by Mike Masnick
Thu, Jun 4th 2015 3:08pm
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Apr 21st 2015 11:34am
from the how-dare-you-embrace-new-technology? dept
Witness this bizarre email thread, in which Sony's top execs completely freak out over the idea that some other Sony folks are considering ways to use torrents for promotional purposes. It started with some Sony folks in Europe, who had the idea of putting up fake torrents of the TV show "Hannibal" that would (at first) include a short portion of the show, and then would tell downloaders to watch the show on TV. But Sony bosses in LA put the kibosh on this plan:
Personally, I love this and this it is a great promotion – unfortunately, however, the studio position is that we absolutely cannot post content (even promos) on torrent sites. The studio spends millions of dollars fighting piracy and it doesn’t send a good message if we then start using those same pirate sites to promote our shows.Well, first of all, it's not a "great promotion" because people have tried putting up similar fake torrents for ages, and it tends to just piss people off. There's a reason they're downloading it rather than watching it on TV and telling them to just watch it on TV probably doesn't help anyone. It just pisses them off. But let's leave that aside for a minute.
The folks on the TV side at Sony tried again. They thought, instead of a "promotion" for the TV, how about just a "public service announcement" (PSA) about how unauthorized downloads are bad. This is also a pretty dumb idea that has been tried for over a decade and generally just leads to mockery. So it likely wouldn't be that effective, but Sony top execs got even more worried that even using torrents for PSAs would somehow legitimize BitTorrent, and Sony cannot allow that to happen.
I called Paula and restated that this is simply a long road to “no” because it so severely undercuts our efforts not only in CE, but all we have accomplished elsewhere (and that could be compromised by making the distinction between bad & good sites more gray)… Forget about a site blocking strategy if we start putting legitimate PSAs or promos on sites we’ve flagged to governments as having no legitimate purpose other than theft… PSAs being for public good, etc…Elsewhere in the email thread, Sony Pictures' top lawyer Aimee Wolfson notes that "this is a highly problematic idea":
This is a highly problematic idea. Even with a PSA message, it will be easy for the pirate sites to cite it as (a) lawful activity on their site, and (b) an attempt to promote the show. (Note that the attached script is definitely promotional, and responds to the pirate viewer’s activity with a knowing and conspiratorial “wink” – not the message we would want to send.)Meanwhile, the Sony TV and marketing people keep pushing for this idea, with Sony TV boss Steve Mosko saying "this is really important to me" and others recognizing that this is a "clever" idea, considering that the European team has "no budget."
In some ways, this is so incredibly shortsighted. Here Sony is so committed to the idea that torrents can't be shown to have any legal, non-infringing uses (even though there are plenty), that it won't even allow its own staff to experiment with ways to use the new technology to their own advantage. But just the admission in the email alone shows that Sony's top execs know damn well that there are legitimate, non-infringing, uses for BitTorrent, and they're deliberately trying not to use them just to make BitTorrent look much worse than it is.
Sony's focus is so blinded by "Piracy bad! Piracy bad!" that it can't even consider "Hey, this technology might be helpful." Once again, I'm reminded of how Jack Valenti declared in 1982 that "the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." Except, at least back then Hollywood wasn't so stupid as to not embrace the VCR. Just four years after Valenti claimed that the VCR would kill the American film industry, in 1986, VCR revenue for the movie industry surpassed box office revenue. The Hollywood of the 1980s fought technology, but at least it learned how to use it to its own advantage. Apparently the Hollywood of today is so committed to hating on technology that it will give up the new markets enabled by it.
Mon, Mar 23rd 2015 2:40pm
from the what? dept
I'm not a coupon person. I don't know why I'm not, but I don't find myself at the grocery store digging through a coupon wallet the way my mother did to ensure I get $.25 off on that discounted meat I like to buy for a little game I call "Will this kill me tonight?" When shopping online, however, it's a completely different story. Like many others, checking out of an online store isn't complete until I run the brand or retailer through a search engine to see if there are any online coupons I can use. One of the common sites that comes up is RetailMeNot, an aggregator of coupon codes. Sometimes the codes work, more often they don't, but it's all part of my buying process.
And you have to imagine that, for the most part, retailers love sites like this. Coupons, after all, are designed to get buyers to try out a store or a brand. Making those coupons more widely available should naturally result in more first-tries, more purchases when there might otherwise be less. It's a promotional tool, if nothing else, likely a free advertising source for these stores and brands. Mary Kay Cosmetics, in its never-ending wisdom, has decided to sue RetailMeNot for fraud and trademark infringement, litigating against the hand that feeds them.
Mary Kay Cosmetics is suing affiliate site Google Ventures-backed RetailMeNot in federal court for precisely for this reason. The company doesn’t sell directly to the public — though its corporate site makes it appear otherwise — and says it doesn’t offer deals or coupons. Therefore the company says that RetailMeNot’s presentation of Mary Kay coupons misleads consumers and harms the brand and its relationship with its sales reps (independent consultants) in several ways.Okay, a couple of things to note from that pull quote. First, Mary Kay absolutely does sell direct to customers on its website. Not its entire catalog, perhaps. For that, you probably have to deal with one of the low-on-the-pyramid "sales reps" that hasn't figured out the Mary Kay business model yet. As for whether Mary Kay offers coupons or deals, they absolutely do that, too. You can get free gifts with certain purchase amounts or free shipping on certain amounts, for instance. I played along at the Mary Kay website to find out, so you can see the screenshot below.
Now, while these aren't the kinds of coupons that have a code, the kind that people will usually travel to a site like RetailMeNot to get, so what? RetailMeNot is a service for alerting consumers to sales, coupons, and deals. When there is no coupon code, the site drives traffic directly to the retailer's site for the deal instead. For instance:
The Mary Kay site is displayed and consumers are directed there for their needs. I have no idea where the fraud is here and, if it's trademark infringement, it's the kind of infringement most businesses should be begging for. Driving traffic of interested consumers directly to your website? That deserves a "thank you", not a lawsuit.
And, in truth, the higher ups at Mary Kay probably have no problem with any of this. Unfortunately, the Mary Kay business model means that consumers visiting the website really aren't Mary Kay's most important customers. It's lower level employees are. The folks at the bottom of the triangle have been complaining that their customers are referencing the deals on the Mary Kay site that RetailMeNot is pointing out and demanding the same deals from the local reps. And, because Mary Kay makes a fat percentage of its money directly from those reps, rather than from consumers, pissed off "Independant Beauty Consultants" are a problem. Hence the stupid lawsuit in which Mary Kay admits as much.
RMN’s listing of these “sales,” “deals,” and “coupons” harms Mary Kay and its relationship with its customers (the IBCs). Mary Kay has received various complaints from IBCs and others, who have been pressured by customers to accept and/or honor the false or unauthorized “coupons” posted on RMN’s website.RetailMeNot's site is pointing back to Mary Kay's website. That's what makes all of this not only legal, but certainly not underhanded. Now, I still can't quite fathom why Mary Kay, even after admitting who its real customers are in a legal filing, can't immediately be disbanded as a pyramid scheme, but that's entirely besides the point. RMN is under no obligation to keep Mary Kay customers happy and driving traffic to a retailer's website isn't grounds for a lawsuit. And it appears the site is willing to fight, according to the statement it provided.
RetailMeNot, Inc. takes concerns related to third party intellectual property very seriously. RetailMeNot, Inc. continues to believe that it operates in compliance with law and in the best interests of consumers and its retail partners by aggregating information to help shoppers save money using its websites and mobile apps. RetailMeNot, Inc. believes the allegations in this lawsuit are without merit and intends to vigorously contest this matter.Sigh. No good deed and all that....
by Karl Bode
Wed, Mar 11th 2015 6:09am
from the faux-fisticuffs dept
Of course pitting ISPs against one another assumes you even have the choice of more than one decent broadband provider, something that's certainly not a given. Even in markets we tend to think of as competitive, we're increasingly seeing non-price competition (what I affectionately refer to as "wink wink, nod nod" competition), wherein duopolies quietly work together to slowly edge prices upward -- because there's simply no repercussion for doing so. The New York City tri-state area, where Cablevision and Verizon FiOS engage in a customer tug-of-war, is a perfect example of this kind of not-really-competition.
While Verizon and Cablevision did compete intensely for a short while in New York, the two sides have in recent years declared what can only be called a competitive cease fire. Both have dramatically scaled back or stopped promotions entirely and raised rates whenever possible. In fact, a study last year noted that while all cable rates are increasing much higher than the rate of inflation, Cablevision customers see some of the highest rates in the nation.
Cablevision executives meanwhile have made their disdain for the smart consumer abundantly clear over the last few years, calling smart shoppers a "dead end" that the company has no interest in pursuing. Speaking at a recent investor conference, Cablevision vice chairman Gregg Seibert took this rhetoric one step further, declaring that customers that follow the best promo offer are a "low quality" subscriber that the company is happy to get rid of:
"We found out that we were pushing subscribers back and forth on a highly promoted basis," said Cablevision vice chairman Gregg Seibert, speaking Monday at the Deutsche Bank 2015 Media, Internet & Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Fla. "I don't want to roll a truck to you every two years if you keep going back and forth to another provider … So we're getting rid of that lower quality, lower profitability base of subscriber."Except "pushing subscribers back and forth" is what competition is. Fighting to offer a better value than the other guy is how competition works. That Cablevision and FiOS can just choose when they'd like to seriously compete illustrates perfectly how even in U.S. markets we consider to be more competitive, what we're usually witnessing is just coordinated competition theater. When consumers only have one or two real options for service, and both of those options quietly agree on an unwritten competitive cease fire, there's simply no longer any reason to even try. It's then a lovely layer of hubris to publicly express disdain for customers looking for something better.
by Michael Ho
Fri, Nov 7th 2014 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
- Some airlines offer free meals to their first-class customers, and one man from China ate for free in the VIP lounge of China Eastern Airlines for an entire year. Nice. But not quite as crafty as David Philips scheme that got him free airline miles for buying pudding. [url]
- Taco Bell ran a contest called "Eleven Everlasting Dollars" that offered free food for life (at Taco Bell). The fine print defined free food for life as $10,000 in gift cards -- which apparently was based on an average consumption of $216 per year for 46 years. [url]
- Alan Marin from North Carolina bought a "Never Ending Pasta Pass" from Olive Garden, and he's eaten over a hundred meals with it. It's a limited time pass, but he's already saved himself several hundred bucks (but on the other hand, he's had to eat nothing but pasta for over a month). [url]
- If you want to try getting as much free food as you can in a year, mark your calendars for all of the annual free food promotions from Ben & Jerry's and other retailers. Not too many free lunches, but you'll be eating a lot of desserts and donuts. [url]
by Tim Cushing
Tue, Aug 5th 2014 9:12am
from the you-spelled-'taking'-wrong dept
Sharing is a universal concept. Or so you would think. But even a three year-old has a better grasp on the concept of sharing than Amtrak does.
An Amtrak passenger uploaded a photo taken from an Amtrak car to Instagram and tagged the company. The company's Twitter account responded, asking the passenger if he'd mind "sharing" the photo with Amtrak.
@Amtrak btw, I don't mind *giving* you this photo, but you shouldn't use the word "share" when you mean "permanently assign copyright"— Nathan Ruibal (@nruibal) July 30, 2014
btw, I don't mind *giving* you this photo, but you shouldn't use the word "share" when you mean "permanently assign copyright"You see, when Amtrak says "share," it actually means "take your stuff and never give it back." When this Twitter user "shared" this with Amtrak (via social media management platform Percolate/Fanbranded), he gave up everything.
Here's the Terms and Agreement verbiage Amtrak translates as "sharing."
This Photograph Copyright Assignment Agreement ("Agreement") is entered into by and between the National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak"), a corporation organized under 49 U.S.C. §24101 et seq. and the laws of the District of Columbia, with its principal office located at 60 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E, Washington, DC 20002 and Photographer for the assignment of the copyright in the photograph(s) ("Photographs"), which are attached to this Agreement as Exhibit I.The short version:
Grant of Rights
Photographer does hereby grant, assign and transfer all right, title and interest in the Photographs to Amtrak and any registrations and copyright applications relating thereto, including any renewals and extensions thereof. Photographer agrees to execute all papers and to perform such other proper acts, as Amtrak may deem necessary or desirable to secure for Amtrak the rights herein granted, assigned and/or transferred.
Amtrak may, but is not required to, identify and credit Photographer and Amtrak may use or authorize the use of Photographer’s name, likeness or pertinent biographical material in connection with the advertising and promotion of any work containing all or part of the Photographs.
Entire Agreement, Modifications and Governing Law
This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement and understanding between the parties with respect to the subject matter hereof and supersedes any prior discussion or agreements between them relating thereto. No modification or amendment to this Agreement shall be valid unless in writing and signed by both parties. This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the substantive laws, but not the laws of conflicts, of the District of Columbia.
Sharing = giving away your photo for forever for exploitation solely by Amtrak, which may or may not choose to credit you for your creation and either way, you can't really demand attribution because it's no longer your photo, is it?
Is it forgivable? In a word, NO. While we can expect most corporate entities to have their way with user-generated content, the most anyone should ask for is non-exclusive rights. Amtrak has no right to demand this and everyone greeted with this offer to "share" should turn it down with a hearty, "go screw yourself."
But this isn't Amtrak's only dip into re-purposing the creations of others into rolling PR platforms (literally). A few months ago, it sent out the call to aspiring writers, offering finalists a free ticket to the place of their choosing provided they rode there in an Amtrak rail car and wrote something suitably inspiring.
Every aspiring writer who thought viewing up to $900 of the country by rail would beat back writer's block signed up, forcing Amtrak to end its open call for submissions much earlier than it planned to. Enthusiasm outweighed common sense as every submission (over 11,000 of them) became the property of Amtrak, subject to a whole host of stipulations.
In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties. In addition, Applicant hereby represents that he/she has obtained the necessary rights from any persons identified in the Application (if any persons are minors, then the written consent of and grant from the minor’s parent or legal guardian); and, Applicant grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy the name, image, and/or likeness of Applicant and the names of any such persons identified in the Application for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing.If Amtrak was looking for a bunch of free marketing material written by a cast of thousands, it found it. And then, it stripped away any rights the authors had to their creations, even if they weren't one of the 24 finalists. Amtrak isn't looking for talented, original writers. It's looking for some really cheap spokespeople.
The Amtrak Residency’s terms and conditions, which prescribe a search for publicists, not the next great American novelist. Applications and writing samples that pass an initial evaluation will then be judged by a panel “based on the degree to which the Applicant would function as an effective spokesperson/endorser of [the] Amtrak brand.”Amtrak really needs a refresher course on sharing. Companies can be partners with creators but far too often, they seek complete control. Notably, everything defining this stripping of the creators' rights happens in the fine print. If you assume the worst about Terms and Conditions, you'll rarely be disappointed. But it takes a certain blend of audacity and forced cheerfulness to use the word "share" to describe what's going on here.
Wed, May 28th 2014 1:57pm
from the all-new-questions dept
Roughly a year ago, Nintendo began a bold plan of declaring war on well-known YouTubers who created "let's play" videos using Nintendo IP. Well, perhaps war isn't the right word. Suddenly and swiftly, it claimed these YouTube videos through the site's system that then allowed it to push ads into the videos, the revenue for which it shared between YouTube and itself, leaving the videomakers out in the cold. It was misguided in several ways, the most obvious being that these kinds of videos and their creators are essentially free advertising for Nintendo, getting the word out to potential customers about games they may then pick up. It strains the mind to think of any large numbers of people who might substitute a "let's play" video for actually playing the game themselves, but Nintendo is Nintendo, so the company opted for control over goodwill.
Perhaps only coincidentally (or maybe not...), the last year has been rough for the gaming company. Console sales are down across the board, and Nintendo appears to be pinning its hopes on a couple of triple-A games coming out to save its skin -- which makes it all the more interesting that Nintendo is also announcing a new plan to share ad revenue with YouTubers who sign up for its affiliate program.
Nintendo's statement came from a series of messages on its Japanese Twitter account that mentioned "several affiliate programs" for YouTube users that would allow them to "receive a portion of the advertising revenue" coming from videos featuring gameplay footage. I reached out to the company for additional information, and here's what a representative from Nintendo of America had to say:On the surface, this seems like a huge step in the right direction. The once monolithic stance on collecting all the revenue possible from these videos is finally giving way to a program that will allow some of the fan-gathering YouTube personalities to have some skin in the game. You'd think there would be praise across the board for this. You'd be wrong. Between the ill-feelings still lingering from the actions of last year and the wariness of working under the umbrella of a Nintendo affiliate program, some of the bigger names seem suspicious in this phase where details are still lacking on the program.
"Nintendo has been permitting the use of Nintendo copyrighted material in videos on YouTube under appropriate circumstances. Advertisements may accompany those videos, and in keeping with previous policy that revenue is shared between YouTube and Nintendo. In addition, for those who wish to use the material more proactively, we are preparing an affiliate program in which a portion of the advertising profit is given to the creator. Details about this affiliate program will be announced in the future."
Zack Scott, another popular YouTuber and the one who first brought the issue to light last year after he noticed that some of the Nintendo-focused videos on his popular ZackScottGames channel were being tagged with the network's Content ID system, told Kotaku at the end of last June that he had resumed posting such work once Nintendo appeared to back away from its crackdown. I followed up with him today to see if anything had changed since his tentative return to posting Nintendo-centric "Let's Play" videos last year. He said that while he's been impacted "very, very minimally" by any changes in Nintendo and YouTube's policies so far, he could "definitely see a future" where this has a bigger influence.Left unsaid is the converse: will Nintendo use its affiliate program to attempt to exert control over YouTubers' video content. Keep in mind that the Nintendo IP on display isn't really the draw in these videos. After all, there are a million such videos for a million games. The popular ones are popular because of the personality of the YouTuber. They share the stage with the game and they got their audience on a ledger of trust from the viewers. If Nintendo attempts to leverage that trust by exerting control through its affiliate program, such as by only allowing access to content in exchange for positive or non-negative editorial speech within the video, it will be a massive problem, one that will ultimately backfire in Nintendo's face, while torpedoing a bunch of YouTube personalities along with it.
"I feel the relationship between video creator and content publisher is mutually beneficial," Scott wrote in an email. "Numerous companies already understand this balance. I'd hate for the model to become where a popular creator can request revenue of a publisher in exchange for coverage. I'd equally hate for a publisher to request revenue of a creator in exchange for access."
Either way, the devil is most definitely in the details with this kind of program. If Nintendo makes it extremely clear that editorial content is hands-off and that the affiliate program will be free from YouTuber corruption, this might, possibly work. Given the company's history, however, I have my doubts.
by Michael Ho
Mon, May 5th 2014 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
- Ten years ago, Burger King introduced its Subservient Chicken campaign which allowed internet users to control the actions of a guy dressed up in a chicken suit. It was brilliantly engaging for 2004. Kids today might not care about watching a guy in a chicken suit do push-ups on command, but sequels are always a good idea, right? [url]
- Ever run out of reading material while on a long flight? SkyMall magazines can waste some time and introduce you to some products you'd ever encountered before. But what if the product descriptions were a bit more honest (and funny)? [url]
- A Craigslist ad for a generously "fair condition" 1996 Nissan Maxima GLE got the attention of some folks at Nissan, so they bought the car, restored it, and placed it on display at Nissan headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee. The Craigslist ad was kinda funny, but what's the message from Nissan? We take pride in all of our cars? Our cars clean up nice, even after almost two decades? [url]
by Tim Cushing
Wed, Apr 23rd 2014 12:15pm
from the self-hacking? dept
[Update: hole has been closed by ACB's IT team]
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is so severely flawed that people are extremely hesitant to report security holes in websites, especially after witnessing what happened to Weev (Andrew Auernheimer), who went to jail for exposing a flaw in AT&T's site that exposed user info when values in the URL were incremented.
The same goes here with this submission from an anonymous Techdirt reader who added this note, along with a link to a post in the Computer Security subreddit.
"I remember a person was recently arrested for finding this same flaw in a website and told (at&t/apple??) about it. He was arrested and jailed if I remember right. This is the type of chilling effects that come when people view techies as hackers and are arrested for pointing out flaws.Is that overdramatic? Doubtful. People have reported security flaws to companies only to have these entities press charges, file lawsuits or otherwise tell them to shut up. Weev's only out because the government's case was brought in the wrong venue. The CFAA, which has been used to punish many helpful people, is still intact and as awful as ever.
The flaw is in:
By changing the number at the end you can harvest personal info.
I won't report the flaw, I could go to jail."
As the (also anonymous) redditor points out, he or she has tried to contact the company but has found no avenue to address this security hole which exposes names, addresses and email addresses of customers sending in claims for a free year of Netflix streaming that came bundled with their purchase of an LG Smart TV. Incrementing the digits at the end of the URL brings up other claims, some with images of receipts attached. In addition, anyone can upload support documents to these claims.
Here's a screenshot of the hole in question:
As the original poster points out, with a little coding, someone could put together a database of addresses that most likely house a brand new LG Smart TV. And this may not just be limited to LG. ACB Incentives is the company behind this promotion, and it handles the same sort of online rebate forms for a variety of companies. These rebate submission sites all branch off acbincentives.com, which could mean it's just a matter of figuring out how each one handles submitted claims, URL-wise.
Now, I've contacted the company to let them know. Amanda Phelps at the Memphis branch says she's bringing it to the attention of programming. I also let her know that it may affect other rebate pages but that I can't confirm that. We'll see how quickly this is closed*, but all in all, the people at ACB seemed to be concerned and helpful, rather than suspcious.
*Very quickly, it appears. See note at top of post.
But the underlying point remains. Many people who discover these flaws aren't criminals and aren't looking to expose the data of thousands of unsuspecting users. They're simply concerned that this is happening and often incredulous that major companies would be this careless with customers' data. That the kneejerk reaction has often been to shoot the messenger definitely gives those discovering these holes second thoughts as to reporting them, a hesitation that could allow someone with more nefarious aims to exploit the exposed data. The law needs to change, and so does the attitude that anyone discovering a flaw must be some sort of evil hacker -- or that the entity must do whatever it takes, even if it means throwing the CFAA at someone, just to prevent a little embarrassment.
Wed, Oct 9th 2013 4:05pm
from the idle-hands dept
I'm not sure if you heard, but the United States government has been shut down, or has been "slimmed down," or is partially funded, or whatever some talking noggin on your favorite cable news network has told you this news cycle. Terror is being expressed, much talk has been made over the dire consequences, and everyone is looking for someone to blame as our government pulls its latest hissy-fit slap-fight instead of being productive. Yay, democracy. Anyway, the result is a great many furloughed government employees with their retroactive pay guaranteed and a whole lot of self-reflection time on their hands.
No worries, because retro-gaming website Good Old Games is here to help. They've decided to make the further assclown-ery of our esteemed elected lizard-people a sort of theme for their latest publicity stunt. They're going halvsies with customers on game titles like Capitalism 2 and Theme Hospital. But the deal is even better if you're one of those furloughed folks on the government teet.
Finally, we would like to express our condolences to everyone who's been furloughed by the shutdown. More than that, actually, we'd like to offer you the games pack of our special Shutdown Promo for free. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your picture holding the official furlough letter you received, before Friday 11 October 2013 at 12:00 EDT and we'll give you The Guild: Gold Edition, Capitalism, Capitalism 2, Tropico: Gold Edition, Alpha Centauri + Alien Crossfire, Theme Hospital, and Redneck Rampage free.GOG, which has experimented with some forward-thinking promotions in the past, really knows how to turn government ineptitude into an opportunity. Yes, this is an obvious publicity stunt. Yes, I'm helping that stunt by writing this article. But I don't care, because the prospect of government employees essentially getting retroactively paid to play games based on healthcare, government, and capitalism, all of which they're getting for free, is the kind of recursive irony that tastes as good as a cut of prime rib.
So if you're sitting at home because our two party system has melted into a massive talking-points circle-jerk, pass the time by playing some games for free. And know that we Americans all appreciate the work you aren't doing thanks to the weirdos we all sent to Washington.