Archive for the ‘News Roundup’ Category

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 …

Copyright

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!

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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.

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

Weekly News Roundup, Looking Back at 2017 (December 17, 2017)

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Sorry for the lateness of this roundup. Two things happened. One, I was an idiot and slammed the car door on my left index finger, and so typing, while not impossible, became not quite a pleasant experience. And two, there really wasn’t much going on. So the originally plan was, before the finger ouchie, was to do a kind of brief roundup for the year. That is still the plan, but I’m afraid it will be even briefer now.

Let’s get started.

Copyright

So a lot has happened in terms of copyright news, and and in another aspect, not much has happened. Hollywood and the music industry are still going after the “bad guys”, only the bad guys will change from time to time (the lack of any effect on piracy, remains unchanged).

YouTube Targeted

YouTube is destroying the music industry according to the music industry

For the music industry, YouTube is now the new enemy number one, after having bit of a whinge at Spotify last year. Both YouTube and Spotify have virtually ended piracy as a thing, but because the music industry doesn’t make as money from these platforms as they like (kinda their own fault for not inventing these platforms, the ones that their customers had pleaded for them to introduce, and leaving it for the tech heads to disrupt the industry), they hate it.

They do have a point. As I’m typing this, I’m listening to The Last Jedi soundtrack on YouTube, an official legal upload by DisneyVEVO. There will be lots of people like me that, because of the availability of free listening, won’t bother to pay for it. And the ad money that these uploads make, won’t amount to much I suspect (the same ad for the movie Ferdinand playing over and over again hasn’t made me want to watch it). But in the past, people like me might have just pirated the soundtrack which means no revenue for the labels. So you win some, you lose some. And perhaps there will be others that actually buy the music after hearing and liking it on YouTube or Spotify.

But the fact of the matter is that streaming now accounts for the majority of the music industry’s income, income that has shrunk a lot since the heydays of CDs. People not willing to pay as much for music is now a reality, regardless of who is to blame (and maybe the greater availability of entertainment, from Blu-rays to Netflix to mobile gaming to social media, none of which existed during the peak of CD sales, has had a greater effect than piracy or even the move to digital). Accepting the reality and trying to adapt to it is a much better strategy than complaining about the present and reminiscing about the “good old days”.

MXQ Player

Kodi boxes were public enemy number one

For Hollywood, they too have a new Boogeyman in the form of Kodi boxes. Kodi boxes makes piracy too easy, argues the MPAA. This is true, but it wasn’t as if piracy was rocket science to begin with (especially if you have a geeky boyfriend/girlfriend/brother/sister/cousin/friend that can help you out). The real reason the MPAA is going after Kodi box makers is that it’s easy. These people usually have a traceable bank account, maybe even a real business address, and so it’s so much easier than going after Torrent sites and private trackers.

Going after someone, particularly an easy target that you can take to court and win easy cases against, makes the industry feel they’re doing something, and makes the MPAA relevant. It has no actual effect on anything though, because all that will happen is that we’ll begin to see a lot more Kodi box makers emerge from the traditional markets that are out of the jurisdiction and reach of the MPAA. People will also now learn how to make their own Kodi boxes, which isn’t too hard to begin with (again, the geeky boyfriend/girlfriend/brother/sister/… comes in handy).

HBO Hack

Hacking became a new source for pirated content

Hacking has become a real problem for Hollywood though, with the high profile HBO hack coming to mind. It’s not as disruptive as say general piracy, but in many ways, it is much more damaging. Not just the leak of unreleased content, but also emails and other data that studios would liked to have remained private.

There is also renewed attack on Safe Harbor protection, not just in the U.S., but in Australia too. Hollywood is seeking to erode the legal protection offered to tech companies, protection that has been essential in the creation of platforms like YouTube and Facebook. To be fair, this line of attack is not new, but Hollywood and the copyright industry are getting closer to rewriting copyright law than ever before.

And finally, the Weinstein expose will hopefully have a positive effect on the perverse and unhealthy culture in Hollywood and elsewhere.

High Definition

Disney content on Netflix

Disney (and Fox) will be a real threat to Netflix

The biggest disruption to business as usual in Hollywood in 2017 may have only occurred in the last few days, with the news that Disney will buy Fox. Two huge studios are now just one mega huge studio, and that has wide ranging effects on all parts of the industry. With Disney already announcing they’re coming after Netflix, the acquisition of Fox means they now have the content to mount a real battle. There is also Hulu, which has had a great year thanks to The Handmaid’s Tale. Hulu is co-owned by Fox, Disney and a few others – it will now be majority owned by Disney, and is already a threat to Netflix and Amazon.

And the timing of the acquisition and the move into the streaming market couldn’t be more better. With the physical media business, one that Disney dominates thanks to its mega franchises, losing steam again in 2017 after a brief hiatus in 2016, the signs are already there. Ultra HD Blu-ray has done well actually, but it was always a niche market and the declines in standard Blu-rays and DVDs cannot be ignored (sales dropped by 8.5% and 15.7% respectively for Black Friday).

2017 probably marked the end of 3D as a serious format on home video as well, with fewer and fewer 3D TV sets being produced, and not that many movies being released either.

Gaming

Nintendo Switch Mario Odyssey Bundle

The Nintendo Switch is the must-have toy for Christmas

Gaming also saw some big changes in 2017. Two big new (or newish) consoles were released in 2017, the Nintendo Switch and the Xbox One X. But only one of these will be the must-have item for Christmas, and that’s the Nintendo console. The hybrid nature of the console, the line-up of great games (Zelda in particular), and the same-old-same-ness of the PS4 and Xbox One offerings really helped to convince many that the Switch is the one to have. Just about every Christmas ad I’ve seen for department store or online retailers, or even credit card companies, feature the Switch as a much wanted gift. This is just a reflection of reality, but at the same time, it’s great promotion for Nintendo.

It was a big gamble for Nintendo, and I’m happy for them that it paid off. Creativity and risk taking is something that the gaming industry lacks sometimes, and so it’s always nice to see innovation win the day, rather than just better graphics and higher framerates.

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I know it’s not much of a roundup, and I’m sure I’ve actually missed talking about most of the things that have happened this year, but you know how hard it is to type without your left index finger? Actually not as hard as I thought it would be, but still hard. Until next week or when my finger heals a bit more, have a great one!

Weekly News Roundup (December 10, 2017)

Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Welcome to another WNR. It’s been a very quiet week, and I expect a few of them going into the holiday break. But as long as there’s a single story to talk about, we’ll be here, even if the WNR, like this one, might be a very short one indeed.

Copyright

Redbox Kiosk

Disney going after Redbox for re-selling digital copy codes

It’s not often that I agree with the premise behind a Hollywood studio’s lawsuit. These types of lawsuits usually tend to exaggerate the scale of the problem, frequently ignore the principles of fair use, and mostly just used by studios for propaganda purposes, with no real effect on piracy.

But Disney’s lawsuit against Redbox, from a common sense point of view, does seem to have merit. Redbox has been buying Disney movies at retail and putting them in their Redbox kiosks. This part I have no problems with, and while I’m sure Disney would prefer a more formalised deal, this isn’t what the lawsuit is about. What it is about is Redbox taking the Digital Copy inserts from these Blu-ray or DVD movies and then selling them to their customers, despite it being made very clear that these Digital Copy codes are not for sale or transfer.

I’m sure individuals have done this before – to sell the Digital Copy codes on at a discount compared to what the movie would normally cost on iTunes. But for a company to do this, on such a scale commercially, they’re just asking for trouble. The fact of the matter is that Disney and other studios offers a “discount” on these digital copies as part of a Blu-ray or DVD combo in order to promote their disc sales, even though they know this will eat in to their digital only business. Redbox actions removes any incentive Disney has for going down this road, and at the same time, takes a chunk out of Disney’s digital sales.

Redbox’s argument seems to be that it’s good for the consumer, and so they should be allowed to do it. They have a point in that, by offering these digital downloads at a discount, it’s doing us consumers a favour. But we all know that if this is Redbox’s only argument, then it will not hold up in court, because there are plenty of “pro-consumer” products and activities that are, at the end of the day, outright illegal.

High Definition

Redbox’s actions are not really a threat to Disney’s disc and digital sales, as the studio is doing roaring business thanks to its major franchises, all of which seem to do well on Blu-ray. But with that said, discs sales are definitely down all around. With Black Friday just out of the way, I’ve managed to have a look and write up the sales results from the week, and things aren’t looking up.

Movies at Walmart

Disc sales are down this Black Friday

In fact, almost everything is down. Both Blu-ray sales and DVD sales are down, but because DVD is falling faster than Blu-ray, weekly Blu-ray market share managed to rise compared to the last Black Friday. That’s little consolation considering overall sales were down $36 million, or roughly 13%.

The only bright spot appears to be Ultra HD Blu-ray sales, which now accounts for nearly 10% of all disc sales for many of the top sellers. That’s not bad considering the number of 4K TVs in people’s homes, and the lack of real discounting on BF.

The arrival of subscription streaming, and to a lesser extent, digital sales, have all had an impact on the popularity of discs.

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That’s all we have for you this week it seems. Told you it wasn’t much. Hoping there’s more next week, so until then …

Weekly News Roundup (December 3, 2017)

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Welcome to the last months of 2017. It has really flown by, hasn’t it? I’ve found a way to judge how busy I’ve been in a year, simply by the amount of binge worthy TV that I’ve managed to miss. So if you’ve still got Black Mirror Season 3, Stranger Things Season 2 and other similar shows in your watch queue, it must mean you’ve had a super busy year.

Was it a super busy week in terms of news? Kinda. Let’s go through it and see what happens.

Copyright

Netflix Remote

Netflix’s effect on piracy may take time to measure

New research shows that Netflix may not be the cure-all for the piracy problem after all. The study compared households with a known piracy track record, and tried to see if there was a change when half of the households were given a free subscription to an unnamed VOD service. The results weren’t that promising, with only a small change in the downloading habits of those given free subscriptions.

The main problem? Most of the shows and movies people wanted to watch simply weren’t on the SVOD platform they had access to. Anyone who uses Netflix will know this is not a lie.

When asked given what’s available on Netflix, how much these households were willing to pay, most said an amount that was nowhere near what Netflix needs to cover its costs – only $3.25 USD. And even then, these households were still going to continue pirating.

So while it seems that SVOD alone isn’t the answer to the piracy problem, when combined with digital sell-through and fairer pricing for all content, the piracy problem may not be as difficult to solve as this research suggest. Plus, there is one major phenomenon that the study may have failed to account for – and that is how SVOD *changes* one’s viewing habits over time.

Speaking from personal experience, having access to Netflix, Australia’s own Stan and Hulu has dramatically changed how I consume content. It used to be that I would buy lots of DVDs and Blu-rays (but usually when they’re on sale – rarely would I buy a new release). Now, if I can wait for a movie to get onto one of the SVOD platforms, I would. For the movies that I really want to see right away, I would go see it at the cinemas, or when all else fails, buy it on Blu-ray.

I’m also now spending much more of my free time viewing original productions on Netflix, Stan and Hulu, to the point where I’m skipping a lot of content that, in the past, I would have bought on Blu-ray (when they were on sale). The content that I’m skipping would usually be the so-so movies with average ratings that, I’m curious about, but definitely not in the must-see category (there’s plenty of content on Netflix that falls into this category, so I’m never really out of stuff to watch). Even some blockbuster movies, ones that did well at the box office, might fall into this category as well.

So if other people can change the way they consume content, to be more patient with new releases, to consume more of the original productions, and to be willing to skip a lot of “not so great” content, then piracy should come down thanks to Netflix and other SVOD platforms. It will take time though for this to happen, something a quick study like this one might not be able to account for.

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A small followup to a story I covered a few weeks ago. It seems the latest version of Denuvo is working again to offer publishers some protection, since it’s been a month and Assassin’s Creed: Origins still remains uncracked, along with some other A-list titles like Star Wars: Battlefront II that uses the same updated version of Denuvo. So the cat and mouse game begins again, even though the cat (or is it the mouse) has the upper hand for now.

High Definition

Alliance For Open Media

Alliance For Open Media’s AOMedia 1 format looks promising

The HEVC hegemony is being challenged by a newcomer – AV1. Officially known as AOMedia Video 1 (with AOMedia standing for Alliance for Open Media), it’s a next-gen codec that promises to be even more efficient than HEVC. And Mozilla, one of the founding members of the Alliance, has just added AV1 support to the latest beta version of Firefox.

Tests so far have confirmed that AV1 is at least as efficient as HEVC, and probably more so. With software giants Microsoft, Internet giants Google, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix and computing icons IBM, Intel all backing the Alliance, it’s easy to see why AV1 might just prove to be the real thing (or at least more real than VP9).

The problem though, is the lack of hardware support for AV1 at the moment. Encoding is a pain in the ass right now, 150 seconds of encoding just for 1 second of AV1 video, and without hardware decoding support, anyone playing AV1 files on their mobile devices will soon run out of battery. But these things take time, and the hardware support will come (especially with Intel on board).

So why the need for AV1? It’s in the name, really – the Alliance for *Open* Media. Nobody wants to get tied to a royalty heavy codec like HEVC, so if there’s an open source, royalty free alternative, it will be warmly embraced, especially by open source developers like Mozilla.

While I’m here, I also wanted to address the strange emphasis on Apple in the CNET article I linked to above. While Apple has embraced HEVC in iOS 11, it’s by no means the first company to embrace HEVC, nor does it have some kind of stake in its success. In fact, one might say it is one of the last to fully embrace the format, what with Netflix, Amazon all using HEVC, and with support for it mandatory for 4K TVs and Ultra HD Blu-ray. And Android has had decoding support for it since Android version 5.0. So it’s not so much as AV1 taking on Apple, as AV1 taking on an established format that, I’m sure if AV1 was successful, the likes of Apple would be more than happy to add support for.

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And we reach the end of another WNR. Hope it was an interesting read for you all. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (November 26, 2017)

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

Sorry again for the lack of a WNR last week – I know this is kind of getting ridiculous, but I had a good excuse. I have just moved house and with everything in such a state of mess, I couldn’t even find a proper surface to put my laptop on, let alone do any work (and that’s if I had time, which I didn’t).

You didn’t miss much though, and some of the stuff from then will be covered in this WNR as well. Let’s get going then!

Copyright

HBO Hack

The HBO hacker has been identified as someone who used to work for the Iranian military

I had totally forgotten about it, but apparently the FBI did not, and the identify of the HBO hacker has been revealed. 29 year-old Behzad Mesri is the man the FBI says is responsible for the hack and the leak of confidential information from HBO, which included episode spoilers for ‘Game of Thrones’, as well as actual unaired episodes from other HBO shows.

Mesri had gained access to HBO’s systems, possible through social engineering techniques linked to an executive at the company. He then demanded a ransom payment of $6 million in Bitcoins, but when HBO failed to negotiate, Mesri did what he promised and started leaking content from July through August.

Charges that could carry a maximum of 42 years in prison have been laid, but it’s unlikely Mesri will ever face justice. The reason? Mesri currently live in Iran!

Also noteworthy, but maybe not, was the fact that Mesri used to work for the Iranian military involved in hacking the computer systems of foreign governments and enemies. The HBO hack, then, was probably a stroll in the park for Mesri. There is no suggestion that the Iranian military had any interest in the hack, I mean, why would they unless they too were big fans of ‘Game of Thrones’.

Fair Use

It’s a FU from the MPAA to Australians when it comes to Fair for Australians

Speaking of foreign interference, Hollywood studios are trying to tell us Aussies are not as worthy as Americans when it comes to having fair use protection. The MPAA is lobbying the Australian government to not give us the same rights that citizens of the trade group’s home country, the United States, currently enjoy.

Having fair use rights would enshrine into law the rights that we, as consumers, ought to have when it comes to using content that we’ve already paid for. This would mean things like making a personal copy of a movie ought to be legal, even if it means circumventing copy protection. This would also mean extra protection for educators, and also security researchers when it comes to finding security flaws (as sometimes you need to attempt to break the protection before you can find its weakness). It’s all common sense stuff that kind of falls into a legal grey area at the moment – you’re most likely not going to get sued for it, but even if you do, you’ll most likely win the case in court – fair use exemptions simply make it clearer from a legal point of view what is actually allowed and not allowed.

You would think the creative industry, or everyone really, should embrace injecting this kind of clarity into the copyright laws, but for Hollywood, they are against anything that has the perception of watering down copyright laws, regardless of whether it’s something that’s good for the economy or good for consumers. So I hope the Australian government sees the MPAA’s opinions as exactly what it is – a biased opinion from a group that puts its own self interest above everything, the economy, the rights of its customers, and common sense.

High Definition

With Australian retailers freaking out at the moment about the introduction of Amazon into our market, one thing is for sure, the increased competition should lead to lower prices for a lot of things, and in particular things like DVDs and Blu-rays. This is because a lot of Australians already have experience buying movies from Amazon US or UK (back when the exchange rate was more favourable), so much so, that Amazon has had a local warehouse here for ages now to deal with the ever increasing sales.

Tomorrow Never Dies DVD and Blu-ray

Blu-ray and DVD price drops accelerate due to increasing competition from streaming and digital

It won’t be the only pressure on DVD and Blu-ray pricing though, as the latest data from the UK shows that streaming services such as Netflix and online retailers have had a big effect on when retailers and studios choose to drop prices for the latest films. Retailers are dropping prices sooner and with a great amount than before, according to the latest data, and competition from the likes of Amazon Instant Video and online retailers, as well as supermarkets engaged in loss leading practices, is the main cause.

Adding my own personal anecdotal evidence into the mix, I’ve dramatically cut down on the number of movies I buy on disc since the arrival of Netflix and local streaming options. And so when I buy, it will only be because of a really great price. If other feel the same way as I do, then prices are only going to go down even further. Subscription streaming has definitely, in my opinion, lowered the value of movies to the point where I think it’s ridiculous to pay AUD $30 for one. Buying movies also has other problems that streaming and digital sellthrough does not have – as someone who is in the middle of moving, having endless number of boxes full of Blu-rays and DVDs is a real headache. On the positive side, I’m definitely going to the movies more with the money I’ve saved buying discs (but my overall spending is still way down).

Although with Amazon arriving locally, and if they can give us some great deals on Blu-rays, I might just get back into buying – not as much as before, but more than now. It really is all just about perceived value, isn’t it?

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Well, that’s it for the week. Hope you’ve had a nice Thanksgiving for those in the U.S., a good result from Black Friday (not only in the U.S., it seems to be everywhere now), and hope you grab a bargain on Cyber Monday too. See you next week.