Weekly News Roundup (5 December 2010)

Damn it. November went by and I didn’t even get to mention that it was the ‘penultimate’ month of 2010. I love to use the word ‘penultimate’, and so you can imagine how disappointed I am. There’s a surprising amount of news this week. Surprising because I still managed to play something like 25 hours of Fallout New Vegas, so I don’t know how I managed to find the will to quit the game and search for news. So let’s get started …


… with Copyright news. The cracks are starting to appear in the US Copyright Group’s attempt to monetize anti-piracy, and they’re bringing out the kitchen sink to stop anyone getting into their way.

Document lawyer Graham Syfert is just the latest to try and stop the USCG mass lawsuits, and he did it by producing and selling self-help documents and selling them to those that have been sued. These documents can be used to keep the USCG busy, in the hope that they will eventually drop the case because it’s just not worth the trouble. The documents can be purchased for as little as $9.95, but according to the USCG, it’s costing them thousands. Which is why the USCG has just sued Syfert. Apparently, it’s only okay for the USCG to make money off anti-piracy, and anyone getting in their way is a bad person. Syfert, being a lawyer himself, has fired back claiming that the USCG’s actions are “completely insane”. And if that wasn’t bad enough for the USCG, they are now facing a class action lawsuit filed by one of the defendants of their ‘Far Cry’ case. The class action alleges “fraud, extortion and abuse” on the part of the USCG. I’ve always been told that the US is a particularly litigious country, and so I guess the USCG should have expected something like this to happen. And it’s interesting to note, that apart from some porn lawsuits, there aren’t too many other law firms taking up the anti-piracy settlement business, at least not many that are high profile. Perhaps they’re all waiting around to see what becomes of USCG’s business model, whether it is workable at all. Which is more reason to hope that USCG fails completely to monetize, so it puts an end to this sort of thing. And hopefully with the porn lawsuits, someone will step up and also claim “fraud, extortion and abuse”, particularly the extortion bit, because threatening to make public one’s sexual habits does seem a bit extortionate.

Demonoid.com - No longer .com, now .me

The fallout from the recent Homeland Security domain seizures, and the threat looming from the controversial Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), it seems that BitTorrent websites are taking pre-emptive action to protect themselves. Which is why this week, private BitTorrent tracker Demonoid has decided to move away from its .com roots, and instead move to .me, to counter the threat of having their domain seized by US authorities (who have jurisdiction over .com domain names, I suppose). Several private DNS systems have also been set up recently, in case COICA becomes law and thus giving the US government the ability to tamper with the Internet’s domain name system. This fracture into a public (both censored and uncensored) and private Internet is exactly what academics and engineers have warned about when they first heard about COICA. And it also again shows that even with the risk of catastrophic damage to the Internet as we know it, the actual effect of COICA in stopping piracy is negligible, because people can simply switch their DNS to an offshore one, and continue to access all the websites the US government doesn’t want you to look at.

Google Torrent Auto-complete Recommendation

Google will soon remove piracy related terms, like torrent, from auto-complete recommendations

Viacom is eager to get back to court so they can lose again to Google/YouTube, as they filed their appeal against the June decision which say their copyright lawsuit thrown out of court. More money wasted instead of pursuing innovation, but I guess the lawyers will be happy. In totally unrelated news, Google is beefing up its anti-piracy credentials by buying DRM firm Widevine, as well as implementing several features on their websites that will make it about 2.3% harder to find pirated stuff on the Internet. The first major change is to remove piracy related keywords, such as “torrent”, from auto-complete suggestions (so that when you search for “Megamind”, the phrase “Megamind torrent” isn’t a recommended search term, and only maybe shows up if you type the first few letters of “torrent”). This adds keywords such as “torrent”, or maybe even “free download”, to the list of naughty words such as “lesbian” that Google keeps out of the recommendation list. I’m sure this will make the entertainment industry slightly happier, although it makes absolutely no difference to those actually searching for torrents (because, what, if Google doesn’t suggest it, people are going to stop searching for it?). I’m sure the entertainment industry will be a lot happier if Google actually blocked displaying results for bad keywords, but that would be censorship of the worst kind and would go against everything democracy stands for, which just makes the entertainment industry want it even more. And the idea that “torrent” automatically means piracy should be challenged as well, and unless Google’s system is clever enough to distinguish between legal and illegal torrents, then searches like “Windows Vista Service Pack 2 Torrent” will be blocked too from auto-complete recommendations.

And I guess people searching for what about keywords such as “rapidshare”? There are still lots of people searching for “Windows 7 activated rapidshare” (it’s the third post popular recommendation), should that be blocked too? I mention Rapidshare because I wanted to segue into the news about Rapidshare being ordered by a German court to pay eBook publishers a hefty 150,000 Euros fine for not successfully blocking out pirated eBooks from being uploaded and downloaded, as ordered by the court back in February. I guess it’s only fair that Rapidshare do make an effort to block these downloads after a court order and everything, and if every publisher wanted to get their content blocked, then they should also go an get a court order. Of course, filtering is never really foolproof, and so the court should take this into account too. After all, it’s the users of Rapidshare that’s committing the real crime here, and if Rapidshare did their best to prevent it (even if their best does not match up to the content owner’s expectations), then they should not be found guilty. This is basically why Viacom lost its lawsuit against YouTube.

And in this week’s “Oh no, what has Sony done now” section, Sony’s latest SNAFU is to demand music that it doesn’t own to be removed, despite the fact that it was uploaded by an artist belong to a competing studio. This “innocent mistake”, or so Sony claims, even went as far as Sony lawyers writing to Mediafire and getting them to remove the uploaded home demos, although they did eventually write back to say “never mind”. Now this is but one, fairly high profile, mistake. How many other lower profile mistakes have been made by Sony, and other labels and studios in their anti-piracy hunt? And should they not double check that they actually have the legal right to sent off legal threats? But I guess if banks can foreclose houses they don’t even own, anything could happen I suppose.

And Ubisoft is back with another form of annoying DRM, but this time I can see the funny side of it. Those that pirated Ubisoft’s new Michael Jackson game on the DS will find that all of the music have been replaced with annoying vuvuzelas sounds.

High Definition

In HD/3D news, regular readers of my Blu-ray sales analysis (which also includes DVD sales figures) will have noted the year on year decline of DVD sales, which is pretty much the norm for most weeks.

And this drop in DVD sales has many in the industry worried, and many are blaming downloads and streaming content, the legal kind, for it. I guess the term “blame” is perhaps the wrong word to use, because this shift was always coming. Music is mostly sold via digital means these days, and with faster Internet connections and more generous bandwidth quotas, the same will be true of movies. For really high quality stuff, stuff that can’t be downloaded easily, there’s Blu-ray (which has recorded year on year growth). For everything else, downloads and streaming should suffice. And it will really take off once pricing because a bit more reasonable. In the article, there’s a guy from the BBC that says that “long tail” is where the future is. And I think I touched on this in my TV Networks for the 21st Century blog post, basically the future may be one where people pay very little per download, but they download a lot more and from a vast library of titles where every TV show, programme, episode, is available to download 24/7 instantly. This is very much a “long tail” approach, as opposed to the more traditional approach where content owners rely on people downloading the latest and greatest in great numbers, while limiting access to their entire catalogue (mainly due to technical reasons, not exactly intentional). And the reason why DVD/Blu-ray has been a huge success (despite what Hollywood wants you to believe … the home video sell-through market basically didn’t exist before DVDs), that’s to allow people to access their old favourites. And many of Blu-ray’s biggest hits have been classics, not new releases – like all the Disney animated classics, Sound of Music recently, classic TV shows – these all have done just as well, if not better combined, than a single new release. And with digital downloads and streaming, the access could be even greater, especially if delivered in an on-demand fashion. There aren’t any technical hurdles any more to achieving this (at least for SD content), so the only reason why we’re not able to select and watch any episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Bewitched is more to do with other reasons (irrational fear of unauthorised copying, and also of fear of losing a grip on their existing, outdated, business model).

Also, I’ve been thinking about the 3D Blu-ray of Avatar and how it’s selling for $400 or more. With no signs of a general release (director James Cameron’s comments about “2 more years” is worrying), I wonder if this exclusive deal may actually do more damage than good. I’m sure Panasonic paid a lot of money for the exclusivity, but I think this move is actually driving people to consider piracy as an alternative to paying $400 for a single movie, and how will this hurt sales when it becomes available via general release? People have purchased 3D TVs in anticipation of Avatar really, and if the general release is not just around the corner, then expect 3D Blu-ray Avatar to be the most pirated Blu-ray movie of all time (even if it takes about a week to download).


And finally in gaming, I have bit the bullet and ordered Kinect. I’ve always wanted one to see what it can do, especially when the hardcore games arrive next year (and they will arrive), but in the end, it was all the crazy PC hacks that have been posted in the last couple of weeks. It makes me, as a software developer, want to get my hands on one as quickly as possible just to see what kind of things I can make Kinect do.

Xbox 360 Kinect vs PlayStation Move

Kinect vs Move - the battle of sales figures begins already

But it might be a while before my order arrives, because according to my local (as in Australia) wholesale sources, stock is a huge issue for Kinect at the moment. And a quick search online reveals pretty much the same thing, with most online stores (again, locally) out of stock of the sensor + Kinect adventures pack. This leaves buying Kinect as part of a new Xbox 360 bundle the only option for many. It is also sold out on Amazon.com as I type, with 4.5 stars average rating after 320+ reviews. Microsoft has revealed that 2.5 million Kinect units have been sold to customers in the first 25 days of release, which could have been even better had stock been more plentiful. Sony later countered with their own “sales” figures of 4.1 million since release (a bit more than a full month longer than Kinect), but it was later revealed that this figure is the number of units shipped to retailers, not the actual number sold to customers (cue thousands of web editors updating articles at the same time). Although the demand for the Move means the shipped to retailer and sold to customers number may not be that far apart, some of the 4.1 million units may be reserved (ie. stock held) for yet to commence December sales at the time of Sony’s sales data, and so in any case, the two numbers cannot be compared without more information.

Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities has revealed, based on access to NPD data, that his predicted “to customers” number for Move is about 2.5 million, the same as Kinect, although over more than double the time frame (since late September for Move, 25 days for Kinect). And of course, every Move controller sold is counted as a single unit, even if purchased by the same household for multiplayer (whereas Kinect has built in 2 player support). Without knowing the pairing rate of Move controllers to PS3s, there’s no real way to compare to Kinect sales numbers. If the pairing rate is 1.5 Move controllers per PS3, for example, and taking into account that the Move has been released for twice as long as Kinect, then even taking the 4.1 million as total sold, Kinect is already twice 1.8 times more popular than Move. If the pairing rate was 2, then Kinect is 2.4 times more popular. If taking Pachter’s estimates of 2.5 million sold through, then Kinect is 3 or 4 times more popular if the pairing rate is 1.5 or 2. If my maths is right. Which it usually isn’t.

And some news outlets are incorrectly stating that the Sony numbers do not include PS Move sales not part of the standalone bundle (with PS Eye) or console bundles. The numbers, from what I can gather, do include it, it just doesn’t include separate PS Eye and Navigation controller sales (the Navigation add-on is useless without the Move wand, and you can almost say the same thing about the PS Eye these days, given how poorly it was selling before Move arrived).

It’s all quite confusing really, and I think Sony should have just kept their mouth shut unless they really did outsell the Kinect, which looks unlikely at this stage. The same wholesale source I mentioned earlier showed that the Move bundle still had plenty of stock, and more online stores had stock of them on my last search.

Okay, enough fanboi baiting for this week. Have a good one.


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