Weekly News Roundup (11 September 2011)
It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years already. So much has changed since then, hasn’t it? I remember I was watching The West Wing, of all shows, when the breaking news alert interrupted the episode (and I never did finish watching that episode until I purchased the DVD box set, some 8 years later).
As for news this week, not a lot, but good in quality always makes up for quantity. And after last week’s acidically toned mega long post, I think this week’s will be a lot “better”, well, hopefully shorter anyway.
Copyright news up front, I’ll start with a news post that I’m actually quite proud of, because I actually spend like more than 10 minutes “researching” it (aka copying what others reputable news organisations have posted), and it also involved use of arithmetic and statistics, two of my favourites things based on the stuff I like to write on a regular basis (NPD analysis, and weekly Blu-ray stats analysis).
But full credit to the MPAA for releasing the info-graphic that I based my “analysis” on, which came to the conclusion that, if the MPAA’s numbers in regards to piracy rates and the cost to the economy are true, it means that every pirate would be spending $1,000 more every year buying legal content. The MPAA’s “statistics” are mostly conjecture, and (in my opinion, wildly inaccurate) estimations. Because you can’t really estimate losses due to piracy, because this would require knowing what pirates would do if they did not pirate any more. This is impossible to calculate because, one, you can’t guess what a group of largely independent people will and will not do, and two, there’s not way to stop piracy and force these people to “do the right thing”. But let’s give the MPAA the benefit of the doubt and let’s say their figures are correct, then what the MPAA is effectively saying is that probably 25% of all Net users in the United States are pirates, and that each pirate is costing the creative industries $1,000 per year, per person, to get to the $58 billion yearly losses that the MPAA mentions. If the MPAA counts every instance of copyright theft as a loss of revenue for the full price of said product, then $1,000 is probably about right. But this is misleading to the extreme, as it would be like saying if jewel thieves didn’t steal $1m worth of diamonds from a jewellery store, they would have purchased the $1m worth of diamonds (I wanted to use my usual car theft analogy, but I think I’ve gone over my allowed quota for the year). And any theft analogy is incorrect anyway, as file sharing is not theft – it’s not paying for stuff you should have, like reading a magazine at a news stand without paying, but it’s quite different than say shoplifting the same magazine.
What’s more disturbing for me, as opposed to a rather harmless, but propaganda-ish infographic, is the MPAA getting involved at the law enforcement level when it comes to anti-piracy operations, even those that are outside of the US. Of course, infographics and misleading stats help the MPAA scare politicians into giving them this sort of access, so this cannot be discounted either. What brings me to this is the news this week that newly leaked Wikileaks documents show the MPAA and the IFPI, two lobby groups, all involved in high level discussions with South Korean anti-piracy law enforcement agencies, and with ICE detailing their operations against warez topsites, the sites that are acts as the point of origin for pirated content on the Internet. On one hand, you might say that having an industry group involved in tackling the industry’s own problems makes sense, but if it’s the industry’s problem, then why is a government agency and two governments, spending precious tax payer resources, to tackle the problem that many experts say are the industry’s own creation anyway, due to outdated business models? This whole idea comes from politicians believing that copyright theft *is* a $58 billion per year problem, but it isn’t, and it’s not costing 300,000 jobs a year. If you want to make such flimsy conclusions from nothing but wild guesses, then I have a few more I would like to make, such as that piracy creates jobs by allowing website operators to make money to provide content to people who had no means to pay for it in the first place. And the people enjoying pirated content end up spending their money on other more essential services and products, and their money won’t end up in the pockets of greedy studios who are already making record profits, or end up giving more money to rich, spoilt Hollywood stars and autotuned pop musicians.
And if the government is to spend tax payer resources to help a well to do industry, while others are struggling, and to do it at the expense of one of the most innovative and fast growing industries, the Internet industry, then this will hurt the economy even more. Which is why a “who’s who” of the Internet business has come out attacking the MPAA/RIAA backed PROTECT IP act, which, despite the controversy, is gaining support in Congress (lobbying money helps soothes the aches from migraines, back aches, and lack of conscience). The founders of Twitter, Zynga, FourSquare, and key people from StackExchange, LinkedIn, and Tim O’Reilly, yes, *that* Tim O’Reilly, has signed a letter asking Congress not to go ahead with PROTECT IP, as it could hurt small Internet businesses, and the broad nature of the act means that it could hurt innovation as well. This comes after more than 100 law professors also signed an open letter asking Congress to reconsider, and after Internet pioneers and top engineers also writing a similar letter urging caution when it comes to messing around with DNS. Hmm, it seems that open letters are not a very effect form of mass action, or the US is run by politicians that don’t care for expert opinion as much as they care about where their next campaign contribution is going to come from. Or both.
But there’s also good news for those that believe in karma, as Righthaven might have to file bankruptcy due to their recent legal and financial setbacks. Not only has judges started to see through Righthaven’s scheme, which in my opinion, is nothing more than a money making scheme, they’ve started punishing Righthaven by rewarding damages *against* the firm. Righthaven’s biggest mistakes is that they haven’t been able to avoid going to court, and they haven’t been able to do so because the people they’re suing weren’t willing to give up so easily. It’s one thing to sue movie pirates, but to sue those that are interested enough in the news to copy/paste articles and post it on their own blogs, is just asking for trouble. These are clearly opinionated people, who love a good fight, and will stand up for themselves out of principle, even if it end up costing them more money in the process – and these are not the right “targets” for mass copyright lawsuits. And then there’s the news that Righthaven’s second largest client, MediaNews Group, has now pulled out, leaving Stephens Media, which are also the money behind Righthaven, as their only big client. And even that money may no be as forthcoming as before, as Righthaven have apparently asked a judge if they can delay paying the $34,000 or so they owe to one of the “targets”, as they’re having trouble coming up with the cash. If Righthaven does go under, nobody would shed a tear for them, as to paraphrase the new MediaNews Group chief, it was a stupid idea to being with.
It’s not the first time Christofer Sundberg has spoken out against gaming DRM, but it’s always good to hear from developers on the issue. Sundberg is the founder of Avalanche Studios, the makers of the Just Cause series amongst other games. And this week, Sundberg let the world know what he thought of the latest trend in using “always-on” DRM. Suffice to say, he’s not a big fan, mainly because in his opinion, in this day and ages when piracy is rampant and people have a lot of “choice”, even if some are illegal, if publishers are not providing extra incentive for consumers, then they’re doing something wrong. “Always-on” DRM in fact takes away incentive for consumers to pay for games, and even those that do, will have to rely on pirate solutions to play the game without annoying interruptions. For Sundberg, it’s also about trust, and he believes that “always-on” DRM basically says to the paying customer: “Thank you for buying our game, we trust you as far as we can throw you”. Instead, developers and publishers should listen to gamers, even though that don’t buy the games, more – listen to their suggestions, make them feel like part of the development process (because they are a part of it, the end “using it” part of it at least). But Sundberg also stated that it’s mostly up to publishers as to what kind of DRM to use, and if Avalanche’s publishers decide to use “always-on” DRM, there’s not much he can do about it, even if his whole studio will be up in arms against such a move. And this also reminds me to play Just Cause 2 a bit more, since I haven’t really played it after getting it on Steam – I’m such a reverse pirate when it comes to games sometimes, I buy a lot (usually on sale), and then never play them!
In HD/3D news, it’s a contractual obligation for the WNR to cover a rumour about Blu-ray coming to the Xbox 360 at least once twice a year, and so with much regret, I bring you the latest rumour.
To be fair, it now makes a lot more sense for Blu-ray on Xbox 360 than even just a year (and a bit) ago, mainly due to the new, slimmer, quieter, faster, stronger (and now less shiny) Xbox 360. And with games coming on multiple DVDs, perhaps Blu-ray is also finally needed for games, although due to noise and loading speed issues, it’s always better to install games to the built-in HDD – so you really only need to do a single disc swap for a game that requires 2-discs, during the install process, and while Blu-ray removes the need to do this, the extra cost of getting the add-on drive would negate any benefit when it comes to gaming, leaving only the benefit of being able to play Blu-ray movies. But with Blu-ray standalone players available for so cheap these days, you can get a budget standalone for the expected $50 cost of the add-on, and so having a Blu-ray add-on doesn’t even make that much sense for movies either. And with Blu-ray competing against Microsoft’s preferred streaming platforms, that’s another reason why Microsoft is in no hurry to launch a Blu-ray enabled Xbox 360.
And that brings us finally to gaming. The NPD report for August is out, and I should have the analysis up in a few days. While only Microsoft and Nintendo provided hardware data for this month, Microsoft again provided some extra info that allows for the PS3 numbers to be deduced.
Despite the PS3 $50 price cut (coming in at the middle point of the month), the Xbox 360 was still comfortably the best selling home based console of the month, selling some 41% more units than the now discounted PS3. This is probably why Sony felt the need to withhold sales data yet again, because many, including myself, predicted the PS3 to at least give the Xbox 360 a run for its money this month, but it did not happen. Maybe, with a full month of discounting on hand, the PS3 will put up more of a fight, but September is a huge month for the Xbox 360 due to the release of Gears of War 3, and with Battlefield 3 and MW 3 coming in October and November respectively, these will again heavily favour the Xbox 360, so it looks to be a good holiday period for the console, even if Kinect Star Wars has now been delayed until after Christmas.
And on that note, I shall end this week’s WNR. See you in a week’s time.