In April 2009, Congress put the Government of Accountability Office (GAO) in charge of reviewing and analyzing just how bad piracy and illegal counterfeiting affects the United States. So what did the GAO find out? Not a whole lot, apparently.
"Three widely cited U.S. government estimates of economic losses resulting from counterfeiting cannot be substantiated due to the absence of underlying studies," the GAO said in a 32-page report issue this week. "Each method [of measuring] has limitations, and most experts observed that it is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the economy-wide impacts."
Hollywood can't be pleased with the report, which was undoubtedly hoping for the GAC to paint a gloom and doom picture. That didn't quite happen, and in some cases, the GAC noted that some data even suggests that piracy may benefit consumers.
For the most part, however, the GAC did find that piracy is a big problem and harmful all around. The challenge is in figuring out to what extent piracy and anti-piracy efforts are hurting the economy, and there's just not enough data for that.
"The GAO study confirms that piracy of all sorts is rampant," said a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)." Getting a firm handle on the problem in terms of dollar estimates is complicated."
An organization known as the US Copyright Group has issued lawsuits against thousands of alleged movie pirates. The organization represents an alliance of independent film producers, with backing from the Independent Film & Television Alliance. The group is expected to file another round of lawsuits (possible as many as 30,000) in the coming weeks. The really troubling thing here is almost all of these are so called “John Doe” cases with IPs as the only identifying information. The group is trying to force ISPs to hand over names. Thus far, only one ISP has cooperated, resulting in 71 names. Using so called “pre-settlement” letters; the US Copyright Group has so far gotten five of those people to pony up some cash.
This scheme seems to be aimed at casting the widest possible net to increase the odds of scaring someone enough that they settle an automated lawsuit. This practice has been common in Europe for some time, but this is the first time it has reached American shores. Even the RIAA has abandoned suing individuals, but this new trend is growing. "We're creating a revenue stream and monetizing the equivalent of an alternative distribution channel,” said lawyer Jeffrey Weaver.
The US Copyright Group is using a new software technology that monitors large Torrent swarms and logs IP addresses. By moving ahead with these large numbers, they hope to reach a stable cost/benefit ratio. They really do see this as a revenue stream. Unfortunately, this means ISPs have a huge burden to be the middle men processing the complaints. Does anyone want to play devil’s advocate and defend this practice?
What is wrong with the fight against piracy? Apparently, the term “piracy” is way too glamorous and not fit to convey the true perils associated with a criminal act of this kind. Agnete Haaland, the president of the International Actors' Federation, even went as far as claiming that the term “piracy” reminds people of Johnny Depp.
“We all want to be a bit like Johnny Depp. But we're talking about a criminal act. We're talking about making it impossible to make a living from what you do,” she said. Well, it must take a lot of temerity to make such a preposterous analogy at a press conference.
Her ability to draw parallels may be dismal but the gist of her argument is not all that absurd. In fact, it is a view that others share. There is a widely-held belief among content owners that the popular image of piracy is not as grim it should be. Although there have been calls for tougher laws before, Haaland's suggestion is a first.
RealNetworks tried to fight the good fight against the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), but in the end, someone had to lose, and that someone is RealNetworks.
A U.S. District Judge has issued a permanent injunction barring RealNetworks from selling RealDVD, the company's controversial DVD copying software. In addition, the two sides reached a settlement offer that will also have RealNetworks forking over $4.5 million to the movie studios to pay for legal fees.
"We are gratified by the successful conclusion of this important matter," said Daniel Mandil, the MPAA's general counsel. "Judge Patel's rulings and this settlement affirm waht we have said from the very start of this litigation: it is illegal to bypass the copyright protections built into DVDs designed to protect movies against theft."
Pursuing the case further likely would have cost the company in excess of $10 million, no doubt a deciding factor in conceding defeat and agreeing to the settlement, no matter how much we might not like it.
"We are pleased to put this litigation behind us," said Bob Kimball, president and acting CEO for Real. "This is another step toward fulfilling our commitment to simplify our company and focus on our core businesses. Until this dispute, Real had always enjoyed a productive working relationship with Hollywood. With this litigation resolved, I hope that in the future we can find mutually beneficial ways to use Real technology to bring Hollywood's great work to consumers."
Hit the jump and post your reaction to the conclusion of this case.
Microsoft will soon make it more difficult for pirates to pillage Windows 7 when it closes a whole bunch of activation workarounds via an upcoming update. According to Microsoft, the Windows Activation Technologies Update for Windows 7 will close more than 70 "activation hacks.
Perhaps less appealing to the mainstream consumer, the update will also dial into a Microsoft server every once in awhile to help detect and root out any further hacks. Of course, this comes with the standard claim that no personally identifiable information about the user will ever be sent, but nevertheless, we can't see privacy advocates being too thrilled with this one.
Joe Williams, general manager of Microsoft's Genuine Windows unit, justifies the measures by calling attention to all the malware that's associated with non-genuine versions of Windows.
"We do see malicious code -- everything from easily discoverable malware to keyboard recording," Williams said. "There's all sorts of things we've seen that puts our customers at risk and their data at risk."
For those who want to get a jump start on the update, it will be made available as a manual download starting February 16th from Microsoft's genuine website, and the Microsoft Download center a day alter. Later on this month, it will be classified as an "important" yet optional update through Windows Update.
BitTorrent has plenty of practical and legal uses, but sadly, if you're one of the millions of people using it, you're probably breaking the law. A student at Princeton University by the name of Sauhard Sahi has conducted a study of more than 1,000 random files acquired using the trackerless Mainline DHT, and found that more than 99% of them infringe on copyrights. I somehow doubt this news will shock or amaze you, but at least one interesting discovery was made and it makes a pretty compelling argument against those who would try to claim that DRM helps prevent piracy.
According to Sahi's findings, movies and TV shows are among the most popular files being downloaded, and he argues that the onerous DRM which accompanies protected video could be to blame for this trend. This would also explain why music downloading is on the decline, and points out the sad reality that people who download video legally often have to deal with far more challenges than pirates operating over BitTorrent. It certainly makes an interesting hypothesis, but you could also argue that BitTorrent is a bit too much of a hassle just to track down a $0.99 song, but might be more worthwhile for those looking for a $20 DVD.
Sahi's results only reflect data collected from Mainline DHT, but its hard to argue with these numbers, even if they are off plus or minus a few percentage points. Do you think BitTorrent can continue to function as a viable medium with such a high percentage of abuse? It will certainly be interesting to see how things play out over the next few years, or if governments will ever get involved. What do you think?
The developers of the ubiquitous MP3 format wish to replace it with a new format called MusicDNA. The new format was recently demoed at the Midem industry conference in Cannes by BACH Technology.
The MP3 format changed the face of the music industry by delivering what was the need of the hour during the 90's: an audio compression technology tailored to slow internet connections and small hard drives of the day.
It is still going strong in an era when Internet connections are much faster and storage abundant. But thanks to the MP3 format (and the internet), the music industry now has rampant digital piracy to contend with. It is becoming increasingly difficult for them to convince people to pay for music.
MP3's successor is aimed at tackling piracy, the one issue relevant to this era. Its developers hope that the MusicDNA format will be able to boost music sales by giving consumers more bang for their buck. Apart from music, each MusicDNA file will contain bonus content that will be updated from time to time. Extras include lyrics, blog posts, videos and artwork besides other updates and information. It will be compatible with any MP3 player.
BACH Technology is not the first company to have taken this approach. Apple's iTunes LP also accomplishes much the same thing by packaging music and related multimedia content in one file.
Minnesota resident Jammie Thomas-Rasset, 32, was thrust into the public eye in 2006, when the music industry chose her for the most unenviable role imaginable: the poster girl of the brand of digital piracy that the average Joe practices from the comforts of his home. Several record companies sued her for copyright infringement on April 19, 2006.
Though the court originally ordered Thomas-Rasset to pay a fine of $220,000, the fine was raised to a vertiginous $1.92 million, or $80,000 per song, at a retrial. She was now left with a three-pronged hope: a court will scrap the fine or at least lower it; or a bankruptcy court will pave the way for her escape; or she will land a major book deal.
The decision leaves the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) with seven days to either accept the fresh fine or request a retrial. Joe Sibley, one of the defendant's attorneys, told Cnet that the judge had made “it much more equitable and this was much closer to the $0 award that we were seeking."
Cnet's Greg Sandoval has learnt from his sources that RIAA is not too keen on taking this any further as it only wanted to use the case as a deterrent. Sandoval also reminds everyone that Thomas-Rasset's refusal to settle with RIAA left it with no choice but to drag her to court.
Google is one of the brightest stars in the tech firmament. But perhaps it would have been nicer for Google had its glow been a touch dimmer. Currently, it is too conspicuous to evade the gaze of authorities and regulators world over – the price of being too big. It once again finds itself caught in the crosshairs of the French government, which isn't too fond of the search engine giant.
The new levy being dubbed the “Google Tax” might also affect other players in the online advertising game, according to Patrick Zelnik, the lead author of the government-funded report behind the entire idea. The French government stands to earn $70 million this year, if it chooses to impose the tax. Zelnick is hoping that his committee's suggestions will be able to convince other European nation's as well.
“There is an opportunity here to promote innovative solutions, rather than extending the attitude of opposition between the Internet world and the cultural world, for example through the approach of taxation,” said Olivier Esper, Google France's general director.
Should consumers be the the ones to foot the bill to fight piracy? That's what will happen to UK residents should a new proposal go through that would suspend Internet service to those accused of illegally sharing music and movies online.
It's called the Digital Economy Bill and it would make it mandatory for ISPs to send warning letters to anyone caught swapping copyrighted material illegally, as well as slow or suspend connections if the letters don't work. So what's the big deal to consumers? Ministers have admitted that the initial letter-writing campaign could cost an extra $2.02 per subscription. Other estimates include 40,000 households giving up their Internet service, $2.45 billion in extra sales for the film and music industries over the next decade, and $505 million for the Government in extra VAT, the UK's Times Online reports.
While ISPs are ready to comply with the new rules, some have stepped forward in opposition of passing costs on to the consumer.
"Broadband consumers shouldn't have to bail out the music industry," said Charles Dunstone, chief executive of Carphone Warehouse, whose subsidiary TalkTalk is the No. 1 consumer provider of broadband in the UK. "If they really think it's worth spending vast sums of money on these measures then they should be footing the bill; not the consumer.