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Thread: Internet Freedom/Filtering

Author Image Gerry Patterson. The world's most humble blogger
You underestimate the power of the Dark Side! -- Darth Vader

DRM Madness

Chronogical Blog Entries:

Date: Tue, 31 May 2016 23:00:00 +1000

This was originally composed a few years ago. Your humble blogger did think about posting it last year ... But didn't get round to it. Recently it was discovered in a forgotten corner of a humble hard disk. Although some of it is out-of-date, quite a bit of it is still relevant for the DRM bullshit and patent insanity that prevails today. And so it has been used to back load the missing blog postings for 2016.

In the last few years there has been a dramatic shift in the way that we use the Internet. And media companies around the world are still trying to work out how they must adapt to this. This is especially true for what used to be considered TV viewing.

Several years ago, your humble blogger purchased three TV screens (rather than monitors) for desktop computers in the humble abode. At the time quality computer monitors were quite expensive and often only had one HDMI input. These TVs were lesser known brands from either Big W or JB Hi Fi. They were cheap and had multiple HDMI inputs (at least 2) which would allow desktops and/or game console inputs which could be selected from the menu.

One of these TVs had "issues" ... So your blogger returned it while it was still under warranty ... However the store policy (JB Hi Fi) was to replace rather than fix ... But they didn't have that particular brand in stock. Instead they offered a discounted Sony Bravia as a replacement ... Which seemed more than acceptable ... Your blogger had originally purchased cheap generic TVs to save money. The offer of a genuine Sony TV seemed like good value. After all, your blogger reasoned, the Bravia might play nicely with the recently purchased (Sony) PS3 ... It seems that Sony can be very fussy about the HDMI protocol ... Plain vanilla desktops and/or an Xbox 360 could use the cheap HDMI cables from the bargain bin ... But Sony only seem to work with the most expensive individually packaged cables and the PS3 was quite fussy about what sort of device it would talk to (Your blogger suspected some DRM bovine faeces here) ... And so, readily accepted JB's replacement and sweetened the deal for them by purchasing their most expensive HDMI cable.

That was the first smart TV for the humble household. And yes, the PS3 worked very well indeed when it was connected.

After the arrival of this marvellous smart screen, the family TV, a large plastic and metal encased glass tube from the 20th century, that weighed as much as a fully laden lead-lined coffin, began to seem a trifle antiquated and lacking many of the user interfaces that a 21st century family might expect. ... Your blogger had reasoned that that the old glass tube beast was a perfectly good piece of machinery and probably had another fifteen or twenty years life in it. It seemed wasteful, irresponsible and an unnecessary burden on our waste-disposal facilities to merely discard such a formidable piece of hardware. But eventually that was what had to happen. It took three strong people to carry it out the front door ... And although the replacement screen had four times the real estate (in screen area), it weighed about one hundredth the weight of its predecessor.

And while your humble blogger was purchasing hardware it seemed that there were so many devices connected to the humble house-hold LAN that an internal DNS should be on the shopping list. However, while doing an analysis of the requirements, it occurred to your blogger that new PCs are so powerful and have so much memory, disk space, and CPU cycles that the new server could also be put to work as a media server when it wasn't answering DNS queries.

The first attempt at setting up a media server used Apache/perl (HTTP protocol). However it soon became apparent that this would only work with desktop computers. The second attempt used lightppd and PHP with a "flash player" plugin (once again HTTP protocol) ... This was a little better than the first attempt. The Samsung browser was one of the better TV based browsers. But overall it seems that support for HTTP is not good on devices other than desktop computers.

The final (successful) version of a media server used the DLNA protocol. It was an Ubuntu package called minidlna. The content was shared over DLNA for devices other than desktops and over NFS for desktops and laptops (later SAMBA for MS laptops). Fortunately Sony include codecs for the most common video standard (MP4). Although it does remain puzzling why they do not included codecs for other common protocols.

And here, dear reader, is where your humble blogger encountered an example of DRM stupidity.

While setting up a media server, it seemed a good idea to include Jeremy Vissar's Python-iView ... With some perl scripts to allow background download of ABC iView content, so that it could be viewed by members of the humble house-hold at a time that suited them rather than a time that suited the ABC. Since then however, the ABCs legal department has pursued this excellent product and ordered it to be taken down. This campaign by the ABC to force viewers to stream rather than download content has been bloody-minded and relentless. Python-iview enables viewers with limited bandwidth to download and then (later) watch the content without the annoying jerky glitches that occur during streaming. In this case it offers the advantage of sharing with incompatible devices and reducing bandwidth requirements for the viewer and the provider.

When viewers download content for viewing later it is very similar to what they used to able do when they set the VHS recorder for unattended recording. Furthermore, almost all of the ABC's content has been made available to the public, free of charge, and much of it was created with money from public funds. (There is even one show called "Download This Show"). In your humble bloggers opinion the campaign by the ABC against python-iview has been excessive, mostly futile and a waste of the ABC budget (which they tell us is suffering from egregious cuts). The money spent on constantly re-designing their site to prevent downloading not to mention the time and effort spent by their legal department pursuing and removing the software from public sites, could have been better spent on programming and improving their service. The ABC would have got better value for money if they left iView as it was originally designed, which was to offer the MP4 files (in the same way that ABC RN offers MP3 files of all of their radio programs). In your bloggers very humble opinion the ABC would get much better value from the budget if they stopped endlessly re-designing the iView service to impose streaming on their clients and maybe if the did a productivity review of their own Legal Department ...

And yet dear reader, there were more DRM conniptions for your humble blogger. Someone in the humble abode brought DVDs of the HBO TV series, "Game Of Thrones". This was an American TV series that, until then, your humble blogger had eschewed. But after viewing a few episodes yours humbly had to admit that the production values were outstanding ... All those gratuitous sex scenes, battle scenes, Machiavellian plotting, zombies, dragons and yet more gratuitous sex scenes was irresistible "adult" TV ... Although your humble blogger suspects that there may be a considerable number of "young adults" in the global audience.

And so after catching up on the series your humble blogger like millions of other Australians waited with considerable anticipation for Season 4 of "Game Of Thrones" ... Only to discover that Season 4 would not be available on disk for a considerable time after the 1st episode of season 4 went to air. In fact it would be almost 4 months ... And probably another 2 months before it found its way to the local video rental store. That's an awful long time to wait to see the evil little King Joffrey eat his richly deserved "just desserts" (as we now know he did in Season 4, episode 2).

However HBO had signed an exclusive deal with Foxtel ... At this point your blogger must admit that he once had a Foxtel connection, but had cancelled the service, because the number of shows on the basic movie deal had decreased steadily. The prices had gone up and the number of advertisements had increased ... We were forced to watch the content according to Foxtel's timetable ... And the minimum contract period was 2 years. It all seemed to be poor value for the ever increasing price they charged for what they (laughingly) called a service.

Now your humble blogger must also admit that, up until this point, he had not searched for Torrents to download entertainment content, having been more or less persuaded by the argument that content providers do deserve to be paid for the content they create and provide ...

In this regard it is possible to feel a little sympathy for HBO ... But not that much ... The deal they cut with Foxtel was ham-fisted and thick-headed. In your blogger's humble opinion content providers only deserve to be rewarded for producing quality content if they provide reasonable access to it at a reasonable price. HBO had failed to do this on all counts and in your blogger's humble opinion, they deserved a swift kick up the arse ... And dear reader, it was probably no coincidence that one of the best torrent sites (at the time) was called "KickAss Torrents".

And so with a little trepidation at first, and then later with more enthusiasm your blogger went online and searched for torrents for the "Game of Thrones" series. And it seems your blogger was not alone in this enterprise. According to media reports at the time 4 million other Australians joined him in this endeavour ... Which probably explains why the torrents downloaded so rapidly.

And your blogger must humbly opine that Bit Torrent, the open-source peer-to-peer answer to the take-down of sites like Napster, really does kick arse (or "ass" as our American cousins would say) ... Unlike centralised methods of sharing, downloads with Bit Torrent are faster and more reliable if a torrent is popular. And so dear reader, if you keep your computer up-to-date with the latest security upgrades and you refrain from clicking on the ads for "Hot Babes in your area" or "Schemes for getting rich from home using only the Internet", you can download content quite quickly with a relatively slow ADSL connection and watch it at your convenience on any device you choose.

And it seems to your blogger that if content providers had put a fraction of the money and effort into providing access to their content that they have already spent and continue to spend on "restricting access to their content" ... With their considerable resources, they might have come up with a product that was as excellent and easy to use as Bit Torrent obviously is.

Consumers seem to have a preference for MP4 ... With good reason! It will download asynchronously and can be played on almost any device. If providers won't give consumers MP4 at a reasonable price ... Then it seems that consumers will make their own MP4s and dstribute them free of charge ... It's simple mathematics. But in this regard some media conglomerates seem to be numerically challenged. They'd rather sue their customers than deliver the product they obviously prefer. So when is it a good idea to sue your customers?

Content providers generally seem eager to embrace the new distribution model but in particular prefer to keep the old pricing model. From the Antipodean perspective perspective it seems that we get less choice at higher prices ... While the corner video store struggles to stay afloat renting out videos at $2 per night, online providers backed by vast conglomerates who might have to pay for data centres, but don't have to pay for the distribution costs, and who benefit from economies of scale, prefer to press on with their policies to divide the world into regions, to restrict the content and adjust the price according to the region. There seems no justification for Australian consumers paying more than American consumers. ... It doesn't cost that much to push those electrons down under.

And in this regard it seems that Australian governments are beholden to the media giants rather than to their own citizens. Generally their primary focus is on how to control and regulate the Internet. Luke Hopwell, who writes for Gizmodo expresses the opinion, in 2015, that the site blocking blocking measures "suck" and they bear a striking resemblance to the Internet Filter proposed by their predecessors (Labor).

While this government crows about taking action against SolarMovie, they still haven't undertaken a comprehensive review of pricing and their half-baked, half-pregnant, half-dead NBN probably wouldn't have the bandwidth for us all to stream movies even if they succeed in their (unstated) objective of forcing the entire mooing herd of consumers to stream content.

Update: 2016-09-11 As you can probably tell by the content, dear reader, this original entry was composed sometime in 2014 and completed in 2015. Much has changed since then ... And much has remained the same. Video stores every where are being shut down ... Netflix and other streaming services are taking their place. Foxtel have abandoned their lock-in contracts ... Kickass torrents has been taken down ... American content providers still weep and wail about "theft of their intellectual property", and try to bully and cajole governments, ISPs and their own representatives in the USA ... And still there are region specific content restrictions and pricing ... And still no sign of a government sponsored review of these unfair pricing policies, which appear unfavourable for Australians ... The ABC continues its vendetta against python-iview, having recently successfully ordered it to be taken down from GitHub ... The Abbott government has been replaced with the Turnbull government ... The NBN appears even more like a load of old rope which, ironically, may end up costing more than the original gold-plated 100% fibre version proposed by Labor ... And, yes dear reader, our illustrious goverment demonstrated their online credentials by conducting the latest census almost entirely online ... Well actually they didn't really achieve much ... It turned out to be classic military grade cluster-f**k!

Plus ca change ... Plus c'est la meme chose!

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