Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Copyright/wrong 3

Just in case you were waiting to find out what the MEPs did in relation to this letter, I received this response from Fiona Hall MEP:
Thank you for your recent email regarding the Commission’s proposed extension of copyright on sound recordings. This came to vote today in Parliament.

This was a seriously flawed proposal, and my Lib Dem colleague Sharon Bowles MEP tabled an amendment in Parliament to reject it in its entirety. I am pleased that this has gained support among the wider European public. Unfortunately it was defeated in the vote and a limited version of the extension has now passed.

In advance of the vote Sharon tabled an additional amendment in the case that the ALDE/Green amendment to reject did not pass. This would have seen the term of protection reduced to 70 years, and applicable only to recordings produced before 1975. A version of this has now been adopted into the text: the term of protection agreed by Parliament has been reduced from 95 to 70 years; however Sharon’s proviso of only applying to recordings produced before 1975 did not make it, and the new 70-year term will apply to all sound recordings.

I should mention that the process is not over, and there are still ways for us to defeat the proposed extension. I am still hopeful that we can secure a rejection from the Council of Ministers; if that is the case then it will come back to Parliament for a second reading. This would likely be after the European elections and it may be that the newly elected Parliament may be more favourable toward rejecting the extension.

The Liberal Democrats tried to fight the good fight but to no avail. The other MEPs I contacted failed to respond. My Conservative MEP wrote me here

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Copyright/wrong 2

It's been interesting to watch the media fallout and the Internet spillover following the recent Pirate Bay trial. I recently signed up the Open Rights Group's listserve and have been watching my email inbox fill up with lots of informative titbits which seem related to my earlier post on the way in which copyright law is inappropriately proposed.

The major story that has had the blogosphere and twitterverse talking today seems to be about the supposed bias of the Pirate Bay judge, Tomas Norström. Torrentfreak has suggested that there are a number of links between the 'guilty' verdict and the affiliation of Norström with a number of pro-copyright groups. This has raised a few eyebrows and rumours of demands for a retrial.

In other news, there were numerous reports pointing to a Nordic study which suggests that pirates are about 10 times more likely to purchase copyright material than non-pirates. The study looked at over 1900 people over the age of 15 and found that those who use music download services were more likely to buy music than those that didn't. This comes on the back of an earlier Canadian study from 2006 which suggested that P2P users buy more music than is typically conceded.

Author, activist and co-editor of Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow, has recently posted an article on the nefarious activities of the pro-copyright groups over at Interent Evolution which is well worth a read. In it he discusses the public and private meetings which go on between pro-copyright lobbyists (IFPI, RIAA, etc) at the United Nations level, in relation to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

For those of you wondering as to the outcome of my letter to the MEPs regarding copyright-term extension act, I have received an acknowledgement from one of them. More on that story as it breaks.

EDIT - it seems that the proposed copyright term extension has been passed and now moves forward to the Council of Ministers. The full details can be found over at the ORG site.

Just for fun, why don't you pay a visit to www.thepirategoogle.com to look for music, film and other files. The site isn't affiliated with Google but it has been mocked up to save you the hassle of using Google to find torrent. Remember, part of the The Pirate Bay defence was that they were a search engine like Google, pointing to links for related material. Google can be used for much the same so ... when are media industries going after the biggest fish?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

On the problems of format exclusive DLC...

We might want to file this one under 'rant'...

It's not often that I stop to think about the ways in which games companies shoot themselves in the foot but today I had one of those moments. I had been reading through the recent press releases for Bethesda's Fallout 3 downloadable content (DLC), entitled Broken Steel. This is the third release to date which extends the world of Fallout 3, following Operation Anchorage and The Pitt.

Unlike the previous two releases, Broken Steel, promises to take place where the original game left off. The other games were set in the same post-apocalyptic game world as Fallout 3 but they deviated from the original title somewhat. Broken Steel allows you to increase your character's skill level to 30, beyond the original 20, and also brings with it other various perks. That is, if you have any version of the game that isn't PS3.

Having games be exclusive to a particular system is not a new thing. In fact, it was a big part of Sony's success with the original Playstation and its successor, and may have even been pivotal in platform purchase decisions. That can make a lot of sense in terms of a large scale marketing campaign focusing on brand exclusivity, but I'm not convinced the same thing can be said of smaller DLC.

The problem...

This is where my problem begins. The press release material all sounded pretty attractive to me - I am more than happy to buy additional content for those games I have enjoyed playing, especially if they promise to extend the pleasure of that experience or offer added value. However, I own a PS3 and a Mac, not an Xbox 360 or a PC where the DLC is going to be headed.

None of the DLC has been available to date for the PS3. The reasons for this? Unknown, although rumours of a deal between Microsoft and Bethesda are littered across various gaming sites. IGN reported back in July 2008 that Bethesda's Todd Howard promised "extensive" DLC for Xbox and Games For Windows. No official announcement was made at the time as to why the PS3 was excluded. Edge carried a story around the same time in which Colin Sebastain of Lazard Capital Markets remarked thus:
"...I think it's a very good possibility that Microsoft and Bethesda were partners in this decision. Obviously Microsoft paid up to secure exclusive online content for GTA IV, and online is a cornerstone for Microsoft's digital media strategy."
In the same article, Bethesda's marketing boss Peter Hines is quoted as saying:
"...We aren’t going to get into the details of the hows and whys," said Bethesda marketing boss Pete Hines in an e-mail. "[DLC] will be exclusive for PC and 360. [We're] not going to give any other qualifiers or clarifications as it relates to other platforms."
Incentive to buy?

As you can see, Fallout 3 is by no means an exception. Microsoft signed an exclusive deal with Rockstar so they get the GTA IV DLC on their platform. Now, I have to ask, who really benefits from this kind of exclusivity deal? Do Microsoft really gain that much by securing the rights to exclusive DLC content? Do the game developers gain from the cash tie-in which denies one platform? I enjoyed both GTA IV and Fallout 3 and would gladly buy the DLC if it were available. However, one platform having exclusive DLC whilst another does not is not enough to make me buy that machine over the other.

The only solution it would seem, is to buy an Xbox 360, then buy the games I already own, then buy the DLC. As you can imagine that is not something most consumers in the middle of a global recession are likely to do just to play an extra few hours worth of content. A quick estimate of exactly how much this would cost from Amazon goes to show you the potential implications:
I had to include Wireless Network Adapter as I'd be unable to connect my machine to my wi-fi router any other way, and I had to include an Xbox 360 which has a hard drive to download content onto. I excluded the cost of the DLC as that would be paid for on either format for the sake of this example. I also excluded the cost of Xbox Live Gold subscription which wasn't needed to get the DLC. The free Silver package is fine.

Almost £240 to play the DLC is beyond reasonable. Not everyone can afford to buy two machines. Not everyone can have the foresight to know which companies are going to get which exclusives, or which games are going to be so enjoyable you will want to buy more expansion packs. Not everyone who buys a games console is aware of the past deals signed between developers and manufacturers.

I make these points to highlight the shortfalls of DLC exclusives. DLC will seldom be a major purchasing factor when people decide which of the largely similar consoles they will opt to spend their money on. It may play a role, but not the deciding role. Therefore, I ask who actually wins and who loses as a result of these exclusive deals?

And the winners are...

I can only guess that the developers win in the short term by virtue of receiving a cheque from Microsoft. Microsoft may stand to win a small PR battle over Sony, but there are other areas in which they may lose out (Blu-ray functionality; cheap expandable storage; etc). The real losers here are the gamers who can't access the content they would gladly buy because of a format battle (one which is actually good for games in that it fosters competition and technological advancement).

Each of the Fallout DLC costs about £10 (or 800 Microsoft Gamer Points). That's £30 that Bethesda will not be getting from me or from the other angry PS3 owners who would have made excellent customers. Who's winning now?

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Copyright/wrong

The Open Rights Group (ORG) alerted me to the news that recent intensive lobbying pressure has resulted in the hastily arranged tabling of the copyright extension proposal, which seems likely to go ahead next Thursday. I have posted on this issue elsewhere on this blog but I believe the video below explains the problems of the proposed changes better than I could do the issue justice:

Becky Hogge: Speech at Sound Copyright conference in the EU Parliament 27.01.09 from Open Rights Group on Vimeo.

The proposed extension seems better suited to supporting corporate cartels than protecting artists. It also acts as a blanket cover preventing material no longer profitable from entering the public domain, from which other creative works can be derived. The industry is looking to score another result fresh on the back of the Pirate Bay verdict, but this represents a very different issues with wide-ranging consequences for the public domain and the future of digital creativity.

say no to copyright extension

The basis of reanimating this extension is highly dubious. ORG are advocating that concerned citizens should act now to reject the proposed act. Visit the Sound Copyright site to find out what you can do to fight the industry lobbyists. Write to your MEP now - this page will give you some useful advice on how to lobby your MEP with a briefing pack full of relevant info. It is easy to do - people in the UK can use the WriteToThem service to get involved. It finds the name of you MEP for you and even gives you a page to contact them from.

This is what I wrote in my letter to the MEPs in question:
Dear Fiona Hall, Stephen Hughes and Martin Callanan,

The European Commission has recently proposed to extend the term of copyright in sound recordings in a move "aimed at performers". I believe this does not address the problem it claims to, while imposing serious costs on consumers, follow-on innovators and re-users of information. I also believe it endangers the basis of public respect and acceptance of intellectual property. There has been a constant cycle of copyright extension terms in recent decades, all of which protects businesses at the expense of creative re-use of material which should have entered the public domain long ago.

If Europe wishes to keep its ability to innovate, it must not lock in the current industry structure at a moment of great technological change, it must not inhibit digital creators and archives in the exploration of music - music which has been paid for once already, during the existing term. There must be a public domain from which innovation can be propagated. Excessive copyright restrictions benefit a minority of key industry players and harm the majority of the public by denying the public access to material no longer commercially viable.

If copyright law, cynically, departs from its purpose, piracy becomes an easy and attractive option.

I urge the European Parliament, and the governments of member states of the European Union, to consider carefully the independent evidence on copyright term extension, and reject the Directive in its proposed form.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Jewitt
Feel free to repurpose/remix the content in any way you see fit. A wholesale cut/paste job will be rejected by the WriteToThem site though. Get behind the academics who have already pointed out the problems with this bill.

Your voice counts.

Watch how Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig shows the impact that inappropriate laws can have on creativity below:

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Upgrading a PS3 hard drive and avoiding the problems other guides forget about

#NB: an updated version of this guide covering firmware 3.55 can be found here

This is something I have done twice now and I thought I'd share my experiences. There are lots of other guides to doing this online and they are pretty good - it's how I managed to do it the first time - but they often omit a couple of bits of information which might pose problems if you don't quite know how to handle them.

Upgrading the PS3 hard drive brings with it a number of benefits, especially if you own a lot of games, and also if you use your Playstation as a media centre for photos, movies and music. Don't forget that you can partition the drive and install Linux on the Playstation too. My original 40gb drive was almost full after 6 months and the 80gb replacement I first installed was full within 12 months.

This process should not invalidate the warranty.

What you will need
  • New internal hard drive - this will be the drive that you are going to put in the PS3
  • External hard drive - this will be the drive that you use to backup the original hard drive (game data, saves, media files, etc)
  • USB flash drive - this will be used to install the Playstation firmware (currently v2.70 as I write this guide which comes in at 142.5mb)
  • Phillips head screwdriver - for removing the drive
  • PS3 controller and USB cable
Sourcing a replacement drive

This is quite important but shouldn't pose too many problems. Not every drive will fit in the PS3 so make sure you check the following:
  • SATA - the drive must have a Serial ATA interface, not the older IDE or ATA formats. You should be able to pick-up a good quality 250gb Western Digital or Seagate drive for around £45 from ebuyer. Larger capacity drives are a little more expensive but still affordable.
  • 2.5" - the drive should be 2.5" in width, typical for laptops. If you have an old laptop drive then you could use this (I pulled a 250gb drive out of my Macbook to dump in the PS3)
  • 9.5mm - this is the correct height for the PS3 and also is typical. However, there are some thinner and larger drives on the market so watch out.
  • 5400 RPM - there are drives that spin slightly faster at 7200 RPM but they are more expensive and I've seen rumours online that they may overheat for the tiny speed advantage you may get. I can't vouch for that rumour as I've never installed a 7200 RPM drive.
Step 1

Now that you have sourced a new drive and have all the material listed above, the first thing you need to do is backup the content on the PS3 to a removable USB hard drive. I've found that it helps if you the drive you are using as backup is already formatted in the FAT32 file format and that it has enough free space to take the contents of the internal PS3 drive. You can convert your drive using Disk Utility (Mac) or Disk Management (Windows), or even just create a partition on the external drive large enough to accommodate the PS3 content.

Once you are sure you have you FAT32 formatted drive ready, connect the USB hard drive to the PS3 and the system software will automatically recognize the external USB hard drive, allowing you to copy the contents.

Step 2

Unlike Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony have made it very easy for PS3 owners to upgrade their drives cheaply without having to buy official products. You can get twice the space for about half the cost. They've also included some useful software to accommodate the migration process. Your system settings and your PSN info are stored in the PS3's internal flash memory so all we need to consider are the games, games saves, photos, trailers, music, etc.

You have two options here: a full backup or a partial manual backup. I'm going to lead you through the former.

On the XMB (Cross Media Bar) select System Settings, then Backup Utility. Choose the Backup option when asked and finally select your external drive. If you already have a large internal drive of, say 80gb, then this might take a while - my PS3 told me it would take 1 hour 39 minutes.

Step 3

Now that the data is backed up we are going to need to open the PS3 to take the hard drive out. First of all you will need to completely power down the PS3 and disconnect all connections (HDMI, power cable, USB, etc) so that no charge remains. It is advisable to wait about 10 minutes to let the machine cool down too. Take the machine to a flat clean work surface and stand it on the side with the cooling vent (with the stand by switch) so that you can see the hard drive access panel (it should have a sticker on it). Pop this panel off with your fingernails or a screwdriver. The Playstation owners manual even contains details about this process.

Unscrew the blue screw. Pull the metal handle and the drive tray will pop out. Now, there are four small screws keeping the hard drive in the tray. Now these are cheap and will strip if you force them with an inappropriate screwdriver so use the right tool. Sony will send you a new tray and screws if you do this but your old drive will be stuck (ideally you want to be able to get the old drive and make a portable drive out of it).

Swap the old drive for your new hard drive (label side up) and screw everything back in and plug the PS3 back in.

Step 4

When you turn the power on you will be asked to connect a controller using a USB cable and press the PS button. At this point you will get a message saying the following:
The system software cannot be run correctly. Press the PS button to try to restart the system.

If the system cannot be restarted, the system partition of the hard disk must be reformatted and you must reinstall the system software.
Insert storage media that contains update date of version 2.70 or later, and then press the START and SELECT buttons as the same time.
For information on how to obtain update data, refer to the SCE Web site for your region.
NOTE: Most sites offering upgrade advise skip this section, hence my post so pay heed to the following section

If you do press the PS button you will end up in a feedback look unless you connect a USB drive with the v2.70 firmware to the PS3. You can't just copy the file over to the USB drive. That would be too easy. No, you must create a folder on the USB stick called PS3 and then another folder in that called UPDATE and place the firmware file in there in order for the PS3 to read it. Do this now and press START and SELECT.

If you don't create the USB directory exactly like that, you will get the following message:
No applicable update data was found.
Insert storage media that contains update data of version 2.70 or later, and then press the START and SELECT buttons at the same time.
Now that you've done that, and followed the onscreen instructions to format the new drive (we want to do this) we can start the next long part of the process.

Step 5

Most likely your PS3 asked you to agree to installing the new firmware, and then it automatically restarted itself when you agreed to the terms and conditions. Select your language of choice. If you have an HDMI connection the PS3 will detect it automatically and ask you to switch to the optimal settings - agree to this.

Select a time zone; set the date and time; add your preferred user name before entering the Internet Connection Settings. Work your way through the configuration screens. Eventually you will be able to get to the XMB. Plug-in your external drive with the back-up data, then head over to System Settings, then Backup Utility. Choose Restore when asked and finally select the device you backed everything up to. This is the second major time killer moment as the data gets restored. Restoring my 80gb drive worth of data took 1 hour 39 minutes.

Step 6

After all that, your PS3 should be ready for business. You can even go on to install Linux if you want but I'm not going to cover that in this post. I might do that later, but it requires another reformat and a bit of time. If you want to do this then make sure you backup your new install first or keep that drive you copied somewhere safe. You could even use the old drive as a backup resource. However, you will need to ensure all game saves or new data are copied manually.

All should be well. Most guides advise you to keep your old drive somewhere safe in case you have any problems in the future. You can do that but if you are out of the warranty you could always buy a hard drive caddy and turn your old drive into a portable drive. Caddies are cheap at about the £6 mark from most computer shops.

The original 40gb drive I took out of my PS3 was a Seagate drive and it stated on the sticker that you shouldn't put the drive in another laptop. It doesn't say anything about caddies.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Public or private?

In anticipation of a session that I will be giving on MAC301 in a couple of weeks, I thought I'd post a few links here which touch on the issue of data privacy. These might make interesting case studies for anyone looking to explore what seems like a hot topic at the moment (think Twitter, Facebook, Big Brother, reality television, mobile phones, etc). Indeed, The Guardian has a handy collection of resources here. City University London even offers a MA in Surveillance Studies.

Google's Street View

Earlier this week Jamie Doward wrote for The Observer about how the Information Commissioner ruled that Google's Street View, the service which depicts 360-degree views of buildings and highways, is not a threat to personal privacy. This in itself is not new news, but it is just one article among many that have highlighted anxieties about the new service. Privacy advocates like Privacy International have already complained about the service, claiming it has led to moments of embarrassment or distress, when the Street View car has captured members of the public at importune moments (eg such as people being caught on camera leaving sex shops).

Google has already gone some way to offset this type of criticism by obscuring the faces of people caught on camera, as well as car numberplates. However, this hasn't allayed all anxious that the service may be abused, such as the inhabitants of Broughton, North London, who were so fearful that their affluent neighbourhood's appearance on Street View would attract criminals that they remonstrated with the driver of the Google vehicle (see CNN story here for more details). This isn't the first or last time that Google's tools have been used inappropriately, but that doesn't mean there are no advantages to its services.

There are obvious advantages to a location-aware service like Street View, especially for people trying to find their way to places they have never visited previously. A three-dimensional representation will help bridge the gap that satellite images cannot.

Phorm

I've mentioned Phorm (aka Webwise) on this blog before. They are a company who harness intrusive DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) technologies to monitor our private personal data so that they can sell this data to interested parties in order to 'improve' targeted advertising. Briefly, this means that the sites we visit and the kind of links we follow will build up a profile of our behaviour so that more suitable adverting content can compete for our attention rather than being bombarded with blanket advertising that we have little or no interest in. BT and Virgin Media have been linked with this technology in the past.

Several high profile groups have criticised Phorm, especially the Open Rights Group (ORG) and the inventor of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee. ORG have managed to get a number of key sites to opt out of Phorm's Webwise project, including Amazon.co.uk.

There is very little average web users can do to prevent targeted behavioural-based advertising from happening (beyond complaining to their ISPs and supporting groups like ORG) as the technology works at the ISP server side. I recently wrote about Google's decision to employ similar techniques and how to prevent privacy being invaded here.

Phorm have claimed that they are not being invasive. The data gathered is anonymous in that individual Internet use is collated into similar user types - Phorm will not create a unique target-based system for everyone just yet. An individual's behaviour will fall into a specific set of established categories with relevant advertising directed at those groups of users.

The UK government has approved Phorm but the European commission has launched legal proceedings against them for allegedly breaching EU data protection laws (see The Guardian article here for details). It seems that the intercept technology employed does not neatly fit within present guidelines of the intentionality of the interception and the amount of consent given to Internet users.

Government intercept powers

Recently the UK government shored up the final bit of data interception law that was missing from it's portfolio when it added email and VoIP to the list of things that communication service providers had to keep records of. Mobile and fixed-line phone connection records have already been part of the package for a few years now. As of March 15th 2009, ISPs have to retain data about when and where emails were sent (not about the content) - historically this was voluntary - in case one of over 600 public bodies makes a request to access the information. This was part of a wider EU Data Retention Directive (2006/24/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL), agreed back in 2006.

The rationale behind this move is to protect our freedom - to keep an eye on potential and actual terrorists using these services in order to prevent an attack. It is debatable whether or not buidling up these network profiles actually prevent terrorism (as in the 9/11 incident when the network was known to officials but ineffective as a means of prevention). Charles Arthur wrote a piece for The Guardian this week in which he astutely highlighted the dangers of this legislation for investigative journalism - something which is already under threat in a period when news producers are facing tough economic conditions.

The implications are clear - a journalist's data and sources for investigative stories, if gathered electronically, will be accessible for those bodies with a 'valid request'. This is potentially harmful for democracy when a whistleblower's anonymity is far from guaranteed.

What will be covered next? Messages sent across social networks sites like Twitter and Facebook or across gaming networks like the Playstation Network and Microsoft Live? So, just how private is private when so many disparate bodies are interested in the minuate of everyday communications? Is it best to think of everything we do which we may have thought of as being private as being public?

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

An idle distraction

Today I have mainly been procrastinating. I have two journal articles to write and I'm not feeling particularly motivated to write them currently. So, I've decided to invent my own font after listening to an old BBC podcast of Digital Planet, in which the presenter Gareth Mitchell did the same thing.

Currently you can create your own font for free over on www.yourfonts.com. It takes about 10 minutes from start to finish. You download a template, fill it in, scan it and then upload it to the site. Your handwriting is converted into a True Type Font (.ttf) file. You even get the chance to scan your very own signature - handy! Here's a little taste of what my Jewitt Grande font looks like:If I had my way, the entire Web would be presented this way (or at least anything which currently takes the guise of the dreaded Comic Sans!).

The service is currently free, but only for a limited time. When it hits 250,000 personalised fonts it may go fee-based. If you actually want a copy of the font then you can download it from here.