Weekly News Roundup (13 January 2013)

It’s back to work for most people, which sucks, but at least there does seem to be news again. Yeah, that’s just what you need after your first week back at work, a long and ranty WNR to read!

I’ll try to keep this as painless as possible, so let’s not waste more time.

Copyright

A new study has proved what most of us suspected anyway, that DMCA take-downs, and even closing down the likes of Megapload won’t really do much in terms of reducing the availability of pirated downloads from cyberlocker sites.

The problem, according to the study, is that the moment you remove one upload, many others pop up in its place. And even removing entire file hosting websites, either through censorship, domain seizures or a well coordinated international law enforcement action like with the Megaupload shutdown, won’t work because new sites will just pop up the next day. In fact, the closure of Megaupload may have had a detrimental effect on efforts to curb cyberlocker piracy, because it has fragmented the upload scene to the point where uploaders are uploading to multiple cyberlocker sites to avoid any one being taken down. It’s like blowing up a big asteroid headed for earth, only for it to fragment into thousands of smaller and still dangerous pieces still coming at you.

In other words, the cat-and-mouse game between pirates and those seeking to reduce pirated uploads is being truly, fundamentally and comprehensively won by the mice. Not surprising when the ratio is probably something like 17,374 mice to every cat, mind you.

Rapidshare logo

RapidShare is forcing its users to go legit with transfer caps, which has only managed to force some of its users to transfer to competing services

So what’s the solution? RapidShare’s solution to keep pirated content off its network is to implement a transfer cap system that went into effect in late November. Since then, RapidShare’s pageview traffic appears to have dropped by more than a third, although it has no doubt led to probably an even greater reduction in the amount of pirated content on the network. But all this means is that piracy was shifted to other sites.

For those file hosting providers that are not self-policing, the study suggests that perhaps going after payment providers that some of the more blatantly pro-piracy cyberlockers may be more effective, but the best way the study concludes, as it always has been, is to innovate. Instead of trying to reduce piracy, reduce the demand for piracy by introducing good value, innovative services that people actually want to use. An obvious solution that the content industry seems totally oblivious to.

Innovation can be expensive and prone to disaster though. But part of the reason why the content industries don’t seem to innovate as much as, say, the IT industry, in my opinion, is that the content industries (especially the music and movie mobs) seem to enjoy special protection through copyright legislation. This means they have very little incentive to do anything new when there’s already legislation there to protect your ageing business model, and plenty of opportunity to pay for new legislation. This is the kind of thing borne out of the initial desire to “protect” capitalism by some misguided notion that this means giving corporations whatever they want, the kind of thing which actually leads away from the free market capitalism model that the politicians creating these kind of laws actually believe in.

This was something raised by Republican Study Committee (RSC) staffer Derek Khanna in his copyright memo, now simply referred to as that “sensible” one. You know the one that was canned almost instantly after it was published by the RSC, and possibly the catalyst behind the  firing of Derek. This week, Derek, now out of a job, was able to speak  for the first time about the entire ordeal.

Derek Khanna

Derek Khanna, the RSC staffer fired after writing a sensible memo on copyright, speaks out on his ordeal

The RSC canned the memo because it claimed that insufficient review had gone into the memo before it was published, but according to Derek, there was nothing out of the ordinary for the process that went into getting his memo published. If anything, it received more feedback than what is deemed necessary.

What was surprising to Derek, but hopefully not to readers of the WNR, was the backlash the memo received from the content industries. All Derek had wanted was to start a debate, but it seems that’s the last thing movie studios and record labels, long since a protected species under the guardianship of the political structure in Washington, wanted.

As for the firing, Derek was unable to speak candidly about it for obvious reasons, but according to the The Washington Examiner, Tennessee congresswoman Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who has close ties to the record industry due to her district’s geographical location in the suburbs of Nashville, was somewhat instrumental in kicking Derek out of the RSC. So for now, the record industry (and the movie industry) remains a protected species, but one that has had its instincts dulled to the point where it isn’t able to live unassisted in the wild, not with competing species the likes of Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Spotify all flourishing on their own abilities. This is not a sustainable situation, in my opinion.

High Definition

If you had to sum up this year’s CES using using 5 unique letters and a single number, then OLED and 4K is all you need. The 4K hype seems to be gathering pace especially quickly.

Almost all of the major TV manufactures announced both OLED TVs and 4K TVs (or TVs with both), even though in my opinion, OLED is going to be the one that makes the most immediate impact. Boring old 1080p OLED TVs can tap into the vast amount of existing HD content and improve them immediately, but the lack of native 4K content should keep 4K away from the mainstream for a while yet.

Samsung Curve OLED TV

OLED might make the more immediate impact between it and 4K, as exhibitors at this year’s CES show off their OLED TVs, including this curved one

Sony has seen the content problem, and devised their own solutions of sorts – “Mastered in 4K” Blu-ray movies. Soon, Sony will release movies mastered from pristine 4K transfers (which isn’t actually something that hasn’t been done before, by many other studios, eg. Jaws) with extra focus on quality through the use of extra bitrate (those old enough will remember Sony’s similar attempt with Superbit DVDs). These Blu-ray titles, when upscaled and displayed on 4K TVs, is said to present a “near 4K” picture, which is actually kind of cynical when you think about it. That you can fluff around with a, no doubt super looking, 1080p stream and make people believe it’s “near 4K” probably says more about the lack of perceivable difference 4K TV is going to make, especially if one isn’t sitting within touching distance of the screen, or aren’t in possession of a 85″ monster. It’s also questionable whether simply throwing bits at an AVC/VC-1 encoding will actually dramatically improve the picture, diminished returns and all that.

Well at the very least it’s better than Sony’s current solution to the lack of 4K content problem, notably “loaning” 4K TV owners with hard-drives pre-loaded with selected 4K content. Their upcoming online 4K video distribution service does sound a bit more promising though.

The truth of the matter is, due to the limited nature of the human perception system in relation to small details, 4K TVs aren’t going to be the game changer that HDTV was, not unless you go above a certain size (at which point the pixel spacing problem may rear its ugly head). OLED’s superb and vibrant colours and deep deep blacks will give you a much bigger “wow factor”, even with existing 1080p content of which there’s a plentiful supply of. Now combine OLED and 4K, and you may have something that’s really really tempting, as long as you can stomach the astronomical price tag, that is.

Gaming

The December US NPD numbers are out, and once again, the Xbox 360 was on top. This is despite the global situation being reversed, with Sony’s PS3 just having managed  to outsell the Xbox 360 in the worldwide race, despite the Xbox 360 having had a year’s head start. But the situation in the US is actually getting worse for the PS3, with Microsoft happily promoting the fact that its Xbox 360, which sold 1.4 million units in December, sold more than twice as many units as the unnamed next best non-portable console, which had to be the PS3 because the Wii and Wii U sold nowhere near 700,000 units (475,000 and 460,000 units respectively for the Wiis).

The Xbox 360′s 1.4 million units, while impressive, still represented a 17% decline compared to December from a year ago. Still, the decline was smaller than in recent months.

Overall, 2012 was a disappointing year for the gaming industry revenue wise, at least compared to 2011. The age of the current generation of consoles is a major factor, but the lack of new game releases, 29% less than 2011, also contributed to a very lackluster year. On average though, each SKU generated 8% more unit sales and 11% more revenue, so there’s definitely some silver lining in this cloud.

Well, that’s that for the first real news week of 2013. See you next week.

R.I.P Aaron Swartz

 


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