Archive for January, 2018

Weekly News Roundup (January 28, 2018)

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

Sorry about the lack of an update last week. Apart from a personal engagement that took a lot of time out of my schedule, the fact of the matter was that it was a very very quiet week and there was nothing to update on. Not so much this week though, as there’s plenty to talk. Like London buses.



Can Blockchain make digital resales a possibility?

The first bus to arrive has to do with the new technology that everyone’s talking about lately: Blockchain. A new start-up wants to use the technology behind Bitcoin to allow people to resell their digital purchases, specifically movies. The people behind the digital store Robot Cache plan on using Blockchain to ensure that each unique copy of the movie/license could only be used/activated by one owner at a time. And this would facilitate the resale of digital content without the need for some kind of heavy handed DRM.

Assuming the technology actually works, which may be a big assumption at this stage, there’s no way rightsholder would allow this plan to come to fruition. A digital resale market would violate the terms of service, no doubt. And the way Robot Cache may do it might cut rightsholders from getting a share of any revenue coming from such an enterprise, which the rightsholders also wouldn’t like. And finally, allowing resales could hurt direct sales, which again is something rightsholders would be up in arms about. So to sum up, rightsholders not happy!

But let’s forget about them for a second, is something like this a good thing for the consumer? You bet it is! We have the right to resell almost everything else we buy, so if the technical problems associated with reselling digital copies can be solved, why shouldn’t we have the right? Sometimes I feel, as consumers, we’ve been robbed of our rights when it comes to digital content. Just because it was new and different when it first came out, and that piracy was an issue, we lost the right to refunds, exchanges and resale. We’ve got some of it back, for example the ability to get a refund on Steam, but it’s been slow and hard work to claw back what was ours to begin with. So if something like Blockchain can help us get our rights back, then I’m all for it!


Denuvo in the headlines again

Another thing I’m all for is to see if the latest version of Denuvo can be cracked and removed. I’m not advocating this from a piracy point of view, but just as a curiosity given the claims of performance issues that some gamers have raised about this version of Denuvo – by removing Denuvo and then doing a side-by-side comparison, it will finally prove or disprove the theories surrounding Denuvo’s performance drain.

My wish was almost granted, but in the end, not really, as a workaround of sorts have been found for this latest version (version 4.8). But instead of cracking and removing Denuvo, the workaround simply disables most of Denuvo’s anti-tampering functions, and makes piracy possible for the game ‘Sonic Forces’. So while Denuvo is no longer doing what it’s supposed to do for ‘Sonic Forces’, it still does run in the background taking up resources, and so there’s still  no definitive answer to Denuvo’s potential performance issues, at least not yet.

In other Denuvo news, the company behind it has been acquired by global anti-piracy outfit Irdeto. This change is unlikely to affect Denuvo’s day to day operations though.


Nintendo Switch

The Switch won Christmas!

In gaming news, the eagerly anticipated (well, at least from me) December video games sales data has been released by the NPD, and in the US, it was Nintendo’s Switch that was clearly on top. This marks a great start for Nintendo’s latest console, and sets a new record as well for being the fastest selling console in US history.

When the Switch was first announced, I thought then that either this would be a brilliant gamble by Nintendo, or one of the biggest fails ever. Either people wanted a home based console that they can also take on the road, or it ends up being people’s idea of an under-powered portable console that’s been jerry-rigged to hook up to your TV. I think in the end, most people ended up in the former group.

In the same NPD report, the Xbox One did manage to beat the PS4 to second spot. The Xbox One always seems to have a good Christmas, but it hasn’t stopped the PS4 selling twice as many units so far.


If my calculations are correct, we’ve come to the end of another WNR. Hope you enjoyed reading this issue. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (January 14, 2018)

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

2018 has properly started, and the reason I say this is because there are actually some news stories to talk about this week. Some news stories, not necessarily the best or most interesting news stories, but you know what, I’ll take what I can get after the last couple of quiet, quiet weeks.

Lets get this thing started.


Spotify Logo

Spotify: Good for the consumer, or is it more of the same?

Netflix and Spotify have been labeled as a solution to the piracy problem. To be fair, this label has been mostly applied by the PR people at Netflix and Spotify, as the industry do not necessarily see these services as any kind of solution, at least not one that benefits them. For people who are file sharing though, both do represent a new way to get their content, legally, and in the case of Spotify, for free as well.

But according to one of the founders of The Pirate Bay, people shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security over the emergence of Netflix and Spotify, because for file sharers, these are not solutions but something much worse.

Peter Sunde says that the whole point of file sharing was to decentralise not only the way content is distributed, but decentralise the way it is controlled by of a powerful few. And Sunde says that with Netflix and Spotify, this problem hasn’t gone away, if anything, it’s become a little worse.

This is because the same companies that controlled things before still controlling things now, either through being shareholders of streaming platforms, or because they have agreements with them that sets the rules on how things are done. “The dependence is higher than ever,” says Sunde.

It’s hard to argue against Sunde’s concerns though, but I will add this. Through Netflix and Spotify, we as consumers are getting something that’s a little bit closer to what we want, and that’s a positive change. Because the “dependence” is still there, there is always the risk that we will lose what we’ve gained, but that’s why we, as consumers, have to be vigilant and not simply accept changes that are not to our benefit. And this is why piracy is actually a useful tool for consumers, because it’s something that’s always going to be there to force the major labels and movie studios to at least try and give us what we want, or else we have alternatives. The danger is that, through the loss of Net Neutrality and the invention of new technical measures, we might lose this alternative, this competitive pressure that forces the market to produce better products for us. And when that happens, we will no longer get a choice in how we get to consume content (and at what cost), and that will be a bad things from a consumer’s point of view (and eventually a bad thing for the entire industry if consumers become disinterested).

High Definition

Amazon Fire TV

Google and Amazon’s fight means bad news for Fire TV users

Speaking of the powerful few acting badly and hurting consumers in the process, Google and Amazon’s little dispute is now causing major problems for users of Amazon’s Fire TV device – they can no longer use YouTube! Google has accused Amazon of abusing its market power by not properly selling Google’s range of products on their website. In addition, Google says Amazon is refusing to add Chromecast functionality for its Prime streaming service. It all adds up to Amazon not playing fair with Google in an attempt to promote its own competing products (Fire and Echo range, which competes with the Chromecast and Google Home range), at least that’s what Google claims.

Google may have a point, but the next move by the Google seems a bit petty – they have banned Amazon’s Fire and Echo devices from working with the YouTube app. This seems to have forced Amazon to start selling the Chromecast again, but an agreement that settles this issue once and for all seems to be far away.

The problem is that Amazon is both a service provider (in this case, a retailer that helps sell your products) and also a product manufacturer. It’s not in Amazon’s interest to sell tons of Chromecast and Home devices in its store, because it will have come at the expense of its own Fire and Echo range. On the other hand, if it promotes its own range at the expense of other products, it’s failing in its duty as a service provider to these other manufacturers (in this case, Google).

But Google shouldn’t feel they have the moral high ground on this. Google does exactly the same thing with its search engine and app store. Google has been accused of favoring its own websites and services, YouTube or Shopping, over other competing websites when people search for something related. In this case, Google is both a service provider and a “manufacturer”, and it both provides a service for website owners and competes with them in the same space. It’s exactly the same thing that Amazon is doing, except when it’s good for Google, it’s not evil.

In the end, consumers are the ones being hurt, and again this comes from companies getting too big, having too much control over what we consume and how we consume it.

Sometimes though, big companies get together not to take away our choices, but to give us more. But this usually isn’t because they’re doing it out of the kindness, but it usually means that their own self interest has been affected in some way. And this is why Apple is joining the Alliance for Open Media to push the AOM’s AV1 video format, not because they truly want an open format, but because if AV1 succeeds, it will mean less royalty payments going forward for them (although Apple may already receive royalties due to patents owned by them from HEVC, AV1’s main competition, they will probably still end up paying less if a truly open format becomes mainstream).

For those who like to tinker around with video stuff, having another format like AV1 is great news. It’s still early days though, as hardware support (for both encoding and decoding) is severely lacking. For consumers, it probably doesn’t mean much – the money saved by companies not having to pay HEVC will not get passed down to us. And companies most likely won’t be able to escape HEVC completely, because too many applications already use it.

Sorry to go all cynical on you in this week’s WNR, but I definitely didn’t intend to go this way at the start, but that’s where we ended up. Funny how these things work.


I’ll try to remove the cynicism from the next story though, even though there are obvious places where one can insert a eye roll or two. Unlike with the PS3, Sony has been very open to releasing sales data for the PS4 (I wonder why that is *rolleyes*), and it’s announced that 74 million PS4s have now been sold, making it the 10th best selling console of all time.

Nintendo Switch

The Switch is selling better than the Wii at the same stage

Despite these healthy numbers, and a very good holiday sales period (5.9 million PS4s sold around the world), most of the positive news stories has been focused on Nintendo’s Switch, which has sold more than 10 million units in just 10 months. It’s selling faster than the Wii was selling, and if it lasts, it could outsell the PS4 eventually. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the PS4 is already more than 4 years old!

As for Microsoft, they’ve been keeping pretty quiet on the Xbox One sales figures (and I wonder why that is *rolleyes*), only saying that sales are above their expectations, whatever that means. By all estimates, it’s selling half as many boxes as the PS4. So not as bad as the Wii U (21st best selling console of all time), but definitely not in the Xbox 360’s league (7th best selling console of all time). The Xbox One is currently estimated to be the 14th best selling console of all time, according to VGChartz.


And with that, we come to the end of another WNR. See you next week when I promise to be far less cynical!

Weekly News Roundup (January 7, 2018)

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

Welcome to this side of 2018. Now the hard part begins of having to remember to write 2018 instead of 2017 (or if you’re one of those who did not heed the lessons of Y2K, 18 instead of 17). I nearly forgot to do just that for the title of this WNR.

With the holidays slowly coming to an end, there’s a bit of news this week, but only a bit. And to be honest with you, neither of the stories this week are the “freshest” in that they came out a while ago and I’ve only decided to cover them now because there’s not much going on really.

So without further ado …


It’s the single story that has given us plenty to write about last year, but with the U.S. Copyright Office seeking submissions for changes to the DMCA, it’s an opportunity for interested parties to have their say, regardless of which side of the copyright divide they happen to be on. For filmmakers, you would think that they would be on the pro-copyright side of things, considering how piracy affects their livelihood. But for some filmmakers, it’s the existing copyright protections that are harming their creative rights and their ability to produce the kind of work they want.

It has been generally accepted practice for documentaries to be allowed to use existing footage even if it falls foul of copyright issues. This is why there’s an exemption to allow documentary filmmakers to rip DVDs and Blu-rays (and Netflix even), to use existing commercial footage for criticism or analysis.

Filming Smartphone Piracy

Filming a smartphone – the MPAA’s recommendation for when breaking DRM is necessary

But this locks out other filmmakers from being allowed to do the same for their non documentary work. And with the barrier between genres breaking down all the time, work that can be considered both a documentary and drama lies in a grey area where filmmakers run the risk of being sued if they rip and use existing works. This is why filmmakers are now calling for more clarity, and leeway, when it comes to ripping and using footage, even if the work in question is not strictly a documentary.

Funnily enough, the MPAA are not against filmmakers using existing footage if the work calls for it, but they are still firmly against any softening of existing copyright laws. How does this seemingly contradictory viewpoints translate to the real world for the MPAA? Easy, simply play the copy protected video as you would on a TV screen or a tablet, and then use your camera to tape that. I mean, I’m sure plenty of Oscar nominated films have done it this way, who can forget the parts of ‘Argo’ where it somewhat awkwardly cut into recorded footage of something playing on a iPad (I’m assuming taken by Ben Affleck holding a camcorder) and how that totally didn’t take you out of the a story set some 31 years before the first iPad was released. Argo f*** yourself, MPAA.

Google DMCA Stats

Google now actively blocking new piracy links from appearing, just not removing the ones already in its index

Speaking of effing yourself, Google might be doing just that with their latest anti-piracy move to preemptively block piracy related links. Going above and beyond what the DMCA calls for, Google will now block links that it hasn’t even indexed from ever appearing in Google’s search results, and many rightsholders are already taking advantage of this new way to block links.

I always hate the slippery slope argument, because you can use it to justify any objection to anything new, but it seems Google is getting closer to accepting the idea of “take down, stay down”, because part of that idea is to also make Google take down links that may not yet exist. But as long as Google stays firms on the condition that it has to be rightsholders that come up with the link in the first place, and not place the burden on the service provider to identify the infringing links, then the DMCA system is safe.

But then, in the same news piece, Google is advocating the use of A.I. in piracy take-downs, and that’s also worrying. Is A.I. going to be used to detect and preemptively block links, and if so, then isn’t that take down, stay down in practice?

A worrying start for 2017. I mean, 2018. Damn it!


Luke and Rey

This film is not going to go the way you think

Before I go, I just thought I would wade into the Last Jedi controversy. I saw the film two weeks ago, and unlike many fans, I wasn’t offended by the film. I actually quite enjoyed it, and this is coming from someone who watched the pre Special Edition original trilogy about 30 times each when I was growing up. Yes, there are scripting problems, plot holes the size of a Mega Dreadnought, and some scenes are more ridiculous than miraculous (if you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know which one I’m talking about). But what it did well, I thought it did brilliantly and I can see why the critics liked it. Without spoiling things, I thought it was a thematically strong film (that really deserves a repeat viewing) that questioned the very nature of what it means to be a hero, to be a legend, and drew some really clear parallels with the political situation in the United States. Resistance has to be more than just about slogans, identity politics, and a cult of personality based on supporting political dynasties, and it’s easy to get trapped in your own opinion bubble oblivious to the real struggle and the real reason why people are in need of change. A tiny not-really spoiler, but Finn learns this along the way with Rose, and at the end, everyone gets it. Even themes of toxic masculinity gets a brief airing in the story involving Poe.

Obviously for people who saw these things in the movie but disagreed with the film’s stance on these and many other issues, will find a way to hate the movie, because the film itself is far from perfect. Just like all the Star Wars films.


That’s enough ranting and political soapboxing for now. See you next week!