SciTechBlog
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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October 19, 2009

Internet service provider fights copyright law

Posted: 08:39 AM ET

A proposed law could force UK Internet service providers to disconnect users who repeatedly share copyrighted files, but TalkTalk, a British ISP, doesn't want to become a copyright cop.

UK Internet service provider TalkTalk CEO Charles Dunstone

UK Internet service provider TalkTalk CEO Charles Dunstone

TalkTalk's CEO Charles Dunstone is openly critical of legislation that will force ISPs to disconnect a user if their IP address is connected to illegal downloads:

If you try speed humps or disconnections for peer-to-peer, people will simply either disguise their traffic or share the content another way. It is a game of Tom and Jerry and you will never catch the mouse. The mouse always wins in this battle and we need to be careful that politicians do not get talked into putting legislation in place that, in the end, ends up looking stupid.

A recent demonstration by the ISP highlights cracks in the proposed legislation. For the stunt, TalkTalk sent a security expert into the streets of Stanmore, Middlesex to connect to open or easily hacked WEP-secured wireless networks. The expert first obtained permission from the wireless access point owners before connecting and downloading several songs.

While the songs in this demonstration were downloaded legally, the stunt shows just how easily an innocent account holder could be targeted based on evidence collected from their IP address.

However, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) claims the law will not target innocents. BPI spokesman Adam Liversage says, "The responsibility for ensuring that an internet account shared throughout a household is not being used for illegal file-sharing clearly lies with the account holder."

What do you think? Are hacking victims or those who choose to openly share their wireless network responsible for third-party illegal file-sharing? And should ISPs like TalkTalk be required to police their networks and report illegal activity?

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


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September 9, 2009

Pirated copy of District 9 posted online

Posted: 12:41 PM ET

A DVD-quality copy of the sci-fi blockbuster "District 9" was posted to file-trading networks over Labor Day weekend. According to TorrentFreak.com, the movie was downloaded over one million times within the first 24 hours.

Downloads of "District 9" are likely to exceed the leaked workprint of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," which News Corp. President and COO Peter Chernin claimed in May had been downloaded over 4 million times.

Most movies are available on the Internet within a few days of their release, but the quality of these early leaks is typically poor and all but the most prolific pirates avoid them.

The "District 9" release is described as an R5 copy, or a retail DVD sold in Region 5 - Eastern Europe, India, Africa, North Korea and Mongolia. Studios release R5 DVDs early and without any special features or image processing in an effort to compete with bootlegs in areas where piracy is prevalent. The R5 copies are not meant for sale in any other region but that doesn't stop them from being distributed on the Internet.

The popularity of "District 9" among an admittedly geeky online subculture and a high-quality early release have attracted millions of downloaders. Executives at Sony Pictures, which is distributing the film, are probably cringing at these numbers, but any effect on box-office sales has not yet been reported.

Don't shed too many tears for Sony Pictures, though. The film, which reportedly cost less than $30 million to make, has already earned over $100 million at North American theaters.

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • Movies • piracy


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June 30, 2009

Has the Pirate Bay given up piracy?

Posted: 10:02 AM ET

The Pirate Bay, a Swedish file-sharing Web site used by millions to exchange movies and music, is reportedly being sold to the Swedish company Global Gaming Factory X AB for nearly $8 million.

The Pirate Bay, a Swedish file-sharing Web site used by millions to exchange movies and music, is reportedly being sold to the Swedish company Global Gaming Factory.

A blog posted on thepiratebay.org Tuesday morning says rumors of the sale are true:

We've been working on this project for many years. It's time to invite more people into the project, in a way that is secure and safe for everybody... The profits from the sale will go into a foundation that is going to help with projects about freedom of speech, freedom of information and the openess of the nets.

The Pirate Bay and its founders have been under legal attack from copyright owners for years. While the Web site does not host copyrighted content, it does host millions of torrent files which enable peer-to-peer file-trading. Many of these torrent files point to copyrighted material.

In April four of the Website's co-founders were convicted of collaborating to violate copyright law and sentenced to one year in jail as well as ordered to pay $3.6 million in damages to several major media companies.

A press release from Global Gaming Factory suggests, following the sale, the Pirate Bay is done with piracy:

Following the completion of the acquisitions, GGF intends to launch new business models that allow compensation to the content providers and copyright owners. The responsibility for, and operation of the site will be taken over by GGF in connection with closing of the transaction, which is scheduled for August 2009.

There are hundreds of competing Websites that offer copyright infringing torrents, but it appears the Pirate Bay, which once claimed a spot on the Web's top 100, will no longer be among them. The site claims more than 3.5 million registered users.

The news made Pirate Bay one of the top trending topics on Twitter Tuesday morning, with many tweets mourning the sale. "The Pirate Bay walks the plank for new biz model," said one Twitterer.

Will the sale of the Pirate Bay mean an end to free copyrighted material for all? And can Global Gaming Factory monetize a site that is based on piracy?

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


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June 19, 2009

Downloading mom fined $80,000 per song

Posted: 11:17 AM ET

After deliberating for only a few hours, the jury in Jammie Thomas-Rasset's federal retrial found the 32-year-old Minnesota mother liable for willfully infringing the copyrights of 24 songs she downloaded off the Web and awarded record labels $1.92 million.

24 cases of copyright infringement will cost a Minnesota woman $1.9 million, a jury has decided.

24 cases of copyright infringement will cost a Minnesota woman $1.9 million, a jury has decided.

Thomas-Rasset stood accused of using the file-sharing service KaZaA to download and share music illegally after RIAA investigators at MediaSentry linked several complete song downloads to Thomas-Rasset's computer. While the RIAA initially offered to settle the case for $5,000, Thomas-Rasset insisted she had never heard of KaZaA and decided to fight the charges in court.

The RIAA has sued thousands in its legal campaign against file sharing, but, according to her attorneys, Jammie Thomas-Rasset's case was the first such copyright infringement case to go to trial in the United States. When faced with the astronomical penalties detailed in the Copyright Act, from $750 to $150,000 per infringement, most of those sued accepted settlements from the RIAA for only a few thousand dollars.

Despite a vigorous defense from lawyers Kiwi Camara and Joe Sibley and tearful testimony by Jamie Thomas-Rasset, the jury concluded that she willfully infringed on 24 copyrights and awarded labels $80,000 per infringement.

While I was not particularly shocked by the guilty verdict, the jury's decision to award damages of $1.92 million is rather mind-blowing. The financial ruin this fine will likely cause Ms. Thomas-Rasset is substantially greater than the criminal penalties she might have faced had she stolen the physical CDs.

How do you feel about the verdict? Should the civil penalties outlined in the Copyright Act apply to private citizens who are not downloading and distributing copyrighted material for financial gain?

And before I plow through dozens of comments declaring, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime," consider lawyer Joe Sibley's closing arguments to the jury, paraphrased here:

If the labels can sue Thomas-Rasset, they can sue any of you. "This could happen to any of us." If a kid, or a friend's kid, downloads some songs on a computer at home, any person could just as easily be on trial with the same evidence against them.

Ars Technica provided excellent coverage of the four-day trial:

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • piracy


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June 9, 2009

Epix to offer new movies online - for free

Posted: 11:46 AM ET

Movie studios Lionsgate, MGM, and Paramount/Viacom have teamed up provide a new outlet for their films. Joint venture Epix promises popular movies from all three studios before they hit DVD, and the best part is, cable subscribers can watch on TV or on demand from EpixHD.com for free.

EpixHD.com

While currently in private beta testing, Epix may soon be in your cable lineup competing with premium channels HBO, Showtime and Cinemax. Epix is working to negotiate deals with cable and satellite providers to offer the channel as part of the standard TV lineup. Ars Technica reports that corresponding online content will then be available to any cable and satellite customer who also subscribes to the same provider's Internet service:

Epixhd.com will only be available to people who subscribe to one provider's TV offering and also subscribe to that same provider's Internet offering. That is, if Comcast were to offer Epix, users would need to pay for both Comcast cable and Comcast Internet in order to access the streaming, on-demand service. That's good for Comcast, and it helps them cover the cost of the service.

It appears that the success of online TV service Hulu and Netflix On Demand may have finally convinced production studios that Internet distribution can be profitable.

An invite-only beta of Epixhd.com began Monday, with a sign-up form for rolling admission over the next few months. With any luck, network negotiations will be successful and we can enjoy films like the new Star Trek on our laptops before they reach DVD... and without having to wait on BitTorrent.

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Filed under: file sharing • Hulu • Internet • media players • online video


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May 20, 2009

DJ releases blank CD-R

Posted: 09:32 AM ET

Music producer Danger Mouse wants you to download his album illegally. He is even going to sell you the blank CD-R to burn your ill-gotten tracks.

The "Dark Night of the Soul" book with blank CD-R ships May 29th, and the album again raises questions about how Internet technology can be used to distribute music - and what is or isn't ethical about the process.

DJ Danger Mouse, who is half of the pop group Gnarles Barkley, began stepping on record label EMI's toes in 2004 when he utilized internet outlets to distribute his self-published "Gray Album," which mixed songs from Jay-Z and The Beatles.

EMI, who owned rights to The Beatles' content, attempted to block the album, but people online responded by creating "Gray Tuesday," an organized protest where participating Web sites posted the unlicensed songs for public download. Now EMI is again attempting to prevent Danger Mouse from releasing "Dark Night of the Soul," but he's not one to let a legal dispute keep music from his fans.

A spokesperson for the DJ said: "Danger Mouse remains hugely proud of 'Dark Night of the Soul' and hopes that people lucky enough to hear the music, by whatever means, are as excited by it as he is."

Danger Mouse is still releasing "Dark Night of the Soul," but instead of a 13-track album the case will include a 100-page book of David Lynch photographs and a blank CD-R that is labeled: 'For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.'

Legally, fans can hear music from "Dark Night of the Soul" streamed on NPR Music. I listened to it last night and was impressed, but will anyone buy this new album when the music is already freely available?

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Filed under: file sharing • Music • piracy


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May 15, 2009

The Pirate Bay fights back

Posted: 10:22 AM ET

Gottfrid Svartholm, founder of the popular file sharing site The Pirate Bay, may have been found guilty of collaborating to violate copyright law in April, but he is not giving up the fight.

Supporters of the web site 'The Pirate Bay' demonstrate in Stockholm, on April 18, 2009.

Supporters of the web site 'The Pirate Bay' demonstrate in Stockholm, on April 18, 2009.

Svartholm and his three co-defendants, who were sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay 30 million kronor ($3.6 million) to media companies, immediately appealed the court's decision and vowed never to pay up, declaring, "Even if we had the money I would rather burn everything I owned and not even give them the final dust from the burning. Not even the ashes."

However, last week Svartholm may have reversed his decision regarding the fine and launched a Swedish site internet-avgift, 'internet-fee' in English. Though the site's actual creator is unknown, the domain name internetavgift.se was registered by "svarth3024-00001."

The new site encourages Pirate Bay supporters to send extremely small sums of money to Peter Danowsky’s law firm, which represented the music companies in the trial. The idea behind the "fundraiser" is to inundate the law firm with such a high volume of insignificant payments that processing all the donations actually would cost them money.

The Blog Pirate calls the plan a Distributed Denial of Dollars attack (DDo$) and compares it to the common, and illegal, hacker practice of using DDoS attacks to knock websites offline:

The plan is an away-from-keyboard DDoS attack. DDoS attacks involve hordes of users overloading a victim with Internet traffic, damaging their ability to provide services. Money, instead of Internet traffic is used in this case.

CNET investigates the viability of DDo$ and interviews lawyer Peter Danowsky about the attack:

The scheme may turn out to be expensive for Danowsky's firm–or at least that's what the tricksters hope. According to the bank's rules (PDF in Swedish) companies can receive up to 1,000 payments a year for free... However, according to the law, each transaction, free or not, has to be entered in the law firm's books, which implies a lot of manpower.

Can the Pirate Bay defendants actually use their supporters to overcome a court order, or is this just a revenge attack initiated by Internet dissidents who support online piracy?

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • online news


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May 7, 2009

Can I borrow some bandwidth?

Posted: 10:43 AM ET

Online video is growing faster than a Chia Pet.

According to a recent Nielsen report, the number of American users frequenting online video destinations has climbed 339 percent since 2003, and time spent on video sites has shot up almost 2,000 percent over the same period.

Increased bandwidth, social networks, and sites such as Hulu and CNN.com Live that provide high quality web programming have all contributed to video's explosion onto the Internet. However, before you can say ch-ch-ch-Chia, some Internet Services Providers (ISPs) are threatening to spoil the party.

Time Warner Cable, Charter and Comcast have each tested data caps (or download limits) in certain markets. Fortunately, the caps, which have been called price-gouging by Ars Technica, met with resounding disapproval from consumers. Let's keep it that way.

Unlimited bandwidth is the driving force behind the internet's growth and development. If users begin to closely monitor their downloads to avoid data caps and overages, innovative sites that employ rich media and streaming video will be the first to suffer.

I don't get nostalgic when I recall the days of scrutinizing my AOL time limits, and I'm not looking forward to doing the same with my downloading.

Does your ISP limit your bandwidth? Do you believe the caps are necessary to maintain fairness by limiting excessive downloaders or are they strictly revenue generators for ISPs?

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Filed under: computers • file sharing • Hulu • Internet • online video • social-networking sites


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April 30, 2009

The Pirate Google

Posted: 09:27 AM ET

The Pirate Bay defendants may have been unsuccessful when they tried to compare their site to Google before a judge, but that didn't stop one anonymous web designer from launching The Pirate Google, a Google search gateway which tries to make the point that digital files can be accessed through Google as well.

Ars Technica scored an interview with the mysterious coder and he (or she) explained the site's intention.

"The purpose of the site was simply to provoke discussion on issues such as piracy, net neutrality, and the power of the Internet as a disruptor of more traditional forms of media."

While The Pirate Google doesn't add any additional search functionality, it clearly demonstrates Google's ability to satisfy a searcher's thirst for torrents, both legal and otherwise.

A short mission statement on the fledgling site's homepage reads:

This site is not affiliated with Google, it simply makes use of Google Custom Search to restrict your searches to Torrent files. You can do this with any regular Google search by appending your query with filetype:torrent.

The intention of this site is to demonstrate the double standard that was exemplified in the recent Pirate Bay Trial. Sites such as Google offer much the same functionality as The Pirate Bay and other Bit Torrent sites but are not targeted by media conglomerates such as the IFPI as they have the political and legal clout to defend themselves unlike these small independent sites.

Does the Pirate Google further the Pirate Bay's cause or is it simply rehashing an already failed argument? Will Google be the next victim in the entertainment industry's fight against the Internet?

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • piracy • Uncategorized


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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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