|04-05-22, 07:04 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
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Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - May 7th, 22
May 7th, 2022
Every ISP in the US has been Ordered to Block Three Pirate Streaming Services
ISPs ordered to block the pirate websites "by any technological means available."
A federal judge has ordered all Internet service providers in the United States to block three pirate streaming services operated by Doe defendants who never showed up to court and hid behind false identities.
The blocking orders affect Israel.tv, Israeli-tv.com, and Sdarot.tv, as well as related domains listed in the rulings and any other domains where the copyright-infringing websites may resurface in the future. The orders came in three essentially identical rulings (see here, here, and here) issued on April 26 in US District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Each ruling provides a list of 96 ISPs that are expected to block the websites, including Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. But the rulings say that all ISPs must comply even if they aren't on the list:
It is further ordered that all ISPs (including without limitation those set forth in Exhibit B hereto) and any other ISPs providing services in the United States shall block access to the Website at any domain address known today (including but not limited to those set forth in Exhibit A hereto) or to be used in the future by the Defendants ("Newly Detected Websites") by any technological means available on the ISPs' systems. The domain addresses and any Newly Detected Websites shall be channeled in such a way that users will be unable to connect and/or use the Website, and will be diverted by the ISPs" DNS servers to a landing page operated and controlled by Plaintiffs (the "Landing Page").
That landing page is available here and cites US District Judge Katherine Polk Failla's "order to block all access to this website/service due to copyright infringement."
"If you were harmed in any way by the Court's decision you may file a motion to the Federal Court in the Southern District of New York in the above case," the landing page also says.
“Gone to great lengths to conceal themselves”
The three lawsuits were filed by Israeli TV and movie producers and providers against Doe defendants who operate the websites. Each of the three rulings awarded damages of $7.65 million. TorrentFreak pointed out the rulings in an article Monday.
The orders also contain permanent injunctions against the defendants themselves and other types of companies that provided services to the defendants or could do so in the future. That includes companies like Cloudflare, GoDaddy, Google, and Namecheap.
In all three cases, none of the defendants responded to the complaints and did not appear in court, the judge's rulings said. "Defendants have gone to great lengths to conceal themselves and their ill-gotten proceeds from Plaintiffs' and this Court's detection, including by using multiple false identities and addresses associated with their operations and purposely deceptive contact information for the infringing Website," the rulings say.
The defendants are liable for copyright infringement and violated the anti-circumvention provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the judge wrote, describing the infringement as follows:
Through the Website, Defendants have been re-broadcasting and streaming Plaintiffs' original content, broadcasting channels and TV services which are only authorized for broadcasting and/or viewing in the territory of the State of Israel and under a license. The Infringing Broadcasting includes original content produced and owned by Plaintiffs, mostly in Hebrew, and also from major studios in the United States and elsewhere, licensed to Plaintiffs for broadcasting exclusively in Israel (except as expressly licensed for broadcast in the United States).
Rulings further target web hosts and banks
The plaintiffs are United King Film Distribution, D.B.S. Satellite Services (1998), HOT Communication Systems, Reshet Media, and Keshet Broadcasting. While the plaintiffs "transmit their programming in an encrypted form," the defendants' "various services and hardware permit end-user consumers to bypass the Plaintiffs' encryption to view Plaintiffs' content," the rulings said.
The judge ordered domain registrars and registries to transfer the domain names to the plaintiffs. The rulings include injunctions against "third parties providing services used in connection with Defendants' operations," including web hosts, content delivery networks, DNS providers, VPN providers, web designers, search-based online advertising services, and others.
Financial institutions face similar bans on doing business with the blocked websites. The rulings directly target the defendants' monetary accounts, saying that plaintiffs "shall have the ongoing authority to serve this Order on any party controlling or otherwise holding such accounts" until they have "recovered the full payment of monies owed to them by any Defendant under this Order." This applies to PayPal, banks, and payment providers in general.
Russia Sanctions Add Shock Internet Censorship Twist for UK ISPs
Broadband and mobile providers were on Friday subjected to a shock twist after the Government – without consultation – amended the Russian sanctions legislation to require that – “a person who provides an internet access service must take reasonable steps to prevent a user of the service in the [UK] from accessing … an internet service provided by a designated person.”
On the surface, the wording of this surprisingly broad amendment to The Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 seems straightforward, and a “designated person” would appear to be anybody that the Secretary of State deems to fall within the scope of this sanction (i.e. somebody that has been sanctioned by the UK gov). Fair enough, you may think.
NOTE: Hopefully, no explanation is required to understand the many reasons why sanctions are currently being imposed against Russia.
However, an additional explanatory note later confuses this by attempting to clarify that ISPs “must take reasonable steps to prevent users of the service in the [UK] from accessing websites provided by a designated person. This will likely take the form of URL blocking.” Except, that’s not what the legislation itself says, which is broader and defines an “internet service” as a “service that is made available by means of the internet.”
At this point we’re going to try and avoid a lengthier explanation by doing a simplified summary of the key points of contention with all this. We’d also recommend reading Neil Brown’s excellent blog post on this via law firm decoded.legal for a wider explanation of the problems. But to simplify..
Simple Summary of the Key Problems
➤ How are internet providers expected to be able to tell what “internet services” are even “provided by a designated person“? We’re not sure, but the government might be able to produce a block list of some sort (e.g. website domains or IP addresses / ranges) to help fill in the blanks. We expect more guidance on this to be published soon.
➤ The question of which internet providers are in-scope of this change is a big one. The sanction doesn’t seem to distinguish between consumers and businesses, instead catching “a person who provides an internet access service“, which could seemingly include everything from big broadband ISPs to personal Wi-Fi hotspots on your Smartphone, possibly even VPN providers or your home broadband router etc. It’s unntenably broad.
➤ Not all ISPs have developed or implemented network-level blocking (censorship) tools, particularly smaller providers without the budget needed for such filtering systems. But in having said that, the obligation to take “reasonable steps” (i.e. it’s not an absolute) means that providers could probably get away with just a basic DNS level block or similar, assuming they’re told what they need to block in the first place.
➤ Any blocks imposed at ISP level can be easily circumvented by those with only a basic bit of IT knowledge (third-party DNS, VPN, Proxy Servers etc.). This is not the ISPs fault, it’s just how the internet was designed.
The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, is required to oversee all this and monitor compliance. No doubt ISPs will have A LOT of questions for them. But providers that fail to comply with the new sanction (or a related information gathering request) could face a financial penalty of up to £1m. So, hard luck if you just setup a personal WiFi hotspot on your mobile phone, but whoops.. did you forget to check the latest Russian sanctions list and ensure you’re implementing all the right blocks? It would be funny, if it wasn’t actual legislation.
Adrian Kennard, Boss of ISP Andrews & Arnold (AAISP), said (blog):
“I can’t stress this enough, we have never had any order to block anything or any previous legal requirement to do so, really. It is, in my opinion, not “reasonable” to expect us (for no payment at all, or otherwise) to magically implement such a measure, especially to do so between Laid before Parliament at 5.00 p.m. on 27th April 2022 and coming into force 29th April 2022, really. Or even (as it will cost a lot) later.
What could we do?
At a push we could block some domains on our DNS servers, but customer do not have to use them, so that would not be effective in meeting the requirement. And weirdly the providers of public DNS, like 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11 are not subject to this order – why?
Indeed, if we had some way to block some routing to some IPs (and remembering we must not “over block” to meet net neutrality laws), customers are allowed to, and often do, use VPNs, so again, it would not actually be effective.
I am not sure we could “reasonably” take any technical measures.
So what do we do?
Well, step one is we ask OFCOM for the list of services, and see what we get. That is it for now. I expect no list, to be honest, which sort of solves the problem.”
Adrian also suggested that ISPs could perhaps become compliant simply by “[asking] customers nicely” not to access such services, which might be enough to be deemed a “reasonable” step. It’s at least no less absurd than expecting anybody who provides an internet service – personal or otherwise – to comply with the new legislation. Assuming, that is, the provider can confidently first identify precisely what services the government actually wants to be blocked.
The following is an extract from a related message that was sent to network operators by DCMS (Government), which adds a bit more context.
The exact restriction will depend on the service provided, with full details outlined in the Statutory Instrument and accompanying Explanatory Memorandum. Most pertinent to your organisation are the requirements for fixed and wireless broadband providers, who must take reasonable steps to prevent users of their service in the United Kingdom from accessing websites provided by a designated person.
This will likely take the form of URL or DNS blocking. The restrictions will apply to persons designated by the UK Government and we expect the designations to be announced imminently. The Explanatory Memorandum also sets Ofcom as the specified body responsible for overseeing compliance with the measure, who will contact you separately.
We appreciate that you may require support in order to ensure the sanction measures are implemented as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
VPN Providers Threaten to Quit India Over New Data Law
The country has ordered companies operating VPNs to collect user data and hand it over to officials—but they’re refusing to do so.
VPN companies are squaring up for a fight with the Indian government over new rules designed to change how they operate in the country. On April 28, officials announced that virtual private network companies will be required to collect swathes of customer data—and maintain it for five years or more—under a new national directive. VPN providers have two months to accede to the rules and start collecting data.
The justification from the country’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) is that it needs to be able to investigate potential cybercrime. But that doesn’t wash with VPN providers, some of whom have said they may ignore the demands. “This latest move by the Indian government to require VPN companies to hand over user personal data represents a worrying attempt to infringe on the digital rights of its citizens,” says Harold Li, vice president of ExpressVPN. He adds that the company would never log user information or activity and that it will adjust its “operations and infrastructure to preserve this principle if and when necessary.”
Other VPN providers are also considering their options. Gytis Malinauskas, head of Surfshark’s legal department, says the VPN provider couldn’t currently comply with India’s logging requirements because it uses RAM-only servers, which automatically overwrite user-related data. “We are still investigating the new regulation and its implications for us, but the overall aim is to continue providing no-logs services to all of our users,” he says. ProtonVPN is similarly concerned, calling the move an erosion of civil liberties. “ProtonVPN is monitoring the situation, but ultimately we remain committed to our no-logs policy and preserving our users’ privacy,” says spokesperson Matt Fossen. “Our team is investigating the new directive and exploring the best course of action,” says Laura Tyrylyte, head of public relations at Nord Security, which develops Nord VPN. “We may remove our servers from India if no other options are left.”
The hardball response from VPN providers shows how much is at stake. India has rapidly shifted away from a free and open democracy and launched crackdowns on non-governmental organizations, journalists, and activists, many of whom use VPNs to communicate. Human Rights Watch recently warned that media freedom is under attack in the country, with a number of law and policy changes threatening the rights of minority citizens in the country. India dropped eight places in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index in the past year and now sits 150th out of 180 countries worldwide. Authorities are alleged to have targeted journalists, stoking nationalist division and encouraging harassment of reporters who are critical of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. By collecting and storing data on all VPN users in India, authorities may find it easier to see who VPN-using journalists are contacting and why.
Officials in India have claimed that the new rules for VPN providers aren't part of a data grab aimed at further stymying press freedoms, but rather an attempt to better police cybercrime. India has been hit by a number of significant data breaches in recent years and was the third-most affected country worldwide in 2021. “Data breaches have become so common in India that they no longer make front page news as they used to,” says Mishi Choudhary, a technology lawyer and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center, a technology legal support services provider in India. In May 2021, the names, email addresses, locations, and phone numbers of more than 1 million customers of Domino’s Pizza were stolen and posted online; in the same year, the personal information of 110 million users of digital payment platform MobiKwik ended up on the dark web. Now, as the major incidents pile up, Indian officials are going after VPNs in an apparent attempt to reign in the cybercrime surge.
“CERT-In is duty-bound to respond to any cybersecurity incidents,” says Srinivas Kodali, a researcher focusing on digitalization in India from the Free Software Movement of India—though he disputes its efficacy in doing so. Having this information on hand should, in theory, allow CERT-In to investigate any incidents more speedily after the fact. But many don’t believe that’s the full story. “CERT-In doesn’t really have a clean past, and they’ve never really protected citizens’ privacy,” Kodali claims. “According to the rules, they are going to only demand these logs when they actually need them for part of an investigation. But in India, you never know how they will be abused.”
Such concerns of overreach are not unfounded. According to data published in April 2022 by Access Now, an advocacy group lobbying for internet freedoms, India was responsible for 106 of the 182 documented internet shutdowns in 2021. It was the fourth successive year the country held the unenviable title of the internet shutdown capital of the world. At the same time, India’s government has allegedly misled parliament about its use and deployment of the Israeli-produced spyware Pegasus against 160 politicians, lawyers, and activists within the country.
That ‘collect data first, ask questions later’ approach to law enforcement has others worried, too. “This is a blunderbuss way of remembering all data and keeping tabs on your users,” says Anupam Chander, professor of law at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. “That way, if [India] needs it for law enforcement, intelligence purposes, or other purposes, they can grab it later.” And the VPN data grab could, potentially, collect information on millions of Indians who rely on the technology. One in five Indians used a VPN in 2021, according to data gathered by service provider Atlas VPN—up from just 3 percent in 2020. The increased usage echoes a broader rise in the use of VPNs in countries such as Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Cambodia, which saw similar increases. It also shows how people in India are seeking out VPNs for information security purposes, as well as to avoid geoblocking of popular websites.
There’s another reason everyday Indians are pursuing VPNs: the rollout of a controversial nationwide identification database. The ID system known as Aadhaar—which first launched in 2009 and has evolved since then—assigns citizens a 12-digit identity code based on their biometric and demographic information. Its proponents say that Aadhaar is part of a plan to digitize the Indian economy and make it easier to access government services. Its opponents say Aadhaar’s ubiquity and required use—you can’t open a bank account, get an ambulance, or pay your taxes without one—is an attempt to shoehorn a surveillance state into existence under the auspices of making things easier for citizens. Choudhary worries that the new rules for VPN providers are part of a broader “mission creep” to control what is said and by whom across India. “This is not just bureaucracy,” Choudhary says. “It seems that the government of India is using every opportunity to make access to the internet much more controlled, as well as monitored.” CERT-In did not respond to a request for comment.
And India is not alone. “South Asian governments are basically competing with each other in this operational Olympics around violating the digital rights of their citizens,” says Pakistani lawyer and internet activist Nighat Dad. Pakistan’s government attempted to introduce a law in October 2021 that gave it the right to monitor and censor any content posted on social media in the country. Pakistan has previously blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Telegram “to maintain public order.” Dad is scared. “Not only in Pakistan but in India, there are marginalized communities who are at risk. This is a scary situation.” Similar concerns have been raised in Indonesia, where digital platforms have to register with the communications ministry and agree to provide access to their systems and data on request. So too in Bangladesh, where internet freedom has reached an “all-time low,” according to Freedom House, as the governing party uses laws to crack down on political dissent through social media.
VPNs that are developed within—or operate in—India will have to choose whether to accede to CERT-In’s request or withdraw their support from the country. Kodali says providers may adopt a halfway-house solution, barring new users from paying for VPNs with an Indian bank account, which would theoretically make it impossible for Indians to sign up while in practice quietly permitting them to find a workaround. But what starts in India likely won’t end there. “This does have global implications,” says Chander, who believes India is learning a lesson from China, with its stringent internet crackdowns. There’s a worry other, more liberal governments will follow the Indian-Chinese model, too. Attacks on end-to-end encryption are commonplace in the UK, while the US joined India, the UK, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand in signing an international statement asking for backdoor access that would subvert encryption standards. “I think it’s important that governments justify these actions,” says Chander, “and explain how they don’t threaten civil liberties.”
Internet Archive Joins Opposition to the “SMART Copyright Act”
Peter M. Routhier
In the past few weeks, governments around the world have renewed their efforts to restrain free expression online. In Canada, a revised “Online Streaming Act” comes as the latest in a long-running attempt to bring streaming under a restrictive regulatory regime. In the UK, a new “Online Safety Bill” seeks to censor “legal but harmful content” in a way that would threaten open digital spaces. And in the USA, content filtering is once again being floated as the answer to online copyright infringement, this time via the “SMART Copyright Act of 2022“.
If the SMART Copyright Act were to pass, the Copyright Office would select a “technical measure” every three years that online service providers would be required to implement. The intent, as supporters have made clear, is for the Copyright Office to mandate technical measures that would automatically “filter out” allegedly infringing material. Lobbyists and lawyers for the owners of these technologies would be allowed to petition the Copyright Office to require the adoption of their own products. Whatever technology is adopted would then have to be purchased and implemented by anyone swept up by the law—from big tech platforms to your local research library. Failure to do so could be punishable by millions of dollars in civil penalties, among other things. As Professor Eric Goldman has written:
The SMART Copyright Act is a thinly veiled proxy war over mandatory filtering of copyrighted works. . . mandatory filters are error-prone in ways that hurt consumers, and they raise entry barriers in ways that reduce competition.
More generally, the SMART Copyright Act would give the Copyright Office a truly extraordinary power–the ability to force thousands of businesses to adopt, at their expense, technology they don’t want and may not need, and the mandated technologies could reshape how the Internet works.
Wouldn’t It Be Great if Internet Services Had to License Technologies Selected by Hollywood? (Comments on the Very Dumb “SMART Copyright Act”), from Eric Goldman’s Technology & Marketing Law Blog on March 23, 2022
This bill and its supporters do not represent the public’s interest in fair copyright policy and a robust and accessible public domain. That is a shame, because much good could be done if policymakers would put the public’s interest first. For example, the Copyright Office—which holds records of every copyright ever registered, including all those works which have passed into the public domain—could help catalogue the public domain and prevent it from being swept up by today’s already-overzealous automated filtering technologies (an idea inspired by this white paper from Paul Keller and Felix Reda). Instead, the public domain continues to be treated as acceptable collateral damage in the quest to impose ever-greater restrictions on free expression online.
It is no surprise that the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, the Library Copyright Alliance, and many others have voiced criticism of this harmful bill. Today, Internet Archive joins these and other signatories in a joint letter to the bill’s cosponsors, Senators Tillis and Leahy, expressing opposition and concern. You can read the letter here.
Amazon Kindle E-Readers Will Now Make It Easier to Load EBooks You Didn't Buy From Amazon
The Send to Kindle system will automatically convert EPUB files to the Kindle's proprietary ebook format.
In a potential blow to all the apps and websites that have popped up alongside the Amazon Kindle to streamline the process of converting EPUB ebook files to the e-reader’s propriety file format, the Kindle Personal Documents Service will finally support EPUB files, expanding where users can source their content.
The Amazon Kindle’s original AZW ebook file format was based on the MOBI format created for an e-reader app called Mobipocket, which was first released back in 2000 for a wide variety of PDAs and older mobile devices. Over the years it has evolved into the KF8/AZW3 format, and now the KFX format, which are all proprietary to the Kindle. For those who solely rely on Kindle e-readers and apps and only buy ebooks from Amazon, a proprietary file format isn’t an issue, particularly when Amazon offers one of the largest selections of ebooks currently available, and a streamlined way to get the files onto its devices.
But there are countless e-readers available on the market that offer better features than the Kindle does, including color E Ink screens, and all of them instead support the EPUB ebook file format (among others), which is the most popular format in the world. It’s also a format that Amazon, to date, has refused to support. This has typically meant that someone looking to buy an ebook reader has had to either fully commit to the Amazon Kindle ecosystem, or choose one of the many alternatives and stick with their choice, because ebook files they’d purchased or downloaded weren’t cross-compatible.
That’s still mostly the case, but according to a for its Kindle Personal Documents Service, which streamlines the process of sending files and documents to Kindle e-readers, there will soon be a workaround. Starting in late 2022, users will be able to either email EPUB files to their device or use one of the Send to Kindle apps to get EPUB ebooks onto their Amazon e-readers. The Kindle still can’t natively load EPUB files, so connecting the e-reader to a computer and manually copying EPUB files over is still not an option, but the Send to Kindle service will convert EPUBs into Kindle-friendly KF8/AZW3 files. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s still a welcome accommodation for users sitting on a mountain of EPUB files who want to opt for a
The help page also points out that Amazon is planning to drop support for sending older MOBI files through the Send to Kindle service as well. “Beginning in late 2022, you’ll no longer be able to send MOBI (.AZW, .MOBI) files to your library using Send to Kindle,” the page says. “This change won’t affect any MOBI files already in your Kindle library. MOBI is an older file format and won’t support the newest Kindle features for documents.” Why Amazon isn’t simply up-converting older MOBI files to KF8/AZW3s isn’t known, but for those refusing to let go of an old collection of ebook files, there’s always free apps like Calibre for converting between any ebook format you want.
Paramount Plus Subscriber Count has Grown to Nearly 40 Million
It added 6.8 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2022
Paramount Plus’ subscriber count has ballooned to almost 40 million with the service gaining 6.8 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2022 alone, Paramount announced in its earnings report on Tuesday. An increase in subscriber count led to more money for the company as well — its direct-to-consumer revenue, which includes Paramount Plus and its free TV streaming service, Pluto TV, increased 82 percent year over year.
While revenue from subscriptions for both Pluto TV and Paramount Plus grew 95 percent year over year, advertising revenue increased 59 percent. The company says Paramount Plus subscribers watched more shows for longer periods of time as well. This, along with a higher subscriber count, was mostly driven by the service strengthening its roster of shows.
Paramount Plus exclusively released a live-action Halo TV show last month in addition to the second season of Star Trek: Picard, an original spinoff of the iconic series. It’s also the home to Star Trek: Discovery, Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years, and Rugrats and iCarly reboots. Yesterday, Paramount Plus announced that it’s bringing back Yo! MTV Raps on May 24th.
Paramount Plus, which has been around for a little over a year now, may not be considered a streaming behemoth yet, but it looks like some of its original content is attracting more subscribers (which will likely increase following its expansion to the UK and Ireland in June). At the same time Paramount Plus notes its subscriber count is on the rise, Netflix lost a small fraction of its over 200 million subscribers last quarter, its first subscriber decline in over 10 years. Netflix hopes to make up for that loss by potentially cracking down on password sharing and rolling out a cheaper, ad-supported option. Paramount Plus already offers a fairly affordable ad-supported $4.99 / month plan (or a $9.99 / month ad-free option).
In Bid to Boost Peacock, Universal Will Send 3 Movies Straight to Streaming
The move is not only an attempt to attract subscribers but an acknowledgment that releasing some films theatrically has become more of a gamble.
Donna Langley, the head of Universal’s Motion Picture Entertainment Group, stepped on the stage at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas last week and reaffirmed her commitment to movie theaters.
“Theatrical will always be the cornerstone of our business,” she told the crowd of theater owners gathered for the annual CinemaCon industry convention, adding, “Cheers to that.”
It was not just lip service. With more than 25 films set for release in 2022, Universal has at least 10 more than any other major Hollywood studio. It will release a combination of blockbusters (“Jurassic World Dominion”), family fare (“Minions: The Rise of Gru”) and original bets (Jordan Peele’s “Nope” and “Beast,” starring Idris Elba), operating on the premise that a movie’s value begins with its debut in theaters.
Yet on Monday, as part of a presentation for advertisers, Kelly Campbell, the president of NBCUniversal’s streaming service, Peacock, announced that three new movies produced by Universal Pictures will head straight to the streaming service when they debut in 2023.
They are a biopic about LeBron James based on his memoir, “Shooting Stars”; a remake of John Woo’s 1989 crime drama “The Killer”; and “Praise This,” a music-competition feature set in the world of youth choir.
The additional film content is crucial to the strategy at Peacock, which announced last week that it had ended the first quarter of the year with more than 13 million paid subscribers and 28 million monthly active accounts in the United States, a growth of four million users. It needs to find a way to compete with the bigger services, like Netflix, Disney+ and HBO Max, when streaming subscriber numbers seem to be plateauing.
Ms. Langley greenlit all three pictures, and had to make the calls to tell the filmmakers about the change in distribution strategy.
“I think everybody sort of woke up and smelled the coffee during the pandemic and recognized that not all movies are created equal,” Ms. Langley said in an interview, adding that the filmmakers were still interested in working with the studio even if it meant going straight to Peacock. “It’s a big deal for Peacock to have these movies. They are events for them. And we got yeses, so I think it was a satisfying rationale.”
The three movies also reflect the type of audience Peacock seems to be attracting so far: younger and more diverse than those that gravitate toward the other legacy businesses run by Comcast, Peacock’s parent company.
“What you’ll see with these films is that they are broadly appealing, but also track towards that young, diverse audience that represents the streaming audience of today, the generation of consumers who are choosing streaming as their primary source of entertainment,” Ms. Campbell said in an interview.
Despite lagging behind some of its streaming competitors, Peacock has experienced success this year. February was a high point, when viewers could see the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Super Bowl, the simultaneous release of the Jennifer Lopez-starring film “Marry Me” in theaters and on the service, and the debut of “Bel-Air,” a dramatic reimagining of the 1990s hit television series “The Prince of Bel-Air,” which starred Will Smith. (Season 2 is in development.)
“Retention on our service after airing all of this special content in such a concentrated period of time was well above our expectation,” Brian Roberts, the chief executive of Comcast, said in an earnings call last week. “We have seen a 25 percent increase in hours of engagement year over year.”
When the pandemic upended the theater business, Universal Pictures experimented with a variety of distribution methods for its movies. There was the purely theatrical like “Fast 9: The Fast Saga,” which earned $173 million after it was released last summer, when coronavirus cases were lower. And there was “Sing 2,” which earned over $160 million domestically after being released in December, before going to premium video-on-demand just 17 days after its debut in theaters.
The company has also experimented with simultaneous release, debuting “Halloween Kills” and the sequel to “Boss Baby” in theaters and on Peacock during the height of the pandemic. The company will do so again in two weeks with the remake of the Stephen King horror film “Firestarter.”
“There’s no one size fits all,” Ms. Langley said. “It really is about looking at the individual movies on the one hand and then also at our growth engine, Peacock, and doing what’s best in any given moment, depending on what’s going on in the marketplace. I’m hopeful that this stabilizes over time as the theatrical landscape stabilizes. But until then, we do have this optionality.”
Like every other studio executive, Ms. Langley is involved in the complicated calculus of determining what movies fit where in a world where the theatrical box office is down 45 percent from what it was in 2019. It is “a box office that is in decline,” Ms. Langley said, with theatergoing in 2023 expected to still be down at least 15 percent from its prepandemic level.
She described the three films that she chose to put straight on Peacock as “movies we love that a decade ago would have been no-brainers” to make and release in theaters.
But audiences have more choice now about when and where they watch films, and it can be more difficult to convince them that a film is worth seeing in a theater.
“We still want to make these movies, because we believe in the stories, we believe in the storytellers and we think that these are great pieces of entertainment,” Ms. Langley said. “We have the ability to be able to avail ourselves of our streaming platform. And we think that they are events, actually, to be released into the home, very specifically for the Peacock audience.”
Peacock is buying the films from Universal Pictures, a portion of the $3 billion it intends to spend on content in 2022, ramping up to $5 billion in the next couple of years.
Ms. Langley said that while 2023 would feature three straight-to-Peacock films, she hoped to release seven to 10 films that way in the coming years, films that would all be developed and produced by the same Universal creative team that is behind the “Jurassic Park” and “Fast and Furious” franchises.
“Peacock’s future depends on having good content, and our future depends on having flexibility in our distribution models,” Ms. Langley said. “So our agendas, ultimately, are aligned. So, yes, there’s debate about any one particular title or something they might want that we can’t deliver or vice versa, but that’s the stuff of working inside a big corporation.”
FTC Forces ISP Frontier to Install Fiber After It Lied About Speeds
The demand stems from a lawsuit the FTC filed against Frontier Communications over claims the company misrepresented its internet speeds to subscribers.
Frontier Communications' failure to provide adequate DSL internet speeds has led the US Federal Trade Commission to require that the ISP spend at least $50 million to install high-speed fiber for affected residents in California.
The FTC made the demand as part of a 2021 lawsuit against Frontier that accused the company of lying about its DSL internet speeds to subscribers in several states.
The lawsuit was originally going to enter its bench trial phase this September. But the FTC and the district attorney of Riverside, California, announced they had reached a settlement with Frontier on the case, which will bring fiber-optic internet to residents in the state.
According to the proposed order from the FTC, Frontier must pay an estimated $50 million to $60 million to deploy the fiber to 60,000 additional residential locations in California over the next four years. These 60,000 locations currently only have access to the company’s slower DSL network, which the FTC claims often failed to reach the advertised speeds of 6Mbps, 12Mbps, 18Mbps, 24Mbps, or higher, depending on the plan.
The order also forces Frontier to reform its practices nationwide, according to the FTC. For example, the company can only offer its DSL service to new customers if it can actually do so at the advertised speed. Another requirement is how Frontier is barred from signing up new DSL subscribers in areas where congestion is already high due to too many existing users.
For existing customers, Frontier must notify them if their DSL internet speeds are running slower than advertised and allow them to change or cancel the service at no additional charge.
“Today’s proposed order requires Frontier to back up its high-speed claims. It also arms customers lured in by Frontier’s lies with free, easy options for dropping their slow service,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Frontier did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, the FTC said the proposed order will “have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.”
FTC added that the proposed order forces Frontier to prepare a $250,000 fund to reimburse consumers in California harmed by the company’s practices.
Cable Giants, ISPs, Telcos End Legal Fight Against California's Net Neutrality Law
If you can't beat the Golden State, try again at the federal level
California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Wednesday welcomed the decision by a group of telecom and cable industry associations to abandon their legal challenge of the US state's net neutrality law SB822.
"My office has fought for years to ensure that internet service providers can't interfere with or limit what Californians do online," said Bonta in a statement. "Now the case is finally over.
"Following multiple defeats in court, internet service providers have abandoned this effort to block enforcement of California's net neutrality law. With this victory, we’ve secured a free and open internet for California's 40 million residents once and for all."
The state law prohibits ISPs from various self-serving practices, including:
• Intentionally blocking lawful content, slowing or speeding traffic, or otherwise interfering with access to lawful content on the basis of source, destination, internet content, application, or service, or use of a non-harmful device.
• Engaging in third-party paid prioritization.
• Selectively zero-rating some internet content, applications, services, or devices or zero-rating in exchange for consideration or payment.
• Engaging in practices that have the purpose of evading net neutrality requirements.
• Failing to publicly disclose accurate information about the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband internet access services to enable consumers to make informed choices about those services.
• Requiring consideration from edge providers, monetary or otherwise, for access to an ISP’s end users.
In December 2017, then Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai tossed out the 2015 net neutrality rules put in place during the Obama administration, freeing broadband providers to block, throttle, and prioritize internet traffic, among other things – all of which were disallowed under the 2015 rules.
On September 30, 2018, then California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 822 (SB822), which more or less restored those rules. That same day, the Justice Department under the Trump administration challenged the law, as subsequently did the broadband companies benefiting from what Pai at the time referred to as a "light-touch approach."
The Justice Department, under the Biden administration, ended its opposition to California's net neutrality law back in February, 2021.
The industry plaintiffs continued fighting SB822 in court but faced a setback in January, 2022, when the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to block the law's enforcement as litigation progressed.
Now those groups – ACA Connects (America’s Communications Association), CTIA (The Wireless Association), NCTA (The Internet & Television Association), and USTelecom (The Broadband Association) – have withdrawn too. The trade associations, with the agreement of Bonta, filed a joint stipulation of dismissal without prejudice [PDF], which ends the telco legal challenge but allows the claim to be refiled at some later date.
In a statement emailed to The Register, the trade association plaintiffs said, "Broadband providers are united in support of an open internet and committed to delivering the content and services consumers demand as they’ve continued to demonstrate through their marketplace practices. A common framework protecting the open internet is the right path forward for consumers, innovation, and economic growth. We commit to work with Congress and the FCC to develop a federal approach that resolves these important issues."
While that federal approach gets hammered out, the telecom industry is keeping busy by lobbying to derail the nomination of Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission. Sohn, tapped to become the fifth of five FCC commissioners and to give Democrats a 3-2 edge in terms of FCC voting, has advocated for changes [PDF] that would cost the telecom industry money, like an affordable, national fixed broadband option for about $10 per month, mandatory price transparency, promoting competition, and funding rural broadband expansion.
Until next week,
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