Weekly News Roundup (February 25, 2018)

February 25th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR, one that, unlike in recent times, is actually full of stuff to talk about. Yeah well, I don’t know what happened either. Maybe it was the post Valentine’s Day euphoria that got the news juices flowing, but I think it’s just lucky timing.

Alright, let’s not waste any time …

Copyright

Redbox Kiosk

Redbox scores a win in its lawsuit with Disney

I didn’t really expect this to happen, but Disney’s lawsuit against Redbox isn’t going to be as easy as they thought it would be, with a judge having denied Disney’s request for a preliminary injunction. Lawyers usually don’t ask for preliminary injunctions (or even file the lawsuit in the first place) if they didn’t have a reasonable expectation of success. But sometimes all it takes is a good argument, and a judge willing to consider it, for the tables to turn, and turn they have.

U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson ruled that Disney was engaged in “copyright misuse”, by attempting to bundle too many conditions to the redemption and use of the digital copy that comes with Disney combo packs. Specifically, Disney tried to “tie” the ownership of the digital copy to the ownership of the discs in the combo packs, and this meant that users had to give up their right to resell the discs if they wanted to redeem the digital copy, and that, the judge said, was beyond what Disney’s copyright allowed them to do.

It wasn’t a complete slam dunk for Redbox though, as they failed to get the judge to recognise that the “first sale doctrine” applied to the redeemable digital copy, as in the judge’s opinion, the digital copy doesn’t actually exist at the time of sale (it only exists after the buyer redeems the code). Without being able to rely on the “first sale doctrine”, which limits the ability for the rights-holder to control the product after the first sale has occurred (and is the basis that allows us to resale our legally purchased goods), Redbox’s assertions that they had a right to sell the digital codes might not be an easy argument to make.

Interestingly, the judge found issue with the wording of the “Codes are not for sale or transfer” condition on Disney’s combo packaging, which does not make it clear that opening the package is considered acceptance of the conditions. Expect changes to the packaging to happen sooner rather than later.

Speaking of changes, those that have used Google Image search in the last week would have noticed a rather big, and annoying, change. Google has removed the “View Image” and “Search by Image” links in its image search results, meaning that it’s now much harder to download the original, unedited versions of any image. And that’s the whole point really, because Google has come under pressure copyright wise (via a Getty Images lawsuit) to stop making it so easy to download images via its image search function.

As expected, users have not reacted positively to these changes, and who could blame them. Also as expected, website owners have welcomed these changes, many of whom have long accused Google of “stealing” their images by directly linking to them (allowing users to download them without the need to visit the publishing website). The same problem exists with snippets (you know, live sports scores, weather, and things of that nature), but at least with snippets, some websites are actively providing the content to Google. Not so with images, and many webmasters have even gone as far as install scripts on their site to prevent direct linking.

While one fire has been potentially put out, expect the conflict between publishers and Google to intensify with Google’s other features.

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Denuvo

Is Denuvo a performance killer?

Does Denuvo affect gaming performance? There’s evidence to suggest that it does, and there’s also evidence to suggest it doesn’t. But I think what is clear is that Devnuo has the *potential* to affect performance, and if the cat and mouse game between Denuvo and crackers continue and Denuvo start to use more and more complicated means to protect games, then yes, performance will eventually become a big issue. Anything that potentially makes hundreds if not thousands of calls per second will take something away from the gaming performance, even if these calls are super efficient.

Denuvo isn’t the only anti-tampering game in town though. Arxan is another company that’s promoting their anti-tampering tech, and it has already been used in some games. It has been used in games for Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform, which allows game publishers to use a single API set to publish games for a wide variety of Microsoft devices. UWP features not one but 5 layers of DRM to protect its games, and was previously though to be impenetrable. Try telling that to a hacker though! This week, a UWP game and its 5 layers of DRM (MSStore, UWP, EAppX, XBLive, and Arxan) were all cracked by group CODEX, allowing the game ‘Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection’ to be pirated. It’s hardly a game that pirates have been waiting for, but as a proof of concept that UWP can be cracked, it is just as effective as a AAA game.

High Definition

Disney’s upcoming streaming service won’t compete with Netflix (says Disney at least)

Not content with having control over all of the most profitable franchises (and making a zillion movies for each franchise), Disney is in the process of buying another major studio Fox. This, along with their plans to pull new content from Netflix starting in 2019, all bodes well for the studio’s upcoming streaming platform. It has already been discussed as a potential “Netflix killer”, but Disney says that’s not what it is at all.

Instead, Disney’s streaming offering will be a more streamlined affair, offering 500 movies compared to Netflix’s 4000+ at launch. The price for the service, according to Disney, will also be lower than Netflix’s.

So the new service may not be a Netflix killer, but it might injure it some, considering how many good movies Disney (and Fox) has at their disposal.

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I think that’s all we have this week, hope you found it all interesting. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (February 18, 2018)

February 18th, 2018

Welcome to another edition of the WNR. Valentine’s Day just passed, and one of three things might have happened. You might be single and it was simply just another day (or maybe you were at a gathering with like minded other singles), or you are in a relationship and had a nice celebration. Or you *were* in a relationship and now you’re no longer because you had totally forgotten about it. Ouch!

Incidentally, it was also the Chinese/Lunar New Year, so Happy year of the Dog to everyone.

Neither of these two holidays meant that the work of this site stopped, and so we do have news to cover this week. Yeah!

Copyright

Crunchyroll

Crunchyroll vulnerability lets pirates enjoy free content

Sometimes it’s hard to find and share pirated content. Sometimes though, it’s quite easy, as streaming search engine StreamCR found out this week. StreamCR found a vulnerability in anime/manga streaming site Crunchyroll that allowed all of the subscription site’s content to be streamed for free. Apparently, all that was needed was an active subscription and a little bit of code hacking to extract the link to the stream.

I’m sure the vulnerability will be patched up soon, but piracy has never been easier!

This brings up a side issue that pretty much unrelated to this news story. Is it a good thing to have niche streaming platforms like Crunchyroll or Hayu that can cater for a specific taste in viewing, or is it better to have “all-in-one” platforms like Netflix that has a bit of everything. I guess it’s true that even if Netflix devoted a lot of time and resources to streaming anime, it probably wouldn’t do half as good a job as Crunchyroll, and that’s why niche streaming services like them exists. But on the other hand, it really is becoming a pain to have to subscribe to so many different services if you want to get a bit of everything, and that’s before Disney/Fox launches its own streaming service.

It’s all getting a bit fractured, and that’s not how I envisioned on-demand streaming (or at least it’s not how I wanted it to be) when it started to become mainstream. I’m still holding out for a single service that has everything, but I think that dream is looking less likely by the minute.

High Definition

VLC 3.0 HDR

HDR support is now present in VLC 3.0

A new major version of VLC has been released and it adds a few very useful features. The addition of Chromecast support is much welcomed, which now allows you to stream local media files to the Chromecast, even if the media file is in a format not natively supported by Google’s streaming dongle. Chromecast support for VLC only work in Android (and on Chromebooks via the Play store app) at the moment, but with a unified codebase, it’s likely the same support will be coming to the other platforms.

Also added was HDR more, better hardware decoding support that makes 4K and 8K playback much more efficient (VLC has a demo showing 8K playback on the Samsung Galaxy S8), 10bit video support and even support for 360 degree videos with 3D audio.

And as always, VLC remains free and open source.

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That’s it for news this week. I know it’s not much, but believe me, this was the best of a bad lot. See you next week!

Weekly News Roundup (February 11, 2018)

February 11th, 2018

Hello! Welcome to another issue of the WNR. I hesitated about actually writing one this week, since there really isn’t much going on, but I don’t really want to make it a habit of skipping issues, which I know has become a bit too frequent recently, so I thought I would just cover what I can and then rant for the rest of it. So basically, the same as usual.

Copyright

Denuvo Cracking

If you want to, you can try your hand at cracking Denuvo yourself

Those that have been following my coverage of Denuvo related news in the last couple of months will know the game ‘Assassins Creed Origin’. It is one of the many high profile games protected by version 4 of Denuvo’s anti-tampering engine, and by recent comparisons, one of Denuvo’s success stories. That story is still very much a success, even though ‘Assassins Creed Origin’ was finally cracked last week.

For those keeping count, that’s about 4 months of protection for the triple-A game, which in piracy terms, is an eternity (most sales happen in the first few weeks). So for Denuvo, is has been a success story, but for crackers engaged in a war of attrition with the company, the cracking of ‘Assassins Creed Origin’ was also a success story, at least from a technical point of view.

Also interesting is that one cracker, known as Voksi, has even released a YouTube tutorial on how to crack Denuvo v4 yourself. I say tutorial, but for most of us, it might as well be in an alien language (or as someone posted on Reddit, like “giving a monkey a physics textbook”).

So the current state of warfare is this. Denuvo is using more and more complicated techniques to add and hide “triggers” into the game code that the Denuvo engine checks for at run time to detect tampering. The problem with this is that this also becomes increasingly resource intensive, to the point where eventually, game performance will be severely affected. Crackers are also finding it harder to find and remove these triggers. With a new version of the engine, crackers have to figure out where these triggers are and this is an time intensive process at first. This can be automated eventually, and so once a game is cracked, the time between it and the next crack will get increasingly shorter, and eventually, an avalanche of releases make their way to the scene. Then Denuvo comes out with a new version, and the game continues.

Will Denuvo eventually run out of ways to protect the triggers, or if it’s too much of a performance hit to do so? Don’t know, but cracking group are very determined to see this war all the way to the end, and usually when this is the case, the crackers usually win.

But for now, Denuvo can still license their engine to game publishers keep to protect their game – even if the protection only lasts 2 weeks, that’s still better than nothing in the publisher’s thinking. That is unless gamers start complaining loudly about Denuvo and its impact on game performance (if it’s proven beyond a doubt that Denuvo is a resource hog – we still can’t really say because the current crack is a workaround which does not remove Denuvo running in the background, but merely bypass it) and start voting with their wallets – maybe only then, with that kind of public backlash, will publishers think twice about putting Denuvo into their games.

High Definition

Deadpool on Ultra HD Blu-ray

UHD not enough to prevent the slide in Blu-ray revenue

While news is a bit light, I’ve been preparing the stats and graphs for our annual “Blu-ray: The State of Play” article, where I summarise how Blu-ray, DVD and Ultra HD Blu-ray are doing. 2016 saw a slight improvement for Blu-ray, possible related to the release of the UHD format, or possibly just due to the caliber of releases.

So what happened in 2017? You’ll have to wait for our full analysis to find out, but spoiler alert: Blu-ray is not doing very well. I mean, it’s still doing better than DVDs, but we’re looking at almost a 7% decline in revenue, and where for most weeks in 2017, Blu-ray revenue was down compared to the same week in 2016. Even UHD couldn’t save the day (or year) this time.

Keep your eyes peeled for the full analysis soon.

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Well, that’s it really for the week. Here’s hoping for a bit more to write about next week. Until then, have a great one!

Weekly News Roundup (February 4, 2018)

February 4th, 2018

Alright, it’s going to be another short one this week, as news was light on the ground again. So without wasting too much of your time …

Copyright

Redbox Kiosk

Redbox fires back against Disney with its own lawsuit

The Redbox/Disney legal tussle gets interestinger by the minute, this time, Redbox’s the one killing trees by filing a lawsuit against the studio. Redbox claims that Disney has had it in for them from the very beginning, refusing to work with them, creating artificial barriers and even going after Redbox’s business partners to pressure them not to do business with the rental kiosk company.

Redbox says that unlike most other studios that have all come to some sort of agreement with the company, Disney at first demanded a 28 day exclusion window for Disney titles in Redbox vending machines, and when Redbox circumvented this by buying discs at retail to fill their machines, Disney went after any distributor or retailer found to be doing business with Redbox in this way.

What really got Disney angry was that Redbox had found the value spot when it came to buying Disney titles and maximizing their profit. Instead of buying individual packs, Redbox bought combo packs that contained the Blu-ray, DVD and even a Digital Copy of the film. Redbox then rented out the two discs types individually, and just recently, started selling the Digital Copy code. This was the final straw for Disney, who sued Redbox in early December.

I’m really sitting on the fence on this one. In my opinion, it’s pretty clear that Redbox has been skirting around the lack of a deal with Disney. Buying from retail, separating a combo pack, and re-selling Digital Codes, all sounds a little dodgy in my opinion, and not something a company that has over 42,000 kiosks should be doing. Disney of course is only looking after themselves, and they couldn’t care less if people are inconvenienced from being to rent their movies from Redbox, not if they can maximize their own profits. It’s greed vs greed, and it feels to me this is something the two companies should hash out behind closed doors, not in a court of law.

As to who I think has a better case, if I had to guess based on the court’s tendency to favour the big guys, Disney will probably win both cases. It’s all about whether Disney has the right to prevent their retail products being used in this way – the disclaimers and warnings make it clear how Disney wants their products to be used, but will these stack up in court?

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That’s all I have for you this week though. More next week, I’m sure. So until then …

Weekly News Roundup (January 28, 2018)

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.

Copyright

Blockchain

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

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.

Gaming

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.

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


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