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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 - 24 April 2015 @ 7:39pm

FBI And United Airlines Shoot The Messenger After Security Researcher Discovers Vulnerabilities In Airplane Computer System

from the that-doesn't-make-me-feel-safer dept

At some point, the corporations and authorities in America are going to have to get over this knee-jerk reaction complex they have in going after citizens kindly pointing out technology and security flaws for them. You see this over and over and over again: someone notices a flaw in a system, points it out publicly instead of exploiting the flaw, and is thoroughly punished for his or her efforts. Often times there is a mealy-mouthed explanation for these punishments, which, chiefly, have to do with security risks in publicizing the flaw even though the ultimate goal should be fixing the exploit to begin with.

The latest version of this has gotten the EFF involved in defending a security intelligence expert who tweeted from aboard a United Airlines flight about his ability to hack into the flight's WiFi and access some level of the flight's communications.

It may not mean much to you, but he's talking about getting access to communications systems and even some level of controls within the plane itself. And if that doesn't scare you, it should. It scared the feds, too, but it didn't scare them into actually, you know, addressing the security concerns. But it did scare them enough that upon the plane landing Roberts was scooped up by the FBI, questioned for several hours, and had his encrypted computer, tablet, and drives snatched from him. No warrant for any of this, mind you, at least not at the time of this writing. As you can imagine, he's not pleased. Mostly, though, he's confused as to why the feds are picking on him at all.

Roberts told FORBES he was disconcerted by the actions of US law enforcement. “Feds have known about issues in planes for years, why are they hot now? I’m a researcher, that’s what I do, I don’t go out to harm or hurt, why pick on researchers? If not us then who will find flaws?”
Which is the entire point. The government should be thanking its lucky stars that a benevolent force such as Chris Roberts was the one who found this exploit, rather than someone who might actually wish to do harm. Tweeting about it may alert more nefarious folks that such an exploit exists, sure, but it also got the attention of the federal government who had damned well better be fixing this tout de suite. As far as anyone interested in actually fixing this exploit should be concerned, mission freaking accomplished. And yet Roberts is targeted, not because he's an actual threat, but merely for doing what people in his profession do.

And not just at the conclusion of that flight, either, I should add. The harassment continued afterwards.
Roberts was back at the airport on Saturday evening, headed to San Francisco to attend two high-profile security conferences, the RSA Conference, where he is scheduled to present on Thursday, and BSides SF. After Roberts retrieved his boarding pass, made his way through the TSA checkpoint and reached the gate, United corporate security personnel stopped him from boarding the plane. Roberts was told to expect a letter explaining the reasons for not being allowed to travel on United. Thankfully, Roberts was able to book a last-minute flight on another airline and has now landed safely in San Francisco.

Nevertheless, United’s refusal to allow Roberts to fly is both disappointing and confusing. As a member of the security research community, his job is to identify vulnerabilities in networks so that they can be fixed. Indeed, he was headed to RSA speak about security vulnerabilities in a talk called “Security Hopscotch” when attempting to board the United flight.
This should be seen as useful for the public, which now knows somewhat certainly that United Airlines would much rather attempt to achieve security through obscurity rather than seeing experts like Roberts as a boon to their own safety product. Should you need to fly anytime soon, do you really want to board a flight run by a company that has now demonstrated that it tolerates vulnerabilities aboard its flights and also would rather try to put its head in the sand than deal with those vulnerabilities? I sure wouldn't. Keep in mind, by the way, that United is getting this important information into its own security for free. But rather than be grateful, out come the cross hairs.

It's enough with this crap already. No amount of embarrassment is justification for harassing a security researcher who happens to be fault-testing technology on high-profile targets. And doing it free of charge, I might add. In the realm of security, Roberts is a helpful force, not a harmful one. It'd be nice if the Feds and United Airlines would behave gratefully, rather than targeting the man.

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Posted on Techdirt - 24 April 2015 @ 4:05pm

Microsoft Advertises The Witcher 3 On Xbox With Footage From The PC Version; Fans Not Fooled

from the bait-and-switch dept

Pay attention to the gaming scene and the way gamers interact with game companies and journalists and you'll see that times are a little tense these days. Without diving into any of the debates currently being had throughout Gamerdom (Gamerstan? Gaming Nation?), let's just all agree that there is a big fat trust vacuum at the moment and that this vacuum is being filled by all kinds of reactions, some of which are reasonable, some of which are silly and overreaching. What's happened since in the last year or so has exacerbated the distrust to the point where companies operate on tip-toes with their audiences or they suffer the consequences. What cannot be done in a time like this, if a company wants to make money and keep its fanbase loyal, is to further breach that trust.

Take Microsoft, for example. The Xbox-maker recently pimped The Witcher 3 for its Xbox console on YouTube...using footage from the PC version of the game.

Today, the Xbox YouTube channel released a rad new video for the upcoming role-playing game The Witcher 3. There’s just one problem: it’s not actually running on an Xbox. Whoops. Yep, despite that XBOX logo stamped on the bottom right corner of the above video, this is actually footage from the (presumably better-looking) PC version of the game. The easiest way to tell? You can run the YouTube video at 60 frames-per-second; the developers of The Witcher 3 (out May 19 for PS4/XB1/PC) have specified that the console versions are actually locked at 30 FPS.
Now, I can already hear every person on the planet who either isn't a gamer at all or is a casual gamer at most screaming, "There's no way this is a big deal!" And, ultimately, they're right, it's not the hugest issue in gaming today. Game-makers play these kinds of tricks all the time, whether it's showing the wrong version of the game, passing off cut-scenes as gameplay elements, or promoting features in games that aren't present upon release. But the tolerance for these tricks is completely gone. It's now common to see disclaimers that footage isn't actually of gameplay, or that the footage is from one version of the game or another. And, while the Xbox channel did eventually edit to include a disclaimer that the footage was from the PC version of the game, the bait-and-switch nature of all this seems more inexplicable when it appears on the YouTube page for the console itself.

Next thing you know, prospective customers are crying foul and the game developer, CD Projeck Red, a company that is generally awesome in terms of being customer friendly, suddenly has to scramble to assure its fans that it had no idea Microsoft was doing any of this. Again, no reason not to believe them, but in the trust vacuum everyone might be in on the conspiracy and blowback is done via carpet-bomb instead of in a measured way.

Is this false advertising or an inadvertent error? I have no idea, but I do know that gaming companies can't make these errors and think they can get away with it at the moment.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2015 @ 1:47pm

How It's Done: Rockstar Releases Video Production Editor For GTA So Fans Can Make Films

from the bizzaro-nintendo dept

Peruse the history of fan-film posts we've done in the past and you'll be met with depressing results. Too often the makers of movies and video games prefer a restrictive approach to fans using any form of their content. The approach tends to be of the blanket variety, where a default to protectionism often ties up fan-work that is either usefully creative in and of itself, or else beneficial to the original content producers if only it would be allowed to breathe. Nintendo has become famous for this kind of restrictive practice in YouTube recently, but it is hardly alone.

Rockstar, as it has so often before, breaks the mold on this kind of thing. Back when Grand Theft Auto 4 was the latest iteration in the GTA series, some enterprising fans had used video editing equipment, along with the game itself, to create their own brand of fan-film, using game footage as the vehicle for an admittedly simple but impressive story line. The whole thing was 2 hours long and has been viewed on YouTube over half a million times. Rockstar, for its part, not only didn't take the video down, but it went so far as to provide its own video editing software for fans in the latest PC version of the series, Grand Theft Auto 5.

When Grand Theft Auto V launches tomorrow, it will come complete with a video editing suite that will allow you to make movies from Story Mode and GTA Online footage you capture. The software, the Rockstar Editor, lets you do a number of things [like] record and edit footage and share them with the community. The editor features special camera modes, filters, depth of field and audio customization options, and a Director Mode feature that allows you to create movie-making sequences from a cast of characters from Story Mode.

This, quite simply, is how it's done. Rockstar/GTA fans expressed an interest organically in something they wanted to do with Rockstar's product, an emergent use that Rockstar may never have even considered, and, rather than getting butthurt over the use of the content and sending out the threat-letters, the company enabled its fans' behavior instead.

And why wouldn't they? After all, far from harm, it would be an absolute boon to Rockstar to see YouTube pages filled with fan-creations in the form of short or monstrously-long creative works, all done within GTA itself. It's just one more way to have fun within the game, one more way to be expressive with fellow fans of the game, and one more way for the GTA name to be etched into gaming history. This is pure CwF+RtB calculus at its finest.

Well done, Rockstar.

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 April 2015 @ 4:07am

HBO Shuts Down Bar's Game Of Thrones Viewing Party

from the no-fun-allowed dept

Winter is coming. Again. Or, it has come back already, or still, or whatever. Look, I don't know, I just love Game of Thrones. Lots of other people like it too, which means that lots of people watch on HBO...and a lot of others watch it through illegitimate sources, making it the "most pirated" of shows. Part of the reason it's so pirated is that access has traditionally been restricted to those with HBO cable subscriptions. Still, HBO being pissed over some fans pirating the show is understandable.

Less understandable is HBO going after non-pirate fans, such as a GoT viewing party at a local Brooklyn watering hole.

HBO recently sent a cease and desist letter to the owners of Videology bar in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, asking them to stop their Game of Thrones weekly viewing parties.

"As a pay subscription service, HBO should not be made available in public establishments," a spokesperson for the network told the Daily News "When it does happen, it is of particular concern when there is an attempt to profit off the programming. We have taken such actions for well over a decade."
Yes, HBO, you have indeed taken these kinds of actions for well over a decade. But things have changed over that decade that you might want to pay attention to. Cable subscriptions are in the decline, for instance, meaning that content producers are going to have to find other avenues to keep consumption at the same levels. Also, and you probably noticed this...Game of Thrones is insanely popular and profitable, even with all of the actual piracy going on. Targeting a bar that holds a party for fans of the show isn't just useless, it's plainly damaging to the brand, the fanship, and the spread of the fanbase. I mean, is anyone really suggesting that the patrons who attended this viewing party were all planning on immediately cancelling their HBO subscriptions, and instead planning to watch their beloved show at the bar every week? Or is it more likely that these patrons all probably are HBO customers who just want to get in a group once in a while and collectively watch their show? And how many new fans will miss on the opportunity to jump into the GoT fervor because this event isn't going to take place?

The bar in question seems to get what HBO doesn't, of course.
"Seeing that many other bars in the neighborhood and around the city were showing it, we made the assumption that HBO believed, as we do, that public screenings were in the best interest of both HBO and the fans, since GOT is enjoyed on a deeper level as a communal event," co-owner Wendy Chamberlain told the NYDN. "But in the end, it's not up to us."
And so HBO misses another opportunity to grow the show's fanbase and brand, if only it could just behave in a human and awesome way for once.

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 April 2015 @ 4:16am

UK Judges Take Their Robes And Go Home After Julian Assange Added As Speaker At Legal Conference

from the wigging-out dept

In case you were wondering about the current state of Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder is still holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, evading an extradition request to Sweden and living the life of a fugitive. Of course, it's not like he can't communicate with the outside world and, given some of the impressive leaks Wikileaks has released these past years, it's not uncommon for news organizations, academics, and others to seek interviews and input from him. One group recently interested in Assange's take on surveillance and its implications was a conference in Glasgow. Assange gave a speech via video-conference from the embassy and the audience, which included many officers of many courts, including judges, listened.

But several UK judges, including several supposed to also speak at the conference, missed seeing Assange speak after deciding to walk away from the whole conference due to Assange's inclusion.

Judges from Scotland, England and Wales and the UK supreme court had agreed to speak at or chair other sessions but withdrew – in some cases after arriving at the conference centre– when they found out about Assange’s appearance.Among those to boycott the conference were the most senior judge in Scotland, Lord Gill, and two judges on the supreme court, Lord Neuberger and Lord Hodge. Representatives of the judges said it would have been inappropriate for them to have attended, because of Assange’s legal status.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office for Scotland said: “The conference programme was changed to include Mr Assange’s participation at short notice and without consultation. Mr Assange is, as a matter of law, currently a fugitive from justice, and it would therefore not be appropriate for judges to be addressed by him. Under these circumstances, the lord president, Lord Gill, and the other Scottish judicial officeholders in attendance have withdrawn from the conference.”
I suppose I shouldn't, but I find it hard to imagine how people could attain some of the highest judicial positions in a country while being so thoroughly thin-skinned. It should be noted that Assange was not to be speaking on anything to do with why he's currently evading extradition, which is ostensibly about a sexual assault charge, or whatever authorities are drumming up for him these days. On the matter of surveillance and technology security, it's difficult to think of someone more qualified than Assange. The judges deciding to take a walk because of his fugitive status, failing to take part in a discussion about the laws around surveillance, only serves to do two things: make sure their point of view isn't heard and aggrandize Assange even more than he's already been.

So buck up, UK judges. Your takes on these issues are important. You may not like Assange. Hell, I don't like him either. But throwing a fit just because he was asked to speak at a conference isn't befitting your legal-y splendor.

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Posted on Techdirt - 20 April 2015 @ 3:52am

Australia Considers New Copyright Law That Could Be Interpreted To Ban VPNs

from the very-probably-nixed dept

Some months back, our own Glyn Moody wrote about the music industry in Australia and its attempt to basically broadly multiply copyright protections, routing around the public's representatives in government to get ISPs to act as judge, jury and executioner. Then, because Glyn Moody is a witch who turned my sister into a newt, he wondered aloud whether VPNs would be the next target in the copyright industry's crosshairs.

Well, it turns out that yes, yes they are. Only this time, the industry lobbyists are going right to the Australian legislature to act as their bullies with the Copyright Amendment Bill 2015.

If it is passed, copyright owners would be able to apply for a federal court order requiring internet service providers to block overseas sites whose primary purpose is infringing copyright or facilitating the infringement of copyright. While the bill is designed to target BitTorrent sites, such as the Pirate Bay, there are concerns other online services such as VPNs and digital storage lockers could fall victim.

The campaigns manager for Choice, Erin Turner, says at least 684,000 Australian households currently employ VPNs to bypass geoblocks and access overseas content at globally competitive prices.
No need to go half way here: if the bill is written and passed in its current vague iteration, VPNs and storage lockers absolutely will be under attack. Entertainment companies both foreign and domestic have been complaining for years about Australians using VPNs to route around geo-restrictions and get overseas content and it would be silly to pretend like infringers don't use VPNs to conceal themselves. All that said, there are a ton of legitimate reasons to use a VPN or storage locker. That's why crafting industry-specific legislation like this is so tricky, particularly when the target of the law is a widely used product of platform. There are simply going to be consequences that the public would consider unintended and that I consider specifically intended in the vagueness of the law. Copyright protection advocates always want more, never less, and they aren't exactly known for behaving reservedly when they feel they have tools at their disposal.

The enemy here is ambiguity.
Copyright expert Kimberlee Weatherall says it is difficult to predict if the bill will be used by copyright holders to argue for an injunction against a VPN service because it lacks clarity regarding services and sites whose primary purpose is not copyright infringement, although may be being used for that purpose.
Which means that the law cannot be allowed to pass as it is currently written. Legislation doesn't necessarily have to be specifically proscriptive, but a lack of clarity on a technology service so common and so tangential to the chief target of the bill means the bill sucks. Hell, it's not like I'm making this concern up, even. Already content providers are arguing for tightened screws on Aussie VPNs.
Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder managing director Nick Murray told Mumbrella the current arrangements are only benefitting international players like Netflix because under the current production deals content is sold by territories.

Asked if it should be illegal for Australians to access overseas platforms using a VPN he said: “It should be. It should absolutely be regulated somehow to make it so people in Australia shouldn’t use VPNs.”Murray defended the arrangement of selling content by territory saying “that’s how we get our money” adding: “The people people who say we should get rid of the geo-blocker, it’s just bizarre, as that is how content is sold.”
Yes, arguing that something should change is bizarre because that thing hasn't changed yet. Great argument you have there. But we can at least give Murray credit for being blatantly open and honest about his desire to take technology tools away from Australian citizens.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 April 2015 @ 1:59pm

How The DMCA And Anti-Piracy Measures Conspire To Keep Video Games In Their Cultural Place

from the that-belongs-in-a-museum dept

For those of us that think certain intellectual property laws have become overbearing and overly burdensome, one of the fun little exercises is to try and figure out where the best battlegrounds are for the fight against them. For instance, if you think cable television has become expensive, unfriendly, and overtly insane, you want to pay special attention to how professional sports are broadcasted now and in the future. If you want to find ground to battle expanded trademark protections and the crazy ways some companies interpret their rights, perhaps the alcohol and beer industry is a good place to draw a line in the proverbial sand. And for copyright? Well, there has always been a ton of focus on music and movies, but we may be seeing the world of video games emerge as the best ground from which to push back against the restrictions of antiquated copyright in the digital age.

Recently, we covered the spiderweb of nonsense one company had to go through just to try to publish a decade-old game, an attempt that was ultimately given up because the web proved to be too convoluted to navigate. Now, a Consumerist post explains how the DMCA and game publishers have (perhaps) unwittingly conspired to keep video games from claiming their rightful place within our cultural lexicon. The focus in the post is on section 1201 of the DMCA.

Section 1201 of the DMCA prohibits consumers from circumventing copyright protection measures put in place on games or any other digital media. So even if you can figure out a fix that will make a game work offline — much like the Sim City player who discovered a work-around against the disastrous always-online requirement — it’s against the law to do so, even if you’re not otherwise violating the copyright and even if this is the only way to make an abandoned game viable again. Yes, somehow keeping it illegal to fix broken, abandoned games aids in this innovation; perhaps by forcing people to keep buying newer releases.
The piece then draws up two conflicting sides on section 1201 with regards to video games: the Entertainment Software Association on one side and the EFF on the other. The EFF has filed a request to have exemptions put in to section 1201 for gaming enthusiasts and, more importantly, for museums who would need to alter the game in order to make it in any way useful for exhibit. Take, for instance, any of the games that Electronic Arts, member of the ESA, decides to torpedo in whole or in part by shutting down game servers that support or check-in with the software. Or, perhaps more apropos, take any of the myriad of recent games that have been released as "always online," with copyright protections essentially amounting to a check in with servers not in the consumer's control. What happens when those servers are no longer worth supporting and are shut down? Well, some or all of the game becomes un-playable.

Now, let's leave aside the question of whether or not a consumer truly owns the game they buy under these scenarios. Let's also leave aside whether this kind of DRM or copyright protection is worthwhile at all. Instead, let's focus on how curators of games can handle this kind of thing in a world where DMCA section 1201 forbids the kind of tampering that would get around these restrictions. Should the ESA get its way and keep 1201 exemption-free, so-called abandoned games or abandonware becomes abandoned culture. And not, by the way, abandoned by the consumer or the public, which might include museums or academics with a strong interest in curating older games. No, the abandonment is committed by the game company itself, leaving a giant cultural hole that cannot be filled in because of a copyright law section those same companies are defending.

I've long argued that video games should be considered every bit the equivalent of movies and music. Try to find an equivalent to this problem with either music or movies, however, and you'll be at it quite a long time before you find anything meaningful. Netflix doesn't count, because you aren't buying a movie in Netflix. Same with music streaming services. The closest thing to it is probably how some e-readers can disappear books the consumer has purchased. The difference there is that the entire cultural deposit with a literary work likely isn't lost when that sort of thing happens, as it can be found and curated in other forms. That's not the case with old and classic games.

You want to find a place to take a stance against expanded copyright in favor of greater culture? That place is with games. The ESA knows this, which is why it is staunchly defending section 1201.
The gaming industry argues that allowing these modifications would “undermine the fundamental copyright principles on which our copyright laws are based,” and send the message that “hacking… is lawful.”

In fact, as the EFF points out, “hacking” in and of itself is completely legal.

“Most of the programmers that create games for Sony, Microsoft, EA, Nintendo, and other ESA members undoubtedly learned their craft by tinkering with existing software,” writes the EFF. “If ‘hacking,’ broadly defined, were actually illegal, there likely would have been no video game industry.”
And no cultural boon from games as a result. Section 1201, within the framework of gaming, can be said to be firmly anti-culture. No two ways about it.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 April 2015 @ 9:11pm

MMA Fighter Upset Over Possible Homage In Mortal Kombat

from the FIGHT! dept

Publicity rights have managed to intersect with the video game world more frequently recently. Typically, what appear to be loose general characterizations and/or homages within games have, for a variety of reasons, ruffled the feathers of the celebrity elite. One needs only look back at the disputes raised by Lindsay Lohan over a character in the Grand Theft Auto series which she, wrongly, declared to be based solely upon her. The question I always have in these cases is one of motive. Are these celebrities unhappy about the portrayal they think they see in a character, is there some competing interest, or is it all just a mindless money-grab?

In the latest case we'll cover, I'm at a loss if this isn't a money grab. The whole thing centers on the latest iteration of Mortal Kombat and one character's likeness, perhaps, to a mixed marshal arts fighter name Felice Herrig, who thinks the Cassie Cage character is based off of her likeness.

Herrig, who fights on this weekend’s UFC on FOX 15 card, was first made aware of Cassie Cage a few months ago. Back then, she found the resemblance to be a bit odd, but she didn’t have a whole lot to go on. In recent days, however, more footage and promo materials have surfaced, and Herrig doesn’t like what she sees.
Her complaints, posted to her social media account, center on the Cassie Cage character notably chewing bubblegum and taking selfies. If you go hunting for side-by-side comparisons, they can be somewhat striking.

Except we need to keep a couple of things in mind here. Both women, one real and one fictional, portray combat fighters and there are only so many ways those folks are going to be portrayed. Flexing with clasped fists is a common posed shot in this world. As for chewing bubble gum and taking selfies, both of those are so common that entire industries are built around them, so that is about as unique as having blonde hair.

Is there an homage here? I don't know, maybe. If there is, it's a subtle one, and built off a real-life person who isn't exactly a household name outside of the MMA scene. But what's the point of getting upset over a maybe-possibly-kinda-sorta nod in your direction? I mean, it is an option to be flattered or to use it to promote yourself, whether the whole thing is an homage or not. What's to be upset about?

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 April 2015 @ 9:43am

Chess Grandmaster Exposed As App-Using Cheat

from the there's-an-app-for-that dept

I love chess. As the original multi-player turn-based strategy game, chess serves as the backbone for many a modern era game, for which it has my respect. Despite this love I have for the game, I happen to be quite horrible at it, but that only makes me all the more reverent of those that master its wily machinations. Kasparov is a name I know solely because he was a grand champion, one of those faces of chess that spurred on so much intrigue as people wondered just how he was able to dominate his opponents so completely.

Gaioz Nigalidze was one of those folks, too, having attained the title of grandmaster, but now he isn't. He might actually be as good as advertised, but we can't trust that he is any longer because he was found to be using a iPhone to cheat his way through a match. The plot begins and ends, as all good plots do, in the toilet.

On Saturday, Nigalidze, the 25-year-old reigning Georgian champion, was competing in the 17th annual Dubai Open Chess Tournament when his opponent spotted something strange.

“Nigalidze would promptly reply to my moves and then literally run to the toilet,” Armenian grandmaster Tigran Petrosian said. “I noticed that he would always visit the same toilet partition, which was strange, since two other partitions weren’t occupied.”
Yes, the strange part was which toilet Nigalidze used, not the fact that his bladder decided to punctuate each move with a potty trip. As it turns out, Nigalidze had hidden an iPhone in one of the restrooms, wrapped in toilet paper because there ain't no stealth in chess, and had been running the game he was playing through an application that analyzed and suggested moves. In other words, he totally h4x0red that chess tournament, ya'll!

It turns out that being the Barry Bonds of chess isn't great for one's career and Nigalidze's past and future have both been placed in jeapordy.
Nigalidze was expelled from the tournament, which is still ongoing and features more than 70 grandmasters from 43 countries competing for a first-place prize of $12,000. The Georgian’s career is now under a microscope. His two national titles are under suspicion. And under recently tightened rules against cheating, he could be banned for up to 15 years.
This has reportedly sent the chess world into some kind of insane tailspin over concerns that, now that someone has proved that cheating in tournaments with a small device such as a phone is doable, who knows how many other of our revered grandmasters are big, steaming, salty cheat-burgers? The ancient game is now understood to be relatively easy to master with something as common as a smartphone, which means chess tournaments are about to get way more TSA-like with security, I guess.

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Posted on Techdirt - 15 April 2015 @ 12:20pm

Koei Tecmo Goes DMCA On DOA Modders For Undressing Its Already Scantily Clad Characters

from the a-mod-too-far dept

I won't pretend to know every in and out of the Dead or Alive series. That's partially because I gave up fighting games once I hit junior high, and partially because my gaming habits tend to cleave to particular franchises generally and DoA wasn't amongst those I patronized. But I gather the series has been mostly about offering up characters, and setting them to beat the hell out of one another for fun and amusement. I can see where there might be fun in that.

What I can't see is why the creator of such a game series would want to make the kinds of moral arguments against modders that DoA producer Yosuke Hayashi made in conjunction with Koei Tecmo going all DMCA crazy on mods that removed the wardrobes of the fairer characters of DoA 5: Last Round.

"We have to deal with mod issues from an IP holder perspective," Koei Tecmo producer Yosuke Hayashi said in an interview with trade publication MCV. "We would like to ask PC users to play our game in good moral and manner. Otherwise, we won’t be able to release a title for PC again."
Now, is the dedication some modders show to making sure that female characters are disrobed a level 20 on the creepy scale? Sure, I think that's fair. But, from a business perspective, why is Tecmo interested in going the DMCA route on the modding community? Whatever you think of the mods themselves, it's difficult to mount a logical argument for going to war with the modding community, which is typically made up of either a game's fan-base or talented modders serving some portion of the fan-base. Either way, mods are strictly for the interested, meaning they can only make a product more desirable, not less. What good comes from the company trying to hide these mods using intellectual property law?

As for the moral argument, please let me just type "haha" here and imagine I kept repeating those two letters infinitely, because, seriously, c'mon. The DoA series only strayed form its chief thematic vehicle of human beings beating the ever-loving shit out of one another in order to tantalize dumb teenage boys by creating spinoff series in which the female DoA characters play volleyball in laughably small bikinis, spinoffs in which the female characters are photographed in laughably small bikinis, and spinoffs in which the female characters can play almost-strip-poker with the player. Let me see if I can draw you a picture of morality using DoA imagery.

The gravity-defying boob physics represent the necessity of a firm moral stance...or something...

The point is that there seems to be little sense in any of this from Tecmo's perspective. Moral arguments are for those with moral authority, and good gaming business is to let modders have-at-it, as it were.

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Posted on Techdirt - 10 April 2015 @ 12:07pm

Google Rejects Postal For Google Play Store Due To Violence; GTA Games Still Available For Purchase

from the bang-bang dept

We all know that in the land of mobile applications, Apple has long seen itself as the keeper of the moral compass, gently navigating humanity towards the City upon a Hill one rejected phone-game at a time. The reasons for refusal have varied, from the inclusion of fictional narcotics, to the slight chance somebody somewhere might see a breast or a penis, all the way up to a moral stance against comic books, because this is apparently the nineteen-twenties. And through it all, those of us that use Android devices have held up Google's Play store as a nanny-free alternative, free of censorship and hypocrisy.

Well, no more. Google, it appears, has rejected a mobile version of the infamous game Postal over the violent content within the game.

Postal won't be making it to Android devices. Why? Because apparently it has been rejected from the Google Play Store because it contains "GRATUITOUS VIOLENCE."
Oh, dear. It appears a second nanny has entered the game, as though we poor gamers were somehow caught in between a vice constructed of Mrs. Doubtfire and Mr. Belvedere, each pressing in on us for the high crime of simply wanting to play a damned game. We're adults, after all, or at least many of us gamers are these days. Thirty-five or so, that's the average age of a gamer today. We don't need to be coddled and protected from gaming violence, it's what we want. Or, again, some of us do, but that's a choice for the consumer, not the platform.

And specifically not for a platform whose decision plunges it into the depths of hypocrisy. As the original forum post over at Running With Scissors notes, it's not as though keeping Postal out of Google Play preserves some violence-free app-Utopia.
"We know many of you have been excited that POSTAL is going to be made available on Android devices, but it seems we have hit a bit of a snag. Unfortunately it appears POSTAL has been rejected from Google Play due to it containing "GRATUITOUS VIOLENCE". Sadly this means it won't be welcomed alongside the Grand Theft Auto series, Carmageddon and horde of Zombie games on Google Play."
It's a point well-made and a point not designed to take aim at GTA or zombie games. The sights are set on Google's hypocrisy instead. I imagine the looks of surprise on the faces of the game designers were severe when the rejection notice came. The Play store was our alternative to this kind of nonsense. Perhaps we'll have to go elsewhere in the future.

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Posted on Techdirt - 9 April 2015 @ 12:43pm

Would It Have Been Better To Let The Indiana Religious Freedom Law Stand And Let The Internet And Free Market Work?

from the yelping-bigots dept

Assuming you have a passing interest in politics and were awake for the past week or so, you've likely already heard all about Indiana's recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Designed similarly to laws in several other states, including my home state of Illinois, the bill was designed to confer religious expression rights (further than the federal protection that already exists for individuals) onto business owners and the companies they operate. Depending on what you read and where you read it, there has been a great deal of confusion over what this law does and where it departs from similar laws in other states. The one distinction that appears to really matter, should you be interested, is that most of these kinds of laws include language that forbid their invocation as a defense at trial for discrimination in which the government is not a party, whereas Indiana's law didn't make that distinction. Indiana has since amended the law to protect the LGBT community, which has been particularly vocal in its opposition. Since the right of refusal on religious grounds to serve that community was really the impetus for this law to begin with, that pretty much leaves us where we were before the law was in place at all. Whether you agree with the law or think it legalized bigotry is a discussion for another place. What interests me is whether now, in the age of a democratized message available via the internet, the outcry to change the law was the most efficient course of action at all.

When discussing the benefits of the First Amendment, free speech, and the right to freely express ideas, most often the focus is placed on the value of protecting speech for the sake of the speakers. After all, should we begin to allow censorship of some speech, we might some day find that speech we wish to use has become censored. It's a perfectly valid argument, but an incomplete one, because the other benefit of free speech is that, assuming it's exercised, we don't have to wonder about the stances and positions people take. What Indiana's law did, in its original form, was offer business entities the same right to expose their opinions in the same way. And, in the age of Yelp reviews and online activism, are we really better off taking actions that push free speech, even speech we detest, underground, or are we better off giving companies an avenue for exposure.

Think again about Yelp reviews and recall the general trend for the stories we cover about them at Techdirt. Those posts tend to be of a couple varieties. Many are the sort that involve business owners suing over negative Yelp reviews. A couple of things to note about this when framed by a discussion on the Indiana law: First, this reaction to Yelp reviews means that online reviews matter to businesses, and with good reason. Customer reviews are often a first-stop on the consumer's road to deciding where to spend their dollar. Online reviews are a powerful thing, in other words. As for suing over negative reviews, I think the case that such actions are valid would be diminished by a law that confers more expression rights to companies than not. After all, either you're for free speech or you aren't, Mr. Indiana Company. The road is traveled in both directions.

The other kind of Techdirt post you see concerning online customer reviews is of the activist sort, where a company has acted positively or poorly in one way or another and the general public took to review sites, such as Yelp, Google Plus, or Facebook pages, to express their support or disgust. You may recall the the whole Amy's Baking Company fiasco that started with some crazy customer stories on Yelp, spun out of control on the show Kitchen Nightmares, and then exploded all over social media and review sites shortly thereafter. There, too, the owners of the establishment blamed Yelp reviews and "haters" for their misery, showing the power of the platform. If activism is a valid tool at all, it's perhaps at its most powerful in the online world, where connections exist everywhere and activism can be democratized across city, state, and national lines.

So, in light of all that, the question for both sides of the argument on the Indiana law is whether either side was best served by amending the law and responding to the backlash, or if we would have all been better off trusting that enough information is shared at this point, and our country has made enough progress, generally speaking, to simply trust the combination of market forces and online speech and let the law stand as it was originally written. It feels strange to argue this, I'll admit, but I think the latter might be true. Were I the one making these decisions, I would be tempted to let Indiana's companies have their way and all the speech and rights to refuse service they might choose to take advantage of. Not because I would agree with their theology or their politics, but because I would trust the general public and the internet to work as a market force and solve the problem without further legislation.

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Posted on Techdirt - 9 April 2015 @ 4:13am

Modders Un-Region-Restricting Halo Online Undeterred By Microsoft DMCA

from the back-in-the-ussr dept

One of the most wonderful sights to see in the gaming community, particularly in the PC gaming community, is what a combination of a loyal fan-base and a strong modding community can produce. This is particularly so when the mods released are clear and active attempts at doing nothing more than making the original product even better. You see this all the time in PC gaming -- old games being yanked into the present, an increase the replayability of a classic, and even all-new sub-games created out of the original. All of this done through a modding community that loves the original work produced by game designers. Some gaming companies embrace the modding community, while some don't. Which way they go is typically decided by just how much control the company generally wants to exert over its product.

Guess which way Microsoft tends to go? Well, they tend to be the protectionist sort, but a recent story about the release of a new free-to-play Halo game, Halo Online, both puzzled me and amused me. The puzzled part came from Microsoft firmly insisting that the release would be available for play in Russia only, which...what the hell? Even the excuse of a long testing period in a Russia-only beta setting is, well, kind of strange.

Microsoft: Right now our focus is on learning as much as we can from the closed beta period in Russia. Theoretically, any expansion outside of Russia would have to go through region-specific changes to address player expectations.
Note that availability of the game to markets outside of Putin-ville is theoretical at this point. Except not really, of course, and that's where the amusement came from. Because if the alchemy ingredients for mods is a loyal fan-base, something begging for modification, and a capable modding community, everyone had to know that restricting this to Russia was going to be a barrier tested by the public before too long. It turns out that "before too long" meant in the past few weeks, because modders were already posting information on their work to free Halo from Russian imprisonment when Microsoft caught wind and fired off a DMCA notice to the host site.
Modders have been mucking about with the leaked Halo Online files to unlock features, with one team creating a game launcher called ‘ElDorito.’ But all that work came to screeching halt yesterday after Microsoft sent a DMCA takedown notice to Github, who was hosting the files. The site quickly complied. Microsoft sent the following notice to Github:

"We have received information that the domain listed above, which appears to be on servers under your control, is offering unlicensed copies of, or is engaged in other unauthorized activities relating to, copyrighted works published by Microsoft," the company wrote in a DMCA notice to Github.
Under other circumstances, that might be the end of the story, except that these are game modders we're talking about. When they commit, they're committed, and their work tends to mean that they're the sort of types who know how to route around these sorts of attacks. Now, to be clear, Microsoft certainly has the right to try to kill off these modders' work, but they're going to have to try a lot harder than a single DMCA if they want to really have this battle.
"In terms of DMCA/C&D mitigation, we have made redundant git backups on private and public git servers. This is to ensure we will always have one working copy. These are being synchronized so that data is always the same," [modder] Woovie explains. "Further DMCAs may happen potentially, it’s not really known at the moment. Our backups will always exist though and we will continue until we’re happy."

Team member Neoshadow42 says that, as a game developer himself, he sympathizes with Microsoft to a point about protecting ones copyrighted material:

"As someone involved in game development, I’m sympathetic with some developers when it comes to copyright issues. This is different though, in my opinion,” the dev explains. "The game was going to be free in the first place. The PC audience has been screaming for Halo 3 for years and years, and we saw the chance with this leak. The fact that we could, in theory, bring the game that everyone wants, without the added on stuff that would ruin the game, that’s something we’d be proud of."
Making the moral equation here slightly more complicated is that the things that "would ruin the game" don't only refer to the geo-restrictions, but to other game "features" as well, such as in-game microtransactions that almost uniformly piss off the PC gaming community. The modding team has aimed at removing those from the game as well, which, given that this is a free-to-play game, might break the business model Microsoft set up for the game. I expect Microsoft to continue battling for control of its product, as well as for the game's restrictions and microtransactions.

Ultimately, this is a damned shame, because there's a lesson to be learned from all of this and that lesson is not that the modding community is the enemy of the game designer. This is pure market testing at its finest. What this entire episode clearly outlines for Microsoft, were it willing to listen, is that potential customers want wider availability for the beta version of the game (as in, not restricted along national borders) and don't want annoying microtransactions in a Halo game. And if they want those things, fans will be willing to pay for them. Should Microsoft continue with its plan to not meet customer demand, those customers likely won't go unfulfilled, they'll simply find their pleasure in the form of a mod from a strong modding community that Microsoft wants to play whac-a-mole with, rather than listen to the wants of its customers.

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Posted on Techdirt - 7 April 2015 @ 2:03pm

YouTuber Angry Joe Swears Off Nintendo Videos After The Company Claimed His Mario Party 10 Take

from the biting-the-hand dept

Nintendo's never-ending desire to control how YouTubers review its games or do "let's plays" has been laughable from the start. From the trust-destroying agreement YouTubers had to enter into in order to get access to visual content to the beauracratic nightmare individuals had to wade through just to get a video approved for monetization, the whole thing started off on messy footing. And the biggest issue in all of this: Nintendo still can't seem to grasp that these YouTubers are giving the company free advertising. Gamers love the kinds of videos these YouTubers produce. They use them to make purchasing decisions, to become interested in new games, and to fuel word-of-mouth advertising that no trumped up ad campaign could ever possibly hope to achieve. Why make any of that more complicated by creating an approval system for the videos? And, more importantly, why take away the incentive for fans to promote your games by demanding a share of their YouTube revenue?

Well, the program that's a mere few months old has already resulted in the first major YouTuber proclaiming that Nintendo games will no longer be covered. Angry Joe (Joe Vargas) has one hell of an online following in the gaming YouTuber community and, following a spat over his Mario Party 10 video, Nintendo is dead to him.

Joe “Angry Joe” Vargas, who commands nearly two million subscribers on YouTube, has decided to stop covering Nintendo games, following a dispute over a Mario Party 10 video. Angry Joe’s Mario Party 10 video was flagged by YouTube, and while it’s possible for him to keep the video online, he can’t make money off it. It’s easy to imagine why he’s upset.

He tweeted about the decision a few days ago:

That sort of says it all, doesn't it? Millions of gamers who went to Angry Joe for help in where to spend their gaming dollar will no longer be directed by Joe to Nintendo games via reviews and gameplay footage. For Angry Joe followers, Nintendo might as well not exist. What's particularly insane about this is that the YouTuber Nintendo affiliate program described above wouldn't even have applied to this particular video, since some Nintendo games, Mario Party 10 among them, don't even qualify for coverage under the program. Why Nintendo would seek to piss off a popular YouTuber over a video for a game that wouldn't have been granted the okay under the affiliate program is beyond me.

Here's a case where Nintendo has locked up 100% of the ad revenue on Angry Joe's video, despite the fact that it's not Nintendo's copyright-covered content viewers are coming to watch. That's not only unfair, it's biting the very hand feeding Nintendo's coffers and sending the company new customers. This is the first major YouTuber to jump off the Nintendo ship, but it almost certainly won't be the last.

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Posted on Techdirt - 3 April 2015 @ 3:49pm

Del Taco Says Its 'Secret Menu' From Bought-Out Brand Protects Its Mark From Abandonment; Judge Disagrees

from the secret-sauce dept

If you cover enough intellectual property dispute stories, you tend to hear some of the same arguments over and over again. Even if the claims are specious at best, you get used to covering tenuous arguments for customer confusion, to pointing out the problem of non-competition and differentiating markets, and even to discussing just how similar two obviously different logos/names/whatever might be. But every once in a while, you come across a claim that's new and inventive in the most hilariously wrong ways and that, my friends, is a special moment.

Please allow me to introduce you to Del Taco, a large restaurant group operating mostly on the West Coast. All the way back in the late 80's, Del Taco merged with another West Coast taco chain called Naugles. Naugles had a certain beloved reputation with its fans and since Del Taco shut down the last Naugles-name-bearing restaurant in 1995, one particular fan decided to try to bring the name and the menu back, resurrecting it from non-use.

Since 2010, Christian Ziebarth, a Huntington Beach resident, has been fighting for the Naugles trademark, a brand that merged with Del Taco in 1988. In a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark agency, Ziebarth argued Del Taco abandoned the brand years ago, legally allowing him to make a claim. The Lake Forest-based company has been fighting him ever since. On Tuesday, a federal panel said Del Taco was unable to prove they had kept the trademark alive since closing the last restaurant in 1995.

“The record unequivocally shows that respondent (Del Taco) ceased operating the last restaurant bearing the Naugles name on October 25, 1995,” the panel stated in an order filed Tuesday. As a result, the panel granted Ziebarth’s “claim of abandonment.”
Sure they did, and it's a very nice end to a trademark story, one which will allow the Naugles name and menu to be brought back from the dead and made available to interested customers once more. We could simply leave things there, except the summary begs the obvious question: if Del Taco stopped using the Naugles name in 1995, what in the world was its argument for non-abandonment? The answer, as it turns out, is a secret, but not the kind of secret I can't share with you.
In court documents and previous statements to the Register, Del Taco has argued that Naugles is part of the company’s heritage, and it has kept the brand alive by consistently offering a secret Naugles menu at its restaurants.
Ah, yes, the old double-secret hidden menu line of reasoning! As far as I can tell, this is a wonderfully new and equally funny legal theory to put forth, one which argues that a trademark, used as a distinguishing indication of a brand for customers, is chiefly utilized via a "secret menu", ostensibly kept "secret" from those same customers, unless you know some kind of special handshake or something. To put this forth is to misunderstand the most basic concepts behind trademark law entirely. As noted above, the court apparently paused its collective laughing long enough to rule in favor of Ziebarth.

And so Naugles returns, assuming Del Taco doesn't have any other creative legal theories based on subterfuge to offer up.

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Posted on Techdirt - 3 April 2015 @ 2:26pm

Fair Use Victory For Broadway Parody Of Three's Company

from the funny-story dept

Here's something you don't see every day: a copyright case in which fair use prevails. David Adjmi produced a play entitled 3C, a parody-take on the classic sitcom Three's Company, the copyright of which is held by DLT Entertainment. After 2 months of off-Broadway production and just before Adjmi wanted to translate the play for literary release, DLT fired off a cease and desist letter. Rather than retreating, Adjmi, with the support of the Dramatists Guild of America, went to court to get his work affirmed as non-infringing, arguing that it is both parody and transformative. U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ruled in agreement in a whopper of a ruling (you can read the full ruling here or embedded below). Her comments within the ruling demonstrate a textbook understanding of both copyright and fair use.

She writes that the body of copyright law “is designed to foster creativity. It does so by, in effect, managing monopolies in knowledge: granting one in original work to reward its creator, but ensuring it is limited, temporary, and does not operate as a moratorium on certain ideas. The law is agnostic between creators and infringers, favoring only creativity and the harvest of knowledge. Here, ‘further protection against parody does little to promote creativity, but it places substantial inhibition upon the creativity of authors adept at using parody.' ”
In addition to finding that 3C is clearly a transformative work, as opposed to anything resembling blatant copying, this ruling reads like a best-case scenario for those of us that believe all kinds of transformative works building off of existing works are protected, useful, creative and necessary. Adjmi had a message to send and, while the original Three's Company might serve as the starting line for his creative vehicle, the finish line is somewhere far different than that of the original sitcom. Nobody attending the play lacked the understanding that this was something new, something different from the original show, the original show's message, or that the play was anything other than social commentary using a trope-ladened show from the 70's.
According to Adjmi, his 3C was a comment on the "ways the television show presented and reinforced stereotypes about gender, age and sexual orientation" as well as "the times in which the show flourished -- when sexual liberation had begun to reshape American society, and dominant cultural forces like television attempted to channel it in commercially profitable directions, while many forms of sexual oppression continued."
That kind of commentary is important and, even if you disagree with the message, or think that platforming the commentary on a show as silly as Three's Company is misguided, those aren't questions of copyright law. Once the work becomes parody, never mind transformative, there ends the copyright argument. Judge Preska delved into the four-factor analysis of the claim, finding that DLT's claim of direct copying of characters, settings and themes to be baseless.
“Despite the many similarities between the two, 3C is clearly a transformative use of Three’s Company,” she writes. “3C conjures up Three’s Company by way of familiar character elements, settings and plot themes, and uses them to turn Three’s Company’s sunny 1970s Santa Monica into an upside-down, dark version of itself. DLT might not like the transformation, but it is a transformation nonetheless.”
More likely, the more correct assertion would be that DLT might really like money, but they can't get any out of Adjmi just because some elements of Three's Company appear in his parody and transformative play.

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Posted on Techdirt - 2 April 2015 @ 1:50pm

University Of Kentucky Disputes 40-0 Trademark Owned By Someone Else While 2 Wins Away From Achieving That Record

from the confidence-is-high dept

For those of you that haven't been paying attention to the NCAA Men's College Basketball tournament this year, the University of Kentucky is, like, really good. The team, which entered the tournament without a loss on its record is attempting to become the first undefeated champion in several decades, the last occurring when Bobby Knight took a break from throwing chairs across the court to win it all for Indiana in 1976. They are currently two games away from achieving the first forty-and-zero season in college basketball history.

But they're already fighting trademark battles over a perfect season they have yet to attain. The school recently sent a cease and desist letter to one David Son, who has been using the "40-0" mark since 2013 and filed for a trademark back in October of that year.

That's the same time he filed for his company, 40-0 LLC, to be incorporated in the state of Kentucky before dissolving in August 2014. Records with the state show that on March 9 of this year, Son applied and was approved to have the company be reinstated and activated again.

"My client took all the steps he needed to take to establish ownership of 40-0," Son's lawyer, Brian McGraw, said. "There's no evidence that the University of Kentucky owns any rights to 40-0."
It strains credulity to suggest that the timing for the reinstatement and the potential run by the Kentucky basketball team is coincidental, and I'm unclear as to why the reinstatement of the company should be an argument over the previous abandonment of the mark. That said, two years isn't a particularly long stretch of time and, assuming Son's lawyer has done his homework, Kentucky's lack of claim to any mark makes a cease and desist overreach to say the least. Perhaps more interesting would be how this all works if Kentucky can point to some kind of trademark filing, given that the mark would consist both of an attainment the school can't yet lay claim to and that, should Kentucky indeed go 40-0, the numeric record seems to be factual information, likely undeserving of a mark in any case. As the ESPN article notes, opposition to Son's mark would seem to be the more logical reaction from the school, rather than a C&D letter.

What's strange is the accompanying remarks from Kentucky's legal team.
"We are well aware of third parties attempting to capitalize on the historic season of the University of Kentucky men's basketball team," said Jim Aronowitz, general counsel for Fermata Partners. "As the University's licensing agent, we are working to vigorously protect UK's trademark rights in the marketplace from those that use the institution's indicia without permission."
Except the history hasn't been made yet, counselor. Not that such prospective hubris is without precedent. The New England Patriots wanted to trademark "19-0" even after they failed to run the NFL table several years back. Is this a simple matter of trademark "squatting," with Son, who lives in Kentucky and is a self-admitted Kentucky basketball fan, realizing the likely outcome here? Sure, probably, though that claim is made more problematic given the years-old history of Son's mark. Still, factual information is factual information.

The two easiest ways to resolve this? Well, the school can file an opposition to the mark instead of sending off threat letters, or they could simply lose one of these next two games. Then there would be nothing to fight over.

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Posted on Techdirt - 2 April 2015 @ 10:34am

UK School District To Report On Parents Allowing Kids To Play More Mature Video Games

from the nanny-state dept

In case you thought the nanny-state arms race was over, it isn't and, also, who were you kidding? The initiation of laws and rules made by governments desperate to protect their own people from themselves is a pastime at this point, one which has previously seen legislative and law-enforcement actions taken against wearing headphones, smoking, and allowing children to find entertainment in the form of electronics. Now, in the UK, one school district is taking matters into its own hands, stating it will report to police parents who allow their children to play video games with an R18 rating.

This declaration was made in a letter warning parents of the new policy, authored by head teacher Mary Hennessy Jones, who heads up fifteen primary schools and one secondary school in Cheshire, England.

"Several children have reported playing or watching adults play games which are inappropriate for their age and they have described the levels of violence and sexual content they have witnessed: Call Of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Dogs Of War and other similar games are all inappropriate for children and they should not have access to them. If your child is allowed to have inappropriate access to any game or associated product that is designated 18-plus we are advised to contact the police and children’s social care as it is neglectful."

The letter sent home to some parents also mentions "inappropriate" social media accounts including Facebook and WhatsApp because it could "make them vulnerable to sexual grooming and explicit images."
If this isn't sending a shiver down the spine of any parents out there, it damn well should. The idea that a school district might seek to place itself directly in between a child and a parent when it comes to parenting decisions is somewhat without precedent when it comes to the type of entertainment the child engages in. This leaves aside the question of blatantly illegal content, of course, such as child pornography and/or real-life filmed violence. This is strictly about parents who decide (or choose not to decide) what types of legal entertainment their children are allowed to enjoy. As always, this overstep traverses a bridge built with platitudes about protecting children.

Threatening parents with calls to the authorities for a child even witnessing an adult playing an adult-rated video game is bad enough. Suggesting social media access could result in the same action (the letter does not explicitly say Facebook access will lead to a call to the police, but connects "social media sites" to "these games" in the bulleted list of "actions we are advised to take") pushes this whole thing into the realm of the completely ridiculous. While some parents may feel that it makes sense to restrict their kids' access to social media and violent video games, and there is arguably a place for schools to alert parents when the appropriateness of the entertainment content to which children are exposed inside and even outside of school is questionable, implementing a zero-tolerance policy on the choices of parents about their child's entertainment is the nanny state taken to an absurd level.

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Posted on Techdirt - 1 April 2015 @ 9:09pm

Epic Awards One Of Three Unreal Dev Grants To Makers Of Net Neutrality Game

from the mainstream dept

It's been a unique experience for me as a Techdirt writer, one who does not delve into the net neutrality debates and posts very often, to watch the effect the wider coverage about net neutrality has had on the general public. Without being scientific about it, there are certain markers for story penetration I notice and have noticed specifically when it comes to net neutrality. For instance, a couple of months ago, my father called me up with a simple question: "What should my position be on net neutrality?" The question itself isn't generally useful, but the simple fact that a grandfather is even asking about it means something when it comes to the public consciousness of the topic itself. So too is the appearance of the topic and debates on the Sunday news programs. But maybe the most important indication that net neutrality has become, at the very least, a thing the public is discussing is the topic's appearance in seemingly unrelated venues. Even if the take was wrong, coverage in political cartoons was something cool to see, for instance. But the topic coming up as the theme of a politically-motivated video game is even more exciting.

You may or may not be aware of this, but EpicGames awards grants to developers to make games, called the Unreal Dev Grants. This year, one of the award winners is a team made up of students from the University of Utah, who have developed a game with net neutrality as its theme.

Epic has given Retro Yeti Games a $13,000 grant for its Unreal Engine 4 powered game, 404Sight. The development team is made up of University of Utah students, who decided to create an endless runner game that makes a statement about net neutrality.

According to Epic's description of the game, 404Sight combines elements from games like Mirror’s Edge, Robot Unicorn Attack, and Wipeout. In the game players try to run as fast as they can through levels before they get throttled by the evil Internet service provider (throttling was one of the many nefarious practices used by ISPs that the FCC effectively banned in its new net neutrality rules that were approved in late Feb.).
A funny, if politically slanted, little game, right? Well, 404Sight is not only scheduled for a PC release, but it has its own Steam page and site. You can see a trailer for the game below.

Again, it might not have the pizzazz of a AAA title, but that isn't the point of political commentary. Likewise, I wouldn't expect the sales and playing-base of the game to hit enormous numbers, but it certainly is a sign of the penetration the net neutrality debate is making for something like this to be produced.

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Posted on Techdirt - 30 March 2015 @ 9:01pm

Sanity: Trademark Suit Rules That Florida Pizza Joints Don't Compete With The NJ Turnpike

from the baby-steps dept

While the trademark litigation landscape is littered with lame filings, lamentable rulings, and a litany of liberal interpretations of the law (alliteration!), it's worth noting when we also see sane rulings on trademark lawsuits. So allow me to bring you the news of a federal ruling that acknowledges the fringe and controversial understanding of Florida and New Jersey being very separate and not two entities likely to be confused.

It all started, as most great things, with pizza. Two Florida residents, originally from New Jersey, decided to open up some pizza restaurants. With tastes harkening back to their Northeast roots, Jersey Boardwalk Pizza in Florida decided to play off the logo of the Garden State Parkway logo, as you can see below.

As you can see, the pizza place's logo is a clear homage to that of the Garden State Parkway, which is managed by the NJ Turnupike Authority. There's simply no disputing it. And, if you had only a minimal understanding of how trademark law works, you might not be surprised that the Turnpike filed a trademark suit against the pizza-slingers over the similarities.

The authority’s suit, filed last week, alleges service mark infringement, unfair competition and other claims against Jersey Boardwalk Pizza. The restaurant’s logo has the same green-and-yellow color scheme, including an outline of the state, as the Parkway sign. But on on the restaurant logo, “Garden State Parkway” has been replaced by "Jersey Boardwalk Pizza Co.” with the words “Subs. Cheesesteaks. Pasta" below that.

The suit claims the restaurant’s logo is so similar to the Parkway sign as to give the impression that the two are linked, the Journal said.
Regular readers here are probably already either laughing or shaking their heads. The New Jersey Turnpike is many things, and not all of them bad, but I'm having trouble thinking of a scenario in which someone thought it sold pizzas. Couple that with the fact that these pizza spots are located solely in Florida, which is demonstrably a different location and market than New Jersey, and the whole thing gets sillier.

Fortunately, the judge presiding over the federal case agrees, having recently dismissed the case completely.
Judge William Martini dismissed the suit filed by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority against Jersey Boardwalk Pizza, saying the Florida business had "minimum contacts" with state residents aside from online sales of branded merchandise.

"Although Plaintiff may have felt the brunt of harm in New Jersey, it could not be said that New Jersey is the focal point of the offending activity," Martini wrote in his decision.

"The defendants are a Florida company that doesn't do any business in New Jersey," said Justin Klein, the attorney who represents Jersey Boardwalk Pizza. "We're happy with the outcome and hopefully we can put this behind us and focus on our business."
This would normally be the end of the matter, an end where one would hope the folks a the Turnpike Authority had learned their lesson, and perhaps a bit about how trademark law works. Not so, unfortunately, what with a spokesman for the Turnpike indicating that they would pursue the matter further and look for legal options outside of the Trademark Appeal Board.

Keep digging, I guess, but I'm still certain Florida and New Jersey ain't the same place.

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