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I am a technology consultant, contributor here at Techdirt, and an author. I hope to someday get enough people reading the books I sell to garner a scathing review.




Posted on Techdirt - 16 March 2018 @ 1:42pm

'Serious Sam' Developer Teams Up With Denuvo Cracker To Pump Up Sales For Failed Game

from the pirates-are-our-friends dept

In all of our conversations about video game piracy and the DRM that studios and publishers use to try to stave it off, the common refrain from those within in the industry and others is that these cracking groups are nearly nihilism personified. Nothing is sacred to these people, goes the mantra, and they care nothing for the gaming industry at all. If the gaming industry is destroyed, it will be because of these pirate-y pirates simply not giving a damn.

This notion is belied by the story of Crackshell, makers of indie spinoff of the Serious Sam franchise called Serious Sam's Bogus Detour, and Voksi, an individual that runs a game-cracking ring. Voksi has been featured in our pages before as one of the few people out there who has been able to consistently defeat the Denuvo DRM, helping propel the software's precipitous fall from grace. If a game developer and a game-cracker seem to be natural enemies, it will come as a surprise to you that they have recently teamed up to try to resurrect Bogus Detour from the bin of failure.

The whole story is useful for debunking the notion that these pirate sites and those that run them are pure venom for the game industry, but it's particularly useful to hear how this relationship came to be.

In discussion with TF over the weekend, Voksi told us that he’s a huge fan of the Serious Sam franchise so when he found out about the latest title – Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour (SSBD) – he wanted to play it – badly. That led to a remarkable series of events.

“One month before the game’s official release I got into the closed beta, thanks to a friend of mine, who invited me in. I introduced myself to the developers [Crackshell]. I told them what I do for a living, but also assured them that I didn’t have any malicious intents towards the game. They were very cool about it, even surprisingly cool,” Voksi informs TF.

When the game hit the market, Voksi didn't target it. Despite this hands-off approach from a capable game-cracker, sales for the title were very poor. Reviews on Steam were great, critics generally liked it, and yet as of the end of 2017 the game wasn't even profitable. Bucking the stereotype, Voksi reached out to Crackshell and offered to help.

“Last week I contacted the main dev of SSBD over Steam and proposed what I can do to help boost the game. He immediately agreed,” Voksi says.

“The plan was to release a build of the game that was playable from start to finish, playable in co-op with up to 4 players, not to miss anything important gameplay wise and add a little message in the bottom corner, which is visible at all times, telling you: “We are small indie studio. If you liked the game, please consider buying it. Thank you and enjoy the game!”

Voksi, who is doing all of this for free, then went on to tie in giveaways for the pirate version of the game on his own forum for his cracking group. This work, done pro bono, is all the result of Voksi liking the game, liking the developer, and desperately wanting both to succeed. If ever there were a rebuttal to the notion of pirate groups as nihilistic and selfish, this is certainly it.

This whole experiment will also serve as a wonderful test of how useful engaging the supposed enemies of gaming by studios would be. Keep in mind that this game was already a failure in terms of being profitable, despite being a good game by all accounts. If engaging with pirate groups and sites can suddenly make it profitable? Well, that would seem to turn even more claims about piracy on their head.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 March 2018 @ 3:24am

US Navy Accused Of Massive Amounts Of Piracy By German Software Company

from the navy-pirates? dept

We've made the point for a long time that, on a long enough timeline, pretty much everybody is a pirate. The point is that the way copyright laws have evolved alongside such useful tools as the internet makes knowing whether common sense actions are actually copyright infringement an incredibly dicey riddle to solve. Often times without even trying, members of the public engage in infringing activities, up to and including the President of the United States.

And, it appears, up to and including entire branches of the United States military, though claims of accidental infringement in this case would appear to be rather silly. Bitmanagement, a German software company that produces virtual reality software, is accusing the US Navy of what can only be described as massive levels of copyright infringement.

In 2011 and 2012, the US Navy began using BS Contact Geo, a 3D virtual reality application developed by German company Bitmanagement. The Navy reportedly agreed to purchase licenses for use on 38 computers, but things began to escalate.

While Bitmanagement was hopeful that it could sell additional licenses to the Navy, the software vendor soon discovered the US Government had already installed it on 100,000 computers without extra compensation. In a Federal Claims Court complaint filed by Bitmanagement two years ago, that figure later increased to hundreds of thousands of computers. Because of the alleged infringement, Bitmanagement demanded damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.

Both parties have since investigated the issue, with the Navy reportedly simply admitting that it installed the software on nearly half a million computers. Bitmanagement had assumed the Navy would be paying for these installations, but the military branch failed to do so and instead tried to work out much lower licensing costs with the company long after the fact. For its part, the government insists that it bought concurrent licenses rather than client licenses, but this defense makes little sense for any number of reasons. The scale of installations suggests that more than 38 users would be on the software at any given time, not to mention that Bitmanagement's VARs are not authorized to sell concurrent licenses, and that nothing in the contracts the Navy agreed to even mentions the word "concurrent."

In a request for summary judgement, Bitmanagement is asking for the government to be liable for the hundreds of thousands of installations it carried out and pay for them accordingly.

Now, while this infringement by the US government seems anything other than accidental, keep in mind that this same US government that regularly puts out reports and comments on the dastardly amounts of copyright infringement carried out by other foreign governments and their citizens. It seems as though America should get its own house in order, at least at the level of the federal government, before pointing any more fingers.

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Posted on Free Speech - 15 March 2018 @ 10:40am

Lucha Underground Wrestling Sends Legal Threat To Journalists For Publishing 'Spoilers'

from the it's-fake dept

Spoilers suck, sure, but this is the internet and some things cannot be avoided. Still, for those that produce content, there are better and worse ways to handle the issue of spoilers. Some large entertainment groups try to sue over spoilers, but it rarely works. Others settle for mere DMCA takedowns. Most entertainment groups, meanwhile, don't do a damn thing about spoilers, because that's the correct course of action.

Still, even with that wide spectrum of past responses, sending legal threats to journalists over spoilers, such as the Lucha Underground wrestling show has done, is a new one for me. The legal threats rest on the NDAs the audience has to sign before attending a show.

Since the series started filming in late 2014, it has always required audience members to sign non-disclosure agreements. But with hundreds of fans there, spoilers always get out.

This week, Lucha Libre FMV, a joint venture of Factory Made Ventures and Mexico’s AAA promotion, went a bit further than it had before, sending legal threats to wrestling reporters who published spoilers from the first tapings of Lucha Underground season four. Letters from attorney Paul D. Supnik were emailed on Wednesday to former TMZ producer Ryan Satin, now of Pro Wrestling Sheet, and to Steve Bryant of SoCal Uncensored. Satin published his on Thursday morning and Deadspin obtained Bryant’s around the same time. Reading the effectively identical letters, it seems as if the fact that both Satin and Bryant live in the Los Angeles area, where Lucha Underground is shot, may have played some role in them being targeted. It may just be that all the spoilers from the February tapings are attributed to their reports, but the letters do pointedly ask if their recipients attended the shows. Both Satin and Bryant maintain that they did not, and since FMV would have the NDAs, the implication is that they think both may have attended using aliases.

Interestingly, the letters assert that the reporting done by these journalists violates the NDA even if the journalist hasn't signed an NDA. This novel legal theory is predicated on Lucha Underground asserting that the spoilers, or event results, are trade secrets. The letter goes on to say that the journalists are or should have been aware of the status of event results as trade secrets, which opens them up to liability.

Spoiler alert: none of that is true.

The first amendment is quite clear on the matter of a journalist's right to report factual information, even factual information that an individual or company would rather keep hidden. If the Pentagon Papers can be published, surely so can the results of an underground wrestling event. And, even if that fact were more in question than it is, journalists, who rely enough on these protections to know their ins and outs, are the exact wrong people to try to threaten into silence. As one would expect, the end result of these threats is that both these journalists and their work has gotten far more attention that it would have otherwise.

Nacho Libre, meet Senorita Streisand.

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Posted on Techdirt - 14 March 2018 @ 8:02pm

Ravinia Festival Bullies Startup Brewery, Leading The Brewery To Shut Down Plans For Opening

from the bully-for-you dept

I've had the opportunity to write about many trademark disputes in these pages, but it's been rare for any of them to hit very close to home. That changed this week when we learned that Ravinia Festival in the northern Chicago suburbs, at which I have seen many a concert, has decided to bully a startup brewery over its use of the word "Ravinia" in its name.

A demand for royalties from the Ravinia Festival halted preparations to open a brewpub in Highland Park's Ravinia district in the coming months. The outdoor music festival sent a letter to the Ravinia Brewing Company two weeks ago demanding licensing payments and royalties for the brewery's use of the neighborhood's name, according to the Ravinia Neighbors Association, a local community organization.

These demands simply make no sense. Ravinia Festival is a concert venue. It has trademark rights on the word Ravinia, a historical name for the area in which both businesses reside, for restaurants, catering services, and banquet services. It is not and never has been a brewer of beer, nor does it have a valid trademark for that market. There is no potential for customer confusion, either, as nobody is going to walk into a brewery expecting to see a classical music concert. In other words, this is pure bullying.

And, all the more annoying, Ravinia Festival can't even be bothered to be consistent in its bullying.

Between 1985 and 2015, the proposed location of the Ravinia Brewing Company's restaurant at 592 Roger Williams Avenue housed Ravinia BBQ. There is no indication Ravinia Festival ever sought licensing payments from that restaurant during its three decades of operation. In order for the music festival to get its trademark for "restaurant services," it filed a sworn statement alleging there was no other restaurant using the name, despite the existence of the longtime barbecue joint.

To be clear, Ravinia is bullying a brewery over the name of a geographic area using the term in a market in which Ravinia Festival does not operate. Meanwhile, Ravinia Festival likely did infringe on the trademark rights of the barbeque joint located at the exact same address as this new brewery back when it was in operation and lied on its trademark application to get the mark approved. Ravinia Festival also did not object when Ravinia Brewing Company applied for its own trademark back in 2015.

Sadly, none of that may matter, because Ravinia Festival has lots of money and the brewery does not.

The brewpub's owners, Highland Park residents Kris Walker, David Place and Brian Taylor, say they will be forced to cancel plans for the business if the music festival doesn't relent.

Their proposed pub planned to offer a full menu, but had no intention of hosting musical performances.

It looks like I may have to cross Ravinia Festival off of my list of concert venues in the future, unless there is enough public backlash to correct its behavior.

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Posted on Techdirt - 14 March 2018 @ 11:55am

YouTube Shows Dennis Prager's Claim Of Discrimination Against Conservatives Is Laughable

from the takedown dept

You will recall that Dennis Prager, the conservative commentator who also runs a YouTube channel to inform his viewers of his perspective on a variety of topics, recently sued YouTube. The meat of Prager's claims is that YouTube is censoring some of his videos purely because he is a conservative -- with the clear implication being that YouTube is a liberal bastion of conservative-hating video hosting. Just to be clear, there is no real evidence for that. What there is evidence for is that YouTube is trying very hard to sort through its hilariously enormous trove of video content for objectionable material, and that it often does this quite badly. None of that amounts to, as Prager claims, a liberal conspiracy against some conservative guy.

While Prager is seeking a preliminary injunction against YouTube to keep it from administering its own site as it sees fit, YouTube is asking for the case to be dismissed outright. There are two claims at issue: first, that YouTube classifying some of his videos in its "restricted mode" amounts to YouTube censoring him and, second, that YouTube is doing this "censoring" for purely partisan political reasons. If you find yourself sympathetic to those claims, perhaps it's because you have heard them repeated often elsewhere, over and over again (or because you've seen Prager sending out fundraising notices making exactly these claims), then you really should read the declaration from Alice Wu, part of the Trust and Safety management team at YouTube, filed in the case last week. Wu directly takes on both of Prager's claims and dismantles them completely to the point that it's almost embarrassing for Prager.

We'll start with the claim that YouTube classifying some Prager videos for its restricted mode being a form of censorship. She notes first that the Prager's videos that were flagged for restricted mode were done so purely for its content and amounted to something like a "teen rating."

The appropriateness of the Teen ratings assigned to the PragerU videos listed above is clear from the videos themselves. To give a few specific examples: In a PragerU video entitled “Born to Hate Jews” the narrator discusses how he used to think Jews in Israel were engaged in genocide and violence against Muslims. https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=xCQEmeGfFmY. Another video entitled “Why isn’t Communism as hated as Nazism?” describes mass murders and other atrocities in Communist countries. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?time_continue=1&v=nUGkKKAogDs. Another video, entitled “Are 1 in 5 Women Raped at College?,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0mzqL50I-w, includes an animated depiction of a nearly naked man lunging at a group of women and discusses college rape culture and the level of consent that should be required to engage in sexual activity. A video titled “Are the Police Racist?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQCQFH5wOJo&t=213s, discusses whether law enforcement engages in systemic racial discrimination and includes animations of police officers and black men pointing guns at people. YouTube concluded that these and some other similar PragerU videos, which deal with sexual situations, mature subject matter, and violent imagery, do not meet the Restricted Mode guidelines, which are designed to meet the needs of users that have chosen a more limited YouTube viewing experience free from potentially mature content. Based on that, YouTube assigned those videos a “Teen” or higher rating, which keeps them available to anyone using YouTube’s general service, but not available to users who have chosen to activate Restricted Mode (unless and until those users turn off Restricted Mode).

That last parenthetical is exceptionally important here, because it hints at how absurd Prager's claim of censorship is. Restricted Mode is opt-in by the user. Completely. A person who enables Restricted Mode on YouTube is asking YouTube to classify videos for content in the exact way that it does. Prager's claim of censorship, or a plea for the right to speak, is actually a demand that individual users listen. No such right exists, of course. Keep in mind that all of Prager's videos appear in searches by anyone that does not have Restricted Mode turned on.

Next: less than 12% of Prager's videos have been flagged for Restricted Mode.

In other words, if the Elders of YouTube really are engaged in an anti-conservative conspiracy to censor Dennis Prager, they are doing an exceptionally poor job of it. Even more damning, the declaration includes a list of the percentages of videos put in "Restricted Mode" for some other popular YouTube channels. This includes videos from The Young Turks, Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Vox.com, Democracy Now, Huffington Post and more. I try to stay away from actively classifying content with monikers as meaningless in modern times as "conservative" or "liberal" (if they don't describe themselves as such), but I'm fairly certain most of those folks don't line up with Prager's ideology. And, yet, they were given the same treatment as PragerU. In fact, many of them have a significantly higher percentage of videos in restricted mode. Last Week Tonight has had nearly half of its videos flagged for Restricted Mode compared with Prager's 12%. The Young Turks describes itself as "the leading news and politics show for young, progressive viewers" and it had nearly 71% of its videos put in restricted mode compared to PragerU's 12%.

Alas, I have yet to hear about the vast right wing conspiracy being carried out by YouTube against the left.

So, what's the deal here? Well, though we don't get into partisan politics here generally, we certainly are in the business of truth telling when it comes to things that happen on the internet. So here's a bit of truth: it is apparently fashionable in some circles to whine about censorship and free speech whenever their demand for open ears and access to other people's platforms are not handed over. But just because one particular platform doesn't think your content is appropriate for all audiences, it is not censorship. And, frankly, it appears that many of the people that are providing these platforms, along with those who use them, are supremely tired of this nonsense. There is no censorship. There is no conspiracy. There are just the same rules that apply to everyone. Sometimes they're applied poorly, but not because of partisan bias.

It's time for Prager to either stop whining and continue to enjoy the platform in YouTube that is not censoring him for being conservative, or he can go create his own video streaming platform if he thinks he can do it better.

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Posted on Techdirt - 13 March 2018 @ 3:35pm

Game Developer Embraces Modding Community So Much They Made Their Work An Official Release

from the embracing-the-community dept

For game developers and publishers, there are lots of ways to react to the modding community that so often creates new and interesting aspects to their games. Some companies look to shut these modding communities down completely, some threaten them over supposed copyright violations, and some developers choose to embrace the modding community and let mods extend the life of their games to ridiculous lengths.

But few studios have gone as far to embrace modders as developer 1C, makers of IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover. The flight-sim game, released way back in 2011, burst onto the gaming market with decidedly luke-warm reviews. Most of the critiques and public commentary surrounding the game could be best summarized as: "meh." But a modding community sprung up around the game, calling itself Team Fusion, and developed a litany of mods for IL-2. Rather than looking at these mods as some sort of threat, 1C instead worked with Team Fusion and developed an official re-release of the game incorporating their work.

IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover BLITZ Edition is the result. Officially sanctioned and released under the banner of original developers 1C, it combines the original game with all the work that the fans at Team Fusion Simulations—now given access to the game’s source code—were able to cook up.

This work includes new planes, new graphics options, new damage and weapon modelling updated visual effects.

You can buy BLITZ if you’re coming into the game fresh, but if you already owned Cliffs of Dover, BLITZ was added to your Steam library for free late last year.

1C has also gone out of its way to highlight that BLITZ is in part the work of the Team Fusion modders and even announced the new release with comments on how much work the mods do to clean up the serious flaws in the original game. Other studios ought to be paying attention, because this is how it's done. The modding community, far from being a threat to the game developers, both made the title more attractive for purchase by making it better, and extended the life of this title to the point that it is being re-released for sale again. That kind of free labor of love is something you can only get by embracing the modding community.

It also serves as a reminder again that the biggest fans of any given content can do much to promote it, if content makers bother to connect with them and treat them well. How anyone could argue that hardline stances against this kind of tinkering is a superior option is a question I cannot answer.

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Posted on Techdirt - 12 March 2018 @ 7:41pm

Russia Censors News Reports About Anti-Putin Ice Graffiti, Leaving Its Contents Entirely Up To Our Collective Imagination

from the putin-on-a-show dept

Readers here will be familiar with the Streisand Effect, by which a topic or information becomes wildly viral due to the very attempts at censoring it. The idea is that by trying to keep Subject X out of the news, the public suddenly is far more exposed to Subject X as a result of news coverage of the cover-up. This story slightly deviates from the Streisand Effect formula, but only in the most hilarious way.

People should know by now that Vladimir Putin is a strong-arm "President" that runs the country like a fiefdom. As such, most if not all wings of his government serve him personally far more directly than they do his constituents. Evidence of this is practically everywhere, especially in how his government and non-government organizations in Russia react to his political opponents. Typically, his political rivals are jailed, silenced, or otherwise tamped down viciously in terms of how much exposure they can get to challenge his political position. A recent example of this concerns presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak, whose supporters painted the ice on a frozen river in St. Petersburg with the mildest anti-Putin slogan, reading "Against Putin." As a result, Roskomnadzor, the government agency featured in our pages for its censorship of websites in the name of literally anything it can dream up, ordered news groups to censor the contents of the message-on-ice in any reporting on the incident.

On Monday, the St. Petersburg-based Business News Agency said it was ordered by a local branch of the state media watchdog Roskomnadzor to remove the photograph of the graffiti from the river.

“We can’t display the protesters’ slogan at the urgent request of Roskomnadzor,” the agency wrote in a text superimposed on the graffiti while keeping the photo of the frozen Fontanka River intact, as seen in a picture tweeted by local activists.

And here's what the images accompanying the news reports now show.

Here's the thing: the reader is now free to imagine any and all anti-Putin messages scrawled in the ice now that the mild "Against Putin" message has been covered up. In addition to the classic Streisand Effect of the public now being way more aware than they would have been otherwise of the general anti-Putin sentiment that exists with these supporters of Sobchak, creative minds across Russia will fill in the censorious blank as to what the message was. Perhaps it read: "Putin impregnated my cow and smells of last week's borscht"? Perhaps it was just a string of the names of journalists that keep mysteriously dying after criticizing Putin or his government?

The beautiful part is: we don't know! And this censorship has freed us to imagine anything and everything that could possibly be contained in that message. And, if this writer is any indication, our imaginations can come up with far more insulting messages than "Against Putin."

And, in case the hints here weren't strong enough, I very much encourage you to prove me right in the comments section. Regardless, it's long past time that world leaders learned that these censorship attempts do and will always backfire.

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Posted on Techdirt - 12 March 2018 @ 1:32pm

Pakistan Court Declares Mobile Data Disconnections By The Government Illegal

from the connecting-rights dept

In countries that put far less an emphasis on expanding human rights and personal liberty, it's become somewhat common for them to use strong-arm tactics to stifle dissent. One aspect of that is often times the suspension or shutdown of mobile networks, the theory being that the messaging and social media apps dissenters use on their phones allow them to organize far better than they otherwise could and therefore cause more trouble. Frankly, this has become something more expected out of Middle East authoritarian regimes than in other places, but they certainly do not have a monopoly on this practice.

However, there are governments with the ability to reverse course and go back in the right direction. One Pakistani court in Islamabad recently ruled that government shutdown of mobile networks, even if done under some claims for national security, are illegal. The news comes via a translation of a bytesforall.pk report. As a heads up, you will notice that the translation is imperfect.

Bytes for All, Pakistan welcomes the decision by the Honorable Judge of Islamabad High Court, Justice Athar Minallah whereby he declared the network shutdown as illegal and a disproportionate response to security threats.

The judgement reads as, "For what has been discussed above, the instant appeal and the connected petitions are allowed. Consequently, the actions, orders and directives issued by the Federal Government or the Authority, as the case may be, which are inconsistent with the provisions of section 54(3) are declared as illegal, ultra vires and without lawful authority and jurisdiction. The Federal Government or the Authority are, therefore, not vested with the power and jurisdiction to suspend or cause the suspension of mobile cellular services or operations on the ground of national security except as provided under section 54(3)."

If the government follows the directions of the ruling -- a very real question, to be sure -- no longer will federal authorities be able to respond to civil unrest or political activism by simply shutting off phone and data service to large swaths of citizens. It should be obvious that this is the wrong course of action anyway. Taking on a group decrying government oppression by further oppressing large numbers of people doesn't seem like a great formula for political tranquility. Still, it's good to see a government being held to account by the court system.

It seems that the folks at Bytes For All are hoping that this action in Pakistan will be the start of a wider shift in government policy across the region.

"This will set [a precedent], not only in the country but also for the external world wherever States use network disconnections as a tool to suppress fundamental rights in the name of security. Disconnecting people from communication networks is tantamount to denying a set of fundamental rights, including access to information, emergency services, expression and other associated rights," says Shahzad Ahmad, Country Director, Bytes For All, Pakistan.

Whether that actually happens remains to be seen, but if it can be done in Pakistan then surely it can be done elsewhere.

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Posted on Techdirt - 9 March 2018 @ 1:27pm

Trump's Video Game Summit: Developers On One Side, Partisan Hack Puritan Cosplayers On The Other

from the cool dept

As we wrote about, the White House's announcement of a summit with video game executives was initially a one-sided affair, with nobody in the video game industry having any idea what Sarah Sanders was talking about. The White House clarified afterwards that it would be sending out invites to industry representatives after the announcement -- which is weird! -- and it made good on that promise. We learned several days later that several invites had been accepted from within the industry, such as Robert Altman of Bethesda, Strauss Zelnick of Take-Two, and Michael Gallagher from the Entertainment Software Association. These are pretty much the names you would expect to be called to discuss video game violence, given the games produced by each organization, such as the Grand Theft Auto series.

Less expected was the list of fierce video game critics that were also invited, including Brent Bozell and Representative Vicky Hartzler of Missouri. Hartzler has been an avid critic of violent video games, while remaining a staunch supporter of gun rights, while Bozell is the founder of the Parents Television Council. The PTC is exactly the type of organization you're already imagining: a money-making machine built on the premise of the desire for a puritanical entertainment culture and one that is about as partisan as it gets. One other attendee at this summit of great minds was Retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who trains police and advocates that they use more force rather than less, apparently at least in part due to his belief that officers that kill suspects will go on to have the best sex of their lives afterwards -- but for some reason still insists that violent video games are horrible and anyone who disagrees is the equivalent of a Holocaust denier.

In other words, this was almost perfectly crafted to be a shit-show.

And it seems that Trump's summit didn't disappoint in this regard. Reports indicate that the whole thing opened up, video game execs on one side of the table and their critics on the other, with Trump showing a sizzle reel of violent video games while commenting on how awful it all is.

Trump himself opened the meeting by showing “a montage of clips of various violent video games,” said Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Missouri. Then, Hartzler said the president would ask, “This is violent isn’t it?”

“They were violent clips where individuals were killing other human beings in various ways,” she said.

One wonders just how violent everyone at the meeting suddenly became after witnessing this distillation of video game violence all in one sitting. For its part, the game execs attempted quite patiently to explain to Trump that science is a thing that exists, and that there have been studies done on the effects of video game violence, and how this is a meeting that never should have been called to order in the first place.

"We discussed the numerous scientific studies establishing that there is no connection between video games and violence, First Amendment protection of video games, and how our industry’s rating system effectively helps parents make informed entertainment choices," ESA said in a statement.

Whereas Bozell and Hartzler came away from the meeting bewildered why their non-scientific and ultimately unconstitutional recommendations hadn't been put in place years ago.

Bozell said he also communicated to Trump a need for “much tougher regulation” of the video-game industry, stressing that violent games “needed to be given the same kind of thought as tobacco and liquor.”

Hartzler, meanwhile, said she’s open to crafting legislation that would make it harder for youngsters to buy violent games.

“Even though I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link, as a mom and a former high school teacher, it just intuitively seems that prolonged viewing of violent nature would desensitize a young person,” she said.

"Even though science says otherwise, my magical powers granted to me by giving birth to a human being and teaching other human beings should rule the day" is an interesting argument for crafting legislation and policy, by which I mean that it's flatly insane.

The end result of this summit is about what you'd expect. It essentially serves for public self-gratification for those that think violent media is the culprit for all of America's violent ills, despite this media being available in roughly every other country where these same problems don't exist. The executives from the industry did right by pointing to such antiquated authorities as science and data, while their critics were left shaking their fists with the backing of the ethereal and non-quantifiable. Those outside the meeting with other ideas for crafting policy in the wake of the Florida shooting, meanwhile, saw this as the shiny distraction it was likely always meant to be.

“Focusing entirely on video games distracts from the substantive debate we should be having about how to take guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement.

We need not agree with Blumenthal's policy prescription to recognize that his evaluation of this latest Trump summit is almost certainly correct.

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Posted on Techdirt - 7 March 2018 @ 1:33pm

Comcast Protected Browsing Blocks TorrentFreak, Showing Why Site-Blocking Sucks Out Loud Always

from the voluntary-overblock dept

While site-blocking is now a global phenomena, every country appears to be on a different trajectory in how it does this new flavor of censorship. Russia, for instance, looks for any excuse to block the availability of a website on its soil, resulting in absolutely hilarious amounts of collateral damage. Italy is slightly more judicious, but still does its site-blocking sans due process, whereas Ireland has just begun to open the door to site-blocking, with all kinds of major media companies just waiting to barge through it. Here in America, site-blocking is typically reserved for streaming sites during major sporting events and the voluntary blocking companies like Comcast offer with its "Protected Browsing" service.

But let's be clear: all of these points on the spectrum suck out loud. Collateral damage is the rule, not the outlier, and these efforts at justified censorship always creep, if not dash, towards the other line of reasonable behavior. As an example of this, let's go back to the site-blocking Comcast performs for customers who enable its "Protected Browsing" feature. This feature is supposed to protect internet users from malware, unwanted pornography, and pirate sites. It also apparently keeps people from being able to access news sites like TorrentFreak.

A reader alerted us that, when he tried to access TorrentFreak, access was denied stating that a “suspicious” site was ahead. A pirate logo on the blocking page suggests that there’s copyright-infringing activity involved. While it’s no secret that we cover a lot of news related to piracy, it goes a bit far to label this type of news reporting as suspicious.

There are a million possible explanations for how something like this happens. Perhaps the filter is way too aggressive, saw the word "torrent" in the name of the site, and simply blocked it. Perhaps something is being picked up either in the subject matter of the posts at TF, or in the comments, resulting in a block. Perhaps links to other sites contained in the posts are a factor. Or, least likely of all, perhaps someone at Comcast has it in for the folks at TorrentFreak and blocked the site maliciously.

Here's the thing: none of that matters. The only thing that matters is that TorrentFreak is not a malicious site, is not a pirate site, is not a suspicious site, and yet it has been blocked by this feature anyway. The ultimate answer to the question "why?" is that site-blocking like this always sucks, always goes wrong, and always carries out collateral damage. Whether its done through abuse or ineptitude doesn't really matter when the result is the same: innocent sites being blocked.

And if you happen to think TorrentFreak does something nefarious enough to make any of this warranted -- about which you're wrong, by the way -- even more innocuous sites have been caught up in this as well.

Previously, Comcast users reported that this system prevented people from accessing PayPal as well, which is a bit much, and others reported that it stopped the Steam store from loading properly.

So, for proponents of site-blocking as a solution to piracy and all the internet's ills, why in the world would I trust government to do this better than Comcast does it on a voluntary basis?

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Posted on Techdirt - 6 March 2018 @ 3:39pm

Trump Announces One-Sided Plan To Meet With Video Game Makers Over Gun Violence

from the it-takes-two dept

In the conspiracy against video games that is now in full swing after the school shooting in Florida, it seems that it goes all the way to the top, by which I mean the recent comments by our Dear Leader, Donald Trump. Lower levels of the government have already begun foisting the sins of the shooter on the scapegoat of violent games, with Rhode Island looking for a plainly unconstitutional tax on adult-rated games and the governor of Kentucky trying to blame violent games for the recent shooting, sans evidence. And now it seems that Donald Trump has gotten into the mix, announcing that he will be meeting with "the video game industry" in coming weeks to see how they can stop real-world gun violence.

Presidential Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced at a briefing Thursday that President Trump plans to meet with members of the video game industry next week "to see what they can do" on the issue of gun violence.

Details on specific timing and attendance for the meeting weren't immediately available, but Sanders cast the meeting as of a piece with multiple others that have already taken place between the president and "a number of stakeholders" in the gun violence debate.

Except it appears that the reason the timing for those meetings wasn't provided during the White House briefing is almost certainly because nobody in the video game industry has any idea what Trump or Sanders is talking about. The Entertainment Software Association, which represents the larger game studios and publishers, came out with a statement that it has had no plans to meet with Trump, has received no invitations to meet with Trump, and would push back on any responsibility games have for real life violence were such a meeting to occur.

The same video games played in the US are played worldwide; however, the level of gun violence is exponentially higher in the US than in other countries. Numerous authorities have examined the scientific record and found there is no link between media content and real-life violence. The US video game industry has a long history of partnering with parents and more than 20 years of rating video games through the Entertainment Software Rating Board. We take great steps to provide tools to help players and parents make informed entertainment decisions.

It's about as perfect a rebuttal to the violent games argument as there is: other countries have these same games, but not the violence. For its part, the White House clarified later that the invitations to meet with Trump would be going out over the next few days. Still, it probably would have been good for meetings to be scheduled before they were announced to the gaggle from the White House podium.

With this being so one-sided, instead, we're left to witness another grandstanding politician with another whipping post talking about protected art and speech being culpable for real-world tragedy.

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Posted on Techdirt - 5 March 2018 @ 3:28pm

MPAA Opposes Several Filmmaker Associations Request For Expanded Circumvention Exemptions

from the not-our-film-studios dept

Over the past few weeks, we've mentioned in a couple of posts that the Copyright Office is currently taking public commentary for changes to the DMCA's anti-circumvention exemptions provisions. While we've thus far limited our posts to the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment's bid to have those exemptions extended to preserving online video games and the ESA's nonsensical rebuttal, that isn't the only request for expanded exemptions being logged. A group of filmmaker associations put in a request last year for anti-circumvention exemptions to be extended to filmmakers so that they can break the DRM on Blu-ray films in order to make use of clips in new works. At issue is the fact that these filmmakers are able to make use of clips in these new works thanks to fair use but cannot readily get at them due to the DRM on the films themselves.

This is confusing and creates uncertainty, according to the International Documentary Association, Kartemquin Films, Independent Filmmaker Project, University of Film and Video Association, and several other organizations. Late last year they penned a submission to the Copyright Office, which is currently considering updates to the exemptions, where they argued that all filmmakers should be allowed by break DRM and rip Blu-rays. The documentary exemptions have been in place for years now and haven’t harmed rightsholders in any way, they said.

“There is no reason this would change if the ‘documentary’ limitation were removed. All filmmakers regularly need access to footage on DVDs and without an exemption to DVDs, many non-infringing uses simply cannot be made,” the groups noted.

So, there are several groups that lobby for documentarians going to bat for the larger filmmaking world, having seen just how beneficial the exemptions they enjoy have been to the documentary craft. Frankly, it's nice to see associations such as these not simply staying in their own lane and instead advocating for their larger craft as a whole. Unlike, say, the MPAA which leapt to respond with claims of how awful all of this would be.

A group of “joint creators and copyright owners” which includes Hollywood’s MPAA, the RIAA, and ESA informs the Copyright Office that such an exemption is too broad and a threat to the interests of the major movie studios.

The MPAA and the other groups point out that the exemption could be used by filmmakers to avoid paying licensing fees, which can be quite expensive.

Which, of course, is precisely the point of these exemptions. An end-around of fair use by locking up content behind DRM in order to extract licensing fees from those that legally would otherwise not have to pay them is a special kind of perversion of the DMCA. Not to mention copyright law as a whole, actually. Recall that the entire purpose of copyright law in America is to promote the creation of more works for public consumption. What the MPAA is arguing is that these exemptions, which would do much to promote new work, should be cast aside in favor of a system in which those new works live at the pleasure of the licensing schemes of the major movie studios. Unlike the group petitioning for the exemptions, the MPAA isn't even bothering to hide who's interests it cares about.

If the filmmakers don’t have enough budget to license a video, they should look for alternatives. Simply taking it without paying would hurt the bottom line of movie studios, the filing suggests.

“Many filmmakers work licensing fees into their budgets. There is clearly a market for licensing footage from motion pictures, and it is clear that unlicensed uses harm that market.

“MPAA members actively exploit the market for licensing film clips for these types of uses. Each year, MPAA member companies license, collectively, thousands of clips for use in a variety of works,” the group writes.

The Copyright Office has limited the exemption to the documentary genre for a good reason, the creators argue, since non-documentaries are less likely to warrant a finding of fair use.

Except, thanks to the silliness of reserving fair use as an affirmative defense rather than a clearly defined statute, whether a use qualifies as fair use or not is a question to be answered after the use, not before. And that question isn't a valid reason to lock up content behind DRM from filmmakers that could make fair use of it.

The MPAA goes on to suggest that if the Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress were to allow these exemptions, it would lead to "widespread hacking" that would ultimately defeat the DRM in Blu-ray discs entirely. Limiting the exemption to documentaries has kept this from happening because the documentary market is smaller. None of that, however, serves as a true copyright argument and instead is, again, all about the licensing fees Hollywood is able to extract by locking up content on discs behind DRM.

It is nice of the MPAA to lay its loyalties bare for all to see, however -- major movie studios and nobody else, it seems.

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Posted on Techdirt - 2 March 2018 @ 7:39pm

California Court Dismisses Copyright Suit Against BBC Over Cosby Documentary Over Lack Of Jurisdiction

from the hey-hey-hey dept

Late last year, we covered a very odd lawsuit brought against the BBC by the production team for The Cosby Show centering around a BBC documentary covering Bill Cosby's fall from grace in America. Bill Cosby: Fall of an American Icon used several short clips from The Cosby Show, altogether totaling less than four minutes of run-time, and all of them used to provide context to Cosby's once-held status as an American public figure in good standing. Despite the BBC distributing the documentary exclusively overseas, production company Casey-Werner filed its suit in California. Whatever the geography around the legal action, we argued at the time that the BBC's actions were as clear a case of fair use as we'd ever seen.

It seems that legal argument will not be answered in this suit, however, as the court has decided instead to simply dismiss over a lack of jurisdiction. While the BBC's filings had indeed hinted at a forthcoming fair use defense, it also argued that the California court had no business adjudicating this matter to begin with.

BBC argued no actionable infringement could possibly have taken place within a California federal court's jurisdiction because the documentary was only broadcast in the U.K., and while Fall of an American Icon was later available via the BBC’s iPlayer, "geoblocking" prevented it from being seen in the United States absent use of virtual private networks or proxy servers to evade restrictions.

In response, Casey-Werner argued essentially that everyone knows that geo-blocking doesn't work and is easily defeated by the use of a VPN or DNS proxy. And, hey, that's true, except that the failures of geo-blocking technology doesn't give rise to jurisdiction by a California court. Only the BBC's direct action in getting this content stateside would do that and the BBC clearly took steps specifically to avoid that happening. From Judge Percy Anderson's ruling:

That some California individuals may have viewed the Program does not establish that Defendants directed their conduct toward California, particularly because any viewership in California occurred despite Defendants’ intentions and their efforts to prevent it.

Unauthorized viewers outside of the United Kingdom do not provide a basis for personal jurisdiction; rather, Defendants’ relationship with California must arise out of contacts that they themselves created with the state. … Moreover, Plaintiff neither alleges nor offers actual evidence of the extent of viewership of the Program in California.

And so the court never takes on the question of whether this is fair use or not, which it most certainly is. That we never got to that stage says a great deal more about the quality of Casey-Werner's legal team than it does about the protections the BBC sit comfortably behind. The case was dismissed without prejudice, and Casey-Werner could always try to file another lawsuit in the U.K., but it would do well to drop this whole thing and lick its wounds instead.

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Posted on Techdirt - 2 March 2018 @ 11:56am

Teen Who Made A Dumb School Shooting Joke On Snapchat Ordered By Judge To Not Play Violent Video Games

from the and-no-rap-music-either dept

As predictable as the sun rising in the east, whenever a tragedy occurs, such as the recent school shooting in Florida, entirely too many people trot out their favorite whipping posts and put on a public show. One of those whipping posts is violent media, with video games for some reason taking on a particularly large portion of the backlash. We've already seen grandstanding politicians jump into this fray, all the way up to America's current Dear Leader, but it isn't only at the highest levels that this occurs. In the suburbs of Chicago, a 16 year old recently made a dumb comment in the wake of local threats of a school shooting that was essentially him being exasperated about all the commentary on his preferred social media channels.

A 16-year-old sophomore at Lake Park High School in west suburban Roselle has been arrested and charged after making “specific threats” against the school, authorities said Tuesday. According to DuPage County prosecutors, the youth had become “annoyed” by ongoing social media chatter regarding a Friday threat that had closed the school’s two campuses but ultimately was deemed not credible.

In response to the talk about the closing, the youth posted a clip on Snapchat of himself playing a violent video game and wrote, “Y’all need to shut up about school shootings or I’ll do one.”

To be clear, this was a stupid thing to do. It would have been stupid in any climate, but it was particularly dumb given the recent shooting in Florida. That said, when police searched the boy's home, he did not have any weapons, his parents did not have any weapons, and he was released the next day. In other words, this was a 16 year old saying something stupid, which is practically the official profession of 16 year olds everywhere.

That didn't stop a judge from charging him with a felony and ordering him to not play violent video games.

The judge also ordered him to turn over his phone to his parents and banned him from playing violent video games.

“You can play all the Mario Kart you want,” [Judge] Anderson told the teen.

While this certainly doesn't rise to the level of inhumane treatment of a child, it's nonetheless obviously dumb. This smacks of a judge that has his preconceived ideas about what is to blame for all these misfit kids taking up space on his jurisdictional lawn.

Why those in positions of authority choose to use that authority against entertainment mediums is beyond me.

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Posted on Techdirt - 1 March 2018 @ 12:06pm

Singer/Professor Tries To Sue Student For Bad Internet Ratings, Fails, Appeals, Fails Again

from the want-to-try-for-strike-three? dept

While America is in desperate need for strong federal anti-SLAPP legislation, it's useful to point out when versions of these laws at the state level do their good work. One such law is the Texas Citizens Participation Act, or TCPA. Stories featuring the TCPA protecting the speech of those leaving ratings and comments online have been featured in our pages before, such as when a Houston law firm sued a former client for comments she made on Yelp and Facebook, or when a pet-sitting company sued one of its clients over a Yelp review that mentioned that the customer's fish was overfed.

The latest lawsuit to be defeated by the TCPA is that of Jennifer Lane, an opera singer of some renown (more on that later) and a professor at the University of North Texas. It seems that Lane had few fans among her students, judging by the defamation suit she filed against Christine Phares and several Does over negative reviews they gave on singer forums and ratemyteacher.com. From the latest ruling, for background:

Lane is an operatic singer and a voice professor at the University of North Texas (UNT). Phares is a former student of Lane’s at UNT. Phares anonymously posted a comment on an online forum for classical singers, stating that Lane: (1) filed lawsuits against each of her former university employers and against UNT; (2) “loses an average of 3–4 students out of her studio per semester”; (3) “teaches in unhealthy ways [and] causes vocal problems”; and (4) “talks shit on singers and faculty in a serious way.” Phares also posted comments on the RateMyProfessors.com website stating that: (1) Lane’s teaching methods caused documented vocal injury; (2) Lane is distracted and not focused during lessons, often on computers or her phone while a student is singing; (3) Lane is not organized and is often late to lessons; (4) Lane demeans students and is not respected by faculty, peers, or students; and (5) Lane has been on faculty probation.

Lane sued Phares and several anonymous commenters over the ratings and posts, asserting in the process that she was both not a public figure and that Phares had made the comments with actual malice. Sadly for her, the initial court ruled that she was wrong on the first count and that she didn't come close to proving the second. In the ruling, the court pointed to Lane's own website, where she even has a tab for "critical acclaim", in which the public positive coverage of her work is laid out. To have such public praise heaped upon her and then try to claim she is not at least a limited purpose public figure is actually kind of funny. Her lack of supporting evidence that Phares' comments were made with actual malice (meaning with knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth) rather than representing a valid personal opinion was much less humorous.

Which makes it somewhat surprising that Lane chose to appeal the decision. The appeals court ruled against her again, going through a multi-page, painful explanation as to all the reasons that Lane qualifies as a public figure, from her website, to the press she has received, to the fact that she has previously used her limited fame and connections to recruit students. Because the court once again ruled that she is at least a limited purpose public figure, any suit against Phares over her comments would need to meet the actual malice standard. The court goes on to painstakingly explain the law and the bars Lane would have to meet to show actual malice and how she failed to do so in every case.

And because of the strength of the TCPA, Lane's appeal failed and the rights of a Texas citizen to speak prevailed. Imagine the explosion of speech that would be possible if this was done at the federal level with a full federal anti-SLAPP law? Open and honest discussions -- and, yes, those can include honest mistakes of discussion -- would suddenly be more possible throughout the union than they are today. That would undeniably be a good thing.

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Posted on Techdirt - 1 March 2018 @ 3:14am

Rhode Island Legislator Proposes A Tax On Video Games Based On Existing Entirely Voluntary Ratings System

from the e-for-everything dept

Violent video games may not cause violent people, despite what some people think, but we can certainly point out that they make a certain class of people very, very stupid. That class is the political class. Every time some violent happening occurs in America, the reaction by grandstanding politicians with no imagination is to lash out at video games for causing all the world's violence, to propose such games be banned entirely, or to propose a tax on them. On the question of taxing or banning these games, these politicians fortunately run face-first into the First Amendment and the Supreme Court's 2011 decision that video games are art, they are speech, and the government can't infringe upon that speech.

Sadly, it doesn't keep some from trying. In the wake of the tragedy in Florida, one Rhode Island state representative announced new proposed legislation that would tax games with an "M" rating or higher.

Representative Robert Nardolillo III (R-Dist. 28, Coventry) will introduce legislation to increase mental health and counseling resources in schools by implementing a tax on video games rated "M" or higher.

"There is evidence that children exposed to violent video games at a young age tend to act more aggressively than those who are not," stated Rep. Nardolillo. "This bill would give schools the additional resources needed to help students deal with that aggression in a positive way."

Because states cannot ban the sale of certain video games to minors, Rep. Nardolillo's proposal would instead allocate money to counteract the aggression they may cause. The legislation would levy an additional 10% tax to video games sold in Rhode Island with a rating of "M" or higher. Revenue generated by this tax would then be placed in a special account for school districts to use to fund counseling, mental health programs, and other conflict resolution activities.

Except he cannot tax these games for the very same reason. Taxing speech is a thing we don't do and is flatly prohibited by the First Amendment. So, to be clear, this legislation likely won't pass and, if it did, it would be quickly overturned by the court system.

Which isn't the only reason why the proposed legislation is stupid. The idea of taxing video games based on ESRB ratings should immediately strike everyone as inherently problematic. The Entertainment Software Rating Board is a non-profit group set up by the video game industry. Submissions for a rating are entirely voluntary. If this bill were to pass and be allowed to exist, the ESRB could simply refuse to rate games "M" or above. Or, game publishers could simply stop submitting for a rating. The ESRB ratings are the creation of the gaming industry. Trying to weaponize the industry against itself for the purpose of collecting tax revenue over dubious reasoning is a hilariously bad plan.

Again, that's almost certainly besides the point, as taxes on video games like this are almost certainly unconstitutional. Still, it's worth pointing out just how little our legislators seem to understand the industries and art over which they attempt to loom.

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Posted on Techdirt - 28 February 2018 @ 3:34pm

Appeals Court Affirms Dismissal Of Frank Sivero's Publicity Rights Suit Against 'The Simpsons'

from the you've-been-simponsized dept

You may recall that in 2014, bit-actor Frank Sivero of Goodfellas semi-fame sued Fox over a recurring character that appeared on The Simpsons. Sivero says several writers for the show were living next door to him just before Goodfellas began filming, at a time he says he was creating the character of Frankie Carbone. He then claims that the writers for The Simpsons were aware of this work and pilfered it to create the character Louie, who is one of Fat Tony's henchmen. Because of this, he claimed that the show had appropriated his likeness, the character he was creating, and decided he was owed $250 million from Fox for all of this. For its part, folks from The Simpsons claimed that Louie is an amalgam of stereotypical mobster characters and a clear parody of those characters.

In response, Fox asked a Los Angeles Superior Court to strike the complaint on anti-SLAPP grounds. In 2015, the court agreed, the ruling resulting from such memorable exchanges as:

"If I was a teenage girl and I had a crush on your client, would I be satisfied with a pin-up of the character Louie?" [Judge Rita Miller] asked.

"Probably," replied Sivero's attorney Alex Herrera. He argued the character's similarity to Sivero constituted a factual question fit for a jury. Judge Miller found her own evaluation of the character's similarity to Sivero relevant to whether the claims could withstand the SLAPP motion. She decided they could not.

Sivero and his legal team apparently didn't get the hint and appealed. This past week saw the California appeals court affirm the original ruling and rejecting the lawsuit on the same anti-SLAPP grounds. This ruling too includes memorable statements, such as the court specifically stating that being "Simponized" is transformative.

Sivero acknowledges his likeness has been 'Simpsonized,'. To be 'Simpsonized' is to be transformed by the creative and artistic expressions distinctive to The Simpsons. This is precisely what the California Supreme Court meant in Comedy III when it said: 'an artist depicting a celebrity must contribute something more than a merely trivial variation, [but must create] something recognizably his own, in order to qualify for legal protection.' Contrary to Sivero’s argument, the fact other cartoon characters in The Simpsons share some of the same physical characteristics does not detract from the point these physical characteristics are transformative. Indeed, Sivero’s observation highlights the very point that the creative elements predominate in the work.

Between the transformative nature of the depiction, the clear differences between the character and Sivero, and the parody nature of the character in general, this was a case that was always doomed for failure. It should also serve as a welcome relief for the entertainment industry that has spent the past few years looking down the barrel of the publicity rights gun. For these kinds of depictions to violate anyone's publicity rights would serve as a detriment to the creative industries, particularly those that rely on humor and parody.

Thankfully, several courts have now seen through this clear attempt at a money-grab.

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Posted on Techdirt - 26 February 2018 @ 3:34pm

ESA Comes Out Against Allowing Museums To Curate Online Video Games For Posterity

from the disappear-that-art dept

A week or so back, we discussed the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) calling on the Copyright Office to extend exemptions to anti-circumvention in the DMCA to organizations looking to curate and preserve online games. Any reading of stories covering this idea needs to be grounded in the understanding that the Librarian of Congress has already extended these same exemptions to video games that are not online multiplayer games. Games of this sort are art, after all, and exemptions to the anti-circumvention laws allow museums, libraries, and others to preserve and display older games that may not natively run on current technology, or those that have been largely lost in terms of physical product. MADE's argument is that online multiplayer games are every bit the art that these single-player games are and deserve preservation as well.

Well, the Entertainment Software Association, an industry group that largely stumps for the largest gaming studios and publishers in the industry, has come out in opposition to preserving online games, arguing that such preservation is a threat to the industry.

“The proponents characterize these as ‘slight modifications’ to the existing exemption. However they are nothing of the sort. The proponents request permission to engage in forms of circumvention that will enable the complete recreation of a hosted video game-service environment and make the video game available for play by a public audience.”

“Worse yet, proponents seek permission to deputize a legion of ‘affiliates’ to assist in their activities,” ESA adds.

The proposed changes would enable and facilitate infringing use, the game companies warn. They fear that outsiders such as MADE will replicate the game servers and allow the public to play these abandoned games, something games companies would generally charge for. This could be seen as direct competition.

There is a ton of wrong in there to unpack. To start, complaining that MADE's request would allow them to replicate the gaming experience of an online multiplayer game does nothing beyond essentially repeating what MADE is requesting. The whole idea is that these games should be preserved for posterity so that later generations can experience them, gaining an understanding of the evolution of the industry. How could this be accomplished without libraries and museums making the online game playable? And how is that different than what these folks do for non-online games? With that in mind, further complaining that museums might ask for help from others to accomplish this task doesn't make a great deal of sense.

As for the final complaint about these museums making these games playable when gaming companies normally charge for them is nearly enough to make one's head explode. Museums like MADE wouldn't be preserving these games except for the fact that these games are no longer operated by the gaming studios, for a fee or otherwise. What ESA's opposition actually says is that making older online games playable will compete in the market with its constituent studios' new online games. To that, there seems to be a simple solution: the game companies should keep these older online games viable themselves, then. After all, if a decade-old MMORPG can still compete with newer releases, then clearly there is money in keeping that older game up and running. Notably, game publishers aren't doing that. Were ESA's concerns valid, they surely would, unless they hate money, which they do not.

What's ultimately missing from ESA's opposition is what exactly is different about these online games compared with non-online games that already have these anti-circumvention exemptions. The closest it gets is complaining that preserving these online games would require server content that game companies haven't made public in the past. Why exemptions for that should be different than the code for localized games so that emulators can run them is a question never answered. That ESA chose not to offer up a more substantive answer to that question is telling.

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 February 2018 @ 3:33pm

Game Studio Threatens Employees' Jobs If They Don't Write Positive Reviews Of Own Game, Then Steam Pulls Game Entirely

from the backfire dept

It's no secret that Valve's Steam platform is the dominant marketplace for PC video games. Much comes along with that status, including the strategies and metrics studios must employ to get their games noticed on Steam. One of the important metrics for recognition is Steam reviews. And it's not just the review scores themselves that are important, but actually getting reviews -- any reviews -- to begin with is a big deal.

So it's no surprise that game studios strategize on how to get their games in enough customer hands to generate reviews. Still, one studio's strategy has massively backfired. Insel Games out of Malta recently released Wild Buster, it's latest title. Sadly, in the all important initial release window, the game was not generating enough reviews to result in a general review score on the game page. Those scores are often used by consumers to quickly decide whether a title deserves their attention at all and a lack of a score can indicate that the game isn't good enough to even warrant a look. Insel's CEO, Patrick Steppel, decided to address this with a strongly-worded email to his own staff insisting that they all buy the game and review it, despite having had a hand in making the game. If employees refused to do this, Steppel warned that it could mean that they would no longer have a job at the studio.

“I had [sent] an email earlier but I was told that some of you announced to colleagues that you do not want to make a purchase of the game and/or a review. Frankly, this leaves me pretty disappointed. Of course I cannot force you to write a review (let alone tell you what to write) - but I should not have to. Neglecting the importance of reviews will ultimately cost jobs. If WB fails, Insel fails, IME fails and then we all will have no job next year. So I am asking you either of do the following: buy the game and present me the receipt until Friday night for which (together with a claim form) you will be re-imbursed within 24h or explain to me tomorrow why you do not wish to do this. I would like to discuss this individually and privately with each of you and will follow up.”

Corresponding with the timing of this email was a deluge of reviews suddenly washing over the game's Steam page, all of them glowingly positive. This, as many of you will know, is a form of astroturfing and it's plainly unethical. The point of reviews is for Steam customers to get a sense of what other Steam customers think of a game so as to inform their purchasing decisions. It is not a place for those who made the game to surreptitiously fool customers into thinking a game is better than it is by posting reviews from a clearly biased source. For the CEO of a studio to suggest employees do this at the end of a pointed employment-gun is all the more galling.

And, ultimately, ineffective, given that Valve has responded from pulling every single Insel Games product from its marketplace.

In a post last night on the Steam forums, a Valve representative wrote that as a result of this new information, the store has pulled all of Insel Games’ products. “The publisher appears to have used multiple Steam accounts to post positive reviews for their own games. This is a clear violation of our review policy and something we take very seriously. For these reasons, we are ending our business relationship with Insel Games Ltd. and removing their games from our store. If you have previously purchased this game, it will remain accessible in your Steam library.”

Laughably, Streppel has publicly admitted to sending out the email while also insisting that he will appeal Valve's decision. What the basis of that appeal could be, given his admission, is anyone's guess. Streppel also insists that he didn't mean to threaten anyone's job and that he has not punished any employee that refused to write a review or buy the game, although that kind of gaslighting likely won't find much purchase in a gaming public that doesn't look kindly upon this kind of subterfuge.

So, the lesson is that game studios should take the efforts they would spend conniving over how to fool customers and just make great games instead. Otherwise, the backlash may be more than they can handle.

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 February 2018 @ 3:23am

Game Studio Found To Install Malware DRM On Customers' Machines, Defends Itself, Then Apologizes

from the that-was-quick dept

The thin line that exists between entertainment industry DRM software and plain malware has been pointed out both recently and in the past. There are many layers to this onion, ranging from Sony's rootkit fiasco, to performance hits on machines thanks to DRM installed by video games, up to and including the insane idea that copyright holders ought to be able to use malware payloads to "hack back" against accused infringers.

What is different in more recent times is the public awareness regarding DRM, computer security, and an overall fear of malware. This is a natural kind of progression, as the public becomes more connected and reliant on computer systems and the internet, they likewise become more concerned about those systems. That may likely explain the swift public backlash to a small game-modding studio seemingly installing something akin to malware in every installation of its software, whether from a legitimate purchase or piracy.

FlightSimLabs, a studio that specialises in custom add-ons for other company’s flight sims, has been found to be secretly installing a program onto user’s computers designed to check whether they’re playing a pirated copy of their software.

The code—basically a Chrome password dumping tool— was discovered by Reddit user crankyrecursion on February 18, and as TorrentFreak reportwas designed to trigger “a process through which the company stole usernames and passwords from users’ web browsers.”

Whatever fuzzy line might exist between DRM payloads and malware, this specific deployment appears to have crossed it in a very big way. The extraction of user names and passwords for infringers would be a step too far on its own, but the real problem is that the executable that does all of this was included in every copy of the software FlightSimLabs provided, including those from legit purchases.

Lefteris Kalamaras, who runs FlightSimLabs, admitted that the installation of a file named "test.exe" was included in the software installation, but insisted that it was only weaponized when a pirated copy of the software is detected.

First of all - there are no tools used to reveal any sensitive information of any customer who has legitimately purchased our products. We all realize that you put a lot of trust in our products and this would be contrary to what we believe.

If such a specific serial number is used by a pirate (a person who has illegally obtained our software) and the installer verifies this against the pirate serial numbers stored in our server database, it takes specific measures to alert us. “Test.exe” is part of the DRM and is only targeted against specific pirate copies of copyrighted software obtained illegally. That program is only extracted temporarily and is never under any circumstances used in legitimate copies of the product. The only reason why this file would be detected after the installation completes is only if it was used with a pirate serial number (not blacklisted numbers).

This attempt at an explanation failed to assuage the gaming community for understandable reasons. To include a program capable of extracting passwords in a flight simulator mod is flatly insane. The only proper description for such software would be malware and that malware was installed on the machines of customers of FlightSimLabs that had properly paid for its products. The claim that this malware remained dormant for those purchasing the mods would be the same as claiming that each of our homes have been outfitted with bombs without our knowledge, but those bombs will only be activated if the home builder thinks we're doing something illegal. This is all wide open for mistakes, abuse, and for other bad actors to swoop in on these customers and make use of the software for nefarious reasons.

Shortly after Kalamaras' "explanation", FlightSimLabs updated the mods in question with the malware removed entirely. The company also updated its community with an apology that still somewhat misses the mark.

We have already replaced the installer in question and can only promise you that we will do everything in our power to rectify the issue with those who feel offended, as well as never use any such heavy-handed approach in the future. Once again, we humbly apologize!

This isn't about "feeling offended", it's about the company breaking the trust of its customers by installing what is clearly malware on their machines. That isn't the type of bad act a company should be able to come back from.

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