Weekly News Roundup (17 February 2013)
A belated Happy Chinese New Year of the Snake. I was born in the year of the Monkey, and they say only the Monkey can handle Snakes, so all your Snakes better behave yourselves. Those born in the Year of the Snake should also wear something red on them at all times to deflect bad luck, preferably something given to them rather than something they’ve bought themselves.
In this first WNR for the Year of the Snake (technically not true), there are quite a few news items to go through, so let’s get started.
Joining the list of people who really shouldn’t be downloading pirated videos may be FBI employees, caught downloading hit TV shows such as Homeland and Dexter. They join employees from Hollywood studios, the DoJ, congressional offices, national parliaments, anti-piracy lobbyists and many other places where they’re pretty sensitive about this whole Internet piracy things.
And even if they weren’t downloading at work, something most people would probably not do, many are probably downloading in the privacy of their own homes.
While this highlights how widespread the “problem” of piracy is, to me, this isn’t actually reason to take harsher action against it. I liken this Piracy Plague® to jaywalking, something that almost everyone does (while knowing they probably shouldn’t), and that they do get in trouble if they’re caught doing it, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not exactly a high priority for law enforcement (even though jaywalking, unlike pirated downloads, can lead to a life and death situations, so it’s actually more serious than piracy will ever be). I guess the difference is that there is no such thing as an anti-jaywalking lobby group (Car Manufacturers of America? ), so nobody cares.
The other major difference being that there is no monetary loss involved, although that’s debatable with piracy as well.
But there also exist a difference in solving these two problems. If it is identified that people are jaywalking in particular area, and it’s leading to a public safety issue, I would hope there’s an effort to find out why people are jaywalking excessively in this area, but not in others. Perhaps the lack of pedestrian crossings could be the issue. But for piracy, there’s strong pressure against finding out why it happens, with the focus is instead on labeling people who download as criminals, and leveling penalties against them. So instead of adding a pedestrian crossing to fix the problem, the focus would instead be on an ad campaign linking jaywalking to terrorism or something like that, and then setting up a hidden police presence around the corner and fining those that get caught, all the while ignoring the real cause of the “infringement”.
But soon there may be a new and better way for these FBI agents to get their Homeland fix. BitTorrent Inc has launched a new cyberlocker storage service that promises unlimited uploads, and unlimited transfer limits, and uses BitTorrent technology to speed up downloads. The new service, SoShare, has just been made live as a public beta test, and only requires a browser plug-in in order to utilize the BitTorrent based enhancements.
SoShare works by allowing the the uploader and downloaders to use their own bandwidth to help other downloaders speed up their downloads, much like how BitTorrent works. A master copy of the file is also store on SoShare’s servers to allow downloading to continue even if the original uploader is not online.
So with BitTorrent coming to the under pressure cyberlocker scene, the most immediate question that comes to mind, at least for me, is the copyright question. A quick look at SoShare’s copyright policy shows all the typical DMCA related information, but as SoShare does store a copy of the uploaded file, therein lies the danger from a copyright point of view. SoShare will have to be extra responsive to DMCA takedown requests to protect themselves. So far, the service is offered for free, with no monetization and no financial incentives for uploaders, which should also offer some additional protection if the service is ever accused of “incentivizing” illegal uploads.
But for downloaders, SoShare downloading may be a better bet privacy wise than BitTorrent downloads. While not much is known about how exactly the service works, one would hope it does not easily make public the details of all connections to the download swarm like BitTorrent naturally does.
In other news, The Pirate Bay is threatening to sue an anti-piracy group for copyright infringement. And no, I did not mix up the subjects in the preceding sentence.
This all started when Finnish anti-piracy group CIAPC launched a spoof website that imitates the look and feel of The Pirate Bay, in a perhaps misguided attempt to educate the masses about the legal alternatives to piracy. The problem though is that the website wasn’t so much an imitation, but a downright like for like copy in many instances, included the CSS file, which was virtually identical to the one used by the real Pirate Bay. So much for educating others to respect copyright!
This blatant theft, which is against The Pirate Bay’s usage policies, has prompted The Pirate Bay to consider taking legal action against CIAPC, if the group does not “move on”, not just from the spoof website campaign, but from copyright enforcement in general. With The Pirate Bay generally supporting a copy-free ideal, their threat definitely did have the feel of a “not sure if serious” vibe to it. Look here, I for one would love to report on ironic lawsuits, just as long as TPB people do indeed make clear that irony is a clear intent (unlike a certain Mr. David).
Regardless, the CIAPC does deserves everything bad that happens to them, as these are the same people, if you can remember, that raided the home of a 9 year-old and snatched away her Winnie the Pooh laptop for the heinous act of downloading a song.
And in ominous news of the week, the W3C has asked the HTML Working Group to consider adding native DRM support to HTML, to placate the likes of Netflix, BBC, Google and Microsoft. These majors are hoping for a native HTML 5 solution to web video streaming, but that can only happen if DRM is present. To be fair, the requirement for DRM does not come directly from these companies, but from the overly paranoid content producers that supply these companies with content. No DRM, no content.
The January NPD US video game sales report has been released, and it’s grim reading for Nintendo’s new flagship console, the Wii U. As per the course, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 remained the best selling console for the month, with 281,000 units sold. This is actually up on January 2012, but only because of the 5-week and 4-week reporting difference between the two Januarys.
With Sony not providing any hardware sale details, but based on the Xbox 360’s “44 percent share of current-generation console sales” figure, that would most likely put the PS3 at around 200,000 units sold, and the Wii at slightly more than half of this.
Which makes the Wii U’s 57,000 (a figure that comes from sources that have access to more detailed NPD reports) rather pathetic. As a comparison, the original Wii sold 435,000 units at the same time in its release cycle, and that was with stock shortage constraints in place. The Wii U, being widely available in stores, is already looking like a flop given the dramatic fall-off from the early sales figures. Still, it’s probably too soon to tell if the Wii U is dead in the water, but unless Nintendo have some killer must-have games and apps out in the next few month, it’s not looking good at all.
With such dismal numbers for the Wii U, and the Xbox 360 selling 5 times as many units, it almost feels churlish to talk about this next story. With 76 million units sold, and one in three of them having a Kinect camera connected (albeit perhaps not used … based on personal experience), and with 46 million members connected online, can the Xbox 360 and the Xbox platform really be considered a failure? Apparently it can be, according to one of the engineers that started this whole Xbox project, Nat Brown.
Brown describes the last couple of year’s development of the Xbox platform as “painful to watch”, mainly because the console will lose the “living room war” to the likes of Apple and Google, unless “somebody with a brain” starts running things.
Nat notes the biggest problem with the Xbox platform is one, indie development, and two, a good user experience. It’s worth noting that both of these areas are where the likes of iOS and Android shine, and Nat says that what Microsoft is doing simply isn’t good enough.
And Nat has a great point. Android development can be started with almost zero cost, and apps can be published for not much more. iOS development is a bit more expensive due to Apple’s more stringent requirements regarding coding environments (ie. Mac only), but it’s still well within reach for most semi-professional coders and cashed up enthusiasts. But more importantly, apps published on both platforms are given plenty of opportunities to be found and are actively promoted. On the other hand, Nat says Microsoft offers indie developers very little help in terms of accessibility, support and promotion, which has alienated “a generation of loyal kids and teens to making games” (not just kids and teens, but also 30-something guys with too much free time on their hands).
Nat’s other big gripe with Xbox is the user experience, the inconsistent nature of it all, and how counter-intuitive it can be given today’s more casual user base. Anyone who has tried to access the initially heavily promoted Kinect Fun Labs on the new Xbox 360 dashboard will certainly agree with this point – the fact that someone had to write a guide on how to access it shows how the UI has failed.
But to be fair to the Xbox 360, none of the other consoles are doing much better, a point Nat concedes as he also says that Microsoft’s recent successes have been due to the “stumbling failure” of Sony and Nintendo (Kinect vs PS Move, and the Wii in general). Might as well add the Wii U to that list of “stumbling failures” too, I suppose.
And with that, we come to the end of this week’s WNR. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading it more than I enjoyed writing it (well, given that I didn’t enjoy writing it, it’s kind of a low bar). See you next week.