Weekly News Roundup (7 November 2010)

Well, we’ve reached November, the final set, the last quarter, the penultimate inning, the last ten minutes before the start of injury time, and many other sports terms that I have absolutely no idea about. And despite getting near the end of 2010, we still haven’t made contact, and with all the world’s problems today, an alien intervention may not be the worst thing ever, although hopefully not the kind of intervention that recent movies are predicting. The news are a bit more plentiful this week, but by no means a busy week in terms of copyright, HD/3D or gaming, I think mostly due to other more important events taking place in the US at least. But there are still a few things to talk about, so let’s get started.


Starting with copyright news, and trying to find some connection to the big news of the week, we have this story about the effect of the the US midterm election results on the issue of copyright, particularly Internet copyright.

John Boehner

The US House of Representatives may have changed hands, but don't expect any changes (not good ones anyway) in respect to digital copyright laws

The conclusion? Probably business as usual. A lot of people are unhappy that the developments in the last two years in terms of Internet copyright has been very much biased towards the content owners, big business, and so some naturally blame the people in power, the Democrats. But I think that’s partially unfair, because if you look at the pro-copyright bills that’s been brought up in Congress, you will find that these bills always receive bi-partisan support. It’s about the only thing in D.C. that the two major parties can agree on, and that to me, is a very sad state of affairs indeed. And with the Republican’s generally pro-business ideology, things will probably get worse in the next two years, not better. But it is also fair to blame Democrats too. If you allow me to go slightly off topic and talk politics for a minute, then I think the blame for the pro-copyright bias is still very much on Democrats, even though both parties support the pro-business, anti-consumer and anti-privacy agendas of the RIAA and MPAA. The reason I blame the Democrats is simply this: they should know better.

I’m not surprised Republicans will eventually support three-strikes, or make it easier for corporations to sue individuals, or otherwise go out of their way to help big business – it’s what their politics are about. However, being the left leaning party, the Democrats ought to stand for principles such as privacy, freedom of speech, and as progressives, they should embrace the Internet and support innovation (they certainly did during the  election campaign that saw Obama and the Democrats use the Internet to great effect in terms of campaigning). The last thing they should be doing is to cosy up to big business, to help them suppress innovation, the way they have done in the last two years. It’s not their M.O, or at least it shouldn’t be. Now I do realise that Hollywood and the Democrats have a great relationship traditionally, but that’s mainly the people who work in Hollywood, the left leaning actors and actresses, and their support of the more progressive aspects of Democrat’s policies. The relationship should definitely not automatically extend to the people who own Hollywood, the multi-national conglomerates like Sony or 20th Fox and the groups that represent them, like the MPAA. For these companies and groups, their sole aim is to protect their ageing business model, even if it comes at the expense of the hard working people in the industry (the writer strike being a prime example). If Obama and the Democrats want to have a serious chance to get back some of the things they lost last Tuesday in two year’s time, they need to go back to their roots, to support policies that their core supports, or at least stand for something. And maybe even that would not be enough, but maybe it will help promote some positive change, or at least put up some kind of fight for those that rely on them to be their voice in government. It’s about principles, stupid.

Cinema Audiences Being Watched

You *are* being watched ... privacy protection loses yet again to piracy protection

One of the principles I mentioned earlier is privacy, which in this day and age, becomes somewhat incompatible with the business goals for big business. In an ‘1984-esque’ development, a new technology has been developed in the UK that allows complex system to watch the watchers (of cinema, that is). Instead of going to the cinemas with your family, having overpaid for everything, the last thing people expect will be that they become some kind of lab experiment, where their every emotions are recorded so that big business can find better ways to get you to pay for stuff. While ‘1984’ was very much about the authoritarian governments, but corporations are just as dangerous, because they now have enough power and money to directly influence governments, if not control them outright. So something like this, which many will object to (if they knew about it), would probably still get the nod in the US because the lobbyist will ensure they get enough support in government to nullify opposition. And because the same system can be used to prevent piracy, then that becomes the perfect Trojan Horse to make it all nice and legal. Terrorists support torrent downloading or something, and so if you’re against spying on cinema-goers, then you’re supporting terrorism. And do you really want to be labelled as a terrorist supporter when you’re up for re-election in a year or two?

But while this technology has been developed in the UK, the newly elected UK government (well, new as in since May), may in fact be changing directions in terms of digital copyright law. Or not. The previous so called left leaning, progressive Labour government, who got UK into two wars against the wishes of the people and general progressive principles (it’s that word again!), was also very pro big business in its support for controversial copyright laws, including the planned introduction of a three-strikes, and widespread spying of people to prevent them from downloading too many MP3s. The more left leaning coalition part of the current government, who are in a coalition with the conservatives (their politics is probably more progressive than the Democrats, by US standards, according to some UK friends), are probably responsible for the review of copyright laws, which will look at things like fair use. Reversing the previous government’s “achievements” may also have played a part in the decision. But I suspect the review will come, some fair use provisions will be added, but it won’t make the laws any better than what’s already law in the US. In fact, the Prime Minister has already signalled that they will be doing the review by looking at the US laws. It may very well be a case of the blind leading (or in this case, following) the blind.

And sorry to get back to politics again, but I must say that the current screwed up state of things is very much to do with us, the electorate, than any government or lobbyist. We allow our freedoms to be curbed in the name of helping big business because we simply do not care enough. Perhaps there are too many other more serious problems to consider, but I would have expected more discontent at government action to give corporations the power to spy on our Internet usage. Yes, the Operation Payback from 4chan/Anonymous is something, but I think in the end, it could backfire and alienate the mainstream. Because many of them, probably most of them don’t download things illegally, and they may even support harsher sanctions against downloaders, pirates, who have been demonized by the RIAA/MPAA through advertising (“They support terrorism and organised crime and are no better than common thieves!”). But it’s the rights of everyone that will be affected when ISPs can legally spy on your downloads (and it won’t end there either). When they came for the pirates, I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a pirated … etc. Okay, that may be a bit dramatic, but big business have been trying to erode our rights, as citizens and consumers, for years now, but they’ve never faced so much apathy. The EFF and the ACLU can only do so much, if we don’t voice out discontent, in a mainstream fashion.

Jammie Thomas-Rasset

Bad news for Jammie Thomas-Rasset again, another seven figure damage award against her this week for sharing 24 songs

And to present further proof of the struggle we face, not just against big business, but also against our fellow citizens in terms of fighting for fairer copyright laws, a jury (or her peers, apparently) has rewarded Capitol records, a subsidiary of a multi-billion dollar company, $1.5 million against the most famous music pirate of all time, Jammie Thomas-Rasset. This is the third time damages have been awarded against the Native American mother of four, $222,000 originally, then $1.92 million and this week, $1.5 million. Now I understand juries are under instruction to award certain amount of damages based on the law, but if one jury can award “only” $222,000, why would other juries give out seven figure awards? Is there no sympathy for someone who has done something that millions of other American have done, and are doing, every day? It says something when usually the pro-business judges (and they are pro-business, because the copyright laws are pro-business, and judges must make judgements based on the law, however biased it is) are the ones coming out against such extravagant damages being awarded. By giving record labels and movie studios what they want, these juries of our peers are just giving these corporations the ammunition they need to make it legal for them to sacrifice everyone’s privacy for their bottom line, because anything is better than seven figure damages being awarded against individuals, right?

And it’s decisions like this that have emboldened certain law firms in their mass-litigation attempts, the latest and greatest way to make money off of this is to sue for porn downloads, with more than 7000 being sued in the latest case. And there will come a time when there are so many lawsuits, that people will say enough it enough, but then the industry will put forward a better alternative, and that will be the three-strikes, “we spy on you for our own gains”, method. And many freedom loving citizens will eat it up because they will say it’s better than being sued, and since they haven’t done anything illegal on the Internet, it won’t affect them. Except  it will, one day, when they will be spied upon for anything and everything. Because if one corporations can spy on you for their own gains, then another corporations should be allowed to do the same, and then surely it makes sense for governments to spy on you for the nobler aim of law and order too. And it’s ironic that in the end, it may be other corporations that stand up to this in a more meaningful manner than the general public, because what’s good for one industry may very well come at the expense of another, just like three-strikes takes money away from the Internet industry and gives it to the entertainment industry. And this is why we have the good news that UK ISP, BT, have put a stop to at least one law firm’s mass-litigation attempts by deleting subscriber usage histories, histories that the law firm in question, Gallant Macmillan, needed to proceed with their case. And even the recent UK copyright review, mentioned above, was recommended in an indirect way by the owners of Google, who say that the UK’s unfair copyright laws meant that a company like Facebook, Google or YouTube can never have been created in that country. Copyright is hurting innovation, and companies that rely on innovation, even if they’re faceless mega-corporations, will put up a fight for their own self interest. It’s time, that ordinary people like you and me, also put up a fight ourselves, for our own self interest.

High Definition

Moving on to happier pasture, in HD/3D news. I’ve noticed a trend recently whereby studios are releasing more and more Blu-ray exclusives, especially for classic titles (such as Sound of Music, Psycho, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Apocalypse Now, to name a few).

The Sound of Music Limited Edition Blu-ray Set

Blu-ray exclusive releases of classics, and premium sets, are popular

This is good news for Blu-ray, as it signals studios may be shifting away from DVD altogether. And it’s also good news that these classics are selling well on Blu-ray too, meaning there is definitely a market out there for people who want to watch their favourites classics with audio/video quality that hasn’t before been possible on a home video format. Certainly, a lot of people have home theater set-ups that beat the quality available at the best cinemas at the time these classics were first released, and it’s a real pleasure to be able to enjoy quality movies this way, in the comfort of your own home. If you want an argument for Blu-ray, then this is the best one. Which makes the Lord of the Rings Blu-ray disaster even more disappointing.

Moving on to something completely different, some have already accused Google TV of being fragment on release. I don’t want to go into too much detail on the arguments for and against this, since I’ve already covered it in my forum post, but as someone who has done a little bit of Android development, I have to agree that fragmentation is a big issue, and that the way Google are doing things, it’s making fragmentation a real problem. The freedom that Google gives manufacturers may not be worth whatever benefits that it provides in the short term (more varied range of devices).

But a closed system, like Apple’s, have their own unique set of problems. The latest involved the VLC app for iOS, which may very well be withdrawn from the Apps market due to the issue of copyright. But unlike most copyright disputes, this time, it’s almost the other way around. Instead of arguing that Apple have stolen their copyright, the creators of  VLC are arguing that Apple is imposing too many copyright restrictions on their open source media player. The issue is complicated by the fact that the app wasn’t produced by the creators of VLC, but by a third party (they’re allowed to do it because VLC is open source). But Apple’s apps are limited in that, even for the free ones, they come with licenses that prohibits their sharing (to 5 devices only), which is totally against the open source principle to which the people behind VLC not only believes, but is also bound by law to respect. And this isn’t the first time some open source based app has faced this issue with Apple, with Apple’s previous actions being to remove the app, rather than change their somewhat draconian copyright/DRM attitude. And it will probably be the same with the VLC app, so for those that want it, you should download it ASAP, before it disappears, if it hasn’t already.


And finally in gaming, Kinect has been released and it’s doing very well, at least according the Amazon sales charts (currently the 2nd best seller, just behind Call of Duty: Black Ops).

And with two more Kinect titles in the top 10 (Kinect Sport at 5th and Dance Central at 6th), and the Kinect bundle at 8th, it looks to be a very good holiday period for Microsoft (the top selling CoD: Black Ops is also the Xbox 360 version, btw).

Microsoft Kinect

Kinect could be a big success, if it overcomes hurdles such as space requirements and the fact that people look really stupid playing it

Kinect is not perfect. Not even close. And Sony’s Move appears to have many advantages over it (like being more much, much more accurate, and easier to integrate into hardcore games). But what sells well is less about perfection (the Wii wasn’t perfect, neither are top selling devices like the iPhone). It’s more about hype, potential, being different to everything else on the market, and Kinect beats the Move in all of these aspects. Sony producing just a more accurate (and of course, better) version of the Wii, in my opinion, will not work as well as they will hope. And if you just look at the way the PS3 is designed, especially the XMB user interface, it just doesn’t scream “casual gaming”, as much as Microsoft’s cute avatars (stolen shamelessly from Nintendo, but hey, whatever works, right?). And the casual gaming market, is where the big money may be had, especially if you include the new generation of casual, Facebook and mobile phone, gamers.

Of course, for Kinect to be a success, it has to at the very least work adequately. That’s where it may fail, if the requirements for a relatively big space is too much for most families, or that the lack of accuracy makes gaming too random (although it seems to not have worked against the Wii’s initial success), or that it just doesn’t have the right games to take advantage (the most likely scenario for failure). But unlike the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft have always had a great range of third-party titles that take full advantage of the console. And Microsoft will have to rely on these companies to make compelling Kinect games, and avoid Shovelware that characterizes most third-party Wii titles. If publishers take Kinect seriously, Kinect can be a very exciting platform.

And on that note, it’s time to end this week’s WNR. Hope you’ve enjoyed this one a bit better than the absolutely horrible last one, and here’s hoping the next one will be even better (don’t bet on it though).


One Response to “Weekly News Roundup (7 November 2010)”

  1. Weekly News Roundup (28 November 2010) | DVDGuy’s Blog @ Digital Digest Says:

    […] the matter in a court of law, like they’re entitled to). And this goes back to what I said a couple of WNRs ago, that we must do more to protect our rights and treat this more than just a matter of being able to […]

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