SciTechBlog
January 26, 2010

Hacker says he's unlocked the PS3

Posted: 03:35 PM ET

More than three years after its initial release, the PlayStation 3 has allegedly been hacked.

George Hotz, aka "GeoHot," recently announced the feat on his blog. "I have read/write access to the entire system memory, and HV level access to the processor. In other words, I have hacked the PS3."

The practice of hacking or "modding" a video game console is fairly common. Directions to modify the Xbox and Xbox 360, and even instructional videos, can be found online. But the PS3 has remained largely secure.

"It's supposed to be unhackable - but nothing is unhackable," Hotz told BBC News.

Hotz, a 20-year-old American who is famous for his iPhone jailbreaking and unlocking software, has not yet released the PS3 exploit, but claims updates are coming.

Unlike cell-phone unlocking (which receives an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), bypassing the DRM security of a video game system can be considered a violation of the DMCA, and "modders" have been arrested for circumventing anti-piracy measures in the past.

While speaking with BBC news, Hotz admitted the hack could allow people to run pirated games or homemade software, but says his motivation was primarily curiosity at "opening up the system."

"To tell you the truth, I've never really played a PS3," he said. "I have one game, but I've never really played it."

Update (1/27/10):

Hotz has decided to release the PS3 exploit on his blog: http://geohotps3.blogspot.com/

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Filed under: DRM • Gaming • iPhone • piracy


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December 16, 2009

Justin.tv defends live streaming video

Posted: 10:19 AM ET

The CEO of the popular live video site Justin.tv has been invited to testify before the House Judiciary Committee today on the topic of live sports online.

A user streams ESPNHD live on Justin.tv

A user streams ESPNHD live on Justin.tv

Justin.tv claims it is "the leader in live video and the place to broadcast and share video online." The problem, as Congress sees it, is that too many of those users choose to share copyrighted content.

I'll admit that I am a chief offender. I have tuned to Justin.tv several times in the past to watch college football games that I could not get on Comcast. The video quality is poor and I have to watch the game on my computer screen, but it beats waiting for the ESPN highlights.

Twice during a recent Tennessee game the broadcast copyright owner filed a DMCA takedown notice and the stream I was watching was removed. However, copyright owners cannot police an entire social network. The Tennessee feed I was watching had been removed, but I had dozens of other user-generated streams of the game to watch.

Janko Roettgers of newteevee.com calls live streaming "the latest battleground between sports fans that don’t want to pay subscription fees and broadcasters trying to protect their content online."

Justin.tv's online blog highlights partnerships the site has made with many copyright owners, and CEO Michael Seibel will likely insist that the company is involved in fighting piracy during today's hearing. But Mike Masnick at TechDirt doesn't see the problem.

The ability to "live stream" is something that's almost entirely brand new, and it really does change the way people can interact. But, live streaming will almost always create some sort of "copyright infringement" or "piracy," which suggests the real problem isn't with live streaming, but with copyright laws.

Whatever your opinion, today's hearing will provide an interesting look at the fight between producers who want strict control over their content and social networks that encourage sharing.

Watch the hearing on C-Span.

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Filed under: DRM • file sharing • Internet • online news • piracy


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November 9, 2009

News Corp. sites may disappear from Google

Posted: 01:19 PM ET

In a recent Sky News interview, News Corporation chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch announced that News Corp websites such as The Wall Street Journal may be removed from search engines.

News Corporation chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch

News Corporation chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch

Websites typically rely on search engines to index their content so users can find them. Search engine optimization (SEO), or the process of increasing a site's presence on search engines, is big business. But Murdoch would prefer News Corp sites weren't indexed at all.

In the interview, Murdoch criticized Google and other news aggregates for taking content without permission. When asked about the value of traffic generated from search engines, Murdoch claimed readers who use search engines to find articles have little value to advertisers.

Murdoch continued by attacking the ad-based model that much of the Internet is built upon, "There are no Web sites anywhere in the world that are making serious money ... there's not enough advertising in the world to go around to make all the Web sites profitable."

While not every site can rely on advertising, Google may disagree with the suggestion that ads can't generate serious money.

Murdoch's plan is to charge a subscription fee to readers of News Corp.'s Internet content, similar to a subscription for a newspaper. He admits this business model will decrease traffic, but believes a pay wall is necessary to protect content from news aggregators: "We'd rather have fewer people come to our website and pay."

I can't see the future, but Murdoch's plan for News Corp. sites sounds like a big bag of fail to me. The subscription-based business model is not worth reviving. Internet content, especially news, should remain free for everyone.

Watch the full interview below.

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Filed under: computer security • DRM • Internet • online news


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September 16, 2009

Does the U.S. need tougher copyright laws?

Posted: 11:22 AM ET

A new report by the World Economic Forum (pdf) ranks United States intellectual property (IP) protections 19th in a worldwide survey. The rank was not based on a comparison of IP laws, but determined by a survey of global business leaders on how well they felt intellectual property was protected in their country.

The US Chamber of Commerce responds to the U.S.'s 19th-place finish by calling for greater IP protection and stricter copyright laws.

For a country whose economy is driven by innovation and creativity, where nearly half of the exports are from IP-based industries, and over $5 trillion of our GDP is based on IP, America should be setting the gold standard for IP rights and protections.

Ars Technica argues tougher IP laws are "largely a giveaway to huge businesses and rich artists," and claims most artists see less than 1 percent of the financial benefits of copyright extensions.

Artists and producers undoubtedly deserve compensation for their work. But is more "protection," which restricts fair use, encourages DRM and decreases public domain, always a good thing?

Nate Anderson of Ars Technica doesn't think so:

Reports like this come out, trade groups argue that their countries all need to do a better job of "catching up" to the first-place finisher, laws are passed, IP systems are tightened up, and a new number one country emerges. Everyone else then tries to reach this "new level."

It's a one-way system of ever-increasing control coupled with moral opprobrium for not agreeing that the only direction IP protection must go is up.

Do you feel more laws are needed to protect intellectual property in America? Or will further restrictions only stifle innovation and prevent a free flow of information?

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Filed under: DRM • Internet • online news • piracy


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September 4, 2009

Amazon returns deleted Kindle books

Posted: 05:40 PM ET

Amazon upset many Kindle owners when, in typical Big Brother fashion, it remotely deleted improperly distributed copies of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and several other novels from private e-book readers this July. Despite receiving a refund for the books, many Kindle owners felt their personal property had been violated.

Yesterday Amazon e-mailed customers affected by the mass deletion and offered them a free, and no doubt properly licensed, copy of any book they lost, or the option of a check for $30.

Read an apology from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the full letter Kindle users received below.

Hello,

On July 23, 2009, Jeff Bezos, our Founder and CEO, made the following apology to our customers:

“This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our “solution” to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,
Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
Amazon.com”

As you were one of the customers impacted by the removal of [title] from your Kindle device in July of this year, we would like to offer you the option to have us re-deliver this book to your Kindle along with any annotations you made. You will not be charged for the book. If you do not wish to have us re-deliver the book to your Kindle, you can instead choose to receive an Amazon.com electronic gift certificate or check for $30.

Please email Kindle customer support at kindle-response@amazon.com to indicate your preference. If you prefer to receive a check, please also provide your mailing address.

We look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,
The Kindle Team

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Filed under: books • consumer tech • DRM


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August 5, 2009

Student arrested for 'modding' Xbox consoles

Posted: 09:53 AM ET

Homeland Security officers arrested Cal State Fullerton student Michael Crippen on Monday for modifying Xbox video game consoles to play copied games.

The practice of "modding" a video game console is fairly common. Directions to modify the Xbox and Xbox 360, and even instructional videos, can be found online.

Xbox "modders" defend their actions by claiming the game console is personal property and that modification is necessary to upgrade console hard drives or play legal backups of games they already own.

However, bypassing DRM security is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which states, "no person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title."

In an indictment provided by Wired.com, authorities claim Crippen "willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage and private financial gain, circumvented a technological measure that effectively controlled access to a copyrighted work, more particularly, used software to modify a Xbox machine's Optical Disc drive so it would circumvent anti-piracy measures contained on the original unmodified Optical Disc Drive."

Speaking to Wired.com's Threat Level blog, Crippen admits he modified consoles for $30 a job, but claims “This is for your legally made backups. If you’re talking about piracy, I’m not helping you out.”

Crippen faces two counts of violating the DMCA and the possibility of ten years in prison. He is currently free on $5,000 bond.

Crippen was targeted by the federal government for allegedly running a console-modifying business out of his house. But what do you think of people who modify their Xboxes for personal use? Should modding be illegal simply because it could result in piracy, despite other legal applications?

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Filed under: consumer tech • DRM • Games • Microsoft Corp. • piracy


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July 22, 2009

Amazon faces criticism for deleting e-books

Posted: 04:49 PM ET

Last week owners of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader felt the painful effects of DRM (Digital Rights Management) when Amazon remotely removed copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm from their libraries.

Amazon explained that the books had been mistakenly released and the e-book publisher did not own the rights to sell the either novel. However, the company's explanation and a refund did not appease readers who felt their personal copy of 1984 was remotely destroyed by Big Brother.

The Internet lit up with blogs and forum posts condemning Amazon's actions. InformationWeek claims Amazon can't keep its promises, and Slate likens the deletion to book-banning's digital future:

Amazon deleted books that were already available in print, but in our paperless future—when all books exist as files on servers—courts would have the power to make works vanish completely.

[Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain] writes: "Imagine a world in which all copies of once-censored books like Candide, The Call of the Wild, and Ulysses had been permanently destroyed at the time of the censoring and could not be studied or enjoyed after subsequent decision-makers lifted the ban."

Police routinely confiscate stolen property. But copyright infringement, similar to possessing improperly licensed books, was determined by the Supreme Court case of Dowling vs. United States not to constitute theft. Amazon's actions were an effort to please publishers who wanted the book pulled rather than a legal requirement.

Amazon has acknowledged that deleting the books from users' personal devices may have been a mistake. In an e-mail to the New York Times Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said, “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.”

Do you think Amazon's decision to remotely delete the books was justified to defend copyright, or should digital content hold the same protections as physical property? Will Amazon's promise to change its policy restore your confidence in the Kindle?

Update [July 24, 2009]

On Thursday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos posted this apology on a Kindle community public forum:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
Amazon.com

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Filed under: books • consumer tech • DRM • gadgets


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June 24, 2009

My iPhone upgrade dilemma

Posted: 11:04 AM ET

I purchased my 1st-generation iPhone on eBay in 2008. For a hefty $250 price tag I received a bundle of electronics that was outdated and no longer protected by Apple's famous warranty, but it was all mine.

What should I do?

My iPhone came with no contractual obligations to AT&T, nor could Apple threaten to revoke its non-existent warranty if I chose to unlock or jailbreak the device. Despite what corporate lawyers attempting to stretch the authority of the The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (pdf) may argue, that phone and all its antiquated chips and transistors belonged to me.

It is now 2009 and Apple is once again tempting me with the release of the iPhone 3GS, but at $199 is it really a bargain?

New iPhones are locked into a service agreement with AT&T because of the subsidies AT&T provides for the sale of each phone. But even after these service contracts expire, essentially ending a rent-to-own agreement, iPhones remain locked to AT&T. It's as if you bought a TV that only works if you subscribe to Comcast.

There are programs to unlock the iPhone (software is not yet available to unlock the 3GS, but unlocked phones can be purchased on eBay), and unlocking a phone was granted a legal exemption from the DMCA, but Apple opposes these hacks (pdf) and counters them with each new version of iPhone software.

I enjoy my iPhone, but I do not approve of Apple's attempt to control the device after the point of sale. While I would like to trade in my 1st-generation 4GB iPhone for a shiny new 3GS, I am hesitant to sign a two-year contract that dictates how I will use my phone.

Should I trust that hackers such as those at blog.iphone-dev.org will remain one step ahead of Apple's locking mechanisms and purchase an expensive contract-free iPhone 3Gs on eBay? Or should I overcome my moral objections and play by Apple's rules? Your thoughts?

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Filed under: Apple • DRM • iPhone


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January 7, 2009

Free your music

Posted: 05:11 PM ET

One of the most exciting tidbits from Tuesday’s MacWorld keynote for me was the announcement of the move toward DRM-free (digital rights managed) music on the iTunes store –- and, more interestingly, the ability to upgrade your current purchased music to a DRM-free format.

itunes

If you want to remove the DRM from your iTunes purchases, it's all or nothing.

As I’ve admitted before, I'm a fully entrenched Apple fanboy.  Thus my music player is an iPod and the music I've purchased online is from the iTunes store.  That is a very limited amount of my music –- as I never liked the prospect of “renting” my music, having it locked into a particular format –- especially when I could get the CD and rip it into the quality and format of my choice for my digital devices -– and have the ability to re-encode it if necessary.

So, how do I upgrade my music?  On Wednesday a link appeared on the iTunes store (in the "Quick Links" area in the upper left corner) that says just that: "Upgrade My Library." Clicking on it takes you to a screen that shows you how many songs are eligible for the upgrade.

In my case, it’s 233 songs (more than I thought), which includes about 15 albums, for a charge of $56.70.

Am I gonna do it?  Maybe, maybe not.  First off – it's an all or nothing deal — you can’t just pick your favorites and leave all the junk you bought to rot in the DRM wasteland.  Also, I have to agree with friends, colleagues and Internet commenters who think this should be free –- or at the very least cheaper -– with a bigger discount for larger libraries.  On the other hand, as one of my good friends pointed out, 30 cents is much cheaper than if you had to buy the whole thing again, like many of us did when updating our libraries from cassette or vinyl to CD.

So in the end, “Yay!” to the death of DRM on iTunes, and a resounding “meh” on the paying more to get my music in the way it should have been to begin with.  What are you guys gonna do?

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Filed under: Apple • DRM • Music


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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