The Washington Post has an article about how, even though it's long been known that Microsoft is sunsetting support for Windows XP on April 8th of this year, about 10% of US government computers still run XP. Because of this, the article declares that government computers running Windows XP will be vulnerable to hackers after April 8. While technically true (they will be vulnerable after April 8th) what would be a hell of a lot more true is to actually note that they're extremely vulnerable to hackers today and have been just as vulnerable for years. Microsoft sunsetting its support doesn't change that one way or the other.
What's incredible, is that for all the FUD being spread around by government officials about "cyberwar," "cyberattacks" and "cybersecurity," you'd think that getting the government's own house in order would be more of a priority. Outgoing NSA boss General Keith Alexander keeps claiming that he needs more access to private networks to protect them from foreign hackers (yeah, right), and yet this report notes that all sorts of classified government material is sitting on Windows XP computers.
That includes thousands of computers on classified military and diplomatic networks, U.S. officials said. Such networks have stronger defenses generally but hold more sensitive material, raising the stakes for breaches if they occur.
Given how sophisticated the NSA's abilities are to infiltrate just about any computer out there, as revealed by multiple documents leaked by Ed Snowden, you'd think that the NSA would be a bit more proactive in helping to shore up our own defenses by doing things like no longer using Windows XP.
Video game giant Square Enix has never had a great track record when it comes to opting for lawyers over any kind of fan-created works built off of its properties. In fact, far from even making any attempt to encourage its fans, Square instead seems to enjoy the sledgehammer approach. Whether it was shutting down a fan-game set in the enormously popular Chronno Trigger universe, or a similar effort to create an OpenCarmageddon, the trend you'll notice is that these legal moves are made against some of the most rabid fans of some of the most beloved game franchises around.
Today the team launched a Kickstarter to raise $400,000 for the project, which is now a 5-6-episode webseries based on Square's popular role-playing game. They say they've got the blessing of series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi—and the rights to use music from Final Fantasy VII.
"We have been in contact with SE for several months, and have attained full music rights," producer Dan Purcell told me in an e-mail today. "We have not however been endorsed or backed by SE. We have passed all necessary steps, including Kickstarter's review process."
Now, this doesn't explicitly say that the company, Square Enix, has given everyone involved the go-ahead for the project, but it's hard to imagine the film creators going through the steps of securing music rights, contacting Sakaguchi, and then leaving it all to risk of the game developer's lawyers. In addition, the Q&A on Kickstarter indicates that the filmmakers have been reaching out to Square, that Square's general counsel is definitely aware of the project, and that the trailer for the series has even appeared on Square's website. I would guess that there has been at least some assurance made that nobody is going to get sued over this and, before anyone rushes to point out that the fans went the route of securing rights, that's only true of the music and no project of this kind is going to be able pay the kind of massive costs rights-holders have previously required. From all appearences, it looks like Square is playing nice.
And if that has indeed happened, it's a huge step forward for Square, and a step that might just be becoming a trend. The company recently went a little more lax when OCRemix, famed video game music organization, wanted to pay tribute to Final Fantasy 6, and Square gave its blessing. If it was now to give a muted nod to this fan film project building off of one of its most popular games ever, it might just be an indication that the company is rethinking its legalistic ways. And that'd be good for all fans of the game, because the web series looks fantastic.
If the films are as good as the trailer, they're a big old kick in the crotch to all those that decry fan-generated content. Not to mention a boon to those of us that go all teen-girl-at-a-Bieber-concert for anything related to Final Fantasy 7. I'll be keeping an eye on this to make sure Square doesn't poop the bed, but so far it looks like the company is probably going to play nice.
I'm obviously a big fan of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, but I've always argued that it's just one of many models that content creators can use to succeed today. In fact, for a long time, I've felt that the biggest thing that was missing from Kickstarter was any sort of ongoing payment system. It's entirely project based, and thus it's not the best tool for ongoing revenue. For many years I've been interested in ideas for more ongoing revenue streams, and even proposed the idea of "subscribing" to a band's output nearly a decade ago. So it's good to see that some folks are exploring some of these ideas in much more detail.
I met Jack Conte a few years ago, after having written about him and his band Pomplamoose a few times. I'd always been impressed by Pomplamoose's ability to really connect with their fans and to build a way to support themselves via that strong connection. But in my brief interactions with Jack, it quickly became clear that he thinks deeply about different ideas for revenue models, and so it's little surprise that he's now built what seems like a pretty cool platform for ongoing support for content creators. It's basically a platform, like Kickstarter, but rather than backing a project, you back the production of certain types of regular content. So, for example, you could promise that you'll pay $5 every time Jack releases a new video (and you can put limits on how much you pay, so he doesn't get away with suddenly releasing 1,000 videos at once). It's called Patreon, and it's got a nice, simple video explaining how it works:
I'm sure some will argue that this is just a "paywall," but it's actually the opposite of that. People aren't paying you to get access to the content. The content will be available elsewhere (often for free). They're paying to support your continued production (i.e., supporting future production, rather than paying to access past productions) and they can get extra benefits (added value) as supporters, such as Google Hangouts with the creators. Some of this is quite like a few of the popular subscription options in our Techdirt Insider Shop, though rather than monthly, the amounts are triggered per creation (I'm not sure that would work for a blog like ours that produces a bunch of content every day, but I could see how it would be quite cool for less frequent types of creative endeavors).
Either way, I'm glad to see some new platforms popping up like this. For a little while, it had been getting kind of annoying to see just how many Kickstarter clones were popping up (including a new one from Donald Trump?!?). You never know, of course, if Patreon will catch on, but conceptually the model makes a lot of sense for many types of content creators. In some ways, it seems like a better model for connecting with "true fans" than something like a Kickstarter. While Kickstarter has the appeal of "this is a big event, join us!" it would be nice to see some more ongoing, sustainable model platforms become popular as well.
Back when we first launched the Insider Shop, we made two PDF ebooks available at any price you choose: Mike's Approaching Infinity (on new business models and the economics of abundance) and our Sky Is Rising report on the state of the entertainment industries. More recently, we launched three fiction titles by our own Tim Geigner—Digilife, Echelon and Midwasteland—also available on a pay-what-you-want basis. They were an instant hit, and we're in the process of preparing new ePub versions.
The thing we noticed right away was that a lot of people were choosing to pay, even though you can download all the books for free. Almost half of all book downloads were paid, with most people choosing the default $5 per book—even when buying four or five books at once—and several going above and beyond, with a few even paying $20 for a single title.
At this point, there's plenty of evidence that people will gladly, even eagerly, pay to support creators despite being given the option of getting something for free—and we're glad to add the success of our Insider Shop ebooks to the list. For those who want a closer look at the numbers, I put together a quick infographic:
Thanks to everyone who has downloaded our ebooks, whether you paid $0 or $20 or anything in between! If you haven't gotten your copies yet, head on over to the Insider Shop and check them out.
For a while now, we have been highlighting many stories about the successful crowdfunding of movies, music, books and games. This new source of funding for creative content has been an exciting time for indie artists and those wanting to break free of traditional funding models. However, this funding model is not without its risks, something that Kickstarter has recognized with a change in the way projects are presented.
Haunts sought $25,000 (£15,590) from Kickstarter but the project proved popular and meant the game's developers got $28,739 (£17,895) to fund completion of the game. Prior to the funding appeal, Haunts creator Mob Rules Games had spent about $42,500 getting the basics of the title completed.
The end result was supposed to be a haunted house horror game in which players could take on the role of the house's inhabitants or intruders investigating what lived within it.
Now Mob Rules Games boss Rick Dakan has revealed that the game's development has prematurely halted.
"The principal cause for our dire condition is that there are no longer any programmers working on the game," said Mr Dakan in a blogpost updating backers.
You can see Rick's full explanation of the problems the game has had over at Kickstarter. With all the cash and programming problems, Rick felt so bad about letting down the backers that he was willing to refund, out of his own pocket, anyone who wanted their money back. While most companies will silently kill off projects that do not meet expectations, his forthcoming post about the state of affairs actually had a positive effect on the project's future.
I've had a lot of interested emails from programmers offering their help. Thank you all very much! There's a lot to sift through and I'm not sure what the best way to proceed will be, but I am very encouraged by these offers and want to try and figure out the best way to take advantage of this opportunity. I've reached out to a good friend of mine who's an expert in collaborative open source development, and he and I will talk soon. I also want to discuss this exciting development with Blue Mammoth and get their take on it.
By being open about the problems he was having completing the game, the community came in to offer their help. Granted, this is a unique circumstance, but having such a dedicated fan base is wonderful. Had he let the game fester with no updates for longer than he had, he might have been met with more hostility than encouragement. That would have made it far more difficult to find any kind of solution.
Finally, in the most recent update, Rick announced that after considering the situation and the best way to move forward, he will be open sourcing the game with over thirty programmers offering their help to complete it.
We're going to finish developing Haunts: The Manse Macabre as an Open Source project. The source code has been open from the beginning, but now we're going to fully embrace open development model and making the game entirely open source. We've had about thirty programmers from a variety of backgrounds, including many proficient in Go, who have stepped forward and offered to help finish the game. We're still in the process of setting up the infrastructure for issue tracking, source control, documentation wikis, and other tools necessary before we can begin in earnest, but we hope to have that all up and running within the next week or two.
While this story is far from over, it is a great lesson in the risks of any project whether crowdfunded or not. Projects can fail, they can have problems, they can be shuttered. The key takeaways from this story, however, are (1) being transparent (rather than hiding) with supporters can do wonders and (2) being flexible and willing to change course can help. Rick notes that there's been plenty of press coverage about the supposed "failure," but much less about what happened after...
We've gotten a lot of press coverage, most of it in the general vein of, "Look, see, Kickstarter projects can go bad, so be careful!" I think that's a fair and useful point to make. But we're committed to being the follow-up story. You know, the underdog who comes back from the brink of collapse and proves a resounding success!
Yes, this is a story that highlights the risk in any kind of crowdfunding endeavor. Backers may be out the money they put in with nothing to show for it. However, if those who run these projects will be open and honest through the whole process, stumbles and falls included, even if the project never comes to fruition, then the potential that such a failure will damage their reputation and future projects can be mitigated. And heck, maybe you will be struck with a miracle and your project will come back to life.
Recently, I gave a Sita Sings the Blues talk to a roomful of 15-to-17-year-olds. Near the end I explained Free Culture and my stance against copyright, which led to some interesting discussion. Turns out most of them are manga fans, and familiar with publishers’ complaints about scanned and translated manga shared freely online. They all read them anyway (except one, who prefers to read entire manga in the bookstore). I asked them how they would choose to support artists they liked (once they had some disposable income) and they said:
Donate buttons – with the qualification that they want to know as much as possible about where the donation is going. They said honesty and transparency are important.
Kickstarter – They all knew about it (which was notable because none of them had heard of Flattr) and valued pitch videos that explained how the money would be used.
Live Shared Experiences, including ballet, museum exhibits, and concerts. The event aspect was important; they wanted to be able to say, “Remember that one time when that awesome show was here…” They agreed seeing things in person is a more powerful experience than seeing things online, and worth spending more on. One said she would buy CD at a live show because “it reminds you of the show.”
One said he would support artists by promoting their work to his friends.
Semi-related, I took an informal poll of how many would prefer to read a book on paper vs. an e-reader. The vast majority said paper, but what they really seemed to want was dual formats: paper copies to read comfortably and collect, and digital copies to search and reference. Makes sense to me. Only two of them had iPads, and none used them for “enhanced eBooks.”
My favorite quote of the afternoon, from a 15-year-old girl:
“We don’t want everything for free. We just want everything.
This is from a few weeks back, but I'm catching up on some older posts. We've been talking lately about how fans will support artists they like, and focusing on connecting with those fans by being open, human and awesome is a better strategy than freaking out about piracy.
There are lots of artists who recognize this basic formula. For example, hip hop star Wale was recently asked about things like SOPA, and he explained that he doesn't get too involved in those things, but he just wants to make music and give it to his fans for free, knowing that they'll support him when it comes time to buy:
I just know that I want to continue to make music and give it to the people for free and then if it’s good enough when it’s time for it to be sold they’ll go out and support it. I’m a fan of the mode that it is now...
Of course, he's signed to Universal Music, which kinda limits his ability to give out his music for free. They don't like that kind of thing. But it again raises questions about the claims of labels that they represent the best interests of artists. It seems like some artists have a better handle on what's best for themselves...
from the where-will-congress-get-its-lolcats-from? dept
Following on the news that Reddit will be blacking out its site for 12 hours on Wednesday, January 18th in protest of SOPA & PIPA, Cheezburger Network CEO Ben Huh has announced that all Cheezburger sites will be doing the same thing. I'm guessing that those who are unfamiliar with the massive size and reach of Cheezburger will scoff at this... but that would be a mistake. People love Cheezburger's collection of meme-related, meme-driving sites, and they reach a very very large population of folks who might not have already been aware of SOPA/PIPA.
In conjunction with next week's House Oversight Committee hearing on the technical impact of DNS blocking in bills like SOPA/PIPA, Reddit has taken the huge step of deciding to black out its entire site for a 12 hour period -- from 8am to 8pm ET. The guys behind the site admit that this is not a decision they take lightly, and that many in the community disagree with it -- but it's something they feel needs to be done:
The freedom, innovation, and economic opportunity that the Internet enables is in jeopardy. Congress is considering legislation that will dramatically change your Internet experience and put an end to reddit and many other sites you use everyday. Internet experts, organizations, companies, entrepreneurs, legal experts, journalists, and individuals have repeatedly expressed how dangerous this bill is. If we do nothing, Congress will likely pass the Protect IP Act (in the Senate) or the Stop Online Piracy Act (in the House), and then the President will probably sign it into law. There are powerful forces trying to censor the Internet, and a few months ago many people thought this legislation would surely pass. However, there’s a new hope that we can defeat this dangerous legislation.
We’ve seen some amazing activism organized by redditors at /r/sopa and across the reddit community at large. You have made a difference in this fight; and as we near the next stage, and after much thought, talking with experts, and hearing the overwhelming voicesfrom the reddit community, we have decided that we will be blacking out reddit on January 18th from 8am–8pm EST (1300–0100 UTC).
This is the same Reddit that got over 2 billion pageviews last month. Taking down the site for an entire 12 hours is a huge, huge deal. But, according to Lamar Smith, they're nobody...
So we were just discussing how a bunch of companies who were listed by the US Chamber of Commerce as SOPA/PIPA supporters are demanding to be taken off the list, noting that, while they had agreed to a generic statement about fighting the sale of counterfeit goods, they don't support crazy broad legislation like SOPA/PIPA. It seems that others listed as "supporting" SOPA are scrambling to get off the list as well. The Judiciary Committee's official list had included a bunch of big name law firms as being in support of the law as well -- which is a little strange, since law firms usually don't take official positions on things like this. They may express opinions on such matters on behalf of clients, but outright supporting legislation is a different ballgame altogether.
A group of lawyers (most of whom have a long history of working with the entertainment industry) did send a letter to the Judiciary Committee to say that they agreed with Floyd Abrams' analysis of SOPA. That's it. They didn't say their firms supported SOPA -- and, in fact, there's an asterisk with the signatures noting that the names of their firms are solely for identification purposes. Yet the Judiciary Committee took those names anyway and put them on the supporters list. Expressing a legal opinion on a bill is extraordinarily different from supporting the bill. But the Judiciary Committee ignored that and listed them as supporters anyway.
From what we've heard, many of those law firms are not happy, and have been demanding removal from the Judiciary Committee's official list. Among those who have already complained/been taken off the official list are Morrison & Foerster, Davis Wright Tremaine, Irell & Manella, Covington & Burling. I would hope that the Judiciary Committee removes all the names and issues a rather public apology for blatantly including the names of firms who clearly made no statement in support of the proposed legislation. This is a pretty egregious move on the part of House Judiciary Committee staff. They're so eager to list supporters that they've been naming firms who do not support the bills. And then they've been using those claims to pretend there's widespread support...
So, between the US Chamber of Commerce stretching what many companies thought they were supporting and pretending it meant support for SOPA/PIPA, and the Judiciary Committee's over-eagerness to assume that a legal analysis of one part of the bill by a few lawyers meant their huge law firms supported the bill... it's looking like the facade of widespread corporate support for SOPA is crumbling pretty quickly...