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About Leigh BeadonTechdirt Insider

Leigh Beadon, formerly Marcus Carab, now a full-time member of the Techdirt team.

Located in Toronto, Ontario.



Posted on Techdirt - 24 October 2016 @ 1:06pm

The Easiest Thing You Can Do Today To Raise Money For The EFF

from the internet-privacy-week dept

Post sponsored by


We've teamed up with Namecheap and the EFF to promote Internet Privacy Week and continue the fight to protect your privacy online. Show your support by signing and sharing the new Internet Privacy Bill of Rights.

Today's the last day of Internet Privacy Week, but the ongoing fight for online privacy is far from over. That's why we're promoting the new Internet Privacy Bill Of Rights to companies that provide online services. We need you to help us spread the word by signing the bill, and by doing so you'll be raising money for the EFF! For every 500 signatures, Namecheap and its partners will donate $5,000 to the EFF for its important and continuing role in defending online privacy.

The idea behind the Bill Of Rights is to get online service providers to agree to respect five key user rights in terms of how their services collect and handle personal data:

  1. Right of transparency: Users have a right to know what is actually being done with their data in clear, understandable terms — not buried in legalese written in tiny print.
  2. Right of control: Companies should give users the ability to control their data and how it is used, including asking specific permission at the time of use, rather than just at the point of signup.
  3. Right of recourse: Individuals should be able to protest certain uses of data, and companies should set up a process with a dedicated person to handle these concerns.
  4. Right of export: When reasonable, users should be able to export their data in a useable format.
  5. Right of due process: Whenever possible, companies should alert end users to government requests for their data, or civil subpoenas for identifying information allowing them to use legal processes to protect such data.

We believe this sort of collaborative approach is the best first step to protecting internet privacy and avoid the dangers of poorly-crafted, over-burdensome regulations and a data free-for-all. So please help us out and sign the Online Privacy Bill Of Rights today! (We know there has been some confusion around the particular method of gathering signatures, which is using a "giveaway" platform. Please note you can sign the petition using either Facebook or a name and email, and the platform's privacy policy is prominently posted at the bottom of the page.)

Remember: for every 500 signatures, the EFF will receive $5,000!

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Posted on Techdirt - 23 October 2016 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the snappy-rejoinders dept

A strange article in Vox lamenting the construction of currently-underutilized gigabit networks prompted our first place winner for insightful this week, with WDS making short work of the issue:

I've been in the network business for more years than I care to admit, and I'm searching my brain to try to remember exactly how many times I've heard a user say, "My connection is too fast".

Search complete. Zero is the answer.

A far more horrifying story was the facial recognition screw-up that led to a Denver man being arrested and severely beaten, cleared of charges, then arrested again. Padpaw won second place by putting things simply:

I wanted to say I am concerned with how the police decided to try to beat the man almost to death when he peacefully came out of his home.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with another response to that post, this time from Derek Kerton discussing the inevitability of things like this with an armed police force:

Yes, and arm the police like the military, and they immediately try to think of situations in which they can use their new toys.

"Flash bang grenades "

For real? The guy walks out of his house into a multi-officer ambush, and they use Flash bang grenades??

We really need to dis-arm the police back to 1970 standards, if not UK standards. And we need to have checks and balances for the deployment of SWAT teams.

Domestic law enforcement is not a war, guys. If you think it is, maybe this line of work isn't for you. And if you WANT a war, we have some of those on the go, and you may be able to volunteer.

Next, we head back to our first post about gigabit connections, where Jason expanded on why such pessimistic thinking is wrong:

Although it's been quoted so much as to probably be a cliché by now, it really does sound like the old "640k ought to be enough for everybody" situation. Just because there isn't a need right now for more/better/faster doesn't mean there won't ever be. It'd be like someone in the early 1900s asking why build all these roads if there are so few people with cars... building a bit bigger than you need gives you room to grow, and (more importantly) room to allow the emergence of technology and uses (the famous "killer app") that no one could even consider right now.

Over on the funny side, our first place comment comes on our post about the father who went to the police about his stepdaughter's sexting, only to end up prosecuted for child porn. One commenter suggested this was to be expected, and an anonymous response included a cutting and amusing takedown:

As soon as he downloaded the content he became a contributor of child porn?

I'm not so sure about that. Case in point: just because you left a comment here doesn't mean you contributed to the conversation.

Now, we're going to mix things up a bit, because the second place comment for funny is a rejoinder to another funny comment that didn't quite crack the winning spot, all in response to Comcast's hilarious claim that its misleading fees are a way of being transparent. So we'll make that one an editor's choice, and present it first to keep the joke in order. Got it? HegemonicDistortion gets the editor's choice for crafting a sample Comcast bill:

$6.50 -- Broadcast TV Fee
-$6.50 -- Credit: bogus Broadcast TV Fee
$9.95 -- Bill Transparency Fee

In response, an anonymous commenter won second place on the funny side by adding one more line item:

$1.95 Fee itemization fee

And last but not least, we've got one more unrelated editor's choice for funny — sophisticatedjanedoe with thoughts on the copyright lawsuit against Donald Trump over a photo of a bowl of Skittles:

How badly copyright law is fucked up? I'm rooting for Trump in this dispute.

That's how.

That's all for this week, folks!

5 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 22 October 2016 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: October 16th - 22nd

from the blast-from-the-past dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2011, an interesting copyright question was raised when Warner Bros. bought the movie rights to a story written in a Reddit comment thread, and subsequently stopped the author from continuing to use Reddit, even as it wasn't clear that under Reddit's TOS he would be able to offer Warner Bros. an exclusive deal in the first place. Meanwhile, in a real blast from the past, Bill Gates was called to testify in an antitrust trial about... Windows 95. And Microsoft's views on sure seemed to waver a lot depending on who was in the antitrust hot seat. In congress, Senator Wyden was continuing to fight the PROTECT IP bill while the broader internet clued in on the notion that another bill focused on anti-streaming could make Justin Bieber a felon.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2006, everyone was still trying to parse the implications of Google's acquisition of YouTube, except for politicians who were rushing to blame YouTube for all sorts of things. Universal Music launched a lawsuit against streaming sites but left YouTube out of the list of targets — which became very unsurprising when we learned that Google's new deals with record labels included giving them equity in YouTube. Meanwhile, the Authors Guild lawsuit over Google Books was proceeding just about as slowly as a lawsuit possibly can, the MPAA was doing its best to brainwash the Boy Scouts with an anti-piracy badge, and a tour through the EULA for Windows Vista revealed a hilariously broad term stating that "you may not work around any technical limitations in the software".

Fifteen Years Ago

This week in 2001, the first inklings of the mass-ditching of landlines in favor of cellphones were spotted. There were also inklings about the death of broadband that didn't pan out quite as accurately. Speaking of technology takeovers, professional photographers were starting to make the switch to digital cameras and (most) retail software stores were struggling to compete with downloads. But in retrospect, perhaps the biggest tech news was a simple and vague rumor portending that Apple was going to launch some sort of non-Mac music device the following week (and fifteen years ago tomorrow, the world would meet the iPod).

One-Hundred And Forty-Seven Years Ago

Hoaxes are a dime a dozen in the internet era, and frankly they are just too easy. But I love a good hoax story from the golden age, and this week we've got one that certainly qualifies: on October 16th, 1869 workers uncovered the Cardiff Giant, a huge "petrified man" forged by an atheist New York tobbaconist in order to win an argument with some Methodists. Scientists quickly realized it was a fake, but theologians who believed giants once walked the earth defended its authenticity. It's still on display in the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown, and a replica made by P. T. Barnum can be seen in Michigan.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 18 October 2016 @ 1:01pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 95: A Presidential Tech Policy Wish List

from the and-a-wish-list-it-shall-likely-remain dept

We wanted to do an episode all about examining the tech policy platforms of the 2016 presidential candidates, but that proved impossible since one candidate's is vague and noncommittal while the other's doesn't exist at all. Since a nuanced discussion about robust tech policy platforms was probably a bit much to hope for from this election anyway, for this week's episode we're discussing what a great presidential tech platform should look like under less absurd circumstances.

New: Subscribe to the Techdirt Podcast on Google Play.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 October 2016 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the double-champ dept

We've got a double first-place champion this week. An anonymous commenter pulled a quote from one of our posts, and took the top spot for both insightful and funny by noting its general applicability of late:

The phrase which best describes 2016 as a whole:

"This feels like a parody, but unfortunately, it appears to be real."

In second place on the insightful side, we've got a comment from Thad in response to the invocation of Ann Coulter and the general argument that North Dakota arresting bad journalists isn't worth worrying about:

And if the police tried to arrest Ann Coulter for reporting a story they didn't like, that would be outrageous too.

You don't have to like a person to support their First Amendment rights. If the First Amendment only applied to people we like, there'd be no need for a First Amendment at all.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start off with a response from Ninja to the question of whether cabbies are wrong to be annoyed about Uber moving in without buying traditional medallions:

No. But you should be angry at your own cabbie associations that created a monopoly that benefits nobody but themselves through years of writing regulation and eventually put you in this situation. And possibly at the legislators too.

Next, we head to our post about the regulation of self-driving cars, where one fervently anti-regulation commenter demanded examples of industries where safety regulations helped innovation, and Mason Wheeler offered an obvious and immediately relevant answer:

Just off the top of my head... how about the automotive industry?

Time and time again, setting higher standards for safety, for fuel efficiency, and for low emissions has spurred innovation in developing ways to safer, more efficient, less polluting cars less expensive and more available to the mass market.

Over on the funny side, we've already had our first place comment above, so we head straight to second place. On our post about the fact that the Washington Post was the one to publish the infamous 2005 Trump video only because other agencies were worried about being sued, one angry commenter showed up to accuse the newspaper of journalistic malpractice and lump them in with Gawker. I.T. Guy was suitably surprised:

Who knew... Donald Trump reads TechDirt.

For editor's choice on the funny side, we've got a pair of responses to our post about the US Chamber of Commerce's whining about people pirating the presidential debate, which also included the bizarre neologism of "nano-pirates" that some anti-piracy group is trying to coin. First, I.T. Guy gets another nod for his visual imagination:

"Nano-Pirates" I keep picturing really small eye patches, hats, swords... and ships in bottles.

Finally, we've got Michael Avery who crunched the numbers on the situation:

Isn't 9 million nano-pirates really equal to only 0.009 pirates?

Tell them to come back when they've found at least 1 pirate, then we'll talk.

That's all for this week, folks!

14 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 15 October 2016 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: October 9th - 15th

from the doomed-to-repeat-it dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2011, a terribly-kept secret was confirmed: the government worked with the RIAA/MPAA to negotiate the "six strikes" system. In Denmark, a judge handed down a crazy reward of 84% of the royalties for a song to the owner of a 10-second sample used therein. In Germany, the Pirate Party was building an impressive base of support, and better ideas about copyright were spreading through the government — even as infamous collection society GEMA was demanding licensing fees for songs it didn't own. And one confused columnist was bemoaning the death of the "creative class" because... nobody works at Tower Records anymore.

Ten Years Ago

If you thought that was a bit late to still be lamenting the death of Tower Records, you're right: five whole years earlier, the same week in 2006, people were doing the exact same thing (at the time it was two months after the company declared bankruptcy). Meanwhile, one movie executive was insisting that shortening release windows is technically impossible, while Intel and Morgan Freeman were continuing to vaguely promise a movie simultaneously released in theaters and online. But the big news of the week was Google's confirmed purchase of YouTube, which spawned all sorts of speculation about the future, and of course an increased rate of lawsuit threats from media companies negotiating licensing deals with the platform.

Fifteen Years Ago

This week in 2001, a hoax story about the death of Britney Spears spawned conversation about how hard it is to figure out what's true online. And indeed a prime example came that very week: we fell for a story about secret meetings between the RIAA and government officials that turned out to be entirely made up.

The hoaxes haven't changed much, but we've upped our scrutiny. As for something that has really changed, get a blast from the past by looking at the 2006 browser statistics: Internet Explorer still dominated with 76% of traffic, and half of people were still surfing at a screen resolution of 800x600.

Thirty-Three Years Ago

In the western world, the first analog cellular network that took hold was the Analog Mobile Phone System, which followed networks deployed in Japan and Scandinavia. It was on October 13th, 1983 that AMPS was commercially introduced in the US, kickstarting the cellphone revolution.

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Posted on Techdirt - 14 October 2016 @ 7:39pm

...And Here Come The Device-Restricted Music Subscriptions

from the oh-good dept

In the last episode of the Techdirt Podcast, we discussed the DRM implications of Apple's decision to remove the analog headphone jack from the iPhone -- specifically, the idea that in the future we may see music services that can only be played through specific output devices, such as a headphone-only subscription. We're not quite there yet, but now Amazon is blazing the trail with the first major music subscription offering with a strict one-device limitation:

Would you pay a few extra bucks a month to turn your smart home speaker into an intelligent, unlimited jukebox? Amazon is betting people will.

The company on Wednesday is launching a new subscription music service, Amazon Music Unlimited, that starts at $3.99 a month for a library of tens of millions of songs. That’s less than half the cost of Apple Music, Spotify Premium and other competing music services.

Here’s the catch: At that lower price, you can only use the new service on a single Amazon Echo device: an Echo, Echo Dot or Amazon Tap

And so we enter a world with yet another means of fragmenting digital music services and making them way, way less appealing. At least they were decent enough to drop the price -- but now that the floodgates are open, it's entirely possible such heavily limited subscriptions will eventually become the new baseline, and truly open subscriptions that can be played anywhere (one of the biggest advantages of digital music) will morph into an expensive luxury. The key difference between this and our speculation about Apple limited output devices is that the restriction happens further upstream, with the subscription only being piped to one specific device -- and if that device is an Echo Dot, there's even still an analog jack so it can be plugged into just about anything else. But the next step -- a subscription on a general purpose device like a phone with music that is artificially limited to only be output through certain devices, thanks to the DRM capabilities of digital-only connectors -- feels slightly and worryingly closer to reality. And what will this accomplish? Nothing more than ensuring legal digital music continues to suck in unnecessary ways.

The grand, omnipresent and incorrect assumption about music piracy is that it's primarily motivated by price, and the desire to get content without paying. It's not and it never has been: it's motivated by restrictions, and the desire to easily access a wide variety of content how, when and where you choose. It's about music being free, but not free as in beer.

And so, naturally, the legacy music industry has sought out almost every opportunity to add restrictions and limitations to their digital offerings. Disruptive innovators like Spotify and Pandora fight an ongoing uphill battle to secure the necessary rights to offer something more open and appealing, and the massive digital retailers -- Apple, Google and Amazon -- drift around in between: aware and capable of the type of technological innovation necessary to make digital music services appealing, and armed with the money and clout to secure better licensing deals from rightsholders, but also prone (to varying degrees) to following in those rightsholders' restrictive footsteps in order to fulfill their own dreams of total control and a captive audience. Amazon isn't banking on people who are out searching for a digital music service deciding to go with the absurdly limited $4 option -- it's targeting existing Echo customers who might see it as a cheap add-on for some extra music around the house. It wants to upgrade those Echo users into Prime subscribers if they aren't already (for even more music, since the services are weirdly fragmented from each other), and eventually turn new Echo-only music subscribers into fully dedicated Amazon Music customers. Instead of making it really, really easy to sign up for a music subscription that gives you everything you want on every device you own, it's ensuring there are plenty of different ways for people to pay up for a tiny slice of that experience.

To some degree, this might work -- it almost certainly won't be the only such experiment, especially with Apple laying the groundwork for even more granular control. But in the long run it won't fix anything, least of all piracy. It relies on people being trapped in a top-to-bottom walled garden, where they are happy getting all their devices and content from the same company on that company's terms, which works to an extent when the gardens are pretty enough, but leaves all the real advantages of digital out in the cold, and the users end up suffering even if they don't all know it. Even after all these years, the music industry has failed to truly offer the one thing that has obviously been the end-game and true promise of digital ever since the first MP3: a one-stop-shop for all the music in the world, delivered as digital data with all the freedom and flexibility that implies. Piracy has offered it since day one, and when it comes to competing with it, the only success stories are those services like Spotify that have fought hard to just offer a real taste of the same comprehensiveness and convenience. Amazon's latest move is a step in the opposite direction.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 11 October 2016 @ 12:58pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 94: The Headphone Jack Apocalypse!

from the well-not-really dept

Yup, we're doing it — we're tackling the much-derided controversy over Apple's decision to remove the analog headphone jack from the iPhone! I join this week's episode myself as a guest host, and in truth none of us really think it's any kind of "apocalypse" — but none of us are huge fans of the move either. We discuss the questionable technical advantages, the looming spectre of DRM, and more.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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Posted on Techdirt - 9 October 2016 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the trumped-up dept

This week, our top spot on the insightful side goes to frequent winner That One Guy for a thorough response to the bizarre pimping charges against Backpage executives:

Going after the site is easy, the contact information is public, you can file a lawsuit and have it served to them with minimal trouble, as everyone is known ahead of time.

Going after the people actually responsible for breaking the law though, that takes work. They need to chase down leads, investigate details, gather evidence, all of this is time consuming and might end up getting them nothing.

If you want to find those breaking the laws and stop them from doing it again, you work with the sites to find them. A smart cop/prosecutor should absolutely love sites like Backpage, I mean where else can they get potential criminals practically writing out confessions of their crimes and attaching contact info to said confessions?

If all you care about is getting a bunch of PR for being 'tough on crime' though then you go after the site(s). If you're lucky you shut them down and drive the criminals to an even less visible site/service. Sure it makes actually finding the criminals harder, but 'out of sight is out of mind', if it's harder to see then you can spin it as being less prevalent when you boast about how you 'struck a blow against criminal activity'.

Given what the two are doing in bringing this case it's not hard to see where their priorities actually are, and it's not with those they pretend to be so very concerned with helping.

In second place, we've got another comment fixture. It's Ninja with thoughts on the ongoing revelations about Yahoo's collaboration with the NSA and FBI:

As if Yahoo needed any more nail in its coffin. And it will spill in other companies as the article notes. The US Govt via their intel are dismantling any and all trust people had on their companies. One has to wonder how much it has already cost. In the end, no terrorist has ever done as much damage as the Govt itself did to the country be it by eroding Constitutional rights or directly by driving people away from doing business with the US.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with an anonymous comment applying the language from a recent ruling against software patents to a critically broken part of copyright:

[T]he Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas. . . . This right to receive information and ideas, regardless of their social worth, is fundamental to our free society.” Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969) (citations omitted). Patents, which function as government-sanctioned monopolies, invade core First Amendment rights when they are allowed to obstruct the essential channels of scientific, economic, and political discourse.
Can this be applied to the circumvention clause in the DMCA?

Next, we've got a simple and excellent anonymous response to Trump's lawsuit threats over Clinton campaign ads:

I don't understand how someone with the thinnest skin in the world can run for the most criticized position in the world.

Over on the funny side, our first place winner is DannyB, who further examined the situation with Clinton's campaign ads and uncovered a highly amusing paradox of sorts:

If Clinton's ads are truthful, then I agree they are protected.

But many of Clinton's ads use Trumps OWN WORDS.

Therefore, they cannot possibly be true. :-) And are subject to a lawsuit.

In second place, we've got a comment from That Anonymous Coward about the latest in Digital Homicide's implosion, specifically their hopes of getting their court filing fees refunded:

Funny that seems how many of their customers felt...

For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with an anonymous comment on the same subject, this time making a joke that I'm shocked I haven't actually heard anyone make yet:

More like Digital Suicide...

Finally, after a commenter in our discussion about Trump's tax returns claimed that it was only an issue because of the "liberal media", Thad served up a delightfully deadpan response that says it all:

Yes, the tradition for presidential candidates to disclose their taxes was started by noted liberal Richard Nixon.

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 8 October 2016 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: October 2nd - 8th

from the different-and-not-so-different dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2011, the Supreme Court let stand an important ruling that downloads are not public performances. Of course, some media rushed to interpret this as saying that unauthorized music downloads are legal, but this was not at all the case. Meanwhile, a former anti-piracy investigator was admitting how he fed the police cases and inflated piracy statistics, and over in Australia, the band Men At Work shockingly lost its appeal over use of a brief riff from a folk song that went unnoticed for decades.

Also this week in 2011, the world said hello to Siri — and, sadly, goodbye to Steve Jobs.

Ten Years Ago

Speaking of inflated piracy statistics, this week in 2006 we watched how they become accepted facts as an utterly bogus industry report started being parroted by news organizations. At least one Swedish court was demanding actual evidence from the recording industry. Yahoo, Amazon and Apple were all dragged into a copyright lawsuit over sampling in a Run DMC song, too.

The HP spying scandal's latest development was felony charges against former chairwoman Patricia Dunn, and a new and still extremely dubious rumor started spreading that would eventually come to pass: there were whispers of Google buying YouTube.

Fifteen Years Ago

This week in 2001, the notion of broadband connections in the home was still struggling to take sustainable hold, and the notion of internet access in airplanes was put on hold for a while. Meanwhile, the notion of a 3D web refused to die. Thanks to the epidemic of pop-ups, the internet got its first taste of rudimentary ad blockers, but they didn't work great and websites were already starting to fight back. And the recording industry was continuing its campaign against file sharing services by sweeping up with a new lawsuit against Music City and Kazaa.

Thirty-One Years Ago

Richard Stallman's Free Software Foundation, creator of the GNU, has been one of the driving forces and defining voices in the entire open source movement — and it was founded on October 4th, 1985.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 4 October 2016 @ 12:58pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 93: Pardon Snowden

from the sooner-rather-than-later dept

Edward Snowden deserves a pardon. We all know it — even if you believe he deserves to stand trial, the only option right now is an unfair trial on Espionage Act charges in which he'd be blocked from presenting a meaningful defense. A pardon from those charges is the only just choice. This week, we're joined by Trevor Timm, co-founder of the Freedom Of The Press Foundation, and returning guest Parker Higgins to discuss why Edward Snowden deserves a pardon, and the campaign to get him one deserves your support.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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Posted on Techdirt - 2 October 2016 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the home-team dept

We've got a double first-place winner this week! In response to the story of movie theater security guards assaulting a woman supposedly for pirating the film, one anonymous commenter won the top spot on both the insightful and funny sides by pointing out the only rational conclusion for the average person:

So the lesson, if you don't want to be assaulted by rent-a-cops in a movie theater, just download the movie online.

In second place on the insightful side, as part of a discussion about the weird psychology of people who fight the reselling of their products, Jason offered up a useful comparison:

Could it be a similar mindset to that expressed by the movie/record industry, compelling them to think that if someone else is making money off my product then it has to be bad, even if it has no effect (or even a positive effect) on the money I'm making on it?

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with another anonymous commenter who suggested some additional problems with Capcom's terrible DRM for Street Fighter:

the "update" installs a self-signed driver (using a cert issued by Symantec). That driver has no security, meaning any program can bind to it, and it only has one function: to disable SMEP (an exploit mitigation feature which prevents the kernel from executing code in userspace), and then jumps to a user-provided function pointer.

In other words, it gives anyone who cares kernel-level access to your computer.

All to prevent people from bypassing microtransactions

Next, in response to our post about the UK retroactively extending copyright on industrial designs, That One Guy reiterated the important point that if there's any way to truly "steal" content, this is it:

This? This is what theft involving copyright actually looks like. Barring the 'grace period' the copyrights in question went from 'everyone can use them, no one needs to pay' to 'no-one can use them unless they pay', almost literally overnight.

What was free for everyone to use after it made it through the original government granted monopoly period is now locked back up, and to make matters worse I imagine those with 'infringing' stock are going to be forced to destroy it if they can't sell it in time in order to avoid costly lawsuits for infringement, a demonstrable loss due to copyright, as opposed to the theoretical losses attributed to copyright infringement.

Over on the funny side, we've already had our first place comment above, so we head straight to the second place winner who is... me! On the post about our Vote2016() gear (which you can still order until tomorrow, then it's gone forever!) one commenter noted that the function would not accept Gary Johnson as an argument, and people were apparently pleased with my response to the bug report:

Vote2016() does not accept arguments. It's a sloppy, poorly-scoped function that just uses two global variables. Accepting third-party parameters will require a significant overhaul of the underlying engine and API.

That's enough tooting my own horn — on to the editor's choice! First, we've got a story about another one of our shirts, Nerd Harder (also still available until tomorrow, for the last time this year!) from Grey, who shared his experience wearing it:

Was wearing my Nerd Harder shirt in downtown Portland near the Tillicum crossing 2 days ago.

Older gentleman approached me with a very angry look on his face, got about 10 feet away before his face softened and he exclaimed "OH, nerd HARDER.... I thought it said "Nerd HERDER" and you and I were going to have words....

Good times.

And finally we've got a nonsensical but delightful anonymous comment offering an imaginary explanation for the aforementioned movie-theater assault:

The story fails to mention that suspicions were first aroused by the fact the two subjects were wearing a pegleg, an eyepatch and a hook when they arrived at the theater.

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 1 October 2016 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: September 25th - October 1st

from the memories dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2011, Occupy Wall Street was in full swing, leading (of course) to video of NYPD cops wantonly pepper-spraying nonviolent protestors. It soon became clear that people were being targeted just for recording the police, despite attempts to justify their actions with explanations that conflicted with the video evidence. Meanwhile, in Illinois, prosecutors were trying to put a guy in jail for 75 years for filming a traffic stop, and seeking 15 years for another guy for the same reason.

Amidst all this, in the realm of higher-level questionable police activities, the world was first coming to terms with the existence of Stingray devices.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2006, LimeWire hit back hard against the RIAA with a lawsuit for antitrust and consumer fraud. Meanwhile, the RIAA scored a scary win in its crusade against Morpheus (originally part of the famous Grokster case). The MPAA, most bizarrely of all, got the access to bring "pirated DVD-sniffing dogs" to inspect packages coming into the country (despite there being no way to distinguish pirated DVDs from legitimate ones by smell, and it's not clear why they should have this access to begin with).

Fifteen Years Ago

This week in 2001, we saw the birth of one of the earliest and stupidest 9/11 conspiracy theories: the idea that Microsoft hid foreknowledge of the attacks in... the Wingdings font. We also saw momentum continue to pick up on new laws that threatened civil liberties and would bury the FBI in more data than it could possibly make real use of. Bruce Schneier wisely pointed out that proposed surveillance efforts wouldn't have stopped the attacks. Others were tracking the cultural fallout, such as nearly-immediate changes to the nature and tone of advertising. And finally, The Onion released its brilliant and now-famous issue focused on the attacks, which stands alongside A Modest Proposal and Stephen Colbert's White House Correspondents Dinner speech as one of the finest works of satire in history.

One-Hundred And Ten Years Ago

The first ever demonstration of a radio remote-controlled apparatus was by Nikola Tesla, but the second and arguably more influential such demo happened on September 25th, 1906 when Leonardo Torres y Quevedo remotely steered a ship out of the port of Bilbao before the king of Spain and an assembled crowd using his Telekino device.

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Posted on Techdirt - 1 October 2016 @ 9:00am

Only A Few Days Left To Get Your Techdirt Gear (And An Early Start On Christmas Shopping)

from the time-is-running-out dept

Last chance to get Nerd Harder, Takedown and more! Order by Monday! »

Wouldn't it be great if December rolled around and you realized "hey, I've already done half my holiday shopping"? Of course it would — and that's why we held our super-early holiday gear sale in September. But now it's almost at an end, and none of this gear will be coming back until next year!

Here's what I suggest: before Monday, think through all the people you'll need to buy gifts for this year, and separate them into groups. For the nerds and geeks, the coders and modders, and anyone whose job involves deadlines and a computer — well, they could surely use a Nerd Harder mug for their desk, or maybe a t-shirt or hoodie. For the musicians and artists and bloggers and most of all YouTube content creators, some Takedown gear ought to ring true and hit the spot. The creative and culturally conscious folks with no love for the big entertainment industries will enjoy declaring that Home Cooking Is Killing Restaurants (and anyone who's handy with a spatula might get a kick out of that one too). And apart from any friends you might have who are deeply aware of the legal situation surrounding encryption and/or DRM, our new Math Is Not A Crime gear should suit anyone who knows their way around numbers and is baffled by our math-anxious society.

And boom, just like that (assuming your circle of loved ones is sufficiently geeky) you've all but cleared your Christmas plate! Feels good, right? Plus you can always grab yourself a gift or two along the way.

The sale ends on Monday! Hurry up and order your gear today! »

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Posted on Techdirt - 30 September 2016 @ 7:39pm

'When Is A Chair Just A Chair?' And Other Annoying Copyright Questions

from the industrial-art dept

Last year, the UK decided to repeal a part of its copyright law that enforced a drastically reduced copyright term for "industrially exploited artistic works" including "works of artistic craftsmanship" — in other words, the industrial design of manufactured objects that are primarily functional, like appliances and furniture. Rather than the full life-plus-seventy term, the copyright on such works was limited to 25 years from the date of manufacturing, making it somewhat closer to the US approach where functional designs can't be copyrighted but can qualify for 15-year design patents. It was a sensible rule (at least far more sensible than giving them full copyright, even if giving them any at all is still questionable) that allowed industrial designs to rapidly enter the public domain and be used by multiple manufacturers for everything from inexpensive reproductions to retro-chic luxuries — or, in the eyes of IP maximalists and the furniture industry, it was a travesty of a rule that cruelly robbed aging designers and flooded the market with cheap knockoffs and brazen cash-grabs.

In any case, the rule was repealed and it was repealed retroactively: furniture designs that had already entered the public domain were shoved back under life-plus-seventy copyrights, and the industry was given a grace period to purge their stocks. The repeal officially came into effect in July, and the transitional window will end in January. Then we can watch the lawsuits begin to flow — and they are going to involve a whole lot of wrangling over stupid, highly subjective questions, with lots of flowery protestations about artistry and judges thrust unwittingly into the role of critic, because the question of what exactly this law applies to is one big gray area.

Right now we can get a taste of the future. Earlier this month Margaret Briffa, a UK IP lawyer, posted an advisory to industrial designers with old designs that had fallen out of copyright, all about preparing to take advantage of their newly restored rights. Now, Briffa is just doing her job and the post is quite bland and fairly measured, so the purpose of this post isn't to attack her — but it perfectly highlights just how silly and confusing some of these fights are going to be (it also seems to be wrong about the exact kick-in date for the rules, but with all the shifting deadlines and grace periods it's hard to say):

The Intellectual Property has published guidance on the relevant criteria to determine what would be considered a work of artistic craftsmanship. It makes interesting reading. There are very few reported legal cases on this topic and the guidance has been gleaned from things said by judges in no more than a handful of cases.

Here is what designers would need to establish their works as being of ‘artistic craftsmanship’
(i) The work must combine both artistic quality and craftsmanship

(ii) Artistic means real artistic quality and must be a work or art or fine art. It is not enough that it looks attractive. Whether something is artistic must be determined in light of evidence. This could include the intention of the maker to create a work of artistic craftsmanship; evidence of how ordinary member of the public regard the work and whether the designer already has works in his name acknowledged to be artistic as well as the level of aesthetic appeal.

(iii) Craftsmanship presupposes special skill knowledge or training.

(iv) One factor which may be used in determining whether a work is a work of artistic craftsmanship is assessing the extent to which the work’s artistic expression is unconstrained by functional considerations.
From the above it is not difficult to see that in defending claims there is much scope for debate as to whether or not an item is a work of artistic craftsmanship. Consider some iconic works from the 50’s and 60’s which are popular again now and which were specifically intended to be utilitarian. There has to be a real question over whether such works would benefit from this change.

A briefer version of those rules could be something like "I dunno, does it look artsy to you?" and offer nearly as much guidance, despite the insistence that this is not enough. Briffa's reference to vintage designs is worth thinking about: lots of classic furniture designs were bland and functional in the eyes of their contemporary public, and only became iconic with passing time and changing norms. When they are revived from the public domain as retro hits the designers might feel annoyed that they weren't the ones to cash in, but they already created them under an agreed social contract and there's no public benefit to changing that retroactively — plus there was nothing stopping them from trying to revive the designs themselves. And even if you want to argue that artists deserve such consideration (questionable already), if all they were doing was creating a functional chair with minimal aesthetic considerations, that's a different story.

And so now courts will be tasked with splitting those hairs: is that 1950s table a work of art or a functional item that gained kitsch status later? Is that 1970s chair just a chair? For an idea of what this will look like, we can read Briffa's specific advice:

For other works where there is a real prospect the design would qualify as a work of artistic craftsmanship we would encourage designers to put together the design history including all drawings and sketches evidencing creation of the design. In addition in light of the relevance of what may have been in the mind of the designer when he created the design it would be prudent to prepare such a statement now for future use by a designer or his business in the fight against copyist.

That's what you get when you start trying to determine the intentions of creators and the artistic value of designs -- plaintiffs and defendants battling it out to prove whether someone was crafting a masterpiece or building a damn chair. As we've seen with fights around appropriation art and photo composition and unauthorized sequels -- all areas where the precise nature of artistic expression, and the artistic value and intention of various works, are necessary considerations -- forcing judges to make these art-critic determinations on highly subjective questions is extremely unpredictable, leading to contradictory rulings, double-standards among different mediums, and lengthy appeals processes that lock works up for years. Thank god the UK can now do the same with furniture, right?

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Posted on Techdirt - 30 September 2016 @ 11:38am

Facebook Video Metrics Crossed The Line From Merely Dubious To Just Plain Wrong

from the fix-it-so-it's-just-normal-broke-again dept

Earlier this week, when I explained how basically all audience metrics are garbage both online and off, I trimmed the specifics on several platforms since knocking them all down in detail would have made that already-hefty post even longer. But, recent revelations about Facebook's long-running inflation of a key video metric call for a deeper look at the world of Facebook video content and why, yet again, nobody has any idea how many people really see something (and this time, advertisers are unhappy):

Several weeks ago, Facebook disclosed in a post on its "Advertiser Help Center" that its metric for the average time users spent watching videos was artificially inflated because it was only factoring in video views of more than three seconds. The company said it was introducing a new metric to fix the problem.

... Ad buying agency Publicis Media was told by Facebook that the earlier counting method likely overestimated average time spent watching videos by between 60% and 80%, according to a late August letter Publicis Media sent to clients that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. ... Publicis was responsible for purchasing roughly $77 billion in ads on behalf of marketers around the world in 2015, according to estimates from research firm Recma.

What happened here is actually pretty subtle, so bear with me. Facebook distinguishes "plays" from "views" -- with the former being every single play of the video, including those auto-plays that you scroll straight past and never even look at, and the latter being only people who actually watched the video for three seconds or longer. Of course, there are still a million ways in which this metric is itself broken (I've certainly let plenty of videos play for more than three seconds or even all the way through while reading a post above or below them) but the distinction is a good one. All of the more detailed stats are based on either plays or views (mostly views) and are clearly labeled, but the one metric at issue was the "Average Duration of Video Viewed." This metric could be fairly calculated as either the total amount of time from all plays divided by the total number of plays, or the same thing based only on time and number of views -- but instead, it was erroneously being calculated as total play time divided by total number of views. In other words, all the second-or-two autoplays from idle newsfeed scrollers were being totalled up, and that time was being distributed among the smaller number of people who stayed on the video for more than three seconds as part of their average duration, leading to across-the-board inflation of that figure.

Now, in some ways this error is minor: it had no impact on billing for promoted videos, since average view time is not a factor there, and all the other more-detailed metrics about view duration were accurate, including a per-second graph of viewer drop-off for each video. But, indirectly, it's a pretty big deal, because average view duration is a top-line metric for publishers figuring out which content is the most engaging. Beyond that, it's the key metric for determining whether Facebook Video is truly engaging as a whole, and given the massive explosion of both publishers and advertisers putting all their focus on video recently, it's worrying to think they might have been doing so at least in part based on a broken, inflated metric.

Of course, none of that changes the fact that even when the metrics are working properly, they most likely still suck. Much of the Facebook video boom has been in the live streaming arena, where publishers like BuzzFeed have been, well, buzzing about "peak concurrent viewer" numbers that rivaled the ratings of major cable networks. But television ratings represent something entirely different from this "peak" figure, and a similar system would likely peg these streams' audiences at closer to zero. But then again, what we're talking about here is Nielsen ratings, and I don't need to reiterate just how many problems those have. All we're doing is comparing a bunch of vague, hard-to-support and impossible-to-confirm numbers with each other, and ending up with almost no new insight into the reality of audiences.

Still, if the system is going to run on bullshit, it should at least be internally consistent bullshit -- so it's good that this latest Facebook error has been caught and fixed.

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Posted on Techdirt - 29 September 2016 @ 12:52pm

Let These Picturesque Stock Models Explain Techdirt Gear To You

from the listen-up dept

Have you hit up our super-early holiday gear sale yet? Because you've only got until Monday, and then it's all going away for the rest of the year! Of course, there has been some debate about what exactly our designs mean. Since Teespring lets us superimpose our gear onto a parade of photogenic models, I figure we'll let force them to do the talking, with speech bubbles! So if you're confused, prepare to be enlightened:

Nerd Harder is available on T-shirts, hoodies, mugs and stickers »

Takedown is available on T-shirts and hoodies »

Home Cooking Is Killing Restaurants is available on T-shirts, mugs and stickers »

Math Is Not A Crime is available on T-shirts, hoodies, mugs and stickers »

Vote2016() is available on T-shirts, hoodies and stickers »

The sale ends on Monday! Hurry up and order your gear today! »

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 27 September 2016 @ 1:00pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 92: Passwords Suck; What's Next?

from the correct-horse-battery-staple dept

Data breaches that expose passwords are pretty much a fact of life at this point -- and the effects are multiplied by the fact that many, many people reuse passwords no matter how much they know they shouldn't. As such, there's a big push to move to password managers, two-factor authentication, and even biometrics -- because the simple fact is that the password sucks. This week, we're discussing what if anything will succeed in replacing it.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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Posted on Techdirt - 27 September 2016 @ 12:20pm

We QA Tested Vote2016() Against Last Night's Debate; No Code Changes Required

from the sigh dept

Last chance to get Vote2016() T-shirts, hoodies & stickers! »

Did you come out of last night's debate feeling thrilled about your choices for president? No? What a surprise. Though there are fans on both sides declaring victory, most of the thinking/awake public saw what we expected: an intolerable buffoon babbling on one side, and the resultant lack of scrutiny for the hard-to-like career politician making worrying statements on the other. Perhaps nowhere was this clearer than on an issue of importance here at Techdirt: would you prefer Trump's directionless ramblings about "the cyber", or Clinton's coherent but terrifying overtures of war with Russia? Take your pick, America. And when you do, we've got a shirt for you.

There's less than a week left to order your Vote2016() gear. The campaign ends on Oct. 3rd so you can get it just in time for election day — and then it's gone for good!

And don't forget to check out our new Math Is Not A Crime shirt, and other designs available for the last time this year in our super-early holiday gear sale.

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Posted on Techdirt - 26 September 2016 @ 9:36am

Traffic Is Fake, Audience Numbers Are Garbage, And Nobody Knows How Many People See Anything

from the stabs-in-the-dark dept

How many living, breathing human beings really read Techdirt? The truth — the most basic, rarely-spoken truth — is that we have no earthly idea. With very few exceptions, no media property big or small, new or old, online or off, can truly tell you how big its audience is. They may have never thought about it that way — after all, we all get as close as we can to what we think is a reasonably accurate estimation, though we have no way of confirming that — but all these numbers are actually good for (maybe) is relative comparisons. What does it really mean when someone says "a million people" saw something? Or ten or a hundred million? I don't know, and neither do you. (Netflix might, but we'll get to that later.)

Where should we start? How about this: internet traffic is half-fake and everyone's known it for years, but there's no incentive to actually acknowledge it. The situation is technically improving: 2015 was hailed (quietly, among people who aren't in charge of selling advertising) as a banner year because humans took back the majority with a stunning 51.5% share of online traffic, so hurray for that I guess. All the analytics suites, the ad networks and the tracking pixels can try as they might to filter the rest out, and there's plenty of advice on the endless Sisyphean task of helping them do so, but considering at least half of all that bot traffic comes from bots that fall into the "malicious" or at least "unauthorized" category, and thus have every incentive to subvert the mostly-voluntary systems that are our first line of defence against bots... Well, good luck. We already know that Alexa rankings are garbage, but what does this say about even the internal numbers that sites use to sell ad space? Could they even be off by a factor of 10? I don't know, and neither do you. Hell, we don't even know how accurate the 51.5% figure is — it could be way off... in either direction.

Okay, so what about TV ratings? Well, there's a reason they've been made fun of on the shows themselves for as long as our culture has been able to handle "meta" jokes without getting a headache. Nielsen ratings in their classic form are built on monitoring such a tiny sample of households that the whole country's viewing profile can probably be swayed because someone forgot to turn off the TV before going on vacation. They sucked before DVRs and digital distribution began transforming the single household television into a quaint anachronism, and now it's just chaos. Nielsen was slow to catch up with DVRs, and now the TV industry juggles scattered measurements including three or seven days of viewing beyond live air, and constantly complains that the ratings are off — specifically, that they're too low. And they might be right, in the sense that they are too low by comparison to the garbage ratings from the pre-digital age that everyone eventually embraced as a standard for relative rankings. How big are these audiences really, in terms of real living breathing human beings? I don't know, and neither do you.

YouTube view counts? Subject to all the same fake internet traffic problems, plus the fact that there's an opaque system for supposedly ignoring too-short incomplete views according to the genre and nature of the video, but good luck finding out how accurate that is. Channel operators know their length-of-view statistics, but you don't see them bandying them about much. Plus, how often have you heard public view counts casually referred to as the number of "people" who watched something, even though (especially when it comes to short-and-cute viral animal hits and their ilk) the bulk of them probably come from obsessive re-watching? Yeah.

So what about Facebook stats? Everything from impressions to simultaneous live video viewers is padded out by the most transient of idly-scrolling-through-the-newsfeed interactions. Twitter followings and tweet stats? Dig into the bowels of any list of followers, or any trending link, and see how much of it is mindless bots. Print readerships? Don't even get me started. Did you know it's common practice for newspapers to calculate their readership by applying a multiplier to their actual circulation, to account for an imaginary surplus of "readers per copy"? Yes, that soggy "local" paper that's been sitting out in the rain on your porch for two days, and that only exists to give them an excuse to deliver flyers to your door, is not only being counted — it's probably being counted five times. So are all the free/cheap copies that big national papers give to hotels. Oh, and when these companies distribute multiple publications in different channels — with newspapers, magazines and paywalled websites all being given away with each other as free cross-subscriptions, in order to pad out all three subscriber numbers — they add them all up and then try to determine the actual number of individual people they are reaching. How? By applying an opaque "deduplication" formula. I once pressed a newspaper's stats person about what this formula could possibly entail, but details were not forthcoming — because I suspect they just knock off 20% and call it a day, despite the fact that the magazine is distributed inside the newspaper whose audience they are supposedly "deduplicating" it from, and half the website subscriptions were free add-ons with print delivery. That's awfully generous when the truth is they don't know, and neither do I, and neither do you.

So who does know how big of an audience they really have? Well, maybe Netflix, Amazon and other digital subscription services. Their paywalls insulate them from the bulk of random bot traffic, and their proprietary ecosystems give them the ability to closely monitor all activity. Netflix, of course, is famously secretive about viewer numbers and insists on the inaccuracy of those who claim to have worked them out. The most common assumption is that they do this to avoid giving content creators too much leverage, and because the data can be seen as a valuable commodity — but I propose another reason: Netflix's likely-more-accurate statistics, if made public, would have zero context in the topsy-turvy world of nonsense TV ratings. They would probably look exceptionally low, giving the legacy bosses who would like nothing more than to downplay the importance of digital distribution (and there are as many of those as there are record execs who can't spell mp3) a chance to project whatever narrative they wanted onto the numbers.

So why does any of this matter? Because advertising is a multibillion dollar industry, and whenever an industry is worth that much, you have to ask: is that because there are billions of dollars of worthwhile transactions happening, or because every bloodsucker in a ten-industry radius wanted in on the action? So, so much of the advertising industry is pure waste. How much exactly is as impossible to determine as the audience sizes themselves. This is hardly a new idea (in fact it's a century-old quote) but it's probably more true now than ever, despite the fact that in theory technology could have delivered us from uncertainty.

Finally, what can be done about this? There's no simple answer, and maybe no answer at all. Here at Techdirt, we've been working to come up with good advertising solutions by focusing almost entirely on what we know our community likes and might be interested in (as in, our real community of people who talk in our comments and we can say, with confidence, exist) and paying less attention to raw numbers — both a luxury and a necessity for a smaller publication, depending on how you look at it. That's not always easy though, as we face an advertising industry ruled by metrics, where there are often ten spreadsheet-wielding interns between us and someone who might actually care about our creativity. In our experiments with more traditional algorithmic display advertising to monetize the raw traffic numbers we do have, we keep running up against what appears to be a universal truth: the bulk of the global internet ad ecosystem runs on trash. Gigantic prestigious online media brands can sell display campaigns straight to the same people who buy Superbowl ads — everyone else receives a hundred pitches a week from new ad networks that claim to deliver great, relevant content but in fact litter your site with ads for fad diets and ambulance-chasers (at best). And this lowest-common-denominator filler appears to be the only reliably successful form of internet advertising! At least, it never goes away when the good stuff does, and the proud quality networks eventually embrace their roles as crap-peddlers. "Good" internet advertising is a rickety ship navigating an endless roiling ocean of spam, clickbait and outright fraud — but it couldn't float at all without it.

I realize I've painted a grim picture, but these are (more or less) the facts. I'm surely wrong in some of my guesses, but like everything discussed here, nobody knows how wrong or in which direction. We'll never even really know how many people read this — we'll just have a vague estimate that can be compared to other posts on Techdirt. But for now that's the reality, so maybe more people should stop worrying about the supposed size of their audience, and focus on making the content they want to make.

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