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EFF Fights to Allow Alteration of Copyrighted Games

posted Saturday Apr 11, 2015 by Scott Ertz

EFF Fights to Allow Alteration of Copyrighted Games

I have discussed in the past my complex relationship with the Electronic Freedom Foundation. This week has made that relationship even more complex. The organization has invalidated a podcasting patent which has been used to bludgeon popular podcasters. That certainly adds a positive point for them, but that wasn't their only big story.

In November, the EFF petitioned for an exemption to the DMCA DRM rules that would allow users to alter videogames that have had their online capabilities shuttered. The goal is to allow gamers to bring those games back from the dead so that money they had spent on those games was not in vein. It is certainly an interesting idea, but one that was guaranteed to be met with resistance.

That resistance materialized formally this week in the form of a 71-page brief by the Entertainment Software Association. The brief was filed with the support of the Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America, two organizations who have had a rough decade in their relationship with the Internet and have had trouble proving that they know exactly what it is.

The ESA wrote,

Hacking video game access controls facilitates piracy and therefore undermines the core anti-piracy purposes of (the DMCA). Hacking the video game access controls requires, by definition, hacking of the video game console or similar device in order to play the hacked video game. Once the access controls for the video game console are hacked, regardless of the purported purpose or intent of the hacker, any content, including pirated games, can be played on a video game console...

Contrary to the proponents' claims that they should be able to 'play games that they have already paid for,' circumvention would enable users to avoid paying for a variety of online services, including network-based multiplayer gameplay, and get a better deal than they bargained for... users generally are not entitled to access online services (including multiplayer gameplay) as a result of purchasing a game.

I have a foot in each camp here. As a gamer, it certainly angers me when a game I purchased for particular features stops offering those features for which I have paid because of a decision made by people I cannot meet with. As a developer, however, I agree with the notion of protecting intellectual property. Making it legal to alter the game would mean making it legal to decompile the game, which would certainly expose intellectual property which could harm the publisher immensely. In fact, it could harm them irreparably, preventing them from publishing new games in the future.

Normally my feelings on the EFF are strong one way or the other - it is not common for them to bring a position that I partially agree with, or at least can understand both sides of the case. It will be interesting to see where this goes, but it seems unlikely that the EFF is going to win this one.

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The Bitcoin Foundation is Effectively Bankrupt

posted Saturday Apr 11, 2015 by Scott Ertz

The Bitcoin Foundation is Effectively Bankrupt

Many people are familiar with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, but it is unlikely that most people have heard of the Bitcoin Foundation. This non-profit organization describes themselves saying, "We fund development of Bitcoin Core and create new avenues for people to participate in the Bitcoin project." The group has, in the past, organized a Bitcoin conference and hired lobbyists and developers.

Olivier Janssens, a member of the Bitcoin Foundation board of directors, published information on the foundation's forum about some of the inner-workings of the organization. He started with a rather shocking claim: "the Bitcoin Foundation is effectively bankrupt."

As a member of the board, part of his responsibility is to manage the group so that something like this doesn't happen. So, what that, what did happen? According to Janssens,

As a result of 2 years of ridiculous spending and poorly thought out decisions, they almost ran out of money in November of last year. In extremis, but way too late, they decided to select a new executive director during that time. That new director decided that the only way to still get funds at that point, was to focus solely on funding core development, in the hope that people would see that as a good cause. But people were smart enough not to trust the Foundation anymore. Despite it's intentions, they failed to collect the necessary funds to support this idea. With the election in February-March, it became clear that people did not want the Foundation meddling with core development. The truth is that the Foundation's plan was to hire even more core devs + to start a Bitcoin Standards Body. No organization should have this much control over Bitcoin, and a disaster was avoided.

The organization fired 90% of its employees and converted some to volunteers. The problem with volunteers, however, is that projects like this always take a back burner position to the thing that makes them money. The Executive Director is leaving the organization within 2 weeks time and will found a new organization with a new name to try and continue on the work without the tarnish of the current brand.

Within a short period of time, two additional board members, including the Executive Director, have refuted the claims. ED Patrick Murck said,

The foundation is not bankrupt, but a restructuring is needed. Olivier basically jumped in front of our announcements on that and our annual report on the 2014 finances to be released next week, and he spun it very very negative.

It is no surprise that the Foundation is in a situation of controversy - they are not new to this scenario. A founding member was involved with Silk Road and another was involved in the collapse of MtGox. A refactored foundation will not solve the problem, and neither will a new group founded by the same people. The biggest issue is figuring out what the real problem here is.

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Fox Renews The X-Files Almost 15 Years After Cancelation

posted Friday Mar 27, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Fox Renews <i>The X-Files</i> Almost 15 Years After Cancelation

It would appear that the Fox executives of the early 2000s were not very good at their jobs. Several of the series that they canceled have been revived years later. After 2.5 years off the air, Fox brought back Family Guy. After 7 years off the air, Comedy Central renewed Fox's hit series Futurama. All of that is going to pale in comparison to the newest Fox renewal, however.

In January, Fox confirmed they were considering renewing The X-Files. This week, the network confirmed that they have reached an agreement to bring an initial 6 episode mini-series to television. The series will be different from NBC's Heroes renewal, however, in that the original cast will be returning to continue a story that was already in process. Gillian Anderson will reprise her role as Agent Dana Scully and David Duchovney will return as Agent Fox Mulder. Even Chris Carter, the series creator, is returning to helm the new episodes.

Carter has an interesting view on the series' renewal, stating it is merely returning from a "13-year commercial break." Fox executives Gary Newman and Dana Walden described the show,

The X-Files was not only a seminal show for both the studio and the network, it was a worldwide phenomenon that shaped pop culture, yet remained a true gem for the legions of fans who embraced it from the beginning. Few shows on television have drawn such dedicated fans as The X-Files, and we're ecstatic to give them the next thrilling chapter of Mulder and Scully they've been waiting for.

There is no word on where in the series the new episodes will live. It could try to return to the core of the story, the invasion of the planet by aliens with the help of men in the government, or it could return to the off-core story of the monster hunts. Either could be fun, though dealing with the strained relationship between the agents will need to be a priority for the story. No matter what way they go, it will be fun to see some new episodes, so long as they are not in the same vein as the second movie.

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FTC Defends Google Antitrust Outcome After Document Leak

posted Friday Mar 27, 2015 by Scott Ertz

FTC Defends Google Antitrust Outcome After Document Leak

Last week, when I and others called out the FTC's motives for dropping the suit against Google against the recommendations of the staff, I knew the FTC would release a statement trying to give some context. As I suspected, the FTC released just that statement this week, trying to counter the information they accidentally released to The Wall Street Journal. In fact, the report says,

Contrary to recent press reports, the Commission's decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC's Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel.

Some of the FTC's staff attorneys on the search investigation raised concerns about several other Google practices. In response, the Commission obtained commitments from Google regarding certain of those practices. Over the last two years, Google has abided by those commitments.

They claim that the 160 pages of documentation recommending the suit from the staff to the commission was only a small part of the evidence. They also go on to impugn the integrity of The Wall Street Journal itself, claiming that a recent article that points out the increased number of White House visits by Google staffers during the investigation was misleading. They take offense to the title, Google Makes Most of Close Ties to White House, suggesting that the article never actually produces evidence to tie the meetings to influence.

What they did provide was a comparison to other companies with powerful ties to Washington, and some with major business before the government, and their number of visits versus Google's. For example, Comcast, who is trying to complete a merger that was rocky to begin with, has visited the White House a total of 20 times since Obama took office, while Johanna Shelton, a single lobbyist for Google, has had a personal 60 visits. While correlation is not causation, it is certainly an interesting statistic.

Did Google wield undue influence over the FTC, with the help of their good friends in the White House? It is a question that we will likely never know the answer to without the help of someone who was there, but this accidentally released document, and simple statistics certainly paints a picture of the story.

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Nintendo Disappoints Zelda Fans Twice

posted Friday Mar 27, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo Disappoints <i>Zelda</i> Fans Twice

Last week was a good week for Nintendo fans with the announcement of Nintendo-branded games coming to mobile platforms. This week has not been the same shining light for fans of the Zelda franchise, however, as Nintendo has made a few announcements that are disappointing.

Live Action Netflix Series

Several weeks ago, it was reported that Nintendo and Netflix were working to bring a live-action Zelda series to the streaming platform. As it turns out, The Wall Street Journal may have misspoke when they published this report, as Nintendo is now saying that is not true. In fact, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata said,

As of now, I have nothing new to share with you in regard to the use of our IPs for any TV shows or films, but I can at least confirm that the article in question is not based on correct information.

While this is not an all-out denial, and far from a rejection of the concept or that discussions have begun, it is also far from a positive note. The idea of a live-action series was beginning to grow on fans, and the loss of what apparently never was is a disappointment. However, as I mentioned in the original article, there were a lot of reasons why it could have gone horribly wrong, not the least of which being that none of the characters in the franchise have any depth whatsoever. While it doesn't give show-runners a lot to work with, George Lucas managed to make quite a career out of undeveloped characters.

Legend of Zelda for Wii U

If the Netflix story was a disappointment for you, this one might be a crushing blow. The Legend of Zelda series announced at E3 2014 for the Wii U for a 2015 release will not be a reality. As it turns out, the game is bigger than they had originally estimated and the release has been pushed back past 2015. Producer Eiji Aonuma said,

I must apologize to you that were expecting the game by year's end, but we are no longer making a 2015 release our number one priority. Instead, our priority is to make it the most complete and ultimate Zelda game.

The good news here is that the company is still focusing on producing a game that people will love. During development, the team "discovered several new possibilities" for gameplay, which means the delay is likely because they found a way to make old new again, bringing a new way to enjoy Zelda again.

As I have watched our development progress, I have come top think that rather than work with meeting a specific schedule as our main objective, and releasing a game that reflects only what we can create within that scheduled time, I feel strongly that our focus should be to bring of these ideas to life in a way that will make The Legend of Zelda on Wii U the best game it can possibly be.

Unfortunately this means we won't be seeing the game again this year at E3. It does mean that when the game launches, likely in 2016, Nintendo's bar has been raised higher than before.

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BlackBerry Posts Profit for Quarter 4, Still Losing Revenue

posted Friday Mar 27, 2015 by Scott Ertz

BlackBerry Posts Profit for Quarter 4, Still Losing Revenue

Wall Street had a pretty realistic expectation for BlackBerry's 2014 quarter 4 report: they expected a loss of 5 cents per share. Based on their past quarters, this expectation was completely reasonable and founded. CEO John Chen had other ideas, however, having slashed costs this past year, he hoped for a profit. Lucky for Chen, his goals were to become reality.

In fact, the company posted profit of 4 cents per share for the 4th quarter. This beat not only Wall Street predictions, but also all sense of reality. In an age where Android and iOS own the mobile landscape, and Windows is a distant third, it is hard to imagine that BlackBerry could have found enough coins in the sofa cushions to have recovered so strongly. The problem for BlackBerry is they might not have.

The company's software revenue was up 24 percent year-over-year, which is definitely a signal of a business category growing. However, the software division accounted for only $67 million of the $660 million total revenue for the company. That accounts for only 10 percent of the overall revenue, and barely enough to swing the whole variance from deficit to profit, assuming all of the revenue was new.

So, how did Chen manage to push the company, which by all accounts should be searching for a buyer, into profitability? A lot of it has to do with massive cuts throughout the corporation. The problem for Chen is that budget cuts are not a long-term solution to a sinking ship. If you need a litmus test, let's look at RadioShack. In 2006, RadioShack hired Julian Day as CEO, who immediately made sweeping budget cuts throughout the company. The stock price jumped above $35 for the first time in several years and Wall Street hailed him a genius.

Flash forward to today, and RadioShack is still in bankruptcy, as their signs are coming off stores worldwide. Why, when it appeared that the company was saved by Day, did the company still go down? Because, while playing a numbers game, Day forgot to actually make people care about the company again. BlackBerry is in the same boat right now - a successful quarter does not indicate a win for BlackBerry.

If Chen would like to keep his job as CEO of BlackBerry, he is going to have to do more than increase software revenues to $67 million - he is going to need to put a spark back into the brand.

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