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RIAA Attacks CBS and BitTorrent, BitTorrent Responds Rationally

posted Sunday Aug 9, 2015 by Scott Ertz

RIAA Attacks CBS and BitTorrent, BitTorrent Responds Rationally

It has been quite a while since the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA, has made any moves that required discussion. Over the past few weeks, however, the industry trade group has begun sending out letters to organizations that they believe to be actively harmful to the music industry as a whole. First they contacted CBS complaining that the company provides software that promotes the theft of otherwise legal music.

In particular they take offense to software that allows people to strip the audio from online streaming services, such as YouTube. These products are easily obtained from all over the Internet, including in most of the YouTube clients available in Google Play, the Apple App Store and Windows Store. So, with all of this easy availability, why CBS? Because they own CNET, and CNET runs Download.com, one of the original popular software download services. The site dates back to 1996, before most people really knew about the Internet.

In addition to the audio strippers, Download.com also hosts installers for BitTorrent. The BitTorrent client for windows on Download.com has nearly 24 million downloads as of this writing, which is likely the actual reason for targeting CBS. This guess is because BitTorrent was the next company to receive one of these letters. RIAA believes that BitTorrent is used solely for the transfer of illegal content and they want it to stop.

The problem with this assertion is that BitTorrent is a protocol, no different from HTTP. The protocol can be used to transfer any content, and is used by many companies to transfer large amounts of data in a decentralized manner, allowing them to free resources on their corporate servers. For example, Amazon, Blizzard, Facebook and Twitter all use the protocol. It is less than likely that Facebook is out there moving music they don't own.

BitTorrent responded to the claims in a rational, calm manner, certainly setting themselves apart from, say Napster, who would respond to RIAA like a scolded child. In a statement, the company said,

Our position is that they are barking up the wrong tree, as it seems they were with their approach to CBS last week.

As informed commentary in the past few days has made plain, there is a distinction between the BitTorrent protocol and piracy. Piracy is a real thing, but BitTorrent, Inc. is not the source. We do not host, promote, or facilitate copyright infringing content and the protocol, which is in the public domain, is a legal technology.

We do however have a direct-to-fan platform for artists and content owners to use. More than 30,000 publishers have signed up for it to date, including some of the most popular music artists around the world.

It is difficult to vilify a company who provides a service for the purchasing of music direct from artists by saying they promote the theft of music. It is actually in their best financial interest to discourage theft and, instead, encourage the purchasing of said music through their own platform. My guess is this is RIAA trying to get their name back out into the world as a legal group, though I suspect it will be with the same laughable tactic they have used before. Anyone remember the older woman who was sued for using Morpheus to download music, though she had a Mac and the software wasn't available on Mac?

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Reddit Begins Implementing New Rules, Bans Racist Communities

posted Sunday Aug 9, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Reddit Begins Implementing New Rules, Bans Racist Communities

After the Ellen Pao disaster, Reddit has been working to implement the new policies announced at her resignation. The process has not been a particularly simple one, as backlash from some of the communities on the site has been vocal. Fortunately, those communities have been a small percentage of the overall userbase.

The vocal minority might have something new to complain about soon, however, as the company has altered their policies once again. Now, instead of quarantining offensive communities, such as those that promote racism, they will ban them. While you might immediately look at this as a positive move, let me explain to you the culture of Reddit and why there is likely to be a negative response associated with the decision.

The stated goal of the site is to provide a safe place for the free exchange of ideas. One of the things that comes along with free speech is the likelihood that some people will be offended by said speech. As the site grew, a larger than expected portion of the community became more a place for people to say insane or hurtful things rather than to spread ideas and thoughts. This has left the executives with an interesting dilemma: do they back off of their idea of a true free speech zone, or do they deal with the public outcry about it being a community filled with hate?

Right now, they are trying to find a harmony between the two sides. In removing communities who intention is to take advantage of the free speech zone only to say hurtful, offensive and racist things, they seem to have found a balance they think will keep their users and community positive, while still mostly adhering to the intentions of the site. It will not make everyone happy, but it should not affect those who use the site for the purposes it was originally created to serve.

In addition to offensive content, the management will also take steps to remove what CEO Steve Huffman calls animated child pornography, likely referring to the rising popularity of lolicon or shotacon on Reddit and similar sites. While not technically illegal in the west, many believe that the content leads to the mistreatment of minors in the real world, and sites like Reddit are taking a preemptive stand against the content. It's a pretty smart move as the company does not need any potential legal issues as they are trying to redefine themselves on the Internet.

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Microsoft Announces New Features for Xbox One Coming November

posted Sunday Aug 9, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Announces New Features for Xbox One Coming November

It has been no secret the PlayStation 4 has continually outsold the Xbox One. Microsoft is not unaccustomed to this position, having been outsold in both of their previous generations, only to gain the upper hand as they improved and added to the platform. For example, Xbox 360 sales really took off after the NXE (New Xbox Experience) in 2009. The Xbox 360 ended up being the undisputed leader of its generation.

We know that this year, the Xbox One is set to receive its equivalent of the NXE - Windows 10. Along with Windows 10 will come a slue of new features and capabilities, similar to what the 360 received with the NXE. At Gamescom 2015, Microsoft gave a lot of information about what we can expect to come along with said upgrade.

First will come an NXE-level overhaul of the controversial dashboard. While some, like myself, have loved the interface in theory, others have hated it. The changes won't be as visually drastic as the 360's transition from blades to tile groups, it will be a welcome change for most. The important change will come in its speed - a complaint that every Xbox One owner has had. Enhancing that aspect will make everyone's life easier.

As I predicted, Cortana will be taking over voice commands from the Kinect after the update. That will certainly enhance the capabilities of the voice commands above their already impressive response. It should also give more capabilities to the browser, which I assume will be swapped from Internet Explorer to Edge in the update. This means we could see the ability to draw on the web using Edge and the Kinect.

Xbox 360 backward compatibility details were also expanded. We know that around 100 games will be available at launch, and starting now all Games With Gold for Xbox 360 titles will be included in the backward compatibility list. That means that the free games included for the 360 will also be playable on the Xbox One. That will enhance the catalog of free, playable games on the Xbox One. While we may not know all 100 titles coming, we do know that all games in the Gears of War franchise will be included.

Also drawing from the Xbox 360, Microsoft showed off a Chatpad. It looks nearly identical to the one for the 360, which is a positive as the original was popular and efficient. It will clip into the controller in the same way, but adds the new features of the console, such as screenshot and 30 second video backup. The Chatpad will work on the console and Windows 10, and will be available sometime in 2016.

The most exciting information was the release date for Windows 10 on Xbox One. The new platform will release to the world in November of this year, with the preview program having begun for a very small group of testers, rolling out to more in the near future.

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Verizon Wireless Goes Contract-Free With New Plans

posted Sunday Aug 9, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Verizon Wireless Goes Contract-Free With New Plans

The US wireless market has always been a bit of an oddity in the global wireless industry. Much of the world operates on the premise that you are responsible for purchasing your phone, the US wireless companies have long paid the cost of your phone up-front in exchange for you promising to stick with them for 2 years. This allowed you to spread out the cost of the device over the length of the contract, meaning you wouldn't have to pay $700 for a new iPhone (excluding the first generation).

That business model has been changing recently, however. Pushed by T-Mobile US, the North American arm of German operator Deutsche Telekom, American wireless companies have been shifting away from subsidized phone prices. T-Mobile introduced a lease program a few years back, and subsequently the other 3 major carriers implemented similar or identical programs. Now, Verizon Wireless, a wholly-American operator is taking the lead in the transition to a more European style business model.

The company's new plans will retire service contracts and phone subsidies completely in exchange for outright phone purchases or device leases and far simpler plans. In fact, all plans come with unlimited voice and text, and 4 levels of data, labeled small, medium, large and extra-large. These sizes offer 1, 3, 6 and 12GB of sharable data, respectively. Device additions are easy as well, at $20 per smartphone, $10 per tablet and $5 per connected device (smartwatches, etc.). Rob Miller, vice-president of consumer pricing, said,

Choosing a wireless plan is now easier than ever. Customers said they don't want to have to do a lot of math to figure out their best options, and we heard them. A plan with small, medium, large and x-large choices makes sense for the way people actually use their wireless service.

While the idea of abandoning contracts might sound good on its face, it is important to note one thing: A contract is an agreement between 2 parties. In the case of wireless contracts, the thing people always focused on was that they were being "locked in" to a specific carrier. There has always been an exit clause, and the buyout was often less than the price of purchasing the handset outright, making the option potentially less expensive than the new plans. On the other side, however, is the fact that the carrier is also "locked in" with you, meaning they could not change the details of your plan. Without the service agreement, technically the carriers can change the pricing of your plan over time, because there is no contract preventing it.

We have seen no-contract carriers do this in the past. MetroPCS, especially in its early days, changed the prices of plans for all of their customers a number of times (having started at $30 for unlimited data in our market). Virgin Mobile, under Richard Branson's management before becoming part of Sprint, also forced plan changes across the board with no ability for customers to remain on previous plans.

We have never seen the big 4 make this move on their no contract brands, however we have seen them force changes when handsets were upgraded. Under this plan, if Verizon discovers they have made a bad deal, they could change the pricing, similar to how your cable, power or landline phone service works.

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Appeals Court Upholds Microsoft's Win Over Motorola

posted Sunday Aug 2, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Appeals Court Upholds Microsoft's Win Over Motorola

If you've been following the Microsoft-Motorola saga over the past few years, you'll know that the two companies have been feuding over royalty payments since 2012. The fighting has been so intense that Samsung decided to jump into the fray, only to end up settling out of court. Motorola, however, tried to set up injunctions and stop sales of the Xbox 360 in 2013. The case has been ongoing, with the ITC stomping on the injunction. Now, an appeals court has upheld the initial ruling of Microsoft's royalty victory and Motorola must pay up.

The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has agreed with the decision to have Motorola pay Microsoft $14.5 million for violating license agreement in relation to patents the company were using over the past five years. This finally puts Motorola in the losing position of the half-decade lawsuit, and will require all handset and tablet manufacturers using Android as their operating system to pay Microsoft royalties for use of their patents.

From the ruling,

With the parties' consent, the district court conducted a lengthy, thorough bench trial on the RAND rate and range. The court analyzed that evidence in its exhaustive findings of fact and conclusions of law, in a manner consistent with the Federal Circuit's recent approach to establishing damages in the RAND context. The court's factual findings were properly admitted at the jury trial. The jury's verdict was supported by substantial evidence, and its damages award

was proper. The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.

That's about as emphatic as it gets. The key here is that no judge before the one presiding over the case had ever ruled on what was a "fair and reasonable" basis of use for patents regarding smartphones and tablets. Well, the judge here determined that the rate of use can be pretty low, and would still fall under that clause. This sets a precedent moving forward that other companies will have to abide by. Plus, it keeps in place the funny and ironic notion surrounding the ordeal that Microsoft gets paid for each use of Android.

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CBS to Live-Stream All National Ads for Super Bowl 50

posted Sunday Aug 2, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

CBS to Live-Stream All National Ads for Super Bowl 50

There's a big change brewing for the upcoming Super Bowl in February. No, it isn't going to be actual musicians for the halftime show or the introduction of self-inflating footballs. Instead, it'll be in the advertising and commercials themselves. CBS has announced that for the first time ever, the company will be live-streaming all national Super Bowl ads through its video-streaming services.

This is huge for those who have to suffer through 5 minutes of silence between every 30 seconds of live action on the field. Super Bowl 50 on February 7th will have every ad run nationally also run through the CBS live stream, as close as possible to real time. Now, advertisers will have a whole new captive audience to reach out to and have essentially been forced to finally consider the online viewer as a viable and meaningful option.

I'm all for being able to watch the ads online, as it's one of the main reasons I enjoy watching the presentation. Plus, it seems like you won't get the option to not see them, like with Adblock or other programs that block pre-roll ads. One buyer said that "It's a huge deal. They are not going to let people opt-out."

We've seen in the past a few ads make their way online, but most were repetitive and it certainly was just a fraction of the total number of commercials aired during the broadcast. Now, CBS is actually putting together packages to media-buyers that include estimated viewer counts for the Super Bowl. Last year, only 18 of the 70 advertisers opted in to the online commercials. This year, advertisers are almost going to be forced to buy both the online and the broadcast.

With last year's Super Bowl attracting 2.5 million unique viewers, 10% more than 2014 and 20% more than 2012, online viewers are an ever-growing and important group that are finally being taken seriously in the media space. As a content creator myself, this is nothing but good news, and for the average consumer, they'll finally be able to cry along with the rest of the world as the Clydesdale gets left in the rain. Or maybe it was the sudden increase of all the onions in the room. Now that I'm thinking about it, you'll have to excuse me. My nachos require me to be cutting these onions at this very moment.

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