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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 - 22 November 2017 @ 3:35pm

NFL Expands Streaming Even Further With New Deal With Verizon, Which Will Make Mobile Streaming Non-Exclusive

from the stream-dream dept

Long-time readers of Techdirt will know that for as long as I've written here, I've screamed for professional and college sports leagues to offer better streaming options. It has never made a lick of sense to me that an industry so reliant on eyeballs and advertising revenue would want to limit either by keeping people from watching their games. While we're not where I'd like to be, much has changed in the intervening years. Streaming from pro sports leagues has advanced considerably, both in terms of quality and availability. And, perhaps more importantly, this march has only gone in the direction of more and better streaming options.

A march that continues into the present, in fact, as the NFL appears to be on the verge of inking a new streaming deal with Verizon that is just as important for what it does not include as what it does. We'll start with what Verizon gets from the deal, which is an end to the hilarious limit on screen size for the NFL streaming product.

Verizon and the National Football League are in talks to sign another streaming rights deal. According to a Bloomberg report, the wireless provider and the NFL are close to finalizing a new deal that would let Verizon stream games to Internet-connected TVs, tablets, and phones. Verizon's previous deal only allowed it to stream games to devices with screens that are 7-inches or smaller, so the new deal would open up NFL games to Verizon customers who primarily consume TV content on smart TVs, tablets, and other large devices.

This tells us a number of things. First, it tells us that Verizon is betting relatively small phones aren't the only devices that NFL fans want to watch NFL games on. With the explosion of Smart TVs and mobile tablets with 4G connections, fans have never been more ready to stream an NFL game from so many places, whether it's on the go in transit or in front of a computer screen or tablet at home. Likewise, these deal terms tell us that the NFL too sees value in expanding streaming generally (more on that in a minute). No longer attempting to limit this deal specifically to smartphones, the NFL is knocking over the dam keeping streaming at bay. This, in case it wasn't obvious, should be shiver-inducing for terrestrial and cable TV networks that used to be the dominant players for sports broadcasts.

But what's not in the Verizon deal is what demonstrates just how big an opportunity the NFL sees in streaming.

According to people familiar with the matter, Verizon would also lose exclusive rights to air games on mobile devices as part of the deal. That means that while Verizon customers would have more device options for watching football, it may not be the only one to stream NFL games. Other wireless providers or streaming TV providers, such as Sling TV or DirecTV Now, may be able to strike their own deals with the NFL and provide streamed games to their subscribers through their own apps.

That's a big deal, particularly for a league that has operated with exclusivity deals essentially as a business mantra. Born of the era of network television, the NFL has long maintained these types of close broadcast partnerships, but now that is slipping away when it comes to streaming. And ultimately that's the only move that makes sense, as eyeballs and advertising revenue will be spread far and wide through the NFL's own network, making the real estate for ads on its broadcasts all the more valuable.

Streaming keeps expanding in pro sports. It's a great thing for everyone other than cable TV.

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Posted on Techdirt - 20 November 2017 @ 3:43pm

Drone-Maker DJI Offers Bug Bounty Program, Then Threatens Bug-Finder With The CFAA

from the that's-a-shitty-bounty dept

Far too many companies and industries out there seem to think that the best way to handle a security researcher finding security holes in their tech and websites is to immediately begin issuing threats. This is almost always monumentally dumb for any number of reasons, ranging from the work these researchers do actually being a benefit to these companies issuing the threats, to the resulting coverage of the threats making the vulnerabilities more widely known than they would have been otherwise.

But drone-maker DJI gets special marks for attacking security researchers, having decided to turn on one that was working within the bug-bounty program it had set up.

DJI, the Chinese company that manufactures the popular Phantom brand of consumer quadcopter drones, was informed in September that developers had left the private keys for both the "wildcard" certificate for all the company's Web domains and the keys to cloud storage accounts on Amazon Web Services exposed publicly in code posted to GitHub. Using the data, researcher Kevin Finisterre was able to access flight log data and images uploaded by DJI customers, including photos of government IDs, drivers licenses, and passports. Some of the data included flight logs from accounts associated with government and military domains.

Finisterre found the security error after beginning to probe DJI's systems under DJI's bug bounty program, which was announced in August. But as Finisterre worked to document the bug with the company, he got increasing pushback—including a threat of charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). DJI refused to offer any protection against legal action in the company's "final offer" for the data. So Finisterre dropped out of the program and published his findings publicly yesterday, along with a narrative entitled, "Why I walked away from $30,000 of DJI bounty money."

Finisterre helpfully documented his interactions with several DJI employees, all of which paint a pretty clear picture of a company that encouraged his work in finding exposed data and insecure public-facing websites. So appreciative was DJI, in fact, that Finisterre won the top prize for its bug-bounty program: $30,000. That prize came for Finisterre's discovery that DJI's SSL certificates and firmware encryption keys had been exposed via GitHub for years. After receiving written confirmation from DJI that its servers were within the scope of the bounty program, Finisterre submitted his disclosure report.

That's when things got weird.

When Finisterre submitted his full report on the exposure to the bug bounty program, he received an e-mail from DJI's Brendan Schulman that said the company's servers were suddenly not in scope for the bounty program. Still, Finisterre received notification from DJI's bug bounty program e-mail account on September 28 that his report earned the top reward for the program—$30,000 in cash. Then, Finisterre heard nothing for nearly a month.

Ultimately, Finisterre received an e-mail containing an agreement contract that he said "did not offer researchers any sort of protection. For me personally, the wording put my right to work at risk, and posed a direct conflict of interest to many things including my freedom of speech." It seemed clear to Finisterre that "the entire ‘Bug Bounty’ program was rushed based on this alone," he wrote.

He goes on to note that he had several lawyers look over the contract, all of whom balked at the language it contained. Hiring any of them to work the contract to the point that it was something he would sign would cost several thousand dollars, reducing the bounty reward to the point that it wasn't really worth collecting. On top of all that, the language in the contract offered nothing in the way of protection from the CFAA, which is frankly insane for a bug bounty program. The whole point is to research vulnerabilities. Jail time is not supposed to be a risk in that sort of work.

When Finisterre decided to refuse the bounty and go public instead, DJI suddenly began calling him a "hacker" and acted as though it barely had any idea who he was, despite having interacted with him over hundreds of emails.

DJI is investigating the reported unauthorized access of one of DJI’s servers containing personal information submitted by our users. As part of its commitment to customers’ data security, DJI engaged an independent cyber security firm to investigate this report and the impact of any unauthorized access to that data. Today, a hacker who obtained some of this data posted online his confidential communications with DJI employees about his attempts to claim a “bug bounty” from the DJI Security Response Center.

DJI implemented its Security Response Center to encourage independent security researchers to responsibly report potential vulnerabilities. DJI asks researchers to follow standard terms for bug bounty programs, which are designed to protect confidential data and allow time for analysis and resolution of a vulnerability before it is publicly disclosed. The hacker in question refused to agree to these terms, despite DJI’s continued attempts to negotiate with him, and threatened DJI if his terms were not met.

DJI has also shuttered the bug bounty program, with emails to it resulting in bouncebacks informing the reader that while they can still submit bug reports, the bounties are no longer available.

And so here we are. DJI offered a bug bounty program that one researcher responded to with a report about some serious vulnerabilities, including the disclosure of DJI customer information. Instead of being grateful for that information and correcting it, DJI instead decided to go the strongarm route, resulting in the public now knowing just how bad at security DJI is. Way to go?

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 November 2017 @ 7:39pm

Judge Halts Copyright Troll's Lawsuit Against A Now-Deceased Elderly Man With Dementia And An IP Address

from the stop-stop-he's-already-dead dept

Stories about copyright trolls issuing questionable settlement demands and lawsuits using laughably flimsy evidence with no regard to mitigating circumstances are somewhat common around here. The most egregious cases range from trolls sending threat letters to the elderly to flat out suing the innocent. This sort of thing is essentially inherent in a business model that closely apes an extortion ring, and here's another quintessential example of that.

It all started when Venice PI sued a man for being part of a torrent swarm offering the movie Once Upon a Time in Venice. The judge in the case has put the proceedings on hold, noting rather harshly that Venice PI's evidence sucks, and that the man in question had severe enough dementia that his family says he couldn't even have operated a computer as described in the lawsuit and, at age 91, has died.

The man’s wife informed a federal court in Seattle that he passed away recently, at the respectable age of 91. While age doesn’t prove innocence, the widow also mentioned that her husband suffered from dementia and was both mentally and physically incapable of operating a computer at the time of the alleged offense.

These circumstances raised doubt with US District Court Judge Thomas Zilly, who brought them up in a recent order (citations omitted).

“In two different cases, plaintiff sued the same, now deceased, defendant, namely Wilbur Miller. Mr. Miller’s widow submitted a declaration indicating that, for about five years prior to his death at the age of 91, Mr. Miller suffered from dementia and was both mentally and physically incapable of operating a computer."

Oops. Still, the condition of the copyright troll's victim wasn't the topic which received Judy Zilly's harshest criticism. That distinction goes to the quality and quantity of evidence Venice PI produced in its lawsuit. The Judge notes that this evidence amounts essentially to nothing more than an IP address. He then goes on to suggest that any tracking of IP addresses that pointed to Mr. Miller being a torrent-y type of guy should have its accuracy immediately questioned. Beyond that, the judge indicated that Venice PI can't use that IP address to try to find, you know, actual evidence.

Moreover, plaintiff may not, based solely on IP addresses, launch a fishing expedition aimed at coercing individuals into either admitting to copyright infringement or pointing a finger at family members, friends, tenants, or neighbors.

To that end, lawyers for Venice PI are barred from having any contact with Miller's family or any other unnamed defendant in this case. In addition, Zilly is demanding any other evidence the plaintiff's can produce -- likely none --, as well as information on how IP addresses in bittorrent swarms might be spoofed. The judge goes on to say that if no further evidence can be presented, the claims will be dismissed with prejudice.

It's simply great to see a court get this so correct in a copyright troll case. Too often trolls are allowed to skate by in presenting evidence that isn't evidence at all, with no ground given to the sort of mitigating testimony offered by Miller's widow. That Venice IP hasn't dismissed their case against the now-deceased man is an added stain on its trollish soul.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 November 2017 @ 3:47pm

Good Ruling: Court Affirms Fox's Victory In Trademark Suit From Empire Distribution Over Its Hit Show 'Empire'

from the like-a-fox dept

In far too many trademark disputes, including those that actually reach the courthouse, there is far too little in the way of nuance when it comes to ruling. While I've long complained about a lack of focus on some of the higher-level concepts within trademark law, such as how the overall focus should be on public confusion and the simple fact that the category designations within the USPTO are far too broad, there is typically not enough recognition in the real minutia within the law as well.

But that simply isn't the case in a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on a lawsuit filed by Fox Television for declaratory relief from threats issued by Empire Distribution, Inc., a record label, over trademark concerns and Fox's hit show Empire.

Some background is in order. Empire, for those of you who don't know, is a show about a family-run record label in New York City called Empire Enterprises. Empire Distribution is a real-life label that has worked with names as big as T.I. and Snoop Dogg. At some point, Empire Distribution sent trademark threat notices to Fox, claiming that the name of the show was a trademark violation. In response, Fox filed for declaratory relief, which the district court granted. Empire Distribution appealed, resulting in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reviewing the decision and affirming it.

But it's why the ruling was affirmed that is the star of this legal show, with the detailed court opinion laying out the nuance of the law.

On Thursday, the 9th Circuit reviewed the district court's summary judgment decision, and in affirming Fox's victory, decided to apply the Rogers test, which was first developed by a sister appellate circuit in 1989 in response to Federico Fellini's 1986 film Ginger and Fred, which triggered a lawsuit by Ginger Rogers.

The Rogers test, as it's called, resulted from that case and says that the title of a work is not infringing on trademark except if the title has no artistic relevance to the overall work or if it explicitly misleads the public as to the source of the work. For example, if someone were to create a television show called Michael Jordan's Cooking Hour, the public would think that the former Bulls star was involved with it. If he wasn't, the title of the show would infringe on any trademarks he might have for television shows (along with a host of other infringements, likely). But Empire, the Fox show, gets its name from the fictitious company it portrays, along with its setting in New York City, giving the title artistic relevance. It also does nothing to attempt to mislead the public into thinking that there is any involvement or reference to Empire Distribution. Therefore, Empire passes the Rogers test.

Empire Distribution argued that part of the artistic relevance portion of the Rogers test includes a requirement for the new work to reference the older entity to be considered artistically relevant and protected. The court basically slaps that idea down and suggests that Empire Distribution's legal team doesn't understand the Rogers test at all.

This is how a work fails the first prong of the Rogers test: by bearing a title which has no artistic relevance to the work. A title may have artistic relevance by linking the work to another mark, as with 'Barbie Girl,' or it may have artistic relevance by supporting the themes and geographic setting of the work, as with Empire. Reference to another work may be a component of artistic relevance, but it is not a prerequisite. Accordingly, the relevance of the word 'empire' to Fox’s expressive work is sufficient to satisfy the first prong of the Rogers test.

The court goes on to say that Empire passes the Rogers test on the second prong as neither the show nor its title makes any claims or references to Empire Distribution, and is therefore doing nothing that is "explicitly misleading."

For us trademark nerds, it's a great ruling with a wonderful explanation of some nuance in trademark law and precedent. For Empire Distribution, who never should have made such silly threats, it's simply a judicial beatdown.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 November 2017 @ 1:46pm

Cards Against Humanity's Trolling Of Trump's Border Wall Shows How The Internet Has Removed Gatekeepers

from the trump-card dept

I suppose because too many of my fellow citizens in America have devolved into hyper-partisan rage-beacons, I have to issue the following stupid caveat that I shouldn't have to issue at all: this post is not a commentary on Trump's border wall policy. Great. I'm sure that will keep our comments free and clear of anyone insisting otherwise. With that being said, a common topic we discuss here is how one of the chief benefits of the internet is how it has removed gatekeepers that have long stood in the way of new businesses, or have governed how established businesses do their business. Typically, we have focused on the former, detailing how the internet has allowed for new players in everything from the entertainment industry to products that would have previously existed solely at the pleasure of brick and mortar retail stores.

But this post is about the latter. You may have heard about the viral video making the rounds from the folks behind the hit card game Cards Against Humanity. If you haven't, here it is.

I have to admit, the video is really well done. If nothing else, it serves to remind us that content is advertising and advertising is content.

But it's also true that a campaign that essentially trolls the sitting American President by buying a piece of land where his proposed border wall is going to go and then vowing to defend that land legally for as long as possible is controversial to say the least. Some not inconsequential percentage of Americans -- and, likely, our readers -- think that the border wall is good policy. Some other percentage do not. Whatever you might think, it should be clear that this campaign is likely to piss off some decent chunk of the company's potential customer base. Why the company wants to do this is a valid question, but I'd like to point out why they can do this.

Given the nature of the game, the company has no problem being a bit brash, and because they are self-owned, and don't rely on big box stores to push their product, the company can get away with a bit more.

That's putting it mildly. It's nearly impossible to envision the company taking so staunch a political stance as this were it forced to rely on traditional retail stores, which would likewise feel backlash from supporters of the border wall. You likely have already imagined how many calls there would be on retailers to drop the product if this happened, except it's more likely that the folks behind Cards Against Humanity never would have done this in the first place, save for their ability to sell directly to consumers via the internet.

Political stances are also not a new habit for the company. It's even addressed on the company's FAQ page on its website.

On its FAQ page for the new expansion, one question asks: I don't like that you're getting political. Why don't you just stick to card games?

Their answer? "Why don’t you stick to seeing how many Hot Wheels cars you can fit up your asshole?"

My kind of people, obviously. Again, whatever your political leanings, it's worth recognizing how any company is now more free to engage in controversial behavior like this simply because the gatekeepers are gone and the internet reigns.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 November 2017 @ 3:23am

Russian Foreign Ministry Accuses America Of Supporting ISIS With Video Game Footage

from the fake-it-until-you-make-it dept

The history of governments attempting to demonstrate either their own military prowess or the dastardly actions of others -- usually America -- is long and storied. South Korea used footage from war games to show off weapons I guess it must not have, Egypt attempted to pass off game footage as Russian airstrikes against ISIL/ISIS/whatever they're supposed to be called, and North Korea attempted to show off its nuclear capability by pinching some Modern Warfare 3 footage. Even Russia has tried its hand at this, attempting to show that America was arming Ukrainian rebels with Stinger missiles with some stills from the game Battlefield 3. That any of these countries thought they would get away with these fakes is nearly as funny as their having not considered how much international egg they'd have on their faces once they were found out.

But you'd at least have thought these countries would learn their lesson. In the case of Russia, it seems not so much. The Russian Defense Ministry recently accused the American military of, get this, helping ISIS in order to promote American interests in the Middle East. While that claim is, on its face, fairly laughable, so too was the photo evidence Russia provided.

If those images look sort of familiar to you, it's probably because you've played AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron. It seems that the photographic evidence offered by the Russian Defense Ministry is just more video game stills.

In a sign of how lazy some propagandists can be, on Tuesday the official Russian-language Twitter account for the country’s defense ministry tweeted a selection of photos, claiming the images were irrefutable evidence that the U.S. was helping ISIS terrorists. However, one of the photos the Ministry of Defense tweeted (and later deleted) appears to be from the video game AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron, a clip of which is available on YouTube. The account also posted the photos along with a longer body of text on Facebook. Researchers from verification and citizen-journalism platform Bellingcat debunked the photo after someone else tweeted it, claiming a video was live drone-attack footage over Mosul, Iraq.

Whatever those other photos are from, it's clear they are not from American forces happily supporting ISIS. We've done bad things in this country, but this claim is simply off the reservation.

Russia, for its part, deleted the debunked photo, but maintained the claim that America is now helping ISIS in the Middle East. Maybe we can grab a couple of stills from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle as evidence that Russians are committing mass genocide of all moose and squirrel.

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Posted on Techdirt - 15 November 2017 @ 7:45pm

City Of Portland Still Jerking Around Local Businesses Over Trademark Of Famous City Sign

from the trademarkia dept

The last time we checked in with the city of Portland, it was attempting to navigate some perilous waters regarding a trademark the city has on a famous city sign. Beer-maker Pabst, which I am to understand somehow won a blue ribbon a long time ago, built a logo for a concert series it wanted to promote in Portland that served as an homage to the famous sign, which includes an outline of the state and a stag leaping across the top of it. Because of this, the city saw fit to send a cease and desist notice to Pabst, despite beer not generally being a competitor for a city's tourism business. When everyone pointed this out to the city, it decided to not pursue any legal action. But the city continued to threaten local businesses with its trademark, including Vintage Roadside, which sells a "Made In Portland" series of photos on Etsy, some of which included the famous sign. Vintage Roadside decided to sue the city to have the trademark declared invalid, prompting Portland officials to issue a covenant not to sue to avoid any ruling on the matter.

You might have thought that this series of slapdowns would have deterred Portland officials from this bullying course of action, but you'd be wrong. Portland attempted to expand the trademark it has for the sign into the alcohol designation, thinking that it could license the image to beermakers and make some coin. Unfortunately for the city, a local brewery already has a trademark for the sign for the beer business.

Adam Milne's brewpub is fighting City Hall. And as of today, Milne is winning. The white sign hanging above the front door of Old Town Brewing's taproom on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard features the silhouette of a leaping buck. Behind the bar, a herd of white stags bound across eight wooden beer tap handles. The glasses, the coasters, and every bottle of Pilsner brewed in-house are festooned with the jumping deer—the same one that glows on the iconic "Portland Oregon" sign.

In the fall of 2016, the city attempted to expand its trademark into the territory of beer. This September, a year later, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected the city's request, citing the similarity to Old Town Brewing's trademark, issued in 2012.

"Getting the trademark was a very long, challenging process," Milne says. "We've built a brand we're so proud of."

Now, Portland has been clear that it intends to partner with macro-breweries across the nation in a licensing scheme for the sign. It surely must have known that Old Town Brewing, local to the area, had a trademark on the imagery in question, yet it attempted to register the mark anyway. And, after the rebuke from the USPTO, it seems the city is still going to pursue the mark, essentially trying to muscle out a local business to pursue national licensing arrangements.

Bryant Enge, director of the city's Bureau of Internal Business Services, says he's not discouraged by the patent office's rejection of Portland's trademark application. "Initial trademark application rejections are not uncommon," Enge says. "We're confident that the trademark will be approved."

And the city is not even waiting for its preferred outcome before pursuing the very licensing arrangements that were the impetus for all this to begin with.

Curiously, while the federal patent office ruled that Old Town Brewing's claim to the White Stag image is "incontestable," the city continues to negotiate with big brewers over licensing rights. The Pabst deal with the city doesn't bother Milne—a unicorn isn't going to be confused with a stag, he says. But the local beer makers at Old Town Brewing fear the city will try to license the image of the stag to large, corporate alcohol sellers.

That sure reads like a pretty blatant violation of trademark law, with the added spice of it being done by a city government to one of its constituent businesses. Whatever the outcome of the trademark appeal, that's pretty gross.

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Posted on Techdirt - 15 November 2017 @ 1:37pm

Offering Good Legal Options Works: Interest In Netflix Outpaces Pirate Options In Brazil

from the no-kidding dept

If you were to have asked anyone in the film industry or the MPAA about the country of Brazil within the past decade, it's quite likely that they would have thrown their hands into the air and told you what a detestable hotbed of piracy and copyright infringement the nation was. And, hey, they would have been right. The simple fact of the matter is that there are some countries where the downloading and streaming of films and television is more common than others. The obvious next question to ask for any business interested in reversing this trend would be: why? The answer always seemed obvious to me: there is a customer demand that the legitimate options are not fulfilling. Many in film and television instead decried a lack of strict copyright enforcement and everybody wanting everything for free, instead.

Well, with a recent study published by Google, it seems we are getting an answer as to who answered that question correctly, and it wasn't Hollywood. The trend in Brazil, beginning in 2016 when streaming services were expanded in the country, is the stagnation of piracy and the adoption of legitimate streaming services.

While there’s still a long way to go, it’s interesting to hear the progress that’s being made not only in the West but also piracy hotspots further afield. This week, Brazil’s Exame reported on a new study published by Google.

Focused on movies, one of its key findings is that local consumer interest in Netflix is now greater than pirate alternatives including torrents, streaming, and apps. As illustrated in the image below, the tipping point took place early November 2016, when searches for Netflix overtook those for unauthorized platforms.

There's really only one lesson to be learned here. If an industry meets customer demand in a way that is convenient, enjoyable, and in a way that provides good value, the hassle and illegality of piracy are too much of a bother. The best way to defeat piracy is by embracing new business models, and that mantra is exemplified in a company like Netflix, which revolutionized how video content is consumed across the globe. Even if Brazil's appetite for piracy remains steady, as it has, media companies can simply out-compete it in terms of eyeballs by being awesome.

“We’re not lowering piracy but this does show how relevant the [Netflix] brand is when it comes to offering content online,” Google Brazil’s market intelligence chief Sérgio Tejido told Exame.

If an industry views piracy as completely irrelevant other than its use as a market research tool for what the public wants, then all that matters is the success of Netflix and its peers. The pirates are going to pirate, but meanwhile an entire new customer base and revenue stream has been uncovered in a country lamented as a pirate haven. And the popularity of Netflix in the country is on the upswing largely because of how great the service is.

Importantly, nine out of ten users in Brazil said they were “extremely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the service, up from 79% in the previous year. An impressive 66% of subscribers said that they were “not at all likely to cancel”, a welcome statistics for a company pumping billions into making its own content and increasingly protecting it, in the face of persistent pirate competition.

Make a great product and give it to consumers in the way they want at a good value and suddenly piracy isn't the threat it was made out to be. That's been the Techdirt formula for years. It's great to see it in action.

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Posted on Techdirt - 13 November 2017 @ 3:22pm

Rozcomnadzor's Corruption Scandal Doesn't Prevent The Russian Government From Empowering It To Ignore Due Process

from the russia-gonna-russia dept

Reading our coverage of Rozcomnadzor, the Russian government agency tasked with keeping the internet clean of piracy, you would know that the agency has a laughably bad track record for pretty much everything. Even as ranking members of the agency have been embroiled in a corruption scandal in which they bilked Russian taxpayers by creating fake employees, the statistics out on Rozcomnadzor's ability to carry out its stated mission -- blocking sites used for piracy on the internet -- are horrendous. Put simply, the agency has managed to take down 4,000 "pirate" sites through legal cluster bombs that have inflicted 41,000 sites worth of collateral damage. Any honest look at those kinds of numbers would lead a sincere government to seriously consider whether such an agency was worthy of existence at all.

The Russian government, on the other hand, has decided to expand Rozcomnadzor's powers by essentially nixing anything that would even remotely look like due process. The new proposal being considered by the Russian Ministry of Culture is severe, to say the least.

A new amendment that that was published by the Ministry of Culture proposes to allow for near-instant pirate site blockades to protect the local movie industry, Vedomosti reports.

At the moment, website owners are given three days to remove infringing content before any action is taken. Under the new proposal, site blockades would be implemented less than 24 hours after Rozcomnadzor is alerted. Website owners will not get the chance to remove the infringing content and a court order isn't required either.

If this looks like a change almost perfectly designed for even more collateral damage and practically begging to be abused, then you're looking at this in exactly the right way. The collateral damage, already severe, will be worsened by the supercharged speed of the takedown process and the omission of any site's ability to address the court's concerns prior to having its site censored. It's almost as if removing infringing material from websites isn't the actual goal of this agency at all. Instead, quick censorship based on accusations without judicial oversight is the order of the day, and it is inevitable that the government and adverse commercial entities will wield this weapon with abandon.

Keep in mind that Rozcomnadzor has already proven itself unreliable on matters of public servitude. The Russian government itself, of course, has little interest in free speech rights for its citizens and has built a reputation for itself as perfectly willing to pretzel Russian law to silence dissenting opinions. Everyone should be immediately suspicious of the Russian government handing itself so much power to censor outside of the Russian's courts purview.

There are some making much noise about the law's requirement that sites be infringing on Russian films.

The new blocking plans go further than any of the previous legislation, but they will only apply to movies that have “a national film certificate” from Russian authorities, as HWR points out. This doesn’t cover any Hollywood movies, which typically top the local box office.

Except this focus on Russian films hasn't kept those tens of thousands of sites caught up as collateral damage out of the censorship blast, has it? This new law under consideration is dangerous to anyone that cares about free speech, particularly in a region already besieged by efforts to limit that speech.

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Posted on Techdirt - 10 November 2017 @ 7:39pm

And Another Thing: Those Dumb Social Media Guidelines For Journalists Are Going To Paint A Target On Their Backs

from the unintended-consequences dept

Just last week we discussed the alarming trend in media companies for putting in place restrictive social media policies for their employees, including their opinion commentators. In that post, we focused on how this move is both dumb and bad for two reasons. First, restricting the opinions of those followed by the public for their opinions is flatly nonsensical. Second, the goal of these policies -- to have the public view companies as non-partisan -- is simply a fantasy in these hyper-partisan times. Nobody is going to decide that the New York Times or Wall Street Journal are suddenly bastions of non-partisanship simply because either muzzled its staff.

But there is another negative consequence of these policies that the original post didn't touch: it paints a target on the backs of the employees it governs. Because of, again, hyper-partisanship that has reached true trolling levels, these social media policies will be wielded like a cudgel by every trollish dissenter that doesn't like a particular media outlet. The New York Times, for example, is already having to endure this.

You can see what I mean. Because of a social media policy looking to strip anything that might even appear partisan from the social media output of its employees, the New York Times has given true partisans a weapon to wield. A weapon, I might add, vague enough to be a perfect weapon for trollish behavior. When a pair of quotation marks around a word can be used to threaten someone's employment, particularly when the person threatening has a history of contacting the employers of journalists, we have a problem.

The solution to this is quite simple. Any media property, conservative or liberal, that is contacted by someone like this bitching about partisan reporting, should have but one response for that person: shove off. Particularly in the realm of opinion politics, cries of bias have reached the level of wolf-crying. It's expected, it means nothing, and it is easily ignored. Again, I mean for that to apply to both sides of the political aisle.

But the social media policy disrupts the New York Times' ability to flick away the concerns of a partisan booger. Because of the policy, the booger must be heard and, I imagine, the booger's claims must be validated or invalidated. That, in case it wasn't clear, is fairly stupid and counterproductive.

Stop arming boogers, media companies.

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Posted on Techdirt - 10 November 2017 @ 3:20pm

DRM Strikes Again: Sonic Forces Just Plain Broken Thanks To Denuvo

from the but-not-for-pirates dept

You may recall that Sega released its title Sonic Mania earlier this year, without bothering to inform anyone that the game came laden with Denuvo DRM and an always-online requirement. While Sega eventually patched the always-online requirement out, Denuvo remained, as did a hefty number of viciously negative Steam reviews from gamers that couldn't play the game as they intended or who were simply pissed off that DRM like Denuvo was included without mention to the public.

Well, Sega just released another game, Sonic Forces, and once again the complaints are rolling in. This time, however, gamers are blaming Denuvo for flat out breaking the game completely.

Sonic Forces has already had a bit of an uphill battle to face releasing after Sonic Mania, but it looks like PC users are going to have an even rougher time of it. Thanks to the magic of Denuvo DRM, most users can't even progress past the second level in the game. Upon reaching the first mission with your custom avatar, the game promptly crashes with little explanation. Sega has been diligent in quickly issuing a patch, at least.

So Sega was again quick to issue a patch, but the company should have learned by now that you cannot patch a first impression with your customers. It's important to note that Sonic Forces is a console port to PC, and it is having a myriad of other problems that customers are complaining about, but the reviews for the game are still being weighed down by customers who couldn't play past the second level.

The Destructoid post seems to think this should have been hashed out during testing.

I know with a lot of PC ports, issues can come down to user hardware configurations. It can be hard to determine whether a person experiencing slowdown or crashes is having a legitimate problem or something on their end. An issue like crashes based on Denuvo, though, is something that should have been noticeable to anyone in the QA department.

The easier strategy would be to simply not have any crashes due to Denuvo by not using it at all. After all, it's not like this particular DRM is in any way useful, anyway.

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Posted on Techdirt - 10 November 2017 @ 9:46am

Lawsuit Brought By Cosby Show Production Company Against Documentary Is The Reason We Have Fair Use

from the textbook dept

Looking through the history of our posts on the topics of fair use and fair dealing, you find plenty of examples for why these exceptions to copyright law are so important. These exceptions are, at their heart, designed to be boons to the public in the form of an increased output in creative expression, educational material, and public commentary on matters of public interest by untethering the more restrictive aspects of copyright law from those efforts. Without fair use and fair dealing, copyright laws are open for use as weapons of censorship against unwanted content, rather than being used for their original purpose of increasing expression and content. Still, in the history of those posts, you might struggle to find what you would consider the perfect example of why fair use laws are necessary.

Well, look no more, because we have that example in the case of the production company behind The Cosby Show suing the makers of a documentary entitled Bill Cosby: Fall of an American Icon.

The production company that made The Cosby Show has sued the BBC (.pdf) over a documentary the British network aired about the rape allegations against Bill Cosby. Carsey-Werner, the production company that is the plaintiff in the case, says that the documentary is infringing its copyright because it uses eight audiovisual clips and two musical cues from The Cosby Show

The complaint lists eight video clips that are used in the documentary. All are between seven and 23 seconds long, except for one clip that lasts 51 seconds. Adding together the time that viewers are either seeing a clip or listening to one of the musical cues, lawyers for the plaintiff say that "the Infringed Works were either seen or heard (or both) in Fall for a total of 234 seconds," or a total of 6.5% of the hour-long documentary.

Those clips, totaling less than four minutes of total run-time, were enough for the Carsey-Werner Company to file this suit, complaining that the clips were unlicensed and, therefore, infringing upon its copyright of the show. The complaint also insists that the documentary could have and should have been made without those clips at all, indicating that this is not a fight over lost licensing revenue, but the use of the clips at all. Even more absurdly, the complaint claims that the documentary used the clips because the filmmakers knew that clips of The Cosby Show would "appeal to viewers."

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of fair use laws will realize that the use of the clips in this case is obviously protected for any number of reasons. The clips are short in length and in no way compete with the original show. The purpose of using the clips is not to compete with the show at all, in any case. Finally, the use of the clips is undertaken as part of a commentary on a public and maligned figure in Bill Cosby. Literally everything about this screams for a fair use defense, all the way up to and including the fact that the clips weren't used to "appeal" to viewers at all, but rather to show Cosby's one-time status as an American icon and, I surmise, to give viewers the impression that watching the shows knowing what we know now is just kind of gross. There's simply no way to make this documentary properly without including some clips of the show.

Norma Acland, Carsey-Werner's general counsel, seemed to acknowledge as much when asked if any licensing agreement would even have been entertained.

When I suggested Carsey-Werner might decline to license any clips at all for a documentary about criminal allegations against Bill Cosby, Acland said the right to decline licensing is "one of the major parts of being a copyright owner, isn't it?"

Asked whether Carsey-Werner would have agreed to license clips for the documentary at all, Acland said, "I don't know the answer to that. But at least we would have had the choice, wouldn't we?"

Except that removing that choice from the copyright holder is the very purpose of fair use laws. And it's important too. The Cosby documentary is a perfect example of this: it's about a public figure involved in allegations of sex crimes that are certainly in the public interest, therefore no commentary should be under threat by the copyright holder of that public figure's work. To suggest otherwise is plainly against the public interest and, frankly, more than a bit crazy.

I asked Acland if she was concerned about the possible implications on freedom of speech if copyright owners could stop documentarians from using television clips without permission and payment.

"I didn't realize you wanted to have a conversation about that," she said, declining to answer questions related to free speech.

One imagines Acland will be forced to speak on this topic at trial, should it ever get that far.

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Posted on Techdirt - 9 November 2017 @ 3:23am

MPAA Sticks Its Nose Into Australia's Copyright Business: Warns Against Fair Use And Geo-Blocking Relief

from the moar-copyright dept

It's been no secret that the MPAA has been sticking its nose in the copyright laws and enforcement of Australia for some time now. From pressuring government officials in the country to force ISPs to act as copyright police, to trying to keep Australian law as stuck in antiquity as it possibly could be, to trying to force the country to enforce American intellectual property law except the parts it doesn't like, the MPAA nearly seems to think of itself as an official branch of the Australian government. Given the group's nakedly hostile stance towards fair use, it should be no surprise that it doesn't want to see that sort of law exported to other countries and has worked to actively prevent its installation Down Under.

It seems these efforts are not working, however, as the Australian government is currently entertaining not only adopting American-style fair use laws, but also adding exceptions to geo-blocking as well. The MPAA, as you'll have already guessed, is not happy about this. This whole thing started with the government responding to its own Productivity Commission's report on ways to make copyright law in the country better, so as to make Australian citizens more productive.

Two months ago the Government responded to these proposals. It promised to expand the safe harbor protections and announced a consultation on fair use, describing the current fair dealing exceptions as restrictive. The Government also noted that circumvention of geo-blocks may be warranted, in some cases.

The MPAA snapped into action, essentially suggesting in its absurd foreign trade barriers 2018 list that fair use, which the MPAA hates, works in America because our legal system has matured on copyright law in a way that Australia's has not. Put another way, fair use is good enough for America, but Australia is not good enough for fair use.

“If the Commission’s recommendations were adopted, they could result in legislative changes that undermine the current balance of protection in Australia. These changes could create significant market uncertainty and effectively weaken Australia’s infrastructure for intellectual property protection,” the MPAA writes.

“Of concern is a proposal to introduce a vague and undefined ‘fair use’ exception unmoored from decades of precedent in the United States. Another proposal would expand Australia’s safe harbor regime in piecemeal fashion,” the group adds.

This is flatly absurd. The fair use model Australia is considering is essentially the American model, which has produced a boon of creative and educational output. What the MPAA is suggesting is that fair use should not be implemented because Australian courts haven't produced enough caselaw to make room for it. How the country would ever pile up that caselaw without implementing fair use is an open question the MPAA doesn't seem particularly interested in answering.

But its comments on geo-blocking relief are just plain weird. There is something of a "Nice economy you have there. It'd be a shame if something happened to it" ring to all of this.

“Still another would allow circumvention of geo-blocking and other technological protection measures. Australia has one of the most vibrant creative economies in the world and its current legal regime has helped the country become the site of major production investments. Local policymakers should take care to ensure that Australia’s vibrant market is not inadvertently impaired and that any proposed relaxation of copyright and related rights protection does not violate Australia’s international obligations,” the MPAA adds.

Based on comments like that, you would be forgiven for thinking that the MPAA had the best intentions for Australian economy at heart. Why that would be is another open question nobody seems to want to answer, likely because the obvious truth is that the MPAA doesn't care about the Australian economy at all, it only cares about the Hollywood bottom line. It hates that fair use exists in America, so of course it doesn't want to see it exported elsewhere. It loves exerting every kind of control over its product, so of course it doesn't want geo-restriction laws to be relaxed.

Why the MPAA should have any say in how Australia governs itself is a mystery for the ages, but it sure seems to think its opinion on these things matters.

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Posted on Techdirt - 7 November 2017 @ 7:38pm

Moosehead Still At It: Sues Hop 'N Moose Brewing For Trademark Infringement

from the just-stop dept

Despite all of the coverage we provide on alcohol-related trademark disputes, Moosehead Breweries has still managed to separate itself from the pack with its aggressive trademark enforcement behavior. You should recall that this is the brewery that sued a root beer company called Moose Whiz and a brewery making a beer called Müs Knuckle under the theory that because it somehow got a trademark on the term "moose" it therefore means that any beverage company using that word is infringing its trademark. That's not correct on multiple fronts, including the question of whether any customers are actually or potentially being confused by the so-called infringing uses. Add to that the somewhat strange circumstance of Canada's CIPO approving a heritage word like "moose" in the Canadian market.

Well, Moosehead is still at it, this time suing a brewery called Hop 'N Moose over that same trademark.

Moosehead Breweries Limited, based in Saint John, New Brunswick, sued the Hop’n Moose Brewing Co. last week in federal court in Vermont, alleging trademark infringement. The Canadian firm alleges that the moose image the downtown Rutland brewpub uses is too similar to the moose head with antlers the larger company uses in its logos and branding materials.

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and wants Hop’n Moose ordered to hand over any profits it has made while using the moose image. It also wants the Rutland company to stop using the image and to “deliver up and/or destroy” all trademark infringing products. The filing also demands that Hop’n Moose stop using the domain address for its website, hopnmoose.com.

Here again we see Moosehead wielding a fairly generic term like a trademark cudgel. I have to admit being a little surprised that the filing goes in as hard as it does on the actual trade dress of both brands. In past trademark suits, Moosehead has thought it enough to show up with its "moose" trademark and assume that was enough. Here they are going after the image of moose in both companies' logos, claiming that they will cause confusion. Here are both logos.

Sure, you might say there are some similarities there, but only because both show an image of a moose. One is just the head of the moose, hence the beer named "moosehead", where the other is the silhouette of a full moose. It should be noted that Moosehead does have a trademark on a version of its moose head image that is a silhouette, except that I can't find it being used anywhere. Even if the brewery does use that image, it is certainly not the image or logo that the public associates with Moosehead beer.

And that's the ultimate point here. The rest of the trade dress is, again, different enough to stave off any real customer confusion. In addition, the company names are different enough, and prominently displayed in both cases, to keep customers from being confused. It's a wonder why Moosehead keeps going down this road, but I suppose bullies are going to bully.

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Posted on Techdirt - 6 November 2017 @ 7:29pm

Village Hotels Bullies Small Pub Into Changing Its Name By Brandishing Its 'Village' Trademark

from the it-takes-a-bully dept

Seeing trademark bullies in operation, particularly when a large entity bullies a small business, will never cease being a source of frustration for me. That said, my frustration gets supercharged when the trademark being wielded as a bullying weapon is laughably generic and clearly should never have been granted in the first place. And when the bully is attacking a company that it doesn't even compete with, that's the anger-cherry on top of the hate-sundae.

Speaking of which: meet Village Hotels. Based in the UK, the chain operates 29 hotel properties and makes for itself a great deal of money. BH Village Inn, on the other hand, is a community owned pub in Roughlee, Lancashire. It has no rooms for rent. It has no concierge. It was simply a pub, once known as the Bay Horse Inn, which was bought by three hundred residents of the town and re-opened as the Bay Horse Village Inn, as a nod to the community ownership. They tried to register the name of the pub as a trademark. That's when Village Hotels fired off a threat letter.

In their letter on behalf of Village Hotels, DWF solicitors said: 'Our client owns an international portfolio of registered trademarks, including registrations for Village. It has come to our client's attention that you have registered the name 'BH Village Inns Ltd' and that you describe the nature of the business as 'public houses and bars'. Our client operates a successful hotel business comprising 29 hotels in the UK with a turnover of approximately £185million. Your use of the company's name is highly likely to cause considerable confusion in the minds of the public. Unless stopped, this will cause substantial damage to our company's reputation and goodwill and will not be tolerated.'

Yes, despite the two entities not remotely competing with one another, Village Hotels sent this letter off and then gave the folks running the BH Village Inn two weeks to change its name. This, despite there not being any threat of confusion or competition. Not to mention that this bullying was championed as the result of a hotel group holding an EU trademark on the word "village", which is fairly crazy. That word is all kinds of generic, so much so that it's used everywhere, as one of the folks behind BH Village Inn noted.

Mr Swarbrick, who has taken over the running of pub after it was bought by the local community, said: 'It is quite ridiculous. I checked with Companies House and there are 4,800 other companies which have 'village' in their name.

'I phoned their solicitor and asked if he was planning to contact all of them as well.'

Despite this, and despite the conversations Swarbrick had with several lawyers, all of whom assured him he would win his case if Village Hotels took this to trial, the name of the pub will indeed be changed. They will instead simply register the pub as BHVI. Why? Because money, of course. Bullies like Village Hotels rely on having a bigger legal war chest than the small businesses on which they prey. The BH Village Inn couldn't afford the trial, so its name gets changed to BHVI.

Trademark bullying works, at least until the backlash hits the profit margin.

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Posted on Techdirt - 6 November 2017 @ 1:40pm

ESPN Joins List Of Companies Enforcing Stringent Social Media Policies, Which Is Both Bad And Stupid

from the everything-is-politics dept

In these times in which I have spent many words and more calories lamenting the hyper-partisan uber-politicization of, well, pretty much everything, I have tended to focus on the primary effects of that silliness. It makes for bad elections, and therefore bad democracy. It grinds any kind of progress in government to a halt. It results in too many people making too little time to actualy listen to those that might not think as they do, instead devolving entirely too many conversations into soundbite name-calling, as though we were all participating on some national cable news roundtable.  

But the secondary effects of all of this are both important and terrible as well. An example of this can be found in major media companies responding to this partisanship, and particularly the silly amount of noise being made about how media itself is partisan, by instituting social media policies that are both draconian and stupid on the business side. And, if this sort of thing makes you feel any better, it happens on both sides of the political aisle. In recent weeks, for instance, both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have rolled out social media policies disallowing their respective journalists from publishing anything partisan.

The New York Times waded back into this particular swamp when it introduced an update to its social-media guidelines earlier this month, and reinforced the fact that its journalists are not to express any “partisan opinion” on social. The Times also noted that while reporters might be using these accounts on their personal time, anything said on them is the purview of the paper because of their association with it.

Not to be outdone, The Wall Street Journal this week released an update to its social-media policy. It reiterated the existing prohibition against “posting partisan comments on social networking sites,” and added that the paper’s management believes some reporters and editors “are spending too much time tweeting.”

This is silly for a number of reasons, chief among them that it will not have the desired effect. The New York Times will still be the dirty liberal communist left for those of a certain lean, while the Wall Street Journal won't be suddenly seen as the bastion of the middle ground for those of another. Stifling the social media presence of your media personalities to cultivate some non-partisan moniker is laughable. But it's also bad for business. People follow those media personalities, many of them that do opinion-based work, because they want to know what those personalities think. Slapping duct tape over the mouths of those that are the magnet for a media company's audience is the exact opposite of what they should be doing. For those more on the journalistic side than opinion side of things, it's slightly more understandable for a media property to want to appear politically even, except that we already said that wasn't going to happen.

And if you thought this was only going on in the arena of traditional news media, you're wrong. ESPN too, in the wake of the Jemele Hill vs. the White House episode, has gone further and required that their personalities not do things that draw any attention to ESPN that it doesn't want. And if you think that sounds vague, that's how the actual policy is written.

ESPN distributed new social media guidelines to its employees Thursday, which reinforced some existing rules about not breaking news exclusively on social media, respecting colleagues, and—oh wait, here’s a new thing: “Do nothing that would undercut your colleagues’ work or embroil the company in unwanted controversy.”

How is the average sports commentator or journalist supposed to know which types of controversy the company might want and which it doesn't? It's worth remembering that ESPN is essentially a marketing company more than it is in the journalism business. It wants attention, generally speaking. More attention, more eyeballs, more money. At least the New York Times and Wall Street Journal had the common decency to list an actual offense to avoid: partisanship. ESPN's guidelines instead puts its employees' employment at the pleasure of whether or not enough of the public will be upset at what they say on social media to warrant "controversy." That's crazy.

And even more so than with straight news media outlets, sports journalism and ESPN are almost entirely opinion-based. So ESPN wants to take people that follow its personalities for their opinions...and tell them not to be opinionated on social media? That doesn't make any sense. And, again, it won't achieve its goal. ESPN is the land of the socialists. We know so because Rush Limbaugh told us as much. No social media policy is going to change that.

The ultimate cure for this is, of course, the normalization of our political discourse, moving it back to the more reasoned discussions we at least think we remember having. These social media policies are a symptom of the problem, not a cure to it.

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Posted on Techdirt - 2 November 2017 @ 7:46pm

The Price Wolfenstein 2 Had To Pay To Get Around Germany's Anti-Nazi Laws Was Removing A Mustache

from the yes-that-mustache dept

The last time we talked about Germany's Strafgesetzbuch law, specifically section 86a that prohibits the display of Nazi symbols, iconography, or historical figures with few exceptions, was when Ubisoft accidentally sent the country versions of a South Park video game chock full of swastikas. I feel much the same today about the law as I did then: I get why the law was created, but it's probably time for it to be retired. While the law does make room for Nazi symbols to be displayed for the purposes of art and education, too often those exceptions are either not actually adhered to in real-world examples, while those that might be able to fit their work within those exceptions don't bother trying, too chilled by the law that limits their speech. Coupling that along with the simple fact that German citizens who really want to see Nazi symbols don't have to work particularly hard to circumvent the law resolves the whole matter as being somewhat silly.

And it produces silly results. For instance, the latest game in the Wolfenstein series got around the law with what appears to be the minimum amount of effort possible.

The German Strafgesetzbuch section 86a outlaws the use of Nazi symbols as part of the denazification of the country post World War II. This law covers not only symbols like the swastika, but gestures like the Nazi salute. It doesn’t explicitly prohibit depictions of Adolf Hitler, but nevertheless, Hitler’s appearance in Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus has been censored: they took his mustache off.

Other than barely changing the Nazi symbols in the game and removing Hitler's initials from what looks to be a monogrammed smoking jacket, that's pretty much it. Compliance with the law resulted in the removal of a 'stache. Meanwhile, anyone playing the game with it's World War 2 themes will know exactly who they are seeing: Hitler.

When a law, well-meaning or not, requires its citizens to be criminally stupid for it to be of benefit, it should be obvious that the law is broken. And it would take someone without a functioning brain to play this scene in this specific game and not realize that Hitler was on the screen. That makes the law useless at anything other than forcing us to notice how much Hitler could have looked just like our own Uncle Larry and causing us to have to deal with that reality.

Again, I understand why the law was created. Even so, it's time to sunset it.

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Posted on Techdirt - 1 November 2017 @ 7:45pm

With Denuvo Broken, Ubisoft Doubles Up On DRM for Assasin's Creed Origin, Tanking Everyone's Computers

from the destroying-reputations-monumentally dept

There are really two themes when it comes to DRM, software supposedly created to stop video game piracy. The first and most notorious theme is what an utter failure DRM has been in accomplishing this core mission. Even once-vaunted DRM platforms like Denuvo have been reduced to code-bloat within the games they're meant to protect. And that's the DRM on the effective end of the spectrum, relatively speaking. But the other theme, one that is arguably far more important and impactful, is how absolutely great DRM software tends to be at annoying customers and prohibiting them from enjoying the games they legitimately purchased. This theme presents itself in multiple forms, from people being flatout unable to use the software they purchased at all, to performance hits due to the DRM software slowing down the customer's computers, to opening up grand new security holes through which malicious actors happily dive into the lives of those very same customers.

The track record for DRM, in other words, is almost laughably bad. That AAA publishers haven't acknowledged this reality and still use various forms of DRM is an absurdity. But what Ubisoft did in reacting to the demise of Denuvo, essentially to double up on DRM, is backfiring in predictably frustrating ways. Ubisoft, being Ubisoft, included Denuvo's DRM for Assasin's Creed Origins. But with all the news for Denuvo being bad, the company knew the game would be cracked in hours or days using Denuvo. So, instead of simply removing the customer-annoying DRM, Ubisoft decided to add another layer of DRM on top of it, in the form of VMProtect.

According to Voksi, whose ‘Revolt’ team cracked Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus before its commercial release last week, it’s none of these. The entire problem is directly connected to desperate anti-piracy measures. As widely reported (1,2), the infamous Denuvo anti-piracy technology has been taking a beating lately. Cracking groups are dismantling it in a matter of days, sometimes just hours, making the protection almost pointless. For Assassin’s Creed Origins, however, Ubisoft decided to double up, Voksi says.

“Basically, Ubisoft have implemented VMProtect on top of Denuvo, tanking the game’s performance by 30-40%, demanding that people have a more expensive CPU to play the game properly, only because of the DRM. It’s anti-consumer and a disgusting move,” he told TorrentFreak.

If the VMProtect name sounds familiar, that's because it was the company that actually accused Denuvo of using its software in its product without properly licensing it. And if layering DRMs on top of one another and expecting it not to have a negative effect on legit customers sounds like the product of insanity, that's because it is. Basically, unless you're running an upper end processor, the game is likely to be unplayable.

“What is the normal CPU usage for this game?” a user asked on Steam forums. “I randomly get between 60% to 90% and I’m wondering if this is too high or not.”

The individual reported running an i7 processor, which is no slouch. However, for those running a CPU with less oomph, matters are even worse. Another gamer, running an i5, reported a 100% load on all four cores of his processor, even when lower graphics settings were selected in an effort to free up resources.

“It really doesn’t seem to matter what kind of GPU you are using,” another complained. “The performance issues most people here are complaining about are tied to CPU getting maxed out 100 percent at all times. This results in FPS [frames per second] drops and stutter. As far as I know there is no workaround.”

Well, gentle Steam user, there is a workaround, but it mostly involves buying games from a company that is more interested in providing a great gaming experience to its actual customers than attempting to stamp out game piracy when doing so has proven the most futile task in the industry. If even lowering the graphics settings doesn't keep the game from stuttering noticeably, it won't be long before the refund requests start pouring in. Especially when this decision to layer DRMs like sweatshirts causes customer machines to overheat.

The situation is reportedly so bad that some users are getting the dreaded BSOD (blue screen of death) due to their machines overheating after just an hour or two’s play. It remains unclear whether these crashes are indeed due to the VMProtect/Denuvo combination but the perception is that these anti-piracy measures are at the root of users’ CPU utilization problems.

Ubisoft is always going to Ubisoft, I suppose.

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Posted on Techdirt - 1 November 2017 @ 1:23pm

Collateral Damage Not Russian Site-Blocking's Only Failure: Pirate Video Market Has Doubled As Well

from the fail-and-fail-and-fail dept

Over the summer, we discussed how laughably bad Russia's efforts at blocking so-called "piracy sites" has been. In the course of four years of attempting to stamp out copyright infringement in the country, the Russian government managed to block 4,000 sites it intended to target as piracy sites, and 41,000 sites it had not intended to target that were caught up as collateral damage. Those are the kind of numbers that would make a cluster bomb blush.

Even so, you might have imagined that this heavy-handed iron-fist routine must surely have had some reduction effect on the rate of piracy in Russia. The short answer to that is: nooooooope. Instead, over the course of the past few years, the market for pirated video content in Russia has doubled.

According to new research published by Group-IB and reported by Izvestia, Internet pirates have been adapting to their new reality, finding new and stable ways of doing business while growing their turnover.

In fact, according to the ‘Economics of Pirate Sites Report 2016’, they’ve been so successful that the market for Internet pirate video more than doubled in value during 2016, reaching a peak of 3.3 billion rubles ($57.2m) versus just 1.5 billion rubles ($26m) in 2015. Overall Internet piracy in 2016 was valued at a billion rubles more ($74.5m), Group-IB notes.

So what's going on here? Well, the Russian government is learning the invaluable lesson that the internet is built to route around this kind of censorship. That old adage aside, what's actually occurring is the start of an arms-race between website operators in Russia and the government agencies dedicated to stopping them. And the government is losing. Badly.

Overall, it’s estimated that the average pirate video site makes around $156,000 per year via advertising, subscriptions, or via voluntary donations. They’re creative with their money channels too.

According to Maxim Ryabyko, Director General of Association for the Protection of Copyright on the Internet (AZAPO), sites use middle-men for dealing with both advertisers and payment processors, which enables operators to remain anonymous.

This sort of shell game being employed by possibly truly pirate-y websites is the same one played by all kinds of websites looking to survive attempts at censorship. Where we might decry a site doing this to offer up video content that infringes copyright, we would applaud its use if the site were advocating for free speech, fair and open elections, etc. In other words, it's the censorship that is bad, not necessarily the actions of those routing around it.

And, more to the point, it doesn't work. In the face of these damning numbers, the Russian government has two options: give up or censor even harder. The latter will, naturally, result in even more of the collateral damage that has already been inflicted. Still, it seems the more likely scenario.

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Posted on Techdirt - 31 October 2017 @ 4:08pm

Spinoff: Whatever The Reports About Russian Trolls Buying Ads Is Initially, It's Way, Way Worse

from the multiplication dept

With several reports about data breaches occurring over the past few years, we've developed something of a mantra around here: it's always, always worse than first reported. Yahoo just went through this having finally admitted that literally every email account was compromised way back in 2013 after having first said it was only a few hundred thousand accounts that were impacted. Deloitte and Equifax followed this same playbook with their own breaches, trickling out little by little just how wide an impact those hacks had achieved.

And now we're seeing something of a spinoff of that mantra when it comes to the impact Russian trolls and the now infamous Internet Research Agency (IRA) advertising buys had on Facebook. You may recall that everything about this story seemed fairly minimalist in the initial reporting. The amount of money spent on the ad-buy itself was low enough to induce eyerolls from many. Facebook itself estimated that 11.4 million people saw ads bought by the IRA over the course of two years or so, which is not the kind of number that sets off all four alarms at the democracy firehouse. But Facebook has now given everyone a better idea of how much reach these ads actually had. And these numbers are far more alarming.

Facebook will inform lawmakers this week that roughly 126 million Americans may have been exposed to content generated on its platform by the Russian government-linked troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency between June 2015 and August 2017, CNN has learned. In written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, a copy of which was obtained by CNN, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch says that 29 million people were served content directly from the Internet Research Agency, and that after sharing among users is accounted for, a total of "approximately 126 million people" may have seen it.

Facebook does not know, however, how many of those 126 million people actually saw one of those posts, or how many may have scrolled past it or simply not logged in on the day that one of the posts was being served in their News Feed.

The inability to nail down just how many eyeballs viewed these ads is, of course, due to the nature of social media. Buying the ads and targeting primary viewers of them is one thing, but it's the sharing and re-sharing of those ads that extend their reach exponentially. And it's quite nice of Facebook to come right out and admit that it actually has no idea how many people viewed these ads, even as it offers up estimates to the contrary.

This is a feature of a social media platform like Facebook, not a bug. And, to the IRA's credit, it's a brilliant and inexpensive method for having some measure of influence in a foreign country's democracy. Facebook builds a sharing tool and these folks take advantage of the very nature of that tool.

Which is what makes Facebook's attempt to downplay all of this all the more perplexing.

Nevertheless, Facebook says in its testimony that the posts from those pages represented "a tiny fraction of the overall content on Facebook."

"This equals about four-thousandths of one percent (0.004%) of content in News Feed, or approximately 1 out of 23,000 pieces of content," Stretch writes. "Put another way, if each of these posts were a commercial on television, you'd have to watch more than 600 hours of television to see something from the IRA."

Except, as Facebook and Colin Stretch damned well know, Facebook doesn't operate anything remotely like television. Nor do its ads. The engagement process of those ads is wildly different. The ability to share those ads is not a feature of television. The granular targeting for eyeballs of those ads is simply not something that can be achieved by television advertising. The geographic targeting specifically, with an eye on influencing votes and the outcome of an election, is simply not a feature available to traditional television advertising. I know why Facebook wants to pretend otherwise in this instance, but it simply isn't true.

So, even as some are trying to downplay the impact, and even the existence, of this foreign intervention into our election cycle, it's worth acknowledging that these things, like data breaches, tend to be worse than first reported. And no obfuscation from Facebook about how much like television it is can change the raw numbers, or its acknowledgement that it doesn't actually know how many people saw this stuff.

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