Archive for April, 2012

Weekly News Roundup (29 April 2012)

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Going to be a short one this week I think, mainly due to the lack of news. I really did try hard to find interesting stuff for you this week, but after the 10th “Tor goes DRM free” story, I gave up. Spent the week playing around with my new 60″ Samsung TV, really like it so far. I’m currently “breaking-in” the plasma TV, something that I’m sure is 90% myth. During the break-in period, it is suggested that you turn the brightness/contrast/cell light to something low, while avoiding black bars or any image that uses the pixels in an uneven way – all for the first 100 hours. This is supposed to reduce the chance of burn-in and reduce image retention (the temporary kind). I never did this with my first plasma, a Pioneer 4th gen purchased (for ridiculous money) back in 2004, and it’s still going fine in regards to the aforementioned, and while I did it with my 58″, and the temporary IR was still above more than normal on that set. Ask HT enthusiasts and they’ll tell you that you have to do it. Ask the manufacturers, and none of them tell you it’s necessary. But I’m still inclined to do it – better safe than sorry I suppose.

Copyright

As stated earlier, not a lot of interesting news this week. All of the ones I did find were copyright related, so I think we can get this done quite quickly if we put our heads down and power through.

YouTube Content ID

German court says YouTube's oversensitive Content ID still isn't good enough of an anti-piracy measure

We start in Germany this week, where a regional court has accused YouTube of not doing enough to combat piracy, despite the use of Content ID (automatic content scanning) and a well implemented take-down regime. Instead, it wants YouTube to add in things like word filters and to be even more proactive in stopping piracy. I’m sure subsequent appeals will change the ruling once again, but this latest ruling seems excessive to me. Content ID is already well known for giving lots of false positives, and I can’t see how adding a word filter on the video’s title, which will be so easy to circumvent by real pirates, will do anything other than increase the rate of false positives (so “community bulletin” gets filtered because of the TV show, “Community”, for example). It just seems to me that this is a ruling from a judge that’s not clued in to how YouTube actually works, and what kind of role the website now plays in terms of content promotion (a lot of content holders actually hope people upload unauthorised clips, for promotional purposes).

With relatively little fanfare, the US House of Representatives passed the CISPA cybersecurity data sharing bill last week by an overwhelming majority, 248 to 168. With so much attention having been garnered for SOPA (and PIPA), it may be surprising that the so called “Son of SOPA” passed so easily. There may be some good reasons for this though. First of all, I’m not quite sure CISPA can even be called the “son of SOPA” (at best, it’s a nephew). CISPA is aimed, not at copyright infringement, but at cybersecurity threats, such as hacking. And while SOPA allows the government to take specific action, CISPA is more about data sharing between ISPs and government agencies. And I also think that people may be suffering from post SOPA-fatigue and so have been less willing to make big noises about CISPA. And most importantly, unlike SOPA, CISPA has the support of major tech companies such as Facebook and Microsoft, and this made an organized opposition difficult.

None of this is to say that CISPA shouldn’t be opposed, because it’s appears to be yet another one of those “short-cuts” in due process that I talked about last week. The justification is that because something happens so frequently, like web piracy, that somehow the law no longer really applies. So instead of needing a warrant to force ISPs to hand over data about a suspect, CISPA does away with this and many other requirements, and that has serious implications to privacy and due process. Which is probably why its passing through the senate is far from being certain, and the threat of a presidential veto still remains (despite last minutes changes to the bill).

Tor Logo

Publishers Tor and Forge will now only sell DRM-free e-books - could this be the beginning of the end for e-book DRM?

Some positive development in the e-book world. Last week, I highlighted the evilness of DRM for the e-book industry, in that it’s now being used more for market protection and anti-competitive behaviour than as a means to stop piracy. And that while publishers are being suckered in to supporting and even specifically requesting DRM to be present, even though in the long run, the anti-competitive nature of it means they’ll be the ones that ultimately loses out. So it was interesting this week to hear that major Sci-Fi publisher, Tor, a subsidiary of Macmillan, have decided to ditch DRM for all of their e-books. Books from Tor, and related brand Forge, will now only be available in DRM-free form. The publisher puts the decision down to demand from consumers, as well as authors.

In the long run, going DRM free should allow Tor’s e-books to be sold by more online distributors, including the smaller players, and this should help avoid a situation where Amazon has a virtual monopoly on the e-book market, where they’re free to use their market power to force publishers (and authors) to accept less and less money. It’s a step in the right direction, and hopefully it will start the DRM-free revolution for e-books, following in the footsteps of the music business. Now, we just need the same thing to happen with games and movies! But I suspect Hollywood will be the last bastion of the pro-DRM movement, and they’ll attempt to hold out for far longer than what is necessarily a healthy decision for the industry.

So how can you avoid getting sued or even arrested, despite making and sending 200,000 pirated DVDs over an eight year period? Easy, just make sure you’re a 92-year-old war veteran, and you’re only sending discs to support troops fighting overseas. I don’t know what’s more impressive, that a 92-year-old (84 when he started) not only learned how to copy DVDs (that DVD DRM really isn’t working, is it?), with up to 200 discs being produced a day at the peak of his operation, or that he’s avoided legal scrutiny all this time. Fearing from the bad publicity of going after a 92-year-old war veteran with the noble goal of supporting the troops, even the MPAA could only come up with a meek statement about being “grateful” that their products “can bring some enjoyment” to troops fighting overseas (that’s not what they were saying in declassified documents though).

So I guess not all piracy is bad, right MPAA?

And that’s all we have this week. Short and sweet. And at least 50% of that last statement was factual. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (22 April 2012)

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

So, are you underwhelmed or what? Of course, I’m talking about the new re-designed Digital Digest homepage (and a couple of other section home pages, as well as the top navigational bar), that “little project” I first hinted at a couple of weeks ago (I told you it was “little”). The old homepage had been designed for yesterday’s lower resolution monitors, and so it was a bit too narrow and a bit too long. It’s now been simplified to highlight the most important stuff, namely news and software updates. And there’s also a new News section to go along with these changes (as well as changes to the actual news pages). The top navigational bar, and even our site logo, has also been renovated, with the top bar taking a little bit less vertical space, and reducing the number of links shown there by highlighting only the most important sections. A few pages remain unchanged, as I ran out of time with my self imposed deadline of yesterday, so I’ll slowly re-work these pages to get them into line.

Despite a busy week in which I also had to exchange my Samsung plasma TV for a new one due to an unrepairable fault (so getting a nice and new 2012 model 60″ on Monday as a no-cost replacement, which is an alright outcome), I also managed to write the March 2012 US video game sales analysis, which you can read here. Nothing too surprising, with the Xbox 360 still leading, although the PS3 is catching up a bit. Mass Effect 3 dominated the month and sold 4 times as many copies on the 360 than on the PS3 (in the US, at least).

Onto the news roundup then …

Copyright

Starting with copyright news for the week, Google guy Sergey Brin issued a warning this week that web freedoms are in peril, thanks to increasing attack by interested parties.

Apple and Facebook

Apple and Facebook, the root of some of the evil, according to Google's Sergey Brin

Those interested parties of course include the entertainment industry, who are increasingly painting themselves into a corner as the enemy of the Internet (which I personally don’t think is a very good strategy), governments who do the bidding of the entertainment industry, and perhaps controversially, the likes of Apple and Facebook, according to Brin. The inclusion of the two tech giants, and Google competitors, may seem a bit cynical, but Brin’s main point is that the closed, proprietary nature of Apple/Facebook (probably needs to add Amazon to the list too) means that they have full control of what can and cannot be done on their platforms, which goes against the principles of the open web. But while Google embraces open source and should be commended for it, anyone who makes websites will know that Google themselves are not exactly that transparent when it comes to a lot of issues, and their practical monopoly on the search market gives them the same sort of power that Apple/Facebook derive from having more proprietary platforms.

With Apple under fire for eBook price fixing from the DoJ, and Apple firing back by calling Amazon a monopoly, a lot of what Brin is saying does make a lot of sense. The role that DRM plays in all of this is actually quite interesting. Even though it was originally designed to prevent piracy, DRM these days are far more effective at solidifying monopolies and preventing competition. By locking proprietary formats to hardware platforms, and tying DRM to these proprietary formats, it all sounds a bit more sinister than simple copyright enforcement. Most publishers are stupid and paranoid enough to actually want the DRM, but this insatiable appetite for unreliable technology is also driving out the small players from the market, one such small player revealed this week. The cost of DRM, the actual financial cost, is quite large for a new start-up – often in the tens of thousands, not even including the technical knowledge requirements. This means that as long as publishers are still keen on DRM (to offer them that false sense of security they crave), it benefits the big guys at the expense of the smaller players, and the monopolistic situation this creates in the end probably hurts the publishers more than had they not used DRM (DRM mostly only prevents casual piracy, the type where people share the same eBook with friends, as opposed to straight up piracy where pirate groups can easily circumvent DRM and upload the content online for all the enjoy).

AFACT vs iiNet

AFACT vs iiNet, The Final Chapter - the good guys, iiNet, wins in the end in your typical Hollywood style ending. Ironic.

Good news, that may soon turn to bad in Australia – our second largest ISP here managed to actually win a copyright case against the Hollywood-backed AFACT. So for now at least, ISPs have been found to be largely not responsible for the actions of its subscribers. The High Court also found that ISPs does not need to deal with infringement notices that are not accompanied by a court order – going totally against the precedents being set in other countries, where ISPs have been made the scapegoats in the war against piracy. And as this was a High Court decision, the highest court in the land, the win is final, and no more appeals can be granted. An obviously embarrassed AFACT, who have long been accused of taking orders directly from the MPAA (with Wikileaks documents showing that’s exactly what happened with this legal case), will now deploy a new tactic. They have blamed the existing copyright laws for not being biased enough towards rights holders, and want them changed so that, in the future, they could easily win lawsuits such as this one. This is where the possible bad news may come from, as the government bails out the AFACT by implementing new laws. So it’s just like that old saying, if you can’t beat them, have the rules changed so you can!

I’ve always felt that making ISPs liable for the activities of their users, especially when most ISPs don’t even have the capability to monitor the user’s downloads, was suspect. I’m not quite sure if the phone or electricity company analogy fully applies to ISPs, but I don’t think it’s that far off. These companies, like ISPs, provide a service to users, and users are liable for how they use the service. The only difference is that ISPs are made to be different under the DMCA (there’s no DMCA or equivalent for the phone company, for example), but they really shouldn’t be. The content holders will argue that it’s much easier for ISPs to spy on their subscribers and to stop their illegal activities. But just because it’s easy, does it really mean that it should happen? By all means, the ISP should take action if there’s a corresponding court order, but for “infringement notices”, which are merely untested allegations, why should the ISP be liable for something that’s hasn’t even been established to be illegal yet?

Rapidshare logo

RapidShare is rapidly turning into the MPAA and RIAA's best friend, with a new manifesto that destroys the rights of its users to appease its new friends

There’s probably a better term for it, but for me, the issue of web piracy has suffered from a lot of “legal slippage”. What I mean is that, because the problem has been so widespread, and the impact of the problem so exaggerated by the usual suspects, there’s this acceptance that corners need to be cut in order to “streamline” the legal process. So due process is out, and even basic distinctions like “evidence” and “proof” has been blurred to the point where “allegation” has become “guilt”. The lobbyists have pushed for this outcome, the government has been supportive, and the tech companies have been scared into accepting it all. Which is why it was disappointing, but not too surprising, to read RapidShare’s manifesto on “Responsible Practices for Cloud Storage Providers”, a defeatist piece of article that signals the surrender of the cloud storage industry to the power of the entertainment lobby. According to the manifesto, of the various aspect of DMCA takedown request, including its validity, the only factor that actually matter is the actual formatting. If it’s properly formatted, then RapidShare says that the takedown request should be deemed valid, even if it’s for something ridiculous like removing open source software. So, in RapidShare’s eyes, it’s perfectly reasonable for me to get a competitor’s RapidShare account closed down as long as I submit a *properly formatted* DMCA request, and if my request turns out to be invalid, then it’s up to my competitor to prove that it is (in RapidShare’s own words, it’s up to the user to explain “why the suspicions are unfounded”), and for them to take legal action against me for filing a false request (if I was stupid enough to use my real name in the first place). This must give the business users of RapidShare real confidence in the reliability of the service.

Worse yet, those same business users that use RapidShare to privately store and share commercially confidential information should be even more worried about RapidShare’s stated policy of reserving the right to “inspect” the files for users who have failed to prove their innocence.

What, no strip searches?

High Definition

Nothing much happening HD wise, although this one story about Sony’s upcoming archival storage format was interesting, mostly due to the reaction to it.

Sony’s announced a new archival storage format, based on the Blu-ray format, that aims to offer 1.5TB of storage. It does it in a pretty old fashioned way, by putting as many as 12 discs into the same cartridge unit (so 12 times 125GB BDXL equals 1.5TB). By the time I saw the story, it had already gathered a lot of attention, which I thought was weird for a product aimed mainly at broadcasters and corporations. A lot of the comments were the usual “why pay $$$ for this when you can get a 1.5TB HDD for $79″ and the like, and as much as I like to bash Sony, and I really do, I felt compelled to write the story just so I can clarify a few things here.

A 1.5TB HDD will definitely be cheaper than Sony’s proprietary drive and disc cartridge system, but they’re for entirely different purposes. For archival storage, data retention is everything, and an active system like a hard-drive with mechanical bits and bobs is not best. So optical discs do have a few advantages here, and you can’t really blame Sony for using Blu-ray as the basis of this new format. Putting 12 discs in a cartridge may seem like a “dumb” solution, especially since it appears the cartridge simply act as a carousel system, and doesn’t allow for parallel writes and reads (so only one disc is extracted from the cartridge and written/read at a time), but for archival purposes where you’re only likely to write to disc once (and, if things go well, never actually read the damn thing), it gets the job done. Using an active hard-drive for archival storage is suicidal, unless it’s part of a well maintained array of discs, which doesn’t seem to make much sense from an economics point of view.

I also did a bit of research to see if SSDs are more suited to these kind of tasks, considering mechanical drives are on the way out – but SSDs data retention may actually be worse if you don’t get the right type of drive, as the electrons used to “store” the data may leak to the point where the data simply disappears (this info comes via a web forum, so it may in fact be made up). So it seems optical discs, at least for archive purposes, do have a role to play, although whether they’re better than current tape based systems, I don’t know and really don’t care to know since I’ve already spent way too much time researching and writing about something that’s not even remotely interesting to most people.

But for those that are interested in these kind of things, here’s a forum thread that may help you waste a few hours of your life.

That’s probably as good a place to stop writing, so I can stop wasting your time, but mainly because I’ve run out of things to write about. See you next week.

Game Consoles – March 2012 NPD Sales Figure Analysis

Monday, April 16th, 2012

The March 2012 NPD figures are out for US video game sales, and the industry is looking for any signs that indicate things may be on the up again, following a pretty poor January and February period. It is also the first time in 2012 that included the release of an A-list title, Mass Effect 3.

As NPD no longer releases full hardware sales figures, this feature is reliant on the game companies, namely Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony, to release their set of figures and based on “statement math” (that is, arithmetically calculate missing figures based on statements made). For March 2012, these are the statements made by the gaming companies:

  • Nintendo revealed that “nearly” 175,000 Wiis were sold in March (via IGN)
  • Microsoft revealed 371,000 Xbox 360 units were sold, with 42% of the home based console market share (source)
  • Sony did not reveal any figures for the PS3

A little bit of “statement maths” tells us that a little more than 337,000 PS3s were sold.

And so the figures for US sales in March 2012 are below, ranked in order of number of sales (March 2011 figures also shown when available, including percentage change):

  • Xbox 360: 371,000 (Total: 33.7 million; March 2011: 433,000 – down 14.3%)
  • PS3: 337,000 (Total: 20.7 million; March 2011: N/A)
  • Wii: 175,000 (Total: 39.3 million; March 2011: 290,000 – down 39.7%)
NPD March 2012 Game Console US Sales Figures

NPD March 2012 Game Console US Sales Figures

NPD Game Console Total US Sales Figures (as of March 2012)

NPD Game Console Total US Sales Figures (as of March 2012)

My prediction was:

March is traditionally a slightly slower month than February, so while the year-on-year downward trend may continue, there is the release of an A-list title in Mass Effect 3. The hardware sales order should remain the same.

The release of Mass Effect 3 really didn’t help hardware numbers, and March was, as expected, down compared to February, with the hardware order exactly the same as last month as well.

For the Xbox 360, this marks the 15 months in a row that the console has beaten the Wii and the PS3 as the best selling console for the month – a terrific result, and surprising considering what had happened just before the run began (the Wii had a huge lead for the first couple of years, and the PS3 Slim/price cut seems to have rejuvenated the system – then the Xbox 360 released its own “Slim” version, followed shortly by Kinect, and it has never looked back). Microsoft PR was also keen to point out that “Total retail spend on the Xbox 360 platform in March (hardware, software and accessories) reached $430 million, the most for any console in the U.S. and more than the spend on PS3 and Wii combined” – for all the talk of console numbers and consecutive sales leads, in the end, it’s the income that’s important, and the 360 is doing pretty well. The stellar performance of Mass Effect 3 on the platform was also a talking point, but we’ll cover that later on when we discuss game sales.

For the PS3, March can be seen as a positive one, with the PS3 only selling 34,000 fewer units than the 360 – the gap between the two consoles has narrowed in recent month. The exiting of Wii from the competitive home based console race, making it really a two horsed race, has probably helped the PS3 absorb a few more buyers, and it was the console that appears to have done the best when you do a year-on-year comparison for March. Still, it’s looking unlikely that the PS3 would catch the Xbox 360 in this generation (in the US of course, globally, that’s a different matter), even with the price cut that analysts have been calling for (which Microsoft can easily match). But while there is still some life, not much, but some in Kinect (with Star Wars Kinect just being released, plus Kinect support for Mass Effect 3 and Skyrim), the PlayStation Move appears to be dead in the water for now.

As mentioned above, the Wii is now selling around only half as many units as the PS3, not to mention the Xbox 360, and the final few month of the console as Nintendo’s lead home based platform could be a painful few. Like most Wii owners, Nintendo are now probably very keen to move on to something better. It’s probably a bit too early to provide an eulogy for the platform, as there’s still a good chance it may still end up staying the best selling console of this generation (in the US) if the Xbox 360 can’t make up the 6 million difference between now and when it too is retired.

For games, March was all about Mass Effect 3, and having sold 1.3 million units, it was the clear number one – the next best was Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City with less than half as many copies sold. ME3 also sold more than twice as many copies as ME2 when it first came out. For Microsoft, a little extra celebration is called for, as ME3 sold 4 times as many copies on the Xbox 360 than on the PS3. The sheer dominance of the Xbox 360 version can most likely be attributed to the first game in the series not being available on the PS3, and the nature of the series itself which allows gamers to continue on using save files from the previous game. Actually, if you look at the table below, you’ll see lots of new releases, but sales still managed to decline 26% compared to a year ago. Here’s the full software sales chart for March (new releases shown in bold):

  1. Mass Effect 3 (EA – Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
  2. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (Capcom – Xbox 360, PS3)
  3. MLB 12: The Show (Sony – PS3, PSV)
  4. NBA 2K12 (Take-Two Interactive, Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii, PC)
  5. SSX 2012 (EA – Xbox 360, PS3)
  6. Street Fighter X Tekken (Capcom – Xbox 360, PS3)
  7. Mario Party 9 (Nintendo – Wii)
  8. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Activision, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC)
  9. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations (Namco Bandai – Xbox 360, PS3)
  10. Major League Baseball 2K12 (Take-Two Interactive, Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii, NDS, PC)

So prediction time. April is traditionally a very slow month, what with the Easter break and everything, so if the industry is looking forward to better results, it will be disappointed. The sales order for the consoles should remain the same. The list of new games being released looks quite lacking indeed, with Kinect Star Wars and The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings looking like the picks of the bunch on the 360, and hardly any new games of note on the PS3 judging by the current sales charts.

See you next month.

Weekly News Roundup (15 April 2012)

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. Not a very busy weeks judging by the number of news stories, so hopefully we can get this done rather quickly. I’ve been busy working on that little update for Digital Digest, which I promise will be launched next week, even if it’s still only half-completed (to be fair, it’s more like 80% completed). And you know I’m serious about meeting this rather artificial deadline by the fact that I didn’t even play that much Skyrim this past week!

One development that came too late in the week to be included was the March NPD results, and I’ll write the full report early next week.

Copyright

Let’s start with the copyright news, starting with the revelation that, even within the MPAA itself, not everyone was convinced that SOPA was the right solution for the web piracy problem.

SOPA Protests

It seems the anti-SOPA/PIPA sentiment was also alive and well within the MPAA itself (photo credits: Alain-Christian @ flickr)

When the anti-SOPA Internet Society hired a former MPAA executive, there was a bit of a controversy as you would expect. This prompted the MPAA’s former chief technology policy officer, Paul Brigner, to come out and explain a few things about his new appointment, including his apparent opposition to SOPA/PIPA. It seems Brigner left the MPAA at least partially because he felt SOPA was not the right solution to the piracy problem, and that SOPA and other “mandated technical solutions” are not “mutually compatible with the health of the Internet”. If the MPAA can’t even convince it’s own tech policy officer of the merits of SOPA, perhaps it really doesn’t have much merit at all.

But you get the feeling that the MPAA will never be fully satisfied until they get the power to not only squash any website it wants, but also to force others (like ISPs, governments) to help them do most of the heavy lifting. They will have ruined the Internet by then of course, probably only to find out that piracy has not only not slowed, but it has shifted to other parts of the Internet that can’t be easily controlled or legislated. And that, without argument, would be a far worse situation than what the one today.

It appears “blowback” invariably happens every time the copyright lobby launches a new crackdown, especially using technological measures. Every DRM has been met with an even stronger anti-DRM. Going after torrent sites have only resulted in more resilient torrenting methods. Which seems to indicate that going after video embedding, the MPAA’s latest manoeuvre, may backfire as well. The MPAA is getting itself involved in a legal showdown that originally only involved an adult entertainment company, Flava Works, and myVidster, a website that allowed people to post and share their video embeds, but  now includes the likes of Google, Facebook, the EFF, and of course, the MPAA. The tech giants saw the original court ruling, which was in favour of Flava Works, as severely flawed, setting a precedent that could have huge repercussions for the entire Internet. The judge in the case failed to make the distinction between linking/embedding, and hosting, something that could make Google Images liable for the copyright infringement of any image in its database for example, or make Facebook sharing a legal minefield. There was also the issue of a “repeat infringer” policy, or Flava Works’ claim that myVidster did not have one, and how it relates to linked/embedded and hosted infringement. It seems to me that the DMCA is rather unclear about what a “repeat infringer” is, and it seems the law leaves service providers and Internet intermediaries to define what it actually means and what kind of policy to implement, even if it is one not to the satisfactory of content holders. And since myVidster did have a working DMCA take-down process, and that it did not host anything, the ruling seems a bit harsh. Also, you have to question why Flava Works went after myVidster, instead of going after the hosts of the actual videos, the dime a dozen porn tube sites. The responsibility cannot keep on flowing downwards until you get to someone that’s easier to sue.

Hotfile

Hotfile's expert says the most downloaded files on their network were two open source files

An anti-MPAA theme seems to be developing this week, since the only other copyright story is also MPAA related. This one has to do with the MPAA’s lawsuit against Hotfile, where the MPAA, using their own expert, argued that 90% of all downloads on Hotfile were infringing content, and that the Hotfile had few, if any, legitimate uses. This week it was revealed that Hotfile’s own expert, Duke University law professor James Boyle, found that this really wasn’t the case at all. Professor Boyle found that in actual fact, the two most downloaded files on Hotfile were actually open source software, with more than 1.5 million downloads between them. And while the “90%” figure wasn’t entirely debunked, and I think it’s hard to argue against the fact that a large percentage of total downloads on file hosting sites like Hotfile and Megaupload are of the infringing nature, I think in terms of the sheer number of different uploads (ie. not taking into account the number of downloads), I suspect there is also a large percentage of non infringing files on these networks (your typical spreadsheet, Word doc, PDF, home videos and other files too large to share via email, that may very well only be downloaded once, but still a key reason why people use file hosting sites).

This really is another grey area in the law. Take an extreme example where 90% of all different files on Hotfile were non infringing, but 90% of all downloads were infringing, then would Hotfile’s non infringing uses make it legal, assuming the website had a working DMCA process? How much is too much, and how much is “enough” when it comes to anti-piracy?

High Definition

I read an interesting article this week on Forbes’ blog, where the headline was “Sony’s Blues Caused By Blu-ray”, a rather controversial title if you ask me.

The actual article, despite the headline, did cover more than just Blu-ray, and it did raise a couple of interesting points. So are Sony’s recent woes caused by Blu-ray? The recent woes being the global layoffs and the lack of profitability, of course, but to blame it on Blu-ray seems a bit counter-intuitive, considering Blu-ray seems to be the only recent success for Sony.

But what the Forbes blog, written by contributor Stephen Pope, was perhaps trying to say is that while Blu-ray is a victory for Sony, it just wasn’t a big enough victory to help the company stay profitable, and that in the end, it may even only a fleeting victory, considering the growing popularity of streaming vs discs.

Sony Blu-ray

Sony's Blu-ray victory may be short lived, as consumers are keen to move onto streaming (photo credits: mroach @ flickr)

I’ve long held the believe that Sony lost its dominance in the gaming sector by allowing the Xbox 360 to be a viable successor to the PS2, due to the one year delay in releasing the PS3 and the high initial cost of the hardware – both factors very much related to the included Blu-ray support. So while the PS3 helped Sony win the HD format wars, it also hindered Sony in keeping their dominance in the gaming arena. Looking at the current range of multi-platform games and the quality difference between the PC/Xbox 360 DVD version of the PS3 Blu-ray version, it seems the Blu-ray disc’s superior capacity has done little to actually benefit the gaming experience. And while the platform exclusives do try and make the best use of Blu-ray, they just aren’t selling enough to make a huge difference compared to the mega multi-platform franchises of Call of Duty or FIFA or GTA.

And streaming certainly does look like the future, if only for the fact that discs and the drives that read them are just not compatible with today’s portable devices. There is also a trend to consume more content (often for less money), and the physical cost and space that discs (and their packaging) requires, puts a limit on this consumption (while raising the price of it – last year, the average price people paid for streaming content was 51 cents, compared to $4.72 for discs). And access, with discs being limited to what you have purchased or what your rental outlet has in stock, just can’t compete with a streaming digital library of hundreds of thousands of titles that will never “run out of copies” (or suffer from bad scratches).

And even in terms of data storage, the 50GB Blu-ray offers, or even the 100+GB of BDXL pales in comparison to the TBs of data people need these days for their digital needs. So you have a multi-TB drive the size of a small book versus shelves full of BDs that you have to take time to burn, label, organize, that actually costs many more times than the drive – even in data storage, Blu-ray may be too little, too late.

So Pope certainly makes a few valid points, although I would say the biggest problem for Sony is that it is neither the design powerhouse that is Apple (Sony is at times too preoccupied with things like copy protection to consider things like ease of use, in my opinion), nor can it compete in the value stakes with the likes of Samsung (a company that’s also doing more on the innovation front than Sony, in my opinion).

Gaming

For gaming, the March NPD was yet another victory for the Xbox 360 (that’s 15 months in a row where the Xbox 360 has been the top selling home based console), although being the best of a bad bunch may not be such a meaningful award.

Also interesting was the news that Mass Effect 3 sold 4 times as many copies on the Xbox 360 than on the PS3 (I’m assuming this is North America only). This is perhaps a special case because the game carries on your saved progress from the last game in the series, not helped by the fact that the original game wasn’t even available on the PS3 (instead, relying on an interactive comic to record the key decision carried over from the first game). Also not helping is the fact that the PS3 is getting itself a rather bad reputation for having inferior multi-platform games, not just on ME3, but also on the other mega franchises such as Skyrim and CoD.

And I guess I also have to mention Skyrim’s upcoming Kinect support for the Xbox 360 version. The preview video looks pretty cool, although it looks like the game will only take advantage of Kinect’s voice support (and so the same features can probably be replicated via the PlayStation Eye’s microphone, if Sony really wanted it to happen by giving Bethesda some financial incentives, or making it really easy programming wise to do so. Some of the new Kinect features are already available via PC mods though, with a normal microphone, or even via the Kinect connected to your PC).

Screaming Fus Ro Dah at your TV is probably the geekiest thing anyone will do this year!

The unrelenting force of my addiction to Skyrim means that, just by mentioning it, I now have the sudden urge to play it for another hour or two. Which of course means we’ve come to the end of this WNR. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (8 April 2012)

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

So my pretty half-hearted attempt at an April Fools Day joke did actually fool a few people, although as you’ll read later on in this WNR, that little made up news article might really have been a preview into the future.

It’s been two weeks since my last mention of Skyrim, but rest assured, I’m still playing. 125 hours through, I think I’m about half way through the available quests (but having only completed just 2 of the questlines so far). Well worth the $50 or so I spent on the game (compare that to, say, your typical 2 hour movie on Blu-ray for $20, it’s excellent value).

Now onto the news …

Copyright

Staring with copyright news, I’ve made the point before that, despite conventional logic, decreasing piracy should not be the end goal of anti-piracy – instead, the goal should be to increase revenue.

And I’ve also made the argument that I don’t think all piracy leads to revenue loss – in fact, I think most acts of piracy don’t actually lead to any loss in sales, as these acts are performed by people who really don’t buy a lot of stuff, or don’t have the resources to buy any more.

Hadopi Report

France's "Hadopi" three-strikes law seems to have dramatically reduced piracy, without actually increasing revenue

With anti-piracy efforts around the world ramping up, and the closure of several well known (alleged) piracy haunts, it would be extremely interesting to see the full financial impact of this expected piracy reduction, some say by as much as 40% in specific sectors (music, for one, after the closure of LimeWire). And so when Hadpoi, the French agency tasked with managing their “three-strikes” regime, released a report detailing the success of the program, with headline making statements such as “69% reduction” in piracy rates, this might have been just what was needed to see the real relationship between piracy and revenue. But while the report made ever bigger claims about the effect the regime had on piracy, what was sorely missing though were hard evidence of a rise in revenue, which as I’ve noted above, should have been the real goal of the whole exercise.

And while Hadopi might have been coy on the financial side of things, it just happens that most industry financial figures are public and available online. Looking at the French music and movie industry, and their performances in 2011 compared to 2010 (a full year with “three-strikes” in effect), the figures, if interpreted in a silly way, may actually point to the opposite: that piracy may have been helping sales!

The French recorded music industry recorded a contraction of 3.9% in 2011, while the movie industry didn’t fare much better, with revenue down 2.7%. In fact, the music industry’s loss was actually greater than the global average of 3%, possibly significant given that most of these other countries still have laws that are perceived to be much weaker than France’s.  Of course, to come to the conclusion that piracy was helping to fuel sales would be silly, and a mis-use of stats, and I guess it would also be slightly disingenuous to say that the piracy reduction didn’t have a positive effect on revenue. But what is clear is that there isn’t a 1:1 relationship between piracy and revenue loss, certainly not to the extent that the content industries have been trying to tell us.

What may be true is that the ever changing digital scene may have had a greater impact on the fortunes of both industries than the forced habit change of pirates in France. The music industry’s figures did show a dramatic increase in digital download revenue, higher than the global average, and that may be interpreted as a positive effect from “three-strikes”. But on the other hand, the introduction and adoption of new digital services such as Spotify, may actually be the main driving factor behind increasing sales. Similarly, while physical disc sales for the movie industry were down, VOD and other digital services recorded huge growth. So what may be actually happening is that new services are finally giving people, who used to pirate, the convenience (and the price point) they were craving. Unfortunately, most of these services probably earn less for their respective industries than compared to physical sales – sales that these industries had more control over. So innovation appears to be winning the war against piracy (who’d have thunk it?), but by being overly cautious and being overly obsessed with anti-piracy and DRM, the industries that had most to gain from this digital revolution can now only watch from the sidelines as companies like Apple, Amazon and Netflix take over a large part of the distribution process (and as a result, a large portion of the profits too). You snooze, you lose.

Viacom Logo

Viacom is still trying to fight YouTube, despite today's YouTube being totally different to the one it sued

It’s still not too late for them though, as they still control the content. As long as they realise the errors of their ways, and start embracing change, instead of fighting innovation, the content industries can still come out ahead as they have done with every technological transition that they have initially opposed. But that’s probably a little too optimistic, as these industries believe they’re in a fight for their lives, and they won’t quit until it’s probably too late. Take Viacom, who this week won an appeal to have their lawsuit against YouTube re-heard in court. The problem is that the YouTube that Viacom wanted to sue no longer exists, things have moved on piracy wise on the site, partially via threats such as their original lawsuit, but mostly due to changing user habits – and it is now a platform that companies like Viacom should want to be part of. Viacom, for their part, has been making the efforts, signing deals with Google to distribute their content via YouTube and Google Play and such, but you don’t really know if it’s them truly embracing the trend, or doing so reluctantly because everyone else is doing it (but still secretly want things back to the way it was). And if they do want to embrace services like YouTube, then why not just drop a lawsuit that they probably can’t win anyway?

Chris Dodd

MPAA chief Chris Dodd still holds out hope for SOPA/PIPA, and may have to "Bully" some tech companies into line to support future legislation

If the industry could only chill out and become a little bit less paranoid about piracy, perhaps we wouldn’t have the types of limitations, via geo-restriction, timed release windows and DRM, that technology providers have to contend with. And without these limitations, we may finally have a product or service that’s better than piracy, maybe not with a straight price comparison, but would be convenient and non-intrusive enough for people to not bother with torrents. Having access to all episodes of Stargate SG-1 via a $7.99 per month Netflix account, as opposed to downloading all the DVD-rips, for example (and an example that seems to be actually working in practice right now, judging by the relatively small number of leechers for the complete rip of the series on The Pirate Bay). But perhaps this too is far too optimistic, with MPAA’s chairman Chris Dodd this week still holding on to the hope that SOPA and PIPA will eventually pass through Congress (my April Fools Day joke news article aside), suggesting we haven’t seen the end of Hollywood and the record industry’s support for short-sighted and draconian non-solutions to the web piracy problem. Unfortunately, Dodd’s statement itself may not be considered that optimistic, as there are signs in the last few weeks (from the White House and beyond) that support is building again for SOPA like legislation. Meanwhile, the MPAA will certainly try to “Bully” more politicians into supporting it, while making sure this time these supporters won’t backflip just because a million or ten  come out in opposition to any proposed legislation. We all need to get ready for another fight.

Speaking of paranoid, the MPAA’s latest fear is that Megaupload would somehow get access to the data stored on their (former) servers and would somehow re-launch Megaupload, perhaps in another jurisdiction. Considering the fact that the Megaupload guys actually want to avoid prison, I suspect there’s little, if any chance Megaupload could be relaunched. But this latest MPAA manoeuvre will make it harder for users to get back their legitimate files, not that the MPAA cares or anything.

Gaming

In gaming news this week, I wrote a brief round-up of the latest “PS4″ and “Xbox 720″ rumours, starting with more creative names for both next-gen consoles.

Sony’s next console will have the codename Orbis, while Microsoft has chosen Durango. Orbis and Durango (sounds like two characters from a kid friendly adventure game), seems to have more similarities than differences, with both reported to be using AMD technology to drive both the CPU and GPU.

Not only that, both consoles seem keen to deploy some kind of anti second-hand game system, where each disc is locked to an account, and money needs to be paid (to Sony and Microsoft, who up until now have not been part of the second hand trade) to unlock a disc for another account. The latest rumours even sees Microsoft’s Durango borrow from Ubisoft’s playbook, with a requirement for a constant-on Internet connection (hope it isn’t true, because that would suck).

With neither console scheduled to make an appearance until late 2013, it’s perhaps a bit too early to take any rumours that seriously at this stage. Not that you should take anything I write seriously, April Fools or otherwise.

And on that serious/not serious note, that’s all I have for you this week. It’s not much, but it will have to do until next week. Happy Easter, Passover, and any other religious or non religious holidays that I may or may not be aware of.