on anti-piracy all assumes that piracy is actually hurting the economy badly, but you look the record profits that Hollywood studios and music labels are bringing in, and you wonder is this really the case? Is piracy really that bad? Well, for video games at least, an industry experts says that piracy isn’t so bad after all. Scott Steinberg, head of technology and video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global, says that piracy can actually help the video game industry. Or more precisely, the industry can use what makes piracy so popular to their advantage, as opposed to continuing the “arms race” against piracy websites and groups, a race in which the industry is losing badly, or using the legal system (and politically lobbying) to stop piracy. Instead, Steinberg argues that by making games cheaper, or even free, and charging small amounts for add-on content, may just be the way, pointing to free social network games such as Facebook’s FarmVille (which is free to play, but extra items can be purchased to enhance the gaming experience). This isn’t actually a new strategy, or one that hasn’t been tried – it has been deployed in practice and the results are usually quite good. For example, Steam are now offering discount games (or even free ones, like Portal a couple of months ago) much more often than before, and I suspect that’s because it’s making them much more money than charging full price for games. Of course, hit games like Starcraft II will always sell well, and a high price is sometimes justified, even though it will lead to more piracy. But I think a balance can be achieved, where you can minimize piracy by reducing the price, but not so much that it becomes unprofitable – if the balance is right, I think publishers can look forward to short term increases in revenue and bigger long term benefits such as purchasable add-on content, sequels, paid online services. The alternative is to take the short-sighted approach and continue charging $50+ for games, and then complain about why gamers aren’t buying all the numerous good games that come out every year.
In 3D/HD news, what if there was a way to get Blu-ray movies to play on the iPad, or even the iPhone?
Sounds too good to be true? Then perhaps it might just be. The upcoming VLC player for iOS promises to support HD MKV files, which for those with the skills, means they can rip their Blu-ray movies and get it to play on the iOS. But play it might, just don’t expect to be at full frames, or anything approaching semi-playable if this video demo is any clue. Without some sort of optimization and acceleration support, it’s just expecting too much of the 1 GHz processor in the iPad, remembering that even a P4 3.2 GHz processor struggles to play Blu-ray movies at more than 15 FPS without help from a GPU that supports AVC/VC-1 video decoding.
So the dream of being able to use your iPad for 1080p HD movies remains just that … a dream. For now.
But that HD MKV file may not play on the iPad, it may very well play on your TV. Many TVs already support the decoding of HD MKV files. Then there are HD streams on the Internet too, and these will be much easier to access thanks to Google TV, which is coming to a TV near you this Christmas. It’s hard to describe exactly what Google TV brings to your TV, but just have a look at the video I posted here, and it will give you a fair idea of what to expect. I’m not sure browsing the web on your TV is going to be great experience, without a keyboard and mouse that is, which is why most Internet TVs have offered only “closed” Internet, just apps that have been custom designed to make using them easier with the TV remote. But with Google TV, perhaps it will be incentive for websites like Facebook and YouTube to offer a version made specially for TV/remote navigation (if they haven’t done so already, in the case of YouTube XL).
And finally in gaming, the PS3 has just had a new firmware out, and the changelog lists “additional security features” as pretty much the only change.
So I’m just going to take a wild stab here and say that it had something to do with the PS Jailbreak device. And guess what, the PS Jailbreak device certainly no longer works after installing firmware 3.42.
But for those that avoided the update, then there will apparently be a new updated version of the Backup Manager. It promises support for future firmware updates (I gather this means that someone will go about hacking 3.42 or later to ensure that the exploit is still there, and that online services are still working). The update also promises native MKV playback, a much missed feature of the PS3, and even bringing back PS2 emulation. So it’s clear that the PS Jailbreak device will be more than just about piracy in the future.
And that’s all the news I have for you this week. Have a good one.