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Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - December 2nd, ’23
December 2nd, 2023
Google Play Keeps Banning the Same Web Browser Due to Vague DMCA Notices
Downloader app suspended by DMCA notice that didn't list any copyrighted works.
App developer Elias Saba has had some bad luck with Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedowns. His Android TV app Downloader, which combines a web browser with a file manager, was suspended by Google Play in May after several Israeli TV companies complained that the app could be used to load a pirate website.
Google reversed that suspension after three weeks. But Downloader has been suspended by Google Play again, and this time the reason is even harder to understand. Based on a vague DMCA notice, it appears that Downloader was suspended simply because it can load the Warner Bros. website.
Downloader is similar to standard web browsers in that it lets users access both legal and illegally shared content. The app can be used for general web surfing and can download files from a website when a user inputs the desired URL. According to Saba, the app itself contains no infringing content, nor does it direct users to infringing content.
Google notified Saba that the app was suspended again last night, according to the notice that Saba shared with Ars. "Your app contains content that allegedly infringes upon the copyright of others, and violates applicable copyright laws in the relevant country/jurisdiction," the notice from Google said.
The notice includes a copy of the DMCA complaint, which came from MarkScan, a "digital asset protection" firm that content owners hire to enforce copyrights. MarkScan said in its complaint that it represents Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.
“Properties of Warner Bros. Discovery”
A DMCA notice is supposed to identify and describe the copyrighted work that was infringed. But MarkScan's notice about Downloader identifies the copyrighted work only as "Properties of Warner Bros. Discovery Inc." It provides no detail on which Warner Bros. work was infringed by Downloader.
A DMCA notice is also supposed to provide an example of where someone can see "an authorized example of the work." In this field, MarkScan simply entered the main Warner Bros. URL: https://www.warnerbros.com/.
"I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law," MarkScan's notice said.
Unsurprisingly, Saba is outraged. "You would think that Google would at least verify that the takedown request is actually making a plausible claim," he told Ars today. "The most important field in the takedown where the claimant has to specify where the copyright infringement exists is void of all detail. If this complete lack of information is all it takes to take an app down, then no app in the Google Play Store is safe from being suspended with just a few clicks and a frivolous takedown request."
The Downloader app had been installed over 10 million times before the takedown, according to an Internet Archive capture taken before the latest suspension.
Saba appealed the takedown today, but he told us that the appeal was rejected by Google Play after 24 minutes. Saba said he also submitted a DMCA counter-notice, which gives the complainant 10 business days from today to file a legal action. After his first takedown in May, his app was reinstated after the DMCA complainant didn't take any legal action.
Saba also wrote a blog post today about the latest takedown. "Given that my app still does not contain any copyright-infringing content and never has, I've countered this new DMCA takedown which will, hopefully, mean the app will be restored sometime in the coming weeks," he wrote. "In the meantime, you can sideload the app onto your Google TV or Android TV devices by downloading the APK from https://www.aftvnews.com/downloader.apk. Downloader remains available on Fire TV devices directly from the Amazon Appstore."
Saba's blog post called it "absurd that Google seems to make no effort at all to verify the copyright claims being made on my app which is just a web browser that can download files and has no content of any sort in it."
Saba made similar complaints about Google's DMCA system in May. "If loading a website with infringing content in a standard web browser is enough to violate DMCA, then every browser in the Google Play Store including @googlechrome should also be removed. It's a ridiculous claim and an abuse of the DMCA," he wrote at the time.
Google aware of DMCA abuse
Google is clearly aware that its system for handling DMCA complaints is routinely abused. On November 13, Google sued a group of people accused of weaponizing the DMCA to get competitors' websites removed from search results.
Google said in its lawsuit that, under the DMCA, it is obligated to trust the assertions that copyright claimants make in takedown requests. The law "relies on the honesty and good faith of copyright claimants, requiring them to support their claims with a statement under penalty of perjury and relying on the accuracy of the information they submit," Google said.
Google also said in its lawsuit that it "reviews takedown requests related to Google Search results using a combination of human manual review and automation." Google said it uses the process to confirm "that a takedown request contains the elements required by the DMCA." But Google doesn't verify itself whether the allegedly infringing URLs actually contain infringing content.
We contacted Google today to ask why Downloader was suspended based on a DMCA notice that doesn't cite a specific infringing work, and whether Google is doing anything to prevent repeated suspensions of apps that are wrongly targeted. We also contacted Warner Bros. about the DMCA notice and will update this article if we get any response from either company.
Christmas at the Box Office Hinges on ‘Aquaman 2.’ Movie Theater Owners Are Worried.
Every year around Christmas, Phoenix Theatres puts all of its chips on one major tentpole, gambling on a movie so big, so broadly appealing, it’ll keep auditoriums stocked into the new year. In the recent past, the Midwest-based chain has gone all in on 2022’s “Avatar: The Way of Water,” 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and 2019’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
But this holiday season is different. For the first time in more than a decade, excluding the pandemic-stricken 2020, there’s no surefire blockbuster with the potential to gross $1 billion globally to cap off the year.
“You can’t look at the release schedule between now and the end of the year and find one movie that stands out like ‘Avatar’ as the big film,” says Phoenix Theatres owner Cory Jacobson.
“Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom,” the follow-up to 2018’s megahit “Aquaman,” should be that big bet. Yet the sequel lands in theaters on Dec. 22 as a massive question mark. Will the Jason Momoa-led comic book adventure recapture the spark of the original? Or will it extend the string of three DC flops, “The Flash,” “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” and “Blue Beetle”? The overwhelming sense of superhero fatigue has even plagued Disney’s once-bulletproof Marvel Cinematic Universe, as evidenced by the misfires of “The Marvels” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”
“The holiday season is on the shoulders of ‘Aquaman,’ and that’s not a good shoulder to put anything on,” says Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “Can it cut through the negative DC noise?”
Movie theater owners, who were walloped by the Hollywood strikes as they were still recovering from the pandemic, have no choice but to accentuate the positive. “With one big film, you must stock a lot of show times to meet demands. If it doesn’t work out, you end up with a lot of empty show times,” Phoenix Theatres VP Jordan Hohman says. “With a more diverse slate of films, we can spread our bets.”
For this year’s holiday stretch, the gambles include “Wonka,” with Timothée Chalamet as the titular chocolatier (Dec. 15); Universal and Illumination’s animated comedy “Migration” (Dec. 22); A24’s sports drama “The Iron Claw,” starring Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White (also Dec. 22); and the musical adaptation “The Color Purple” (Dec. 25).
Hohman is encouraged by the number of kid-friendly movies. “That certainly helps our popcorn sales,” he says. “And these family films are under two hours. It creates turnover and puts more customers in the building.”
But unless there’s a runaway success in the mix, these films won’t offset the absence of a billion-dollar tentpole.
“It’s probably not going to be the most spectacular Christmas season,” predicts Jim Orr, Universal’s president of domestic theatrical distribution. “It may give other movies room to overperform.”
It would be a disappointing coda for the movie theater business, especially in a year that fielded “Barbenheimer” and the unexpected gift of Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour.” At this point, box office revenues have hit $8 billion, which is 22% ahead of 2022 but 17% behind 2019, according to Comscore.
“With the strikes, it would have been hard to do much to change this,” says Adam Fogelson, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group vice chair. Production has started to return, but he expects the release calendar to remain fluid as studios figure out which strike-impaired projects will make it to the finish line on time. “In the short run, there will be some awkward and odd bumps.”
What’s worse: Without a four-quadrant title — the rare movie that appeals to men and women, young and old — theaters may be left in the lurch until “Dune: Part Two” opens in March. That’s because eventual big-screen behemoths like “Avatar” and “Spider-Man” didn’t just pop in December, they kept playing in theaters for weeks and ended up earning some serious coin in the following year. “The Way of Water,” for example, was released in 2022 but stands as the seventh-highest-grossing domestic release of 2023 with $283 million.
Jeff Logan, the owner of Logan Luxury Theatres, jokes that needing to show the same film for weeks to fill demand isn’t an issue in South Dakota, where his multiplexes are located. “In smaller towns, you’ve run out of people to see a movie after it’s playing in theaters for a few weeks.”
He adds, “We just wish there were more movies in the mix.”
“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” could certainly surprise. The first film opened to an unspectacular $67 million but eventually grossed a staggering $335 million in North America and $1.15 billion globally. But the very idea that the sequel isn’t a guaranteed smash is indicative of larger concerns in Hollywood.
“We’re seeing the collapse of these major franchises,” says Bock. “This year has proven that audiences do want original things. Hollywood can’t just put a roman numeral on things.”
If “Aquaman 2” misses the mark, it’ll join “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One” and a slew of other sequels, spinoffs and reboots that appeared to be guaranteed winners, only to wildly miss box office expectations. Theater owners like Logan believe that studios may be running a good thing into the ground.
“Studios have IP, and they think it’s a golden ticket. But it’s oversaturated. We’ve seen it all before … multiple times,” Logan says. “These things aren’t events anymore. They aren’t rare. It’s just this month’s superhero movie.”
Global Pay TV Penetration to Fall For the First Time in 2024
Global pay TV penetration (the number of pay TV subscriptions relative to the number of households) is set to decline for the first time ever in 2024 following a peak penetration of 60.3% in Q4 2023. This decline will continue into the forecast period, with a drop of almost 4 percentage points by the end of 2028, according to Ampere’s latest forecasts, which cover 96 markets.
This decline in pay TV penetration has been driven primarily by the Americas, and in particular North America which has seen its pay TV penetration almost halve from a high of 84% in 2009 to 45% in 2023. In the case of North America, this drop has been caused by a combination of high costs (currently over $90 per month) and competition from a mature SVoD market which is driving customers increasingly to cut the cord.
However, the recent distribution deal between Disney and Charter in the US, which saw select Disney streaming products bundled into Charter’s TV packages, demonstrates that cable operators in the region remain a powerful force as distribution partners, giving streamers the ability to reach a larger and potentially untapped audience base. In addition to North America, Latin America has also shown large declines in pay TV penetration, with a drop of around 10 percentage points since its peak of 42% in 2016.
On the contrary, the APAC and Europe have shown the highest penetration growth in recent years, with large gains coming from China, especially after China Mobile acquired an IPTV license in 2018. The growth in these regions has largely come from low-cost IPTV services which are often bundled into broadband packages for a low cost, and helps drive pay TV subscriptions in these areas. In Europe, markets such as Portugal, Serbia and Hungary are expected to see further growth in the forecast period.
While the Americas are driving this overall pay TV penetration decline, and growth has been seen across much of Asia and Europe over recent years, by 2025 every region across the globe will tip into decline.
Charter’s Spectrum Told to Stop Bashing T-Mobile’s 5G Home Internet Service
Charter’s claims that T-Mobile’s 5G home internet service is “spotty” and “glitchy” go to far, according to the National Advertising Division, which recommended the cable TV provider modify or cease several claims against the wireless company.
The NAD, which is part of the Better Business Bureau, ruled that two of its commercials and claims on its websites unfairly malign T-Mobile’s 5G home internet service. The crux of all of the claims is its cable-based internet service is both faster and more reliable than T-Mobile’s offering, something the NAD took issue with. The wireless carrier challenged the ads with the agency.
The back-and-forth underscores the intense rivalry brewing between 5G home internet and cable internet providers. In the last quarter, a vast majority of broadband growth came from the 5G home side, with some cable TV players actually losing internet customers. But the cable industry has maintained that 5G home internet offers an inferior service that’s less reliable than the higher end cable options.
Those criticisms haven’t dampened enthusiasm for 5G home internet, with consumers appreciating the easy installation process and straightforward pricing.
In a separate commercial, Charter suggested that T-Mobile could not adequately support five people in a single household. The NAD suggested the company modify the claim to note that there could be the possibility of a slowdown during peak times, a nuanced change the messaging.
The agency also suggested Charter modify its comparisons to say it was comparing its service with T-Mobile’s home internet, and not its 5G home internet service, since T-Mobile’s offering includes home internet running on its slower 4G LTE network. It also told Charter to stop making the suggestion that the faster 5G home internet service is only available in metro areas, since it is offered in some rural communities.
The NAD also recommended Charter stop saying that T-Mobile home internet “fails to meet the demands of today’s average consumer usage.”
Charter said in a statement included in the NAD press release that it would comply with the agency’s recommendations.
Charter “welcomes NAD’s recognition of Charter’s right – with certain modifications – to distinguish its internet service from T-Mobile’s by touting product differences that provide meaningful benefits to consumers.”
Spokespeople for Charter and T-Mobile weren’t immediately available to provide additional comment.
Worldwide Community of Activists protest OverDrive and Others forcing DRM Upon Libraries
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has announced its Defective by Design campaign's 17th annual International Day Against DRM (IDAD). It will protest uses of Digital Restrictions Management technology's hold over public libraries around the world, exemplified by corporations like OverDrive and Follett Destiny. IDAD will take place digitally and worldwide on December 8, 2023.
This year, the FSF stands up for libraries everywhere with its International Day against DRM (aka IDAD), the organization's annual protest against Digital Restrictions Managament (DRM), which is organized as part of the Defective by Design campaign. Anyone can join in this year's activities, and they can learn more by going to the Defective by Design website.
This year's campaign draws attention to the ways libraries, and by extension, their patrons, are mistreated by corporations like OverDrive, makers of the "Libby" app that have a near monopolistic control over digital lending in the United States. Services like OverDrive and Follet Destiny mandate "controlled digital lending" schemes, imposing artificial scarcity on a digital good. They also require monthly or annual fees in order to have the privilege of having a book or piece of media in circulation. Should the library struggle with paying its licensing fees, like the New York Public Library, then its "access" is "rescinded."
"There once was a time when you could donate a book to the library to give others in your community access to it. There once was a time when libraries owned the works that they provide to the public, rather than finding themselves trapped by unethical technology and predatory licensing fees," said Greg Farough, campaigns manager at the FSF. "If we want to ensure that our cultural legacy lasts, we need to focus our attention on corporations like OverDrive, who make a living out of leeching on libraries, which are already underfunded." Farough added, "OverDrive's treatment of libraries -- and wrapping it in unjust Digital Restrictions Management -- is absolutely unconscionable."
Logo for the Defective by Design campaign
All who are interested in participating in this year's protest are encouraged to visit the International Day Against DRM site to learn more about how to get involved.
Now in its seventeenth year, Defective by Design has a long history of campaigning for users' rights to control their media and the devices they use to interact with it. Being the anti-DRM campaign of the FSF, it is inspired by the spirit and community of the global movement for user freedom. As proprietary (i.e. "nonfree") software is the method by which most DRM is implemented, the FSF started the campaign in 2006 as an extension of its mission to bring freedom to computer users.
The campaign's call to action is for the International Day Against DRM, but it nevertheless encourages its supporters to speak out against DRM in media any time they have the opportunity. Defective by Design's organizers are inviting other organizations and individuals to collaborate with them in their work against DRM, by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss possible actions. The campaign is funded by individuals who join as FSF associate members and those who make a one-time donation.
About Defective By Design
Defective by Design is the FSF's campaign against Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). DRM is the practice of imposing technological restrictions that control what users can do with digital media, creating a product that is defective by design. DRM requires the use of proprietary software, and is a major threat to computer user freedom. It often spies on users as well. The campaign, based at https://defectivebydesign.org, organizes anti-DRM activists for in-person and online actions, and challenges powerful media and technology interests promoting DRM. Supporters can donate to the campaign at https://my.fsf.org/civicrm/contribut...?reset=1&id=40, and the campaign can be reached via social media at @endDRM on Twitter, and @endDRM@hostux.social on Mastodon.
About the Free Software Foundation
The Free Software Foundation (FSF), founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software -- particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants -- and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at https://www.fsf.org and https://www.gnu.org, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at https://donate.fsf.org. Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.
Free Software Foundation
PlayStation To Delete A Ton Of TV Shows Users Already Paid For
Sony says Mythbusters and more Discovery TV shows are going away whether you bought them or not
The promise of digital media is that it can last forever, pristine and undisturbed by the forces of entropy constantly buffeting the material world. Unfortunately, a mess of online DRM and license agreements means that we mostly don’t own the digital stuff we buy, as most recently evidenced by the fact that Sony is about to delete Mythbusters, Naked and Afraid, and tons of other Discovery shows from PlayStation users’ libraries even if they already “purchased” them.
The latest pothole in the road to an all-digital future was discovered via a warning Sony recently sent out to PlayStation users who purchased TV shows made by Discovery, the reality TV network that recently merged with Warner Bros. in one of the most brutal and idiotic corporate maneuvers of our time. “Due to our content licensing arrangements with content providers, you will no longer be able to watch any of your previously purchased Discovery content and the content will be removed from your video library,” read a copy of the email that was shared with Kotaku.
It linked to a page on the PlayStation website listing all of the shows impacted. As you might imagine, given Discovery’s penchant for pumping out seasons of relatively cheap to produce but popular reality TV and documentary-based shows, there are a lot of them. They include, but are not limited to, hits such as: Say Yes to the Dress, Shark Week, Cake Boss, Long Island Medium, Deadly Women, and many, many more.
“Is there a way I can save this content?” asked one panicked PlayStation user on Reddit. “I use PS4...But I have bought many seasons of shows such as Dual Survival that I do not wish to lose. I was actually under the impression since I owned it, I wouldn’t ever lose it…”
Movies and TV shows first came to the PlayStation Network in 2008 via the PS3. At the time it was possible to transfer the content you bought between devices for viewing on things like the PlayStation Portable. Sony removed that option beginning with the PS4 and beyond. Now, essentially anything you buy on PSN, whether a PS5 blockbuster or, uh, Police Women of Cincinnati, is essentially just on indefinite loan until such time as the PlayStation servers die or the original copyright owner decides to pull the content.
This isn’t the first time Sony has done something like this and it won’t be the last. I’d say just buy your favorite shows on Bluray instead, but Sony and Microsoft also appear to be planning to slowly phase out optical disc drives in the future. Even the new PS5 slim’s detachable disc drive will require an online DRM check every time you plug it in. Fortunately, generic Blu-ray players are cheaper than never. Unfortunately, they don’t really print discs of Pregnant Behind Bars Season 1 anymore.
Web Browser Suspended Because it can Browse the Web is Back On Google Play
Downloader app was suspended twice despite clear problems in DMCA notices.
Google Play has reversed its latest ban on a web browser that keeps getting targeted by vague Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices. Downloader, an Android TV app that combines a browser with a file manager, was restored to Google Play last night.
Downloader, made by app developer Elias Saba, was suspended on Sunday after a DMCA notice submitted by copyright-enforcement firm MarkScan on behalf of Warner Bros. Discovery. It was the second time in six months that Downloader was suspended based on a complaint that the app's web browser is capable of loading websites.
The first suspension in May lasted three weeks, but Google reversed the latest one much more quickly. As we wrote on Monday, the MarkScan DMCA notice didn't even list any copyrighted works that Downloader supposedly infringed upon.
Instead of identifying specific copyrighted works, the MarkScan notice said only that Downloader infringed on "Properties of Warner Bros. Discovery Inc." In the field where a DMCA complainant is supposed to provide an example of where someone can view an authorized example of the work, MarkScan simply entered the main Warner Bros. URL: https://www.warnerbros.com/.
DMCA notice was incomplete
Google has defended its DMCA-takedown process by saying that, under the law, it is obligated to remove any content when a takedown request contains the elements required by the copyright law. But in this case, Google Play removed Downloader even though the DMCA takedown request didn't identify a copyrighted work—one of the elements required by the DMCA.
That's probably why Downloader's latest suspension was reversed more quickly than the previous one. But the incident raises questions about whether Google will do anything to prevent repeated suspensions of apps wrongly targeted by vague or bogus DMCA notices.
Google didn't respond to a request for comment sent before our story on Monday was published. Warner Bros. also did not respond to a request for comment.
Downloader's first suspension in May came after several Israeli TV companies complained that the app could be used to load a pirate website. In that case, an appeal that Saba filed with Google Play was quickly rejected. He also submitted a DMCA counter-notice, which gave the complainant 10 business days to file a legal action.
Google takes “another look”
With the first takedown in May, Saba's app was reinstated by Google after the DMCA complainant didn't take any legal action within the 10-business-day period. He went through the same process this week, first filing an appeal with Google Play that was rejected in less than a half-hour and then filing a DMCA counter-notice.
Although the 10-business-day period triggered by the latest counter-notice has barely begun, someone at Google seems to have figured out that the suspension never should have happened in the first place. Saba received a message from Google last night that said the company had "taken another look" at his request and reinstated the app.
Saba still needed to republish the app to make it visible to users again. "I re-submitted the app last night in the Google Play Console, as instructed in the email, and it was approved and live a few hours later," Saba told Ars today.
In a new blog post, Saba wrote that he expected the second suspension to last a few weeks, just like the first did. He speculated that it was reversed more quickly this time because the latest DMCA notice "provided no details as to how my app was infringing on copyrighted content, which, I believe, allowed Google to invalidate the takedown request."
"Of course, I wish Google bothered to toss out the meritless DMCA takedown request when it was first submitted, as opposed to after taking 'another look,' but I understand that Google is probably flooded with invalid takedown requests because the DMCA is flawed," Saba wrote. "I'm just glad Google stepped in when it did and I didn't have to go through the entire DMCA counter notice process. The real blame for all of this goes to Warner Bros. Discovery and other corporations for funding companies like MarkScan which has issued DMCA takedowns in the tens of millions."
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