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Archive for October, 2007


October 26th, 2007

Great and good crash Virtual Worlds Forum

Great and good crash Virtual Worlds Forum

The Canvas warehouses in London’s Kings Cross Freight Depot were the very real life (RL!) setting for this week’s Virtual Worlds Forum Europe 2007, which gathered IT industry directors, regulators, lawyers and the occasional MP or peer of the realm to discuss business, branding and bylaws within virtual worlds.

More than 450+ participants and over 60 international speakers including Lord Puttnam of Queensgate and Lord Triesman – a minister at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills – helped make up a veritable who’s who of Europe’s virtual worlds. The hottest issue was if, how and when governments will choose to police virtual worlds. TimesOnline reported Lord Triesman hoping virtual world operators like Linden Labs and Mattel would take the lead in regulation, singling out anti-social behaviour and identity theft as “sharp challenges”, but also admitting that for more serious issues such as child pornography there was “a certain inevitability about government involvement.”

Call us cynical if you will, but we reckon it’s far more likely that treasury heads will be turned by the estimated millions of ‘RL’ dollars being exchanged in virtual world’s daily, before any law enforcement agency begins tracking criminals.

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October 24th, 2007

TV Links Shut Down, Piracy Problem Not Solved

TV Links Shut Down, Piracy Problem Not Solved

The Register is reporting that the website, TV Links has been shut down, and the webmaster arrested. TV Links was a website on which users posted links to often illegally uploaded television shows and films. It did not, reports say, host any of the content itself.

The thing I’m finding interesting about this particular case, is that it is a little unclear what the webmaster, a 26 year old man from Cheltenham, was actually arrested for. The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) announced that the webmaster was carted off for “offences relating to the facilitation of copyright infringement on the Internet.” Interestingly, a few days later, the police officially announced that the man was arrested on suspicion of supplying property with a registered trademark without permission (also reported by The Register).

It seems to me that the police and FACT are struggling to find a way of making this case; if linking to copyrighted material is illegal, then a vast number of sites and blogs across the web are breaking the law right now. The legal side of this particular situation is very hazy, and perhaps this is why they are looking at trademark laws. The webmaster has been released without charge, and the investigation is still pending.

Another interesting aspect to this case is the question of why FACT has targeted TV Links, as opposed to the sites hosting the illegal video. The obvious answer being bandied round on blogs, and in reports, is that the hosts are just too big. A large number of programmes were hosted on sites such as YouTube (Google owned) or Veoh (investment from companies such as AOL Time-Warner), and although the companies are implementing measures to lessen the illegal video on their sites, a lot of copyrighted material remains.

I do not fully understand what the ultimate goal of the arrest was. Certainly, TV Links has been shut down, but dozens of linking sites remain, as does much of the video TV Links pointed to. TV Links was a very popular site, but its removal just means the users will use another one. It seems, to me, to be like patching a knife wound with a plaster – ineffective and rather pointless.

It will be very interesting to see if any further charges are levelled at TV Links contributors, and particularly interesting to see if any stick. Although I believe that TV / film companies have every right to protect their commodity, I remain uncertain that this is the right way to go about it.

I am a copywriter at Prompt and this post reflects my personal views, and does not necessarily represent those of Prompt Communications or its clients.

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October 18th, 2007

The Spectrum Wars Begin (No, Not the Computer)

The Spectrum Wars Begin (No, Not the Computer)

Whitehaven in Cumbria has become the first town in Britain to lose their analogue television signal. The residents of the northern town must now use digital receivers to receive their programmes. BBC News reports that now the analogue signal is not in use, the spectrum will be available for other uses.

The switchover has ignited a war over what to do with the abandoned signal space. Three major lobbying groups are involved, each of which has their own designs for the spectrum. Let’s examine our combatants, shall we?

Group 1 – The Mobile Operators. The mobile phone companies believe that the spectrum will help them to enhance their services. They plan to use it to introduce high quality video to existing services. TV on a mobile? A distinct possibility.

Group 2 – The Broadcasters. This group wants to keep use the TV airwaves to broadcast high definition television channels. This means that viewers who use a freeview box will have access to HD TV channels.

Group 3 – The Internet Providers. According to the Internet Providers, the available spectrum could be used for wireless broadband services. This would open up wireless internet to a number of areas that are currently insufficiently wired.

So who’s going to win? Will one group get the spectrum? Will all of them get it? Well, that decision lies with market regulator Ofcom. Ofcom has stated publicly that it will be using a market-led approach, meaning it is likely to give control of the spectrum to whoever pays the most for it.

Critics have highlighted that the group who gets control of the spectrum must act in the public interest, and I wholeheartedly agree. The most convincing argument I have read comes from the Internet Providers. I’d love more television channels, and watching Eastenders on my mobile as I travel to work would be great, but they are merely enhancements to existing services. If the Internet Providers claims that they could provide improved internet access to parts of the country are true, then this seems to me to be a good use of the spectrum.

Whichever group does win control, it’s likely that we’ll see a range of new services emerge in that industry. Whatever happens, it’ll be interesting to watch.

I am a copywriter at Prompt and this post reflects my personal views, and does not necessarily represent those of Prompt Communications or its clients.

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October 17th, 2007

Google to "Fingerprint" Videos

Google to "Fingerprint" Videos

An article in yesterday’s New York Times tracks the development of Google’s new “fingerprinting” system for its Youtube videos. In theory, Google’s internal developers have created a way to encode videos with a digital fingerprint that can identify uploaded items that violate copyright law.

Google’s actions stem from a long list of complaints from media companies, generally claiming that Google’s video service, Youtube, makes it far too easy for anyone to upload video and violate copyright laws. Youtube’s current user interface makes it possible for anyone to upload content and takes only a few clicks. The current system used to determine if the material is copyrighted requiresthe media companies to review the site and request it to be removed retroactively.

The fingerprint system being tested would require media companies to submit their content to Google, to have it automatically encode the files. If any future attempt to upload a video that matches the fingerprint is made then the content is denied.

The surprising twist to this article is the response from the media companies: they aren’t impressed. One legal representative for a media company is quoted: “I think this is a completely inadequate solution, it is too late in coming; it offers too little protection.” A Viacom Exec claimed: “We obviously have suffered significant damages in the past”, indirectly referring to Youtube’s dominance over the online video market.

It seems that when it comes to online video clips the media companies have a bigger problem and they are just using copyright infringement as a scapegoat: they can’t seem to win the popularity contest and they know this is costing them money.

Most media companies which are listed as testing this new service (including NBC, CBS, and Viacom) have their own distribution sites for online downloadable content. It’s not that NBC doesn’t want you searching for Saturday Night Live clips, they just want to make sure you go to their site for them first.

Through Google’s robust brand “Youtube” is becoming as colloquial as “iPod”. Currently NBC has “NBC 24/7 Video” and CBS has its “Innertube“, online portals to download the same type of clips that are being removed from Youtube regularly.

This seems like a case of ‘Keeping Up with the Googles’, where media companies are doing everything they legally can to keep a hand in the competition. Google beat them all to the digital video punch when it acquired Youtube, and the media companies have been back peddling ever since to pick up online market share.

Maybe the media companies should be a little more appreciative of what Google has done here. Google currently claims that it works within copyright law, by removing any content that is found to be violating copyright law. Media companies have complained that retroactive removal hasn’t been enough, so Google has stepped up and found a preemptive way to address this.

If Google is going to offer this service, the media companies should be grateful to have the option, at least until they can come up with a better solution on their own.

I am an employee at Prompt and this post reflects my personal views, and does not necessarily represent those of Prompt Communications or its clients.

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October 11th, 2007

Will New Study Make Games Grow Up?

Will New Study Make Games Grow Up?

This week, the BBC announced that the British Government launched a study into the effect of videogame violence on children. The study, headed up by psychologist Dr. Tanya Byron, will also investigate ways to protect children from inappropriate online material. The first findings will not be published for at least six months, but already the games industry is leaping on the defensive. It highlights censorship and age ratings as ways the industry protects children, but some critics feel the system doesn’t work.

I am an avid gamer, and have been for as long as I can remember. My initial reaction to this news was to sigh and shake my head wearily. It seems as if the games industry is constantly fielding accusations of behaviour modification, or immorality. This is not the first such investigation into videogame violence, and I’ll be surprised if it’s the last. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised how beneficial this study could be, and how much of the damage to the games industry’s reputation is self-inflicted.

I think much of my automatic defensiveness of the games industry comes from the fact that I not only grew up with games, but also that games grew up with me. Now in my 20s, as I developed, so did the games. As I became more sophisticated, so did the games (unfortunately while the games got prettier, I… didn’t, but the argument still stands). When I think of children playing games, I automatically remember what it was like for me playing Monkey Island or Sonic the Hedgehog. This rose-tinted view is, of course, completely inaccurate – games today are very different now from how they were fifteen years ago.

In many ways, the innocence has gone. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that games today are better than they have ever been, but the subject matter is generally much more aggressive. First person shooters, free roaming crime games, real time strategy war games; all these are popular genres and many played by children. The publishers may claim that age ratings protect children from bloody violence and swearing, but if I counted on my digits how many children I have seen playing an edition of Grand Theft Auto, I’d have to borrow someone else’s limbs to get an accurate number.

This new study was launched the day after a particularly violent game, Manhunt 2, was banned from release by the censors. The controversy the game has caused is fantastic publicity for the developer, raising interest in the game, but it does the reputation of gaming no favours. I personally would define an ‘adult game’ as one with an intelligent, thought-provoking play mechanic, or a well constructed narrative, interesting characters etc. I would not automatically identify a game as ‘adult’ because it has excessive violence and swearing. If anything, it makes it seem more juvenile, which raises the question, who is playing those games? I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of players are under fifteen.

Does videogame violence have a negative impact on children? Who knows, but children very clearly have access to inappropriate material. With luck this study will identify weaknesses in distribution, and make it much more difficult for children to get their hands on violent games. This way, any discovered effects on children can be reduced, and more importantly, people will stop moaning about it.

I am a copywriter at Prompt and this post reflects my personal views, and does not necessarily represent those of Prompt Communications or its clients.

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October 5th, 2007

Record Companies Strike Back at File Sharer

Record Companies Strike Back at File Sharer

The illegal distribution of music files over file sharing networks is a constant headache for record companies. Music piracy is becoming increasingly common; chances are you know someone personally who has downloaded a free track, or have done so yourself. The logic is understandable – why pay for an expensive album, when you can get the songs you like for free? It may be illegal, but it isn’t as if the record companies can do anything about it is there?

Well apparently there is.

Record companies have taken legal action against online music pirates before, but earlier this year in Minnesota, single mother Jammie Thomas made headlines by being the first person to refuse to pay an out of court settlement. The case has gone to trial and Times Online reports that the jury has ruled in favour of the record companies. Ms Thomas was instructed to pay the six record companies that sued her $9, 250 for each of the twenty-four songs involved in the case, resulting in a total fine of over $220,000.

It is made very clear that illegally obtaining music and video is punishable, but the question people are now asking seems to be ‘is this particular punishment appropriate?’ I find myself questioning that as well.

There is no question that music file sharing is illegal and as such the record companies are well within their rights to sue, but the fine in this case seems excessive. Times Online reports that Ms Thomas will almost certainly be unable to pay this, and be driven into bankruptcy. Richard Gabriel, lead prosecutor in the case, explained that there was a “need for deterrence”, but is it really worth potentially destroying someone’s life just to prove a point?

Either way, the win is unlikely to have a big impact on the amount of music file sharing going on, though it may cause people to be a little more wary about their downloading. Buoyed by their success, the record companies will undoubtedly be taking more legal action in the future.

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