Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

Weekly News Roundup (22 November 2015)

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Gonna be a short one this week, as news just wasn’t that forthcoming. While I was scouring the web for news, I did manage to do a bit of informal research on PCs, specifically gaming PCs. To my surprise, a decent rig these days is still quiet expensive, if not even more expensive than a few years ago when I last did my research. Lower volume sales of PCs and component equals higher prices? Perhaps, but I was also surprised that the range of products available hasn’t really reduced as a result, in fact, it seems to have increased. It all seems fairly unsustainable, but I still have a soft spot for PC gaming that I can’t quite get rid of, even if the value proposition (compared to say buying a decent game console like the PS4 or Xbox One) is probably at its lowest ever.

On with the news …


Netflix Remote

Netflix – more disruptive than movie studios had wanted

A new study from Sweden once again confirms that pirates are the best customers. Or more precisely, those that love music and movies will buy more than the more casual listener/viewer, but they will also illegally download more content as well.

Also not particularly surprising was the finding that legal services, like Netflix and Spotify, have really shaken up the piracy market place, and that almost a majority of users now readily pay for content compared to when these legal services weren’t available. So it’s clearly a case of people willing to pay for content, but only if the “right” service (right in terms of pricing, usability) is there to deliver it. And as for the argument of users only migrating from being leechers on piracy networks to being leechers on Spotify’s free plan, this doesn’t seem to be true as 54% of online music listeners are happily paying for content in Sweden (40% for video, up from only 14% just a year ago).

Of course, the money these users are paying might not all end up in the hands of the major labels and studios, but it’s hardly the fault of Spotify and Netflix that not only do they exist, but also exist outside of the control and ownership of these very same labels and studios. In other words, had the MPAA and RIAA members spent less time suing single mothers and students, and instead invented their version of Netflix and Spotify, they would be the ones making most of the money right now.

But it’s always easier to go after pirates than to actually come up with a good idea, even if one ends up being a futile game of whack-a-mole. Case in point, for all of the MPAA’s efforts in closing down Popcorn Time and YIFY, alternatives to both have already sprung up, and not before long, it will be business as usual for Popcorn Time users. The MPAA can close down these new alternatives too, but new ones will spring up. And eventually, the game shifts to the next level when someone invents a new further decentralised variation of Popcorn Time that will be much harder to shut down, just in time for the next Netflix or whatever to be launched by a tech company that completely disrupts the market.

Looking forward to it!

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Hancock poster

Was Hancock really Sony’s best choice for a Ultra HD Blu-ray launch title?

I guess it’s unfair to say the MPAA studios haven’t tried to innovate when the official launch of Ultra HD Blu-ray is nigh. It may not be the best kind of innovation, or the kind of innovation that actually meets user demand (for all things digital and not on disc), but at least it’s something. Not so impressive is the launch titles for the new disc format from Sony, which includes The Amazing Spiderman 2′, ‘Chappie’, ‘Hancock’, ‘Pineapple Express’, ‘Salt’ and ‘The Smurfs 2’. Hardly screams “must-have”.

But it’s not easy for Sony though, it’s not as if they have franchises like ‘The Avengers’ or ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Jurassic Park’ to exploit – these were the best they could do in 2015, and it’s too soon for ‘Spectre’ to be released on disc.

Still, I think the best way to view Ultra HD Blu-ray is to view it as a niche format for home theater enthusiasts and collectors. Market it like this, complete with disc packages that reflect what the typical UHD BD user wants (so more collector’s box sets), and they will be much more successful than trying to market it as a mass media format for the Average ‘Walmart’ Joe. Joe will most likely watch the same movie via streaming and download, or on DVD/Blu-ray.


And that’s that for the week. I’ll continue to do my research on the latest PC hardware (more out of interest than anything else), and see how much my potential gaming rig will cost me (right now it stands at $1500 just for the CPU, motherboard, RAM and GPU, and I could have easily doubled the amount if I wanted to). See you next week.


Weekly News Roundup (8 November 2015)

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Is this what it has come to? Have we become that desperate to find out all we can about the new movie, that we’re analysing whether the hair shown near the edge of a still from the Star Wars VII trailer is Han Solo’s or Chewbacca’s? For me, matters not the story does – it’s the journey (“Here we go again!”) that I’m most looking for, as it’s a real comfort to be back in the Star Wars universe again (and for all the problems with the prequel trilogy, and there were many many problems, you have to admit it was nice, back at the time, for the whole world, not just geeks like us, to be so Star Wars crazed. Just like now!). So no more analysing, no more second guessing, let’s all just take a step back, wait patiently and go watch the movie in December. We’ll all enjoy it a lot better this way!

Here’s the news for the week …


I posted this two weeks ago about the demise of YTS/YIFY and Popcorn Time:

It’s all very confusing, and it’s hard to believe this sustained and multi-pronged attack on anything Popcorn Time related isn’t coordinated at some level (although it really could be just a coincidence, who knows).

The MPAA Is Watching You

The MPAA has been busy of late …

Both the take-down of YTS/YIFY, and the closure of the most popular branch of Popcorn Time, as we found out this week, was indeed part of a larger concerted effort by the MPAA. While both take-downs may have occurred independently, and that the timing was just a coincidence, there is no doubt that the MPAA had been working long and hard behind the scenes to put the pressure on these two related entities (Popcorn Time relied on YTS/YIFY provided content).

So while the MPAA appears to have had a great victory, the moment of triumph may be short lived if history is any guide, and something newer, probably better, will come along and replace these now defunct piracy outlets. As usual, makes for good headlines – but very little actual practical effect in the long term.

Speaking of ineffective, DVD and Blu-ray ripping remains illegal for yet another day as the US Copyright Office rejected calls for a legal exemption for disc ripping to protect fair use rights. So while you are within your full right to rip your own Blu-ray and DVD movies for fair use purposes (such as transferring media between your digital devices), it remains illegal for you to actually exercise your rights. The Office rejected the exemption because they feel that the act of ripping your own discs still has too much of a relation to piracy, which is also the same reason why they rejected an exemption for jailbreaking of game consoles.

What is now allowed is the cracking of DRM for games that have been abandoned, but only for “local play” portions of the games, not the multiplayer. So if Blizzard one day abandons the authentication servers for StarCraft II, for example, you’re within your legal rights to crack the crap out of the game – but only for the single player campaign, not the multiplayer component. Why the distinction? I’m not sure, since an abandoned game is an abandoned game, and I can’t see why gamers are allowed to play the single player missions, but are barred from doing anything to salvage the multiplayer component (assuming there are no intellectual property issues related to replicating the multiplayer/authentication servers).

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Amazon, Netflix and Hulu Plus

Amazon, Netflix and Hulu may have less Warner Bros. and HBO stuff in the future

Don’t be surprised to see HBO and Warner Bros. content gradually disappearing from SVOD outlets like Netflix and Hulu. Time Warner, which owns these properties, feels they’re just not making enough money from licensing SVOD content and is seriously considering delaying the release of content on these platforms, or forgoing releases entirely.

This stance may seem at odds with recent moves by Time Warner, which includes giving Netflix the first season of “Gotham”, and opening up HBO’s catalog to Amazon. These, however, were most likely done to promote these Time Warner assets, and getting Netflix/Amazon involved was just the best way to achieve this. This could also point to the further fragmentation of the SVOD market, with Time Warner likely to funnel more content to its own SVOD and digital platforms at the expense of Netflix, Amazon or Hulu. Not too dissimilar to what CBS is doing with its All Access platform, which has led to missing or disappearing content on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.


And that’s that for the week. As usual, there’s some more streaming related stuff on my other site Streambly, including a look at what’s new on Netflix/Hulu in November. See you next week.

Weekly News Roundup (30 August 2015)

Sunday, August 30th, 2015
John Oliver

It was a real pleasure seeing John Oliver in person at the Palais on Thursday

I had the good fortune (and quick online ticket ordering skills) to catch John Oliver performing at the Palais Theatre here in Melbourne last night – it was a fantastic show from a fantastic comedian. He really doesn’t like our Prime Minister, which isn’t all that strange because nobody likes him, not even people from this own political party. All very funny stuff.

This week’s news stories are not that funny. Not just because I’m not a particularly good comedian (or a comedian at all), but because these stories were never meant to be funny anyway. Most of the stories you read here carry a fog of sadness, and at best, they’re funny in a “I would laugh if this wasn’t so depressing” kind of way. I bet you can’t wait to read them now!


Some more Windows 10 headlines this week, as it’s been revealed that some old games with outdated DRM won’t be supported by Microsoft’s new OS. Many of these old DRM toolkits were notorious when it comes to being security risks, and Microsoft has said enough is enough when it comes to these being supported on their brand new OS.

Windows 10

Windows 10’s default privacy settings are disconcerting

Unfortunately, Windows 10 is also getting a bit of notoriety due to Microsoft playing fast and loose with the new OS’s privacy rules. Apart from the bizarre Wi-Fi password sharing feature, which shares an encrypted hash of your Wi-Fi password with your email, Skype and Facebook contacts, via Microsoft’s server. Microsoft’s justification is that this means you no longer have to share your password with you people (which may be more insecure), but sharing anything with so many people, especially a group as diverse as your contacts list (many of whom on mine I’ve only ever talked to once, and probably only via email), can never be that secure. The fact that the password hash is also stored on Microsoft’s servers, is also troubling.

And with this, along with other troubling behaviour from W10, including sending the results of local searches to Microsoft, plus the company’s data sharing with a well known anti-piracy firm, and also add to this last week’s news story about Microsoft’s controversial service agreement changes, has now led to many torrent trackers banning users who use the OS.

It does seem like an overreaction to me, to ban an entire OS. Yes, the privacy in Windows 10 is an issue, but there are workarounds, plus some of the claims are more speculation than actual privacy intrusions (for example, Microsoft has been working with anti-piracy firm MarkMonitor for years, not just with Windows 10).

I’ve been using Windows 10 for a couple of weeks now (after accidentally agreeing to upgrade from 8.1 – stupid dialog box popping up while I was typing something), and it’s clearly Microsoft’s best OS since 7. More and more people will start to use it, and to ban everyone just because of a few problems, and a few misconceptions, doesn’t seem quite right.


Spotify Mobile

Please don’t mess with Spotify’s free plan – it’s the only thing keeping piracy at bay

Some in the music industry are not happy with Spotify, because the company isn’t earning much from the ads on the free tier of the subscription service, and so isn’t paying out much, despite the huge number of people listening to songs. Spotify argues that the free tier’s real competition is with radio (also free to listen) and piracy, and that it should be used as a promotional tool, rather than a revenue earner. Those in the music industry argue that this devalues their work, and ultimately affects their earnings.

So the pressure has been building on Spotify to drop their free tier, and basically do what Apple Music is doing – a long trial, but after that, it’s pay or go away. But Spotify warns that if this were to happen, the only real winner would be piracy.

To me, it’s clear that free Spotify’s real benefit is its anti-piracy effects. Not only does it help convert pirates to paying customers, through ad revenue, it also convinces others of the value of upgrading to a premium plan. And most importantly, it’s helping to create a new generation of music listeners that have never had to resort to piracy just to listen to a new song (Taylor Swift songs aside). And this has to be worth something to the music industry.

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Those keeping up with my weekly Blu-ray revenue updates will have noticed the very depressing trend lately. Lack or really good releases haven’t help, but Blu-ray revenue seems to have plateaued. But new data shows that discs are still quite popular, and still making studios most of their money when it comes to home entertainment. In fact, Nielsen’s data shows that 20% of users still exclusively buy movies on discs.

The data also shows that SVOD is changing how people watch their movies. It’s making them go to the movies less, and also buying less TV shows on discs. And I bet if you actually asked one of the respondents, they would tell you it’s also making them buy less crappy movies and TV shows, the kind of stuff that’s very prevalent on Netflix and others, and stuff you used to buy from the bargain bin (or go watch at the cinema, ideally using a discounted ticket offer, when there’s nothing else to do). I know it’s saved me a lot of money already, and that has made me far less guilty about my disc buying habits!


Xbox One Controller

What is this obsession with adding or removing Blu-ray drives to Xbox consoles?

Add another one to the “Xbox One Slim” rumor pile. Or rather, this one is for the Xbox One Mini – a Xbox One console that removes the Blu-ray drive, making it only a digital only console.

I’m not sure I quite believe this one. While removing the Blu-ray drive is the easiest way to make the Xbox One both smaller and cheaper, I’m just not sure if we’re ready for a digital only game console. Maybe the Internet situation in the US is a lot better than here in Australia, but I wouldn’t want to wait ages to download GBs of game data. And what happens after you fill the HDD? Start deleting games and then re-download them later if you want to play them again – what a waste of time and bandwidth! A digital only game console would only work if it had a huge (I mean 5TB+) hard-drive, and when fiber broadband becomes the norm.

This particular rumour also brings back memories about the obsession of adding a Blu-ray drive to the previous Xbox console – a popular and long running rumour about a Blu-ray add-on drive for the 360. I’m sure it was mostly spread by PS3 fans, mocking 360 owners for not having Blu-ray capabilities and for Microsoft’s backing of HD DVD. But now that the Xbox has a Blu-ray drive, all the rumours are about getting rid of it. Kind of ironic!


That’s it for another week, same bat-time, same bat-channel, next week!

Weekly News Roundup (3 May 2015)

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

All of this week’s WNR, and most of this week’s news stories, were written on my new Surface Pro 3. It’s proving to be more than an adequate desktop and laptop replacement (with the tablet mode the least used of the three available modes, for me). All of the teething problems have more to do with the switch to Windows 8.1 (coming from Windows 7), than the actual SP3 hardware. And with the SSD (vs RAID 1 HDDs), faster CPU (i7-4650U vs Core 2 Duo E8600) and more RAM (8GB vs 4GB), it’s also a lot faster too (not to mention super quiet). I’ll keep you all update if I run into any serious issues with the transition.

Onto the news …


The only worthwhile thing the MPAA has produced has now been blocked for usage by anyone outside of the U.S.

File it under the “yep, this will help make things better” category, the MPAA’s much publicized website that helps you find legal content (because obviously people only pirate because they don’t know about Netflix and iTunes) has now been blocked from being used by anyone outside of the United States. now displays a familiar “This content is not available in your region” message if you happen to not live in a part of the world that Hollywood and major rightsholders don’t feel is important enough (ie. anywhere outside of the U.S.). Those that can remember reading about the story last year in the WNR will remember that, in a rare moment, I actually praised the MPAA for providing something that’s actually useful for once. It took them a while, but the MPAA eventually went back to form, and in an not-at-all ironic move (that was sarcasm, btw), has managed to highlight just why many people pirate.

By locking up the content people want, and forcing them to get it via a method that lines rightsholders pockets, as opposed to serving consumer needs, it’s no wonder people choose to go down the piracy route. Not only is piracy free, it’s also often easier and more timely than the Hollywood approved ways to watch. The other alternative is to use geo-dodging services, VPNs and smart DNS solutions, to access U.S. services – and was an useful tool to help you find where things were available. The MPAA has now locked up the site, and although users can use geo-dodging services to gain access back the site, leaked emails from Sony shows the MPAA is also going after VPN and smart DNS providers (see last week’s WNR for more information).

Speaking of the leak, Sony is apparently going after any website that is reporting on the contents of the leaked emails. Sony says the leaked emails is considered stolen data, and “respectable” media outlets shouldn’t cross this moral border. This hasn’t stopped quite respectable media outlets from reporting on the emails, like the New York Times’ Eric Lipton, who just won a Pulitzer for his report on the influence of lobbyists, a report that used information obtained from the leaked emails. And of course, less than respectable media outlets such as this one has no problem reporting on it, and ignoring Sony’s toothless threats.



Australian government set to give Hollywood the right to censor anti-copyright speech. Photo Credit: IsaacMao @ Flickr, CC

The leaked emails also revealed that much of the pressure to change Australia’s copyright laws are coming via Hollywood. Unfortunately, out super unpopular conservative pro big business government only has one agenda, and that’s to give Hollywood exactly what they want. So no surprises that the proposed changes as part of the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015, could go as far as outlaw the right to even say things or have opinions that Hollywood does not approve of.

The current language in the bill allows rightsholders to petition the court to block websites owned or operated by anyone who “demonstrates a disregard for copyright generally”. It essentially places a ban on any online speech that put outs an alternative view on copyright, a view that Hollywood and the MPAA does not approve of.

Of course, it won’t actually get to that point. No court in Australia will grant any such block merely based on expressed anti-copyright views, but what could happen is that sites that discuss ripping or geo-dodging or provides instructions and help on anything that Hollywood deems to “facilitate the infringement of copyright” could be blocked. And with no clear definition on what “facilitate the infringement of copyright” means, anything from VPNs to file hosting companies can get censored here in Australia. The language in the bill is so vague (and I definitely think that it’s intentional) that blocked sites are simply referred to as “online location”, which could either mean the blocking of a single webpage, a website, or the blocking of an entire server serving thousands of unrelated sites just because of one “bad” site on the server.

A wide ranging coalition of tech firms, like Google, and consumer rights groups, like Australia’s CHOICE and the EFF, have all criticized the bill in its current form. Google, in their submission, said that the whole premise of these changes relies upon the proven failed concept of content blocking, which not only has questionable efficacy, but could also have unintended consequences such as the blocking of legitimate content.

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Samsung Curved UHD TV

4K Ultra HD TVs starting to grab some market share

4K TVs are beginning to get into people’s homes, with 11% of LCD TV shipments in March belonging to Ultra HD TV sets. I wandered around the shops the other day, and it definitely looks like 4K TVs are no longer the product you only see at trade shows or in rich people’s homes. There are quite a lot of “affordable” 4K TVs at the moment, perhaps not all capable of delivering the best 4K quality, but it’s certainly more accessible to the average consumer than 4K content at the moment (despite Netflix’s best efforts). Ultra HD Blu-ray players and movies coming out later this year, so the relative content drought (and the expected double, triple … nonuple, or whatever the count is, dipping begins) should be over soon.


More bad news for the Wii U. Whereas the last Call of Duty: Black Ops game, Black Ops II, debuted on the Wii U, the next one, imaginatively titled Black Ops III, will not be coming to the platform at all. To add insult to injury, Treyarch studio specifically dissed the Wii U as not being a current generation console, when giving out their reason for the decision to skip releasing on the console.


Hope you enjoyed/found interesting/were terrified of the implications from this week’s news stories. More for you next week, so until then …

Weekly News Roundup (26 April 2015)

Sunday, April 26th, 2015
Microsoft Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3 – can it be my tablet, laptop and desktop all in one?

I got my Surface Pro 3 on Friday, so I haven’t had enough time to set it up yet as my primary work computer. My initial impressions are very positive though, it’s such a nicely built, lightweight and versatile device, and the Type Cover and the excellent kickstand means it’s more than capable in laptop mode. And with the separately sold dock, there’s no reason why it can’t be a desktop replacement as well. The negative? I still don’t like Window 8 (even with the 8.1 update).

So this week’s WNR is still bought to you by my old trusty (and a bit rusty) Core 2 Duo E8500, which, after nearly 6 years, is still more than adequate for work (and some games, courtesy of a mid-life Radeon 6850 upgrade). Let’s get started …


While the pre-release leak of the first four Game of Thrones episodes prevented the season premier from breaking single swarm records, as people downloaded both before and after the first episode aired, and from different torrents, but after a week of downloads, there’s no escaping the fact that Game of Thrones piracy is still on the rise.

The leaked episodes, plus the post-broadcast uploads (and even a documentary on the show itself), when combined, totaled 32 million downloads in the first week alone, setting a new download record.

Game of Thrones: Season 4

It’s hard to upload a new screenshot for season 5 without the risk of spoilers, so here’s one from season 4

While at first this seems like bad news for HBO, the fact that official ratings for the show is up, meant that the increased downloads is more just a healthy sign of the show’s growing audience, rather than a slide towards piracy oblivion. Many of those that did download the new episodes were in the US, and are prime candidates for HBO’s new unbundled streaming platform, HBO Now. How to convert piracy traffic to paying subscribers may take some more tweaks in pricing and value, but I’m sure by this time next year, we’ll be looking at a different downloading paradigm.

Or maybe people will be watching the show, illegally, some other way. Twitter’s newly launched live streaming app Periscope has apparently been put to “good” use by enterprising pirates, to share the broadcast of new season premier with friends and strangers alike. HBO was not best please, issuing take-down notices and warning Twitter to get their act together and allow rights-holders to more efficiently remove streams.

With almost all anti-piracy efforts on torrents and direct downloads, it just goes to show that if people want to watch something for free, they’ll find a way to do it. The key is to convince people what you have is worth paying for, and at a price that they’re willing to pay.


The next couple of stories all come via leaked Sony emails, more of which were recently published by Wikileaks. First up is the rather ironic story of the MPAA pirating clips from a Google commercial for their own promotional purposes. This is the same MPAA that has painted a target on Google, labeled them as public piracy enemy number one, and proceeded to attack the search engine (not always directly) whenever it can. The MPAA inserting themselves into where the general public feels they don’t belong is something that’s directly responsible for the group’s poor public image – the very same public image they were trying to repair with their pirated promo video. Oh, the irony!


Hollywood to go after users who are desperate to pay for content

The leaked emails also reveal other activities that won’t make the public like Hollywood much better. There seems to be a renewed effort from Hollywood to ban geo-dodging services, such as VPNs and smart DNS solutions used to access the likes of Netflix in places where there’s no Netflix (or access the international version of Netflix, which often yields a lot more content). This is despite a well known fact that if these services weren’t available, the same users would probably just rely on pirated streams and downloads. It’s Hollywood’s new way of punishing people that actually want to give them money (but just not as money as they want, or paid so in a way that allowed other companies to make some money too, both of which Hollywood find unacceptable).

The leaked emails exposes all the ways the MPAA has set out to put pressure on Netflix and others to ban VPN usage. The MPAA and their cohorts even went as far as threatening to sue ISPs that offered VPN services to their customers, despite VPNs being commonly used for many other purposes, including telecommuting. And even for things like watching Netflix, it’s still unclear if this even constitutes copyright infringement – a breach of the terms of service, yes, but the fact that people are paying (so it’s more like grey imports, rather than outright piracy) and that streaming is different to torrenting (as streaming does not have an upload component), means that Hollywood’s threats may not have a legal basis, in certain countries.

A blast from the past, here’s what the MPAA thought about the iPad when it was first released more than 5 years ago. There are some spot-on predictions made by the MPAA, both on the positives and negatives of the ground-breaking device. The MPAA liked the “walled garden” approach of the iPad, especially when it comes to DRM and difficulty in jailbreaking for novice users. The process of purchasing content and apps on iTunes and App Store, the MPAA argues, also serves to educate users about the value of digital content and the need to pay for stuff.

The things the MPAA didn’t like about the iPad was its ability to play ripped movies, stream illegal content, and also to wirelessly stream playback to external screens – something that wasn’t even possible when the report was written, but now quite common via Apple Airplay.

The MPAA also predicted that streaming video, like Netflix (its streaming app launched with the iPad), would take off.

So it seems to me that the Hollywood and the MPAA are more than capable of predicting the future and anticipating user demand. It’s just that they don’t actually want to serve the demand, if what their customers want do not align when their own short term self interest.


While this story also pretty much falls within the copyright section of the WNR, it is also about gaming and about the things gamers have to do just to be able to play a game they’ve purchased. Yes, I’m talking about DRM and about how the gaming industry do not want any exceptions to the DMCA to allow the hacking of DRM, even if it’s just to bypass their poorly designed gaming DRM to allow allow their games to be played. This is especially true of older games that the publishers have ended support for.


What do game companies have to gain to prevent gamers from bypassing DRM on games they no longer even support?

The EFF, as part of its submission to the U.S. Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress’s review of copyright laws, wants an exception to be made to allow gamers to bypass DRM to play games that are no longer supported by the publishers and developers. A very sensible and limited exception, but one that’s still being opposed by the gaming industry, as well as the MPAA and RIAA. These rights-holders argue that somehow allowing users to make modifications to something they own would “undermine the fundamental copyright principles on which our copyright laws are based” and send the message that hacking is legal.

Except that hacking is legal, and playing around with other people’s stuff is how many programmers, including those in the gaming industry, got their start. “If ‘hacking,’ broadly defined, were actually illegal, there likely would have been no video game industry,” correctly argues the EFF.


That’s it for this quite busy week. Hope the next week is just as busy. See you again soon.