Weekly News Roundup (12 December 2010)

Another pretty quiet week, but with the NPD US November video games sales figures being leaked out in a timely fashion, I was able to get the analysis up. The big surprises were how well the Xbox 360 did (up 68% from the same time last year!), and how poorly the Wii *didn’t* do (up 1% from last year, much better than the usual 30+% decline in previous months). The PS3 continues the trend in recent months of year-on-year declines, which is mostly due to the post Slim/price cut bump from last year, but it’s still somewhat of a concern that the PS3 didn’t even manage to sell half as many units in November as the Wii. And with Kinect being a bigger hit than Move, and with Blu-ray players being dirt cheap these days, Sony may have to re-evaluate pricing to spur sales. Speaking of Kinect, I managed to buy one this week. I haven’t had much time to play with it yet (especially on the PC), but I can see the potential and the appeal (for casual gamers in particular), although the space requirement thing is kind of annoying. Let’s get started with the news roundup.

CopyrightIn copyright news, more bad news for the US Copyright Group, as they had to drop 97% of the unnamed defendants in their “Far Cry” lawsuit.

The judge in the case ruled that due to jurisdiction reasons, most of the defendants had to be removed from the case, and so now, only 140 remain. The USCG has previously said that this wouldn’t hurt their business, as they had always planned to do it this way, but with having to respect jurisdiction and having to file multiple lawsuits all over the place, the USCG’s business case may have been damaged. These mass lawsuits rely on defendants paying up quickly, and so all these extra court procedures may very well be expenses that eventually make these lawsuits unprofitable.

The Drudge Report

The Drudge Report is the latest victim of Righthaven's mass lawsuits

The other famous mass copyright lawsuit law firm at the moment is Righthaven, doing the exact same thing but for posted newspaper articles. Even though they’ve had even less success than USCG, and have had to backtrack a few times when they sued the wrong high profile target, they’re not giving up and have instead picked an even larger target this time – The Drudge Report. Righthaven is suing Matt Drudge and both drudgereport.com and DrudgeReportArchives.com for using images owned by The Denver Post, the latest newspaper to join the Righthaven stables. Righthaven is demanding Matt Drudge hand over these two domain names to them so the serious copyright abuse (of using one single image owned by The Denver Post) can be stopped post haste. According to my own estimates, the drudge.com domain name is worth about $7.8m alone (just the domain name, not the content), so I guess that’s how much Righthaven thinks a single image is worth. Of course, picking on such a high profile target has its own problems, and although it will get Righthaven in the news, it could also backfire if the Drudge Report mount a legal defence instead of just paying the settlement fee, which appears to be the case.

But still, $7.8m for a single image may seem like a lot even when you compare that to the insane damage amounts being handed out for MP3 downloads. The most famous MP3 download case of all, you know the one, has had some development this week too, with Jammie Thomas-Rassett’s lawyers asking the damages, of $62,500 per song, to be reduced to $0 per song. Yep, I can really see the RIAA agreeing to this latest demand. But Thomas-Rassett’s lawyers do have a point in saying that the RIAA has not proved the financial damage being done by their client’s actions, but with the current copyright laws and statutory damages, the RIAA does not need to prove actual damages,which I think is really unfair. I can see the value of statutory and punitive damages in commercial copyright cases, in which sometimes it is difficult to proof actual damages, but when you’re suing students, single mothers and other net users, I just don’t think it is appropriate. And judges don’t think it’s appropriate either, which is why the Thomas-Rassett case is still unresolved in terms of damages. The thing is, if the RIAA is trying to use this case to scare off other downloaders, it’s not exactly working is it? And I think the laws needs to be updated so that a fairer punishment can be handed out. $50 per song, for a song that costs $0.99 to download (but one must also consider uploads in cases such as these), should be more than enough. It certainly shouldn’t be $62,500, and such large amounts should remain for commercial cases only, such as when a TV network broadcasts a song without permission.


Eircom has made a deal with the devil, to offer free music streaming for spying on customer downloads

The RIAA’s answer to this is three-strikes, or something like it. Strategically, it makes sense to keep pursuing Thomas-Rassett, keep on getting awarded huge damages, and they too can use it as example of how the current copyright laws do not work. But the change they want will be to their own benefit, so that it would make it easier to sue and suspend downloaders, and lawmakers may just make this dream a reality via Three-Strikes. But before the music industry seeks government cooperation, they’ll do a bit of ISP threatening to get them to adopt Three-Strikes “willingly”, and it appears this strategy is working, at least in Ireland. Eircom has agreed to the Irish music industry’s demand for Three-Strikes, and will begin to ban users from their network after spying on their downloading activities and detecting anything the music industry finds offensive. And to stop the mass exodus of users to other ISPs that don’t spy on their paying customers, Eircom and the music industry has come up with some sweetners, such as unlimited music streaming and cheaper music downloads. Of course, if they really believe that music streaming and discounted music downloads can help people move on from piracy, they should have just offered this, without three-strikes, in the first place.

I’ve talked a lot of nonsense in the copyright section of the WNR in the last couple of years (yes, it really has been that long!). But I think if I had to sum up my opinion on web anti-piracy, it would this: be pragmatic! It’s clear that the technological solutions, namely DRM, has failed. Whether it’s Blu-ray releases like Avatar that come with “enhanced” anti-piracy solutions, or the latest Ubisoft game – the only disruption these new DRM measures usually cause is to legitimate buyers, with pirates still easily able to pirate the content (and without the pesky annoyances brought on by DRM, and so pirates are actually getting a better product thanks to the use of DRM by publishers). One news I found interesting this week was that pirates have found a way to pirate 3D movie screenings at the cinemas, using a special lens on video cameras. If pirates are going to this length to pirate a movie, I just don’t think there are any technical solution to piracy, nothing that can’t be bypassed, hacked or simply ignored.

The legal solutions, like the mass lawsuits or Three-Strikes either have no intention in stopping piracy (only to monetize it), or will only push people towards piracy solutions that cannot be tracked, and that means they don’t work either. So why not be pragmatic, and seek a real solution, instead of band-aids or measures that will only give the industry a false sense of security, and at the same time, cause massive collateral damage in terms of consumer and civil rights.

But the industry is obsessed with doing things the wrong way, and with all the powers granted to them by governments, they are getting more and more belligerent. The MPAA’s latest demand is for Universities to crack down on students downloading movies, or face the possibility of losing federal funding, following the RIAA’s footsteps in making similar threats. But they could only make this threat if they can back up their threat, and unfortunately, they can, via the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. So the RIAA/MPAA have gone to a lot of trouble, a lot of money spent on lobbying, to get the act passed, and this act forces Universities to divert funding away from education, and towards deploying anti-piracy tech, and what has it all achieved? This is what I mean about being pragmatic, because I don’t think this “solution” solves any problems. College students downloading movies may be stopped (or maybe they’ll just use their own personal Internet accounts to do so), but how much money has that made for the RIAA/MPAA? Will these students, many of whom have trouble paying their tuition fees, all suddenly stop downloading pirated content and start paying for everything? And all of this “result” after millions and millions of dollars, was it worth it? And is it really worth it to endanger the education of tomorrow’s workforce so that the RIAA/MPAA can chalk up another “theoretical” victory, which gains them little, if any, actual benefit? It is really worth it?

And to round off the copyright news, LimeWire is shutting down again, but this time, it’s the legal part of LimeWire. It was originally set up to appease the music industry and to transition LimeWire to a legal service, but it looks like it failed to achieve either of its objectives. The service will shut on at the end of the year.

High Definition

In HD/3D news, not much going on really. I suppose I should cover the fact that Blu-ray has just had its best Black Friday sales yet.

Blu-ray Sales Percentage - Year-on-Year Comparison (As of 29 Nov 2010)

Blu-ray sales growth has slowed this year, but this Black Friday (last entry in graph) was a good one for the HD format

$83 million dollars worth of Blu-ray movies were purchased during the Black Friday sales week. This in itself is not a record, and “only” represented a 20% increase on last year’s Black Friday results, but what was more impressive was the market share, which traditionally favours DVDs during this period (due to aggressive discounting). This year, Blu-ray’s market share was 16.82%, an improvement on last year’s 12.33%. It seems that the aggressive Blu-ray pricing has had an effect.

The next few weeks will generally favour Blu-ray as well, so while Blu-ray growth has slowed a bit, it is at least growing, which cannot be said of DVDs. The economy, Blu-ray, and downloads are all taking market share away from DVDs, so its decline isn’t too surprising either.

And on a personal note, the Blu-ray’s I picked up during Amazon’s Black Friday sales arrived this week. This is why I prefer to shop from Amazon: not only did they upgrade shipping from standard to express at no charge (the item arrived from the US to Australia in only 4 days, and one of those days was a customs delay), they didn’t even make a fuss about it – I only found on when they sent me the “dispatched” email with the shipping details and tracking option, which is normally not available with standard shipping. This contrasts to an experience I had with an Australian online store this week. I purchased Kinect Sports from Big W as part of their online sales at the end of November. My credit card charged immediately. But having not heard anything about the order, and with their online order tracking system down, I emailed customer service. I only received a response a day later, and was told that in fact, my order had not gone through due to an IT problem, and that instead of resolving this and sending out my item, they had simply cancelled it. My credit card has yet to be refunded! And the worst part is that I could have picked this title up for even cheaper just a few days after my original order, but I chose to stick with Big W since I thought, wrongly, that my order had already been processed and dispatched. Was I angry? Well, put it this way, it’s unlikely that I would shop at Big W ever again, online or in store. Not if I have a choice.

Not much to say in gaming, nothing that I haven’t already covered in the NPD analysis anyway, so I’ll skip it for this edition. Although I will add that the NPD analysis focuses on US sales only, and the global picture, especially in Japan, is actually very different, with the PS3 outperforming the Xbox 360 and the Wii quite consistently. Global sales wise, the PS3 has nearly caught up, or has already caught up, to Xbox 360 sales, whereas in the US, the Xbox 360 still has a 1.6:1 advantage over the PS3. But if Kinect is the next big thing, or really just the next Wii, then even global sales may start to reflect the Xbox 360 dominance, because finally, we have a console that can do almost any kind of games – from the hard core, to the casual. The only thing it doesn’t do is Blu-ray, but with standalones so cheap these days, the PS3’s advantage in this area is diminishing, especially since multi-platform games aren’t really taking advantage of the space offered by Blu-ray, and the PS3 version is often worse than the Xbox 360 version, due to the more difficult time devs have with PS3 development.

And this “PS3 is harder to develop for” isn’t just a myth, or can be attributed to lazy programmers. I’ve heard this personally, and constantly, from people working in the industry, and it seems the main issue is the whole hardware architecture of the PS3, which will always makes it more difficult to develop for than the Xbox 360 – even doing the same things on the PS3 takes a lot longer than on the Xbox 360, and so while developers may be able to do more with the PS3, time constraints means that they end up doing less (or just the minimum required to get the game running at the desired FPS).┬áIt seems Microsoft, being primarily a software company, did a lot of work to ensure the Xbox 360 was easier to programme for, while Sony, being primarily a hardware company, made a superior piece of kit. So it’s no surprise, really.

Okay, no more writing. Head hurt. Want Fallout gaming. NOW! See you next week.


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