by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 9:06pm
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 6:05pm
from the he-understands-it dept
TtfnJohn sent along the February edition of Stardock Magazine in which Stardock's CEO Brad Wardell asks that very question of other game developers:
When Stardock was running Impulse, we got to hear a lot from companies regarding to their feelings towards software piracy. In many cases, it was clear that the motivation to stop piracy was less about maximizing sales and more about preventing people who didn't pay for the game from playing it. I felt this was misguided.Brad certainly understands what the answer to that question is. He continues by explaining that there are two types of pirates, those that just want free stuff no matter what and underserved customers. Just as we have explained numerous times, it is pointless and counter productive to go after the former type of pirate. It is far more rewarding to actually serve those customers that are more than willing to give you money.
When I see our games pirated, it definitely annoys me. I put a lot of myself into our software and seeing someone "stealing" it is upsetting. But at the same time, the response to piracy should be, to paraphrase The Godfather, "Just business". Simply put, the goal should be to maximize sales, not worry about people who wouldn't buy your game in the first place. I've said this in the past but until we were digitally distributing third party games, I didn't realize how prevalent the "stop those pirates" philosophy was.
Just as we have seen Valve grow in markets around the world by serving those underserved customers, other game developers, as well as other content creators, can make more money and grow in their respective industries by doing the same. So stop wasting time and money fighting a losing battle. Take that time, effort and money and put it where it really matters, providing the best possible service for your customers as possible.
by Michael Ho
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
- A full calendar of events is available at nationalroboticsweek.org. There's something going on in every state, and you can keep up with some of the activity via Facebook. [url]
- The iRobot Corp, famous for its line of robot vacuum cleaners, is sponsoring some public awareness projects for students to get kids interested in robots and science/technology subjects. FYI, iRobot products are also serving in the military to help clear out explosives from the battlefield, so its robots don't just clean up dirt. [url]
- If you're in Florida, the University of Miami School of Law will be discussing legal and policy issues relating to robotics at its inaugural 'We Robot' conference, April 21-22. The future of lawsuits against robots covers some things you might not expect. [url]
- To discover more interesting robotics-related content, check out what's currently floating around the StumbleUpon universe. [url]
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 4:15pm
from the this-is-becoming-more-and-more-common dept
The magistrate judge, Howard R. Lloyd, notes that granting early discovery is only supposed to be done if doing so actually identifies the Does. And while the copyright holder, Hard Drive Productions, insists that it will, the judge notes that the plaintiff's own arguments prove this is simply not true. That's because they admitted that once they got the IP addresses, they would then need to contact the owner of the account and seek to identify who was actually using the account at the time.
Thus, plaintiff will only consider naming and serving a defendant after it has (1) contacted the ISP subscriber one or more times, (2) researched that subscriber and anyone else who might have used the ISP subscription, (3) met and conferred with the subscriber; (4) attempted to settle with the subscriber, (5) elicited evidence of a defense from the subscriber, (6) evaluated the credibility of that evidence, and (7) found it wanting. In addition, plaintiff also admits that in the event that a subscriber refuses to “participate” in the above process, plaintiff may need to request further discovery. It is abundantly clear that plaintiff’s requested discovery is not “very likely” to reveal the identities of the Doe defendants. Indeed, plaintiff admitted at the hearing that neither it nor any other plaintiff it is aware of has ever served a single defendant in one of these cases where early discovery has been granted.The judge goes on to reject a number of other arguments as well, before denying the early discovery and dumping all but one of the defendants (also becoming standard in a lot of these lawsuits). But the conclusion discussion is where it gets really good:
The court realizes that this decision may frustrate plaintiff and other copyright holders who, quite understandably, wish to curtail online infringement of their works. Unfortunately, it would appear that the technology that enables copyright infringement has outpaced technology that prevents it. The court recognizes that plaintiff is aggrieved by the apparent infringement and is sympathetic toward its argument that lawsuits like this one are the only way for it to find and stop infringers. However, the court will not assist a plaintiff who seems to have no desire to actually litigate but instead seems to be using the courts to pursue an extrajudicial business plan against possible infringers (and innocent others caught up in the ISP net). Plaintiff seeks to enlist the aid of the court to obtain information through the litigation discovery process so that it can pursue a non-judicial remedy that focuses on extracting “settlement” payments from persons who may or may not be infringers. This the court is not willing to do.As these kinds of rulings continue to roll out of courts, hopefully a strong precedent is being set across the country that such lawsuits are simply not acceptable.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 3:14pm
from the bad-reporting dept
Okay, can we kill this story quickly? There's a ton of buzz going around claiming that Netflix has built up a Super PAC to promote a pro-SOPA agenda. As far as I can tell, this is simply not true. It started from a report in Politico, which mentioned (accurately) that Netflix had formed a PAC called FLIXPAC, and is getting much more aggressive in the lobbying/legislative front. This follows Netflix's trend of spending more and more on lobbying in the last few years: $20,000 in 2009, $130,000 in 2010 and $500,000 in 2011. Where it gets odd is that Politico tries to tie this to SOPA/PIPA by listing out those amounts and noting that the $500k in 2011 was spent "as legislative debates over the Stop Online Piracy Act, Protect IP Act and Video Privacy Protection Act raged."
In turn, the folks at RT played a game of bad reporter telephone and spun it into Netflix funding a pro-SOPA super PAC, "whose main goal is to promote SOPA-like legislation." I don't know what's up with the folks at RT. While their TV reporting can be quite good, their online reporting is abysmal at times. They clearly exaggerate stories or write from a position of ignorance.
The truth is that Netflix was basically neutral on SOPA, knowing that it had to balance its technology side and the fact that it is constantly negotiating with the big Hollywood studios on deals. Politically, it basically had to take a neutral position. But the company knows better than to out-and-out support really bad internet legislation. The company has been active on things like net neutrality and the Video Privacy Protection Act -- things that do have a direct impact on it. Sure, it would have been great if Netflix had been a strong anti-SOPA faction, the fact that it stayed neutral and is now ramping up its lobbying does not, in any way, mean that it's suddenly pushing for pro-SOPA legislation. The company appears to have a lot of other things on its legislative agenda.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 2:28pm
from the not-quite-a-troll dept
Of course, there's an interesting twist in all of this. Peter Kafka notes that Microsoft basically bought all Netscape assets outside of the name/trademarks, etc. From a historical standpoint, that's pretty interesting, seeing as how big the early internet battle was between Microsoft and Netscape for who would win the war to control the window into the internet. It would then be especially ironic (and ridiculous) if Microsoft used those patents to sue others, after spending so much time trying to kill off Netscape... Such is the bizarre world of patents these days, I guess.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 1:21pm
from the ah,-the-amazing,-flying-flexidisc dept
Third Man Records, the label White created, admits that "the typical recovery rate on similar balloon launches... is around 10%", making these flexi-discs pretty likely to be extremely rare for those who find them. As the Creators' Freedom Project points out:
It’s super unique, the balloon distributed discs will be a hot item when they’re eventually recovered, and the instructions on how to tell the rest of the world via social media will help to spread the word about the record since the actual release of the album is the next week.Indeed, the label is already tracking where the balloons are being found and reported.
I know that some of our usual critics will come up with ways to mock this, but it's yet another example of an artist doing something fun and creative that is a unique way to connect with fans.
by Leigh Beadon
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 12:15pm
from the backing-down dept
When the producers of the documentary Bully decided to protest the MPAA rating system, and then AMC supported them by announcing they would screen the unrated film, I wrote about how it represented a serious erosion of the MPAA's artificial grip on film ratings. Since then, the MPAA has softened on the issue, and agreed to grant a PG-13 rating to a slightly-edited version of the movie:
The change was made following the removal of several instances of the F-word, but leaving intact a particularly powerful and important scene of teen Alex Libby being bullied and harassed on a bus. In a press release, distributor The Weinstein Company lauded the MPAA's decision, calling it a victory "for the parents, educators, lawmakers, and most importantly, children, everywhere who have been fighting for months for the appropriate PG-13 rating without cutting some of the most sensitive moments."
Well, that's probably the nicest thing a non-member has said about the MPAA in awhile. Harvey Weinstein himself said "Senator Dodd is a hero for championing this cause", conjuring up images of the mighty MPAA CEO carving through hordes of busybodies from the Parents Television Council. But while Chris Dodd is surely happy for some good press, his recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter (the one in which he dropped vague hints about the return of SOPA) suggests the MPAA's decision may have been primarily personal:
THR: Why did you host a screening of Bully at the MPAA with Harvey Weinstein when The Weinstein Co. isn't a member company?
Dodd: Because I care about the issue, and I thought it was a great film. I called Harvey, and I said I would invite the superintendent of schools, teachers and principals, an expert on bullying and Lee Hirsch, the director. We had a great discussion after the screening. You're right, Harvey is not a member of the MPAA, but he's a brilliant film producer, and it's an important film on an important subject matter. It is utilizing the platform I was given at the MPAA.
THR: But Weinstein was highly critical of the ratings board at the time and has used his attacks against the board to market the movie.
Dodd: First of all, I've known Harvey for 25, 30 years, and we've been friends. He was very helpful to me as a candidate for Congress and as a senator over the years.
There's no "second of all" forthcoming. He was just "utilizing the platform" he was "given" to do favors for his friends. It's nice to see that he's still putting the skill-set he perfected in politics to good use as a lobbyist.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 11:10am
heartland payment systems
from the class-action-system-is-broken dept
Law professor Eric Goldman, who's spoken out about the broken class action system in the past, has another ridiculous example, this time involving Heartland Payment Systems. You may recall Heartland as being the company that had the largest security breach ever (at the time), losing data on over 100 million credit cards. A class action lawsuit (of course) followed, and Heartland agreed to pay up to anyone who could show that they were a victim of fraud from the loss. The company didn't have cardholder addresses, so it spent $1.5 million to advertise the settlement, and estimated that over 80% of the potential class saw an ad at least 2.5 times. Either way, not too many claims came in. A total of 290 claims were made, but only 11 were found to be valid.
Heartland had to pay a maximum of $175 to those individuals. Assuming it did pay the maximum, that means the "victims" of the breach got a grand total of $1925 (perhaps less). According to the settlement agreement, Heartland was supposed to pay out at least $1 million to victims (and up to $2.4 million). If less than $1 million worth of victims were found, the rest would go to non-profit organizations focused on protecting consumer privacy rights. That leaves $998,075 for those non-profits.
So, let's summarize:
- Actual victims got: $1925
- Heartland spent $1.5 million to find the people to give out that $1925.
- Somewhere around $998,075 goes to non-profits
- The lawyers who brought the lawsuit? They got $606,192.50. For helping 11 people get less than $200 each. Nice work if you can get it.
As Goldman notes, the whole thing seems bizarre:
Thus, it appears they spent over $130,000 to generate each legitimate claim. Surprisingly, the court blithely treats the $1.5M expenditure as a cost of doing business, but I can't wrap my head around it. What an obscene waste of money! Add in the $270k spent on claims administration, and it appears that the parties spent $160k per legitimate claimant. The court isn't bothered by the $270k expenses either, even though that cost about $1k per tendered claim (remember, there were 290 total claims).Something is broken with the system.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 10:13am
SF Students Suspended & Barred From Walking At Graduation Because They Joked About Teachers On A Blog
from the what-are-we-teaching-students dept
In March, after students at a San Francisco high school posted parodies and irreverent memes from their home computers about teachers and school administrators on a Tumblr blog (“Teaches Pink Floyd for 3 Weeks; Makes Final Project Due In 3 Days”; “Nags Student Govt About Being On Task; Lags On Everything”), the principal dragged three students she suspected of creating the blog posts into her office and interrogated them at length. (The blog has since been taken down.) The principal then immediately suspended the students for three days, accusing them of bullying and disrupting school activities. The students were also barred from attending a school dance and prom, and even from walking with their classmates at graduation. In addition, the principal did not provide the students with an opportunity to resolve the concerns through a restorative justice approach prior to imposing the punishments, which disregards the School District’s prioritization of restorative justice as an alternative, when possible, to suspension and expulsion.That seems like a pretty extreme reaction. When I was in high school, I actually remember doing something similar -- parodying the teacher -- in a paper for that teacher. Thankfully, he had a sense of humor. But either way, this is something that tons of high school kids do all the time. And it's clearly protected speech. Once these groups contacted the school and explained the law, the school backed down:
After we contacted the San Francisco Unified School District, they took prompt action to investigate the matter and reverse the discipline. Although the students already missed three days of school, the suspensions have been removed from their records, and they’ll be dancing at prom, and walking with their classmates at graduation.It's too bad it even needed to go that far. What's really disturbing in all of this is what the school officials are teaching kids. Joking and parody are key forms of education and creativity. It's too bad some schools still don't recognize that (or what the law actually says).
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 9:16am
from the scary-stuff dept
Apparently the Obama administration has not learned its lesson. It has now used the Espionage Act to go after a former CIA agent, John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on the CIA's waterboarding torture regime. This now makes it the sixth Espionage Act prosecution of a whistleblower brought by the Obama administration. All other presidents before him used it a total of 3 times. As the Government Accountability Project notes, the really stunning thing in all of this is that Kiriakou will be the only person prosecuted in relation to the use of waterboarding -- and simply for blowing the whistle on it.
if you torture a prisoner, you will not be held criminally liable, but if you blow the whistle on torture, you risk criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act.Something seems very, very wrong about this.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 8:15am
from the not-cool dept
TorrentFreak has the unfortunate story of filmmaker Brian Taylor, who released a short horror film called "the Bite" via his En Queue Film production studio, and decided to distribute it via isoHunt. However, that's when things went bad:
"I got it going, had downloads start from the US and Europe almost immediately, which made me a very happy guy," Taylor told TorrentFreak.
However, this enthusiasm faded quickly when he tried to access the torrent from a US connection a day later. Instead of a link to the torrent file the filmmaker was welcomed with the following message. “Torrent has been censored, as required by US court.”
They also note that a torrent of public domain music has been blocked by the MPAA (even though the MPAA's filter is about movies, not music). Of course, this is what happens when you force overblocking and the use of technologically stupid filtering methods like keywords. What's amazing is that a court made this same mistake a decade ago with Napster (forcing keyword blocking) and it didn't work then, and doesn't work now. It's amazing that judges who clearly are technologically illiterate find it reasonable to make rules up out of thin air like this one, that not only does little to block any actual infringement, but does plenty to block legitimate uses of tools.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 7:11am
from the for-shame dept
Trey Harris is a big fan of WNYC, and a regular pledge drive supporter. Of course, to make his listening easier, he uses a program called Flip4Mac, which not only lets him listen to the streams, but lets him do some basic time shifting of the streams: pause, rewind, fast-forward, etc. This makes the WNYC feed more valuable and useful for him, and he's shown it by supporting them even more, having recently increased his yearly contribution.
Unfortunately, WNYC thinks he's a crook. A few days ago, the app stopped working with the WNYC feed. Trey contacted them to let them know that there must be a bug that needed fixing... and he was told instead that the app had been blocked because of piracy! As he notes, the folks making the decisions at WNYC apparently are wholly unfamiliar with the ruling in the Betamax case that says that time-shifting is legal. It's why VCRs and DVRs are legal. There's no reason why streaming audio shouldn't be legal as well.
After complaining about this publicly, WNYC (actually, the "donor's office") contacted him to clarify. They said that they weren't accusing him of piracy, but that their streaming provider said that app was used for piracy, and that's why it was blocked. Still, they argued that time shifting is "piracy"... but only if done online.
She agreed that if I used a tape recorder, or a digital recorder, to store the over-the-air broadcast, I could listen to it later, pause, rewind, etc. But she said when it went over the Internet it was different. I brought up the TiVo example, and she responded that video-on-demand programs often disallow fast-forwarding. "It's a whole new world," she said.It's not "a whole new world," in the way she thinks. There is no requirement that a DVR disable things like fast-forwarding. There is certainly no reason for them to disable this use. It's not "piracy." They're broadcasting this free over the air, and this is just someone recording the legitimate stream. All of that is perfectly legal. The only reason to break the ability to do this is to piss off legitimate listeners.
Of course, even if WNYC officials are totally wrong about this, it's really not that surprising. In a world of copyright maximalism, where we're continually taught about "ownership" of ideas and content, even where it doesn't make sense, some people almost have an instinctual reaction to think that any use like this must be "illegal" somehow. It is not, and it's a shame that WNYC seems to be sticking to this bogus explanation. Of course, I also wonder why WNYC thinks of services like dar.fm, which appears to offer up a bunch of WNYC shows for time shifting.
The whole thing remains pretty silly, of course. Time shifting is legal. An operation like WNYC shouldn't just be fine with it, it should encourage it because it makes their shows more valuable, meaning more people will listen -- and more people will be interested in donating and supporting what they do. It's a shame that they clearly haven't thought this through and simply jumped to the false conclusion that this was some sort of evil piracy.
by Glyn Moody
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 5:05am
Just Because It's Now Cheaper And Easier To Spy On Everyone All The Time, Doesn't Mean Governments Should Do It
from the Moore's-Law-strikes-again dept
Rick Falkvinge has another of his fascinating posts up on his Web site, but this one's slightly different from his usual insights into the dysfunctional nature of copyright and patents. It concerns some little-known (to me, at least) history of how Sweden went from being a beacon of freedom to a country under comprehensive surveillance.
As Falkvinge explains, things began with what seemed at the time a very minor matter:
the FRA [a Swedish security agency] had used a loophole in the law since 1976 that allowed it (maybe) to wiretap all phonecalls that were routed over satellites, by erecting their own receiver dishes next to the telco ones. This allowed them to receive all the satellite signals, in identical copies to what the intended receiver dish did. The law they used to justify this behavior was one that said that privacy cannot be expected over radio waves, and that anybody may listen to anything sent over radio -- which makes sense with shortwave-type radio amateur equipment, but not necessarily with satellite links: when you pick up the phone, you expect privacy, regardless of the technical route of the phonecall.
The key thing to note here is that there is a distinction being made between the vast majority of phone calls, and the special class of phone calls made over satellites. That meant that this was not a general spying capability, but a very limited one that only affected a class of users. Falkvinge goes on:
Fiber optics in the ground gradually replaced satellites as the preferred method of transmission, and the FRA complained to the administrative departments that it had lost its ability to wiretap, and wanted an amendment to the law that would -- in their own words -- just "compensate for technical developments".
So the logic here is that the security services were beginning to lose a very limited capability for spying on a special class of user. But note what it demanded as a consequence:
What they asked for was a requirement for every owner of fiberoptics crossing the border to send a mandatory realtime traffic copy to the FRA. They demanded to wiretap everybody, all the time, if your phonecall or internet traffic happened to cross one of these checkpoints (which you can’t tell if it does or not).
The key trick employed here was to claim that the change was just to "compensate for technical developments", and that there was some kind of equivalence between the eavesdropping on phone calls via satellites and those made via fiber optics. And it's true that fiber optics largely took over from satellites, but that does not make them equivalent. They are quite different technologies, and spying on one is not the same as spying on the other -- this was not truly about "preserving" a limited spying capability, it was taking advantage of the fact that it was now possible to spy on everyone in the same way, thanks to new technology.
So the FRA went from "using a possible loophole in the law to eavesdrop on satellites" to "demanding exactly everything all the time". This was a little bit more than just an update for technical progress; this was a huge difference in scale and a near-complete abolition of the right to privacy.
Significantly, this is exactly the same argument that the UK government is making with what it calls its "Communications Capabilities Development Programme" (pdf):
Communications data -- information such as who called whom and at what time -- is vital to law enforcement, especially when dealing with organised crime gangs, paedophile rings and terrorist groups. It has played a role in every major Security Service counter-terrorism operation and in 95 per cent of all serious organised crime investigations. Communications data can and is regularly used by the Crown Prosecution Service as evidence in court.
Notice this is couched in terms of "preserving the ability" of security agencies to spy just as they did in the past. In other words, the UK government would have us believe that this is simply preserving the status quo. But as in Sweden, that's not the case here:
But communications technology is changing fast, and criminals and terrorists are increasingly moving away from landline and mobile telephones to communications on the internet, including voice over internet services, like Skype, and instant messaging services. Data from these technologies is not as accessible as data from older communications systems which means the police and Security Service are finding it increasingly hard to investigate very serious criminality and terrorism. We estimate that we are now only able to access some 75% of the total communications data generated in this country, compared with 90% in 2006. Given the pace of technological change, the rate of degradation could increase, making our future capability very uncertain.
That is why, in the Government’s Strategic Defense and Security Review, published in 2010, we said we would "introduce a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain data and to intercept communications within the appropriate legal framework."
We therefore propose to require internet companies to collect and store certain additional information, like who an individual has contacted and when, which they may not collect at present. The information will show the context -- but not the content -- of communications. So we will have for internet-based communications what we already have for mobile and landline telephone calls.
It's still not entirely clear what the UK government wants to gather -- it has been understandably evasive on this front -- but it would seem to include things like recipients of emails, Skype contacts and addresses of Web sites visited (possibly even full URLs, which will point to very specific content.) But the details don't really matter, because this is actually a question of principle.
The UK government, like the Swedish government before it, is trying to set up a false equivalence between monitoring communications before the Internet became a mass medium, and after. But the intrusiveness of such surveillance before the Internet, and before computing power was available to analyze the data gathered, was limited. Back then, working out the network of contacts of a person of interest could be done, but with effort, and at some cost. This ensured that only the potentially most serious threats were investigated.
But once again, Moore's Law has changed everything. What the UK government wishes to gather would allow the entire social graph of everyone in the UK to be calculated in near real-time. It would mean that their every move online could be watched as it happened, and cross-referenced with their past communications history. As Falkvinge points out in another recent post, what has really changed is not so much the ability to spy, but the cost of doing so.
Today, thanks to our networked lives and the plummeting cost of hardware, national governments can monitor everything we do online for the same outlay as the much more limited surveillance of yesteryear. So what is really being preserved is not some supposedly circumscribed spying capability, but the orders-of-magnitude cost. By keeping that cost constant, governments can increase the scope of their spying hugely.
But just because the technology makes it possible, and the economics makes it feasible, doesn't mean governments ought to go ahead and do it. They may claim that they are simply "compensating for technical developments", but really they are trying to exploit those developments to go way beyond what was agreed before as socially acceptable, and to do so without any consultation on how much online surveillance should be permitted in a free society.
And as to the UK government's argument that "we are now only able to access some 75% of the total communications data generated in this country, compared with 90% in 2006", this conveniently skates over the fact that the quantity of such communications data has probably doubled in that time, since IP traffic is currently growing at around 32% annually: in absolute terms, more data is available than ever. This is not about preserving capabilities in order to stand still, it's about running ever faster into a world of total surveillance.
by Leigh Beadon
Mon, Apr 9th 2012 3:01am
from the more-than-they-like-to-admit,-I-suspect dept
The HBO show Game of Thrones has become something of a symbol for TV piracy as a response to lack of availability, ever since it was used as an example in a comic by Matthew Inman (which was then reprised as a post by MG Siegler, minus the jokes). This is probably because it's ridiculously addictive (once you start watching, there's no way you're going to stop before someone stabs that Joffrey kid). This month the second season began, and after all the criticisms of their distribution scheme, HBO accidentally threw frustrated online viewers a bone by leaking the second episode nearly a week ahead of schedule—someone working on the Dutch edition of HBO Go must have accidentally flipped a switch, and winter came early. But before that happened, the season premier aired to a massive ratings jump, which most people anticipated. Why? Because, they reasoned, the nine-month gap between seasons gave new viewers a chance to catch up with (and get hooked on) the series by watching season one on HBO On Demand and HBO Go.
It's a good theory, but only some are prepared to mention the elephant in the room: plenty of people (quite possibly the majority) caught up through unauthorized streams and torrents, just like Matthew Inman. And that brings us to the bigger elephant lurking in the whole house: how much has piracy contributed to the rise of HBO-style television? Would we have complex, high-concept, critically acclaimed shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones without it? Many people attribute this fundamental shift in the nature of popular television, from episodic towards serialized, to DVDs and legitimate digital sources—but I'd wager that piracy is a much more significant factor.
There are two main reasons. Firstly, the ability to watch any episode any time makes such can't-miss-an-episode shows less of a commitment. This, alone, is the single biggest contributing factor to the popularity of heavily serialized television, and it is impossible to explain it entirely with DVDs and sources like iTunes. Many cable subscribers turn to piracy as a way to catch missed episodes, and that safety net prevents serialized shows from alienating viewers and losing momentum. Secondly, unauthorized sources are especially popular with the fanatics—the people who evangelize "must watch" shows to their friends and coworkers, and who create memes with screencaps to spread on Tumblr and Facebook. That's not to mention the amateur critics and TV bloggers who generate buzz (in fact, there is a bit of a back and forth going on over the ethics of piracy in the critic community).
Of course, as digital offerings get better, more and more of this kind of activity happens through legitimate channels instead of piracy (not like anyone's been saying that all along, or anything). But services like Netflix got to the table once the serial television trend was in full-swing, so they don't account for its inception. Some people fear that television piracy will put at end to such ambitious undertakings in the medium—but they should stop to consider the hand it played in making them possible to begin with.