Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Anti-Piracy Group Flyers at Cannes Film-Festival

French antiP2P agency CoPeerRight has been distributing flyers to advertise their new services to film makers and executives at the Cannes Film Festival. Titled “Bytes Corrupted”, the company claims it can “protect your rights, before and after the digital piracy of your films.”

A closer look at their claims reveals it is nothing more than a standard IP trace and obfuscation technique. Their first step is to log the IP’s of those sharing it, reporting this to both the ISP of the users, and the service producers. The second, to attempt to flood the system with fake versions of those files.

How the thinking behind this goes to protect any rights before it’s been released onto the internet is unknown. Pretty much the only way to do this is to have a watchdog in the agency’s employ overseeing every single screening of those films – it’s well known that the vast majority of “film piracy” is committed by so-called industry insiders, and those are also the people entrusted to keep the copies secure, as well as being in the best position to make high quality copies of them.

The second phase of the Bytes Corrupted plan is a method that’s been around for more than 10 years, and is suggested by the plans name. In essence, it is the same plan that the RIAA tried years ago with Napster, in that they attempt to flood the networks with fake/corrupt versions of the file, hiding the real ones. The only problem is that this isn’t 1997 any more, and sites like Mininova have user accounts, where uploaders can attach a user name to the upload, giving a sort of ‘badge of quality’ to the torrent, that copycat fake uploaders can’t match. It already helps on Mininova to identify fake axxo film, as well as EZTV & VTV TV-torrent uploads.

Ultimately, its another 3rd rate anti-p2p effort undertaken by someone with no head for the fluid and dynamic world of file sharing, and probably more business acumen than techknowlege, and is doomed to be as impotent as most of these other techniques and services offered by a plethora of other anti-p2p companies.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

MPA Asia, new Ad, same old crap

For what seems like the umpteenth time of reporting, the MPA is launching a new campaign, this time in the Asia-pacific region, about ‘piracy’ (or copyright infringement as it should properly be termed). This one features a new advert (ooh!) produced for the Asia pacific market (gosh!) and for the first time, produced by the MPA-Asia Pacific, rather than locally and ‘ad-hoc’ (wow!). It’s all a part of something called ‘Operation Tripod’

Needless to say, the press release for such things contains the usual junk, garbage statistics and figures made to sound more impressive. The MPA’s Operation Tripod press release (here) makes the claims of “During the past 12 months, 20 instances of camcording have been reported or forensically matched to cinemas in the Asia-Pacific region,” and, “Worldwide, camcorded copies comprise around 90 percent of early release pirate discs.” Great numbers, first for intimidation “we can identify you”, (although the real meaning of “we can occasionally identify the cinema, if its really unique or you leave the adverts in, although we have probably just had someone report seeing you do it” is not so intimidating) and the second, by Asia-Pacific regional director, Mike Ellis, possibly tries to convey the ‘massive scope’ of this problem.

Thing is though, the numbers don’t add up (like that's a surprise!). In the US alone, there were 603 films with a cinema release in 2006. Let’s make a low assumption of 200 that were shown in the AP region. Double it for local films not released to US cinemas, so 400 films. They average 2 camcorded copies released to the net, not counting copies made by scene groups internally, or which lost ‘the race’ and were never released. 800 camcorded copies; they identified 20. A 1 in 40 success rate, and that’s erring heavily towards the MPA – you’d have better luck on a roulette wheel.

As usual, they overlook the main problem – if people want to see a film, it will be watched. If people want to download it, they will. Spiderman 3 has had cam’s and TS’ out since opening weekend, and its still raking in massive amounts of money at the box-office, worldwide. As always, instead of targeting the ‘HOW’ and trying to threaten or intimidate people, they need to take a long hard look at the ‘WHY’ and address those problems.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Universities studied by Congress

Last week, the Ranking member of the House Judiciary committee (Lamar S. Smith, Republican, Texas 21st Website) and the Chairman of the subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property (Howard L. Berman, Democrat California’s 28th Website [2]) wrote to a dozen or so universities, with detailed questions asking about their handling of intellectual property and the university network systems. They were joined by Howard Coble (R-NC), Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-NC) and George Miller (D-CA)

They say they expect a reply by the end of May. “By answering the survey, universities will be required to examine how they address piracy on their campuses.” One of the universities targeted for the letter was University of Wisconsin at Madison, which had previously told the MPAA that it would not forward on the organizations threatening letters to its students. It was later joined by others in the U of W system. The universities were chosen after Mr. Bermans. Subcommittee asked the MPAA for a list of the 25 campuses receiving the most notices.

Of course, what the 5 representatives fail to understand is, no matter how many prosecutions take place, the problem will not go away. This isn’t like treating cholera – dealing with the symptoms won’t eventually defeat the problem. The underlying cause needs to be addressed, and that’s unlikely to happen, certainly not when they’re using one of the major causes of the problem, the MPAA, as their major sources of information and direction. Indeed, in the first 2 minutes of a hearing held by the subcommittee: “An Update – Piracy on University Networks” in early March, figures from the LEK study were quoted - the same study which no-one outside LEK/MPAA knows how the figures are developed and arrived at.

ben Jones

Related links
MPAA press release here

Saturday, May 12, 2007

When is TV not TV?

When it’s not watched on a television set. This is a trend that will be increasing over time, especially in the US. TV viewing figures are down, internet and mobile technology is improving, and storage media is increasing in both capacity and reliability whilst simultaneously decreasing in size and cost. Throw in some cable company consolidations, and result is a recipe for televisual upheaval.

None of this is entirely unexpected, except perhaps to the network executives. Many techno-literates have been using non-traditional viewing methods for some time now – be it automated time shifting, downloads from places like the iTunes Store, via bittorrent; streaming from the internet be it from a network website, or something like shoutcast; or even on mobile devices such as a video iPod, or a Verizon v-cast enabled phone.

With a springtime drop of some 2.5Million viewers over last years figures, broadcasters should start to feel a little worried. Within the next week or two they will be unveiling their fall lineups to advertisers, and a ratings drop like this will only make their position weaker in the negotiations with advertisers.

A good portion of the blame for the drop can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the network executives themselves. Schedules that take breaks for no logical reason, mixing in repeats that are sometimes only a week or two old, disrupt the viewing habits of the audience. Fox addressed this problem with their scheduling of 24 the past 3 years, starting them in January and running them until the end of May without a break - clearly a lesson learnt by watching their UK counterpart, BSkyB.

The network suits must also address what could potentially be the most obvious problem, one that is at the same time both easy and hard to rectify – program quality. The majority of sitcoms are predictable and repetitive, drama’s clich├ęd, and the game shows either ‘classics’ or based around public humiliation. Worse, many of these are not even ‘American’ shows; the likes of “American Idol”, “Deal or no Deal”, “The Office”, and “Are you smarter than a 5th grader” are adapted from UK TV shows. Not that its ‘new’ as the 70s TV series “Sanford and Son” is based upon the 60’s BBC series “Steptoe and Son”. Nor does it show any signs of stopping as this fall will see a US adaptation of the BBC series “Life on Mars” amongst other new shows.

The other half of the equation comes from the technological sectors, where US TV networks are almost as reticent to experiment with, and embrace new technologies as the music industry. Storage space for both desktop computers and mobile devices has increased in capacity exponentially – A cell phone can have more than 2 GB of storage space, somewhere in the region of 3 times the capacity of an average desktop hard drive some 10 years ago. An iPod can be bought with 80 GB of storage space, that’s more than hard drives just 5 years ago. Price has fallen too, making them even more attractive. The major US retail chain Wal*Mart sells a 2 GB microSD card for just $45, each and every day. Shop around and you can find it for less. This proliferation of relatively cheap mobile storage media means mobile videos are more desirable. Why watch that show on the TV, having to sit through the adverts, when you can get the show later that night, and watch it on your way to work, with no adverts, and can pause it if need be?

Of course, the video has to make its way onto the player in the first place, and that’s where what could be thought of as the final nail in the coffin of the ‘telly’ is introduced. Comcast’s CEO and Corporate Chairman, Brian Roberts, gave on Tuesday (the 8th) the first public demonstration of Comcast’s prototype “wideband” cable modem. The test demonstration hit speeds of up to 150 megabits a second, that’s 50% faster than traditional cat5 networking technology and about 3x faster than the maximum data throughput on an 802.11g wireless connection. Current cable modems in the US typically reach 10mbits/second at most. Of course, he was quick to point out it would be several years before we could start seeing it in our homes, but it’s certainly a sign for the future.

In short, television will have to shake up their long established business models, embrace quality over hype, write their schedules with the viewer in mind, and not the advertisers, and look into new technologies (the UK has had ‘interactive’ television of a sort since the start of the decade) or even look into reinventing old ones such as teletext previously technologically unfeasible under the old broadcast standards. It won’t happen, same as the music industry has so far failed to change its models since the arrival of Napster in the late 90s, although some are beginning to come around.

ben Jones