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Old 21-05-22, 06:42 AM   #1
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Default Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - May 21st, 22

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May 21st, 2022

Napster Gets Bought Again, this Time with a Web3 Pivot in the Works
Stuart Dredge

How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man, wondered Bob Dylan in 1963. How many owners must a Napster change hands between before you call it a revolutionary blockchain and web3 platform, wonders Music Ally in 2022. Whatever the number, you can add one to it this morning.

Yes, Napster has been acquired again, this time by two companies from the web3 sector: Hivemind and Algorand. “Dear friends, we are excited to share that we’ve taken Napster Group private, and to bring the iconic music brand to web3,” wrote Hivemind founder Matt Zhang on LinkedIn.

“Volatile market and uncertain times often bring exciting opportunities. At Hivemind, we believe in developing thesis and building enduring value. Music x Web3 is one of the most exciting spaces we’ve come across, and we are thrilled to work with Emmy Lovell and many talents to unlock value for the entire ecosystem and revolutionize how artists and fans enjoy music.”

Lovell has been named interim CEO of Napster, with the former WMG exec stepping up from her previous role as chief strategy officer, having joined the company in April 2021 shortly after its last acquisition by music VR company MelodyVR.

The newly-merged company then delisted from the AIM stock exchange in the UK as part of its plan to relaunch a hybrid music streaming / video / VR service later this year, and then go public again in the US. The new owners appear to be pivoting that strategy with a web3 focus.

There will be plenty to unpack around these plans. For example, Hivemind and Algorand aren’t the only companies involved: they have an ‘investor consortium’ that includes ATC Management, BH Digital and G20 Ventures.

What’s more, this isn’t the only reboot of a music brand that first emerged as a filesharing service that Hivemind is involved with. It’s also one of the investors in the relaunch of LimeWire as an NFTs marketplace, having chipped in to that company’s recent $10.4m token sale.

As it said then: “One of our core theses is in the value in nostalgic web1 and 2 brands combined with the technological potential of web3.” The flippant response would be to wonder whether it’s also putting in calls to whoever owns the brands for The Pirate Bay, BitTorrent and Gnutella…

The serious response, though, is to wonder whether Hivemind and Algorand can make Napster a serious player again in the music streaming space. After its MelodyVR merger, Napster said that it had more than five million users, with a later financial filing revealing its revenues in the first half of 2021 were just $44.2m. Spotify makes that much every 34 hours.

In other words, the new owners’ claim that they are going to “once again revolutionise the music industry” with Napster is a sizeable challenge. Their efforts should at least drive competitive innovation around DSPs, music and web3, going up against the likes of Audius, and perhaps adding an extra prod to the biggest established streaming services to figure out what they want to do with web3 technologies.

Limewire is Still a Thing, Except Now it's a Platform to Shill NFTs

The new company betrays everything the original stood for.
Brandon Yu

It appears we’ve come full circle. After being public enemy No. 1 for major record labels all throughout the aughts, Limewire has now partnered with Universal Music Group. The software service that was once the go-to place for people to illegally and easily download music is teaming up with UMG, the biggest music company in the world, to become an NFT marketplace for its artists.

Artists under the UMG umbrella, which owns a host of record labels from Interscope to Def Jam, will be able to sell audio recordings, audiovisual content, backstage footage, and artwork as NFTs to their fans on the new platform.

"We see this partnership as a true demonstration of the pace at which the music industry is embracing Web3," LimeWire Co-CEOs Paul and Julian Zehetmayr said in a statement announcing the news. "We're thrilled to open up the LimeWire NFT ecosystem to Universal Music Group artists and fans and can't wait to see the first creative projects being launched on the marketplace."

It is a bizarre turn of events: while predecessors like Napster, and other sister services like Frostwire bit the dust from eventually being crushed in the courts by record labels, Limewire is about to successfully pivot into the rise of crypto and so-called Web3, where Limewire’s spirit of unregulated and decentralized tech is in fact championed.

“Universal Music Group has always prioritised its artists' creativity and valued fans' desire to engage in innovative new ways. Now, NFTs are providing an exciting vehicle to enhance this connection between artists and audiences. This is why we are delighted to have partnered with LimeWire, who is focused on guiding everyday users into this expansive arena, in this new era of Web3 engagement and music appreciation," said Jonathan Dworkin, EVP, Digital Business Development & Strategy at Universal Music Group.

You might call it a win that what was once a for-the-people pirating service is being legitimized. But really it’s just a major corporate entity reviving a former enemy to enable another cheap consumerist grift on the masses. And the founder of the original site himself might agree: after Limewire first indicated its new service as an NFT platform in March, founder and former CEO Mark Gorton said he was completely oblivious. He also denounced the fact that the current co-CEOs have in fact simply bought the domain name and have no previous association to the original site.

“I am not thrilled about an unrelated group of people using the LimeWire name. Using the LimeWire name in this way creates confusion and falsely uses that brand that we created for purposes for which it was never intended,” Gorton says. He added, “I think it’s a bit risky to say that LimeWire ‘is back’, the NFT project has got nothing to do with the original,” he says.

In other words, Limewire was once a kind of small middle-finger theft of major corporate record labels — now it’s just become a place where you shill out to those same corporations to “buy” some digital photos of your favorite singer.

The FCC has a Plan to Boost Rural Broadband Download Speeds to 100 Mbps

The proposed changes could see some users get a 20-fold speed increase.
Kris Holt

The Federal Communications Commission is aiming to boost rural broadband internet speeds through proposed changes to the Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM) program. The target is to improve minimum download and upload speeds to 100/20 Mbps in areas served by carriers that receive A-CAM support. The current baseline is 25/3 Mbps.

The A-CAM Broadband Coalition proposed the creation of an Enhanced A-CAM program. The goal is to improve broadband speeds to the levels specified in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (also known as the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) while avoiding the duplication of efforts across various federal programs.

The notice of proposed rulemaking, which commissioners approved, seeks comment on how the FCC could bolster A-CAM support under an enhanced program and whether the current A-CAM framework even still makes sense. It's also seeking comment on how to align the Enhanced A-CAM program with Congressional goals and programs at other agencies.

As we consider the future of A-CAM, we seek comment on the buildout timelines. The $42 billion BEAD program has a 4 year timeline. I will be interested to see where A-CAM providers land. Here’s the point: we must ensure broadband is being deployed everywhere ASAP @FCC #broadband
— Geoffrey Starks (@GeoffreyStarks) May 19, 2022

"With additional funding and an expansion of the length of time under which electing carriers would receive support, these carriers would increase deployment speeds up to 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload in some of the most challenging and expensive areas to serve in the country," Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said in a statement. "[Some] consumers served by A-CAM carriers could see a four-fold, 10-fold or even 20-fold increase in their speeds."

Last week, using funding allocated by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Biden administration launched a $45 billion project to bring all Americans online by 2030 and eliminate the digital divide. Officials have also teamed up with internet providers to subsidize the cost of broadband for low-income households.

Broadcast TV’s Reduced Role Made Clear In Fall Presentations
David Bauder and Lynn Elber

They never even made it onto the stage.

There were constant reminders of the diminished influence of broadcast television networks this past week, when entertainment companies Paramount, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, NBC Universal and Fox hawked their upcoming wares to advertisers in flashy New York presentations.

None was more glaring than the fact that Craig Erwich and Kelly Kahl, chiefs of the ABC and CBS entertainment divisions, watched from the sidelines. Erwich was replaced by a boss with broader responsibilities, and NBC doesn’t even have an entertainment president; instead, there’s an executive who oversees several networks and streaming.

Broadcasters once owned the week, revealing their fall schedules to much fanfare. They’re now almost afterthoughts in bloated presentations where the action is now in streaming, and in the coming shakeout over how advertising will invade that format.

Yet with their plans, ABC, CBS and NBC — Fox didn’t even bother to release a fall schedule — show they clearly know their new place in the entertainment world.

“How do you not recognize reality?” said Garth Ancier, former entertainment president at NBC and Fox. “All of the networks are basically recognizing reality with their schedules. They’re not saying, ‘we’re going to build the audience back.’”

Twenty years ago, the networks were coming off a season where three scripted programs — “Friends,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “ER” — all averaged more than 22 million viewers per episode. This season, “NCIS” and “FBI” are, barely, the only such shows to exceed 10 million, the Nielsen company said.

In April, a broadcast television network was being watched less than 25% of the time that an American household had a TV on, Nielsen said. The rest of the time was spent on cable networks, streaming, gaming, DVR use or videos.

With premium cable in its salad days and streaming still a dream, the network programmers in 2002 spent freely and took chances. ABC, CBS and NBC introduced 19 new scripted programs, eight of them comedies, on their fall schedules that year.

This year, they plan just seven new scripted shows for the fall. NBC’s star vehicle for George Lopez and his daughter, “Lopez vs. Lopez,” is the only comedy.

“We have officially turned the page now. Everyone sees that we are not going back to the network era,” said Aaron Barnhart, a veteran critic and author of the book “Primetimer Guide to Streaming TV.” “In some ways, it’s just the culmination of a culture shift that happened when everybody first start hooking up to cable TV.”

Even Ancier, a creature of network TV who also worked for the Walt Disney Studios and the WB, is now advising developers of an app to help people keep track of their favorite shows on streaming services.

Network TV is primarily becoming the home of franchises and reboots, unscripted and live events and sports.

NBC has its three Dick Wolf-produced “Chicago” dramas filling its Wednesday nights and CBS does the same for its “FBI” shows on Tuesday, also produced by Wolf. NBC’s trio of “Law & Order” shows (yes, Wolf again) will fill Thursday nights, CBS has its “NCIS” franchise, Fox has two “911” shows and ABC is trying to create its own franchise with a spinoff of “The Rookie” in the fall.

“They have built-in audience bases, and require much less time and money to promote, and tend to get strong viewer sampling,” said veteran TV analyst Steve Sternberg.

Even CBS’ funnyman Stephen Colbert couldn’t resist poking fun at his network’s formula at the Paramount program, saying it specializes in “sexy people solving the murders of sexy corpses.”

NBC succumbed to the tried-and-true idea of resurrecting old shows with the drama “Quantum Leap” and, in midseason, the comedy “Night Court.”

“That isn’t a fall schedule,” said ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, whose mocking monologues are a ritual at the yearly schedule presentations. “Those are the tapes you find in your dead uncle’s VCR.”

At ABC, “we’ve really leaned into live events” like “American Idol,” Erwich said in an interview. The network is also introducing a celebrity version of “Jeopardy!,” recognizing the syndicated game show routinely draws more viewers than any prime-time show. For the first time this fall, CBS is scheduling an all-unscripted evening of programs.

Both ABC and NBC will have more unscripted than scripted hours on its prime-time schedule this fall. In total, 34 of 66 prime-time hours on the three top networks will be scripted. That compares to 42 and a half 20 years ago, not including nine hours of scheduled movies.

The broadcasters are looking to save money; CBS’ cancellation of two comedies from go-to producer Chuck Lorre this spring is another illustration of belt-tightening, Barnhart said.

CBS’ Kahl noted that 17 of the top 30 shows on its corporate sibling, the Paramount+ streaming service, are CBS shows.

“When it works right, it’s kind of a virtuous circle,” he said. “We can get younger people exposed to our shows who might not watch it on the network, who might see it on Paramount+ and then come back to us.”

The viewership numbers, the lack of attention and sapping of creativity may not bode well for the broadcast networks. But they’re in better shape, and have a clearer pathway to the future, than many cable networks, Barnhart said.

“Before, they served the mass audience,” he said. “The 25% who still watch broadcast TV, it’s hard for us to think of the network audience as a niche, but it sort of is.”


Media Writer David Bauder reported from New York, AP Television Writer Lynn Elber reported from Los Angeles.

HBO Max Broken Out in Nielsen Streaming Estimates for First Time, Notches 1% Share of April TV Viewing
Todd Spangler

For the first time, Nielsen has reported TV time spent viewing estimates for HBO Max — with the Warner Bros. Discovery-owned service coming in with a 1% share for April 2022, as the streaming sector overall took its highest share of U.S. TV viewing to date.

HBO Max previously was included in Nielsen’s “other streaming” category. The measurement firm broke it out now that HBO Max hit the 1% share threshold. As of the end of March, HBO Max and HBO had 48.6 million domestic subscribers, up 1.8 million from the prior quarter.

For April, Netflix took the No. 1 spot among streamers with 6.6% share of time spent viewing on TV in April, followed by YouTube (6.1%), Hulu (3.3%), Amazon’s Prime Video (2.5%) and Disney+ (1.7%).

Overall, streaming saw another record-breaking month — beating the previous record set in March — grabbing 30.4% share, its highest of total TV viewing to date. Although overall TV viewing time decreased by 2.1% from March (which Nielsen says is typical for this time of year), time spent streaming in April was flat month-over-month.

Both broadcast and cable saw a decrease in viewing, down by 3% and 2.5%, respectively. For broadcast, there was a 14.7% decline in drama viewing and a 38.2% drop in sports viewing, according to Nielsen. The dip in cable viewing was driven by a 16.9% decline in news viewing, somewhat offset by a 17% increase in sports fueled by the viewing of the NCAA basketball finals and NBA.

The data for Nielsen’s The Gauge estimates combines two separately weighted panels. Streaming data is derived from a subset of the firm’s Streaming Meter-enabled U.S. TV households within the Nielsen National TV panel, and the linear TV sources and total usage are based on viewing from Nielsen’s overall TV panel.

Meanwhile, according to Nielsen, for the week of April 18-24, the No. 1 most-streamed title in the U.S. was “Better Call Saul,” whose first five seasons are on Netflix, with 821 million minutes. That came as AMC premiered Season 6 of the drama on April 18. In addition, Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” — with all five seasons also available on Netflix — took 10th place on Nielsen’s licensed-content streaming chart with 310 million minutes viewed. That gave Netflix a combined 1.13 billion viewing minutes across the two shows.

Disney+’s “Moon Knight” from Marvel, the only non-Netflix title to crack Nielsen’s top 10 streaming chart for the week of April 18, generated 630 million viewing minutes, compared with 638 million the prior week.

European Nations, Streaming Service Delete Extremist Audio

The European Union’s law enforcement agency said Friday that authorities in six countries have worked with music streaming service SoundCloud to detect and delete hundreds of files containing extremist propaganda.

Europol said that the plan was initiated by Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office and the EU Internet Referral Unit, and that authorities in Denmark, Hungary, Portugal, Spain and the U.K. were also involved.

Law enforcement authorities “detected and assisted the company to scour illegally uploaded jihadist, right wing terrorist and violent extremist propaganda,” Europol said in a statement. Around 1,100 profiles and audio files deemed to be illegal were flagged to SoundCloud, which “deleted the reported files that were considered a breach of its terms and conditions.”

The content that was flagged included jihadist chants in several languages and audio promoting right-wing extremist groups. Some of the material had already gathered several thousand hits, Europol said. It added that the action was part of an ongoing partnership between SoundCloud, Europol and law enforcement agencies.

German authorities said the files were flagged between May 5 and 13.

Court: Foreign Torrent Site Operator Can Be Sued in the US
Ernesto Van der Sar

The Pakistani operator of popular torrent site MKVCage can be held personally liable for contributory copyright infringement in the US. The case in question was filed by the makers of the film Hellboy. US District Court Judge Seabright concludes that the use of US-based services invokes jurisdiction, even though a magistrate judge concluded otherwise.

hellboyIn 2019, the makers of the superhero film “Hellboy” (HB Productions) filed a lawsuit against torrent site MKVCage at a Hawaii federal court.

The movie company accused the site and its operator of promoting and distributing pirated copies of the movie, demanding to put an end to the activity.

The lawsuit had an almost immediate effect as MKVCage became unreachable soon after the case went public. At the same time, the uploader stopped pushing torrents to other sites as well. This meant that part of the plan had succeeded, but HB Productions wanted more.

Hellboy Demanded Piracy Damages

The company argued that the torrent site caused irreparable damage and demanded compensation from the alleged brains behind the operation, a Pakistani man named Muhammad Faizan.

Since Faizan didn’t show up in court, the movie company’s attorney Kerry Culpepper requested a default judgment. First, he demanded $270,000 but after the court raised questions about the calculation, this figure was lowered to $150,000. However, the amount wasn’t the only problem.

The Hawaii federal court also questioned whether the defendant, who didn’t put up a defense, could actually be sued in America. In 2020, the court concluded that a US court doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Pakistani defendant.

According to the court, the filmmakers failed to show that MKVCage’s activities were expressly aimed at the United States. In addition, the defendant’s contacts with the US were insufficient to invoke nationwide jurisdiction.

Back to the Drawing Board

The ruling was a setback for the rightsholder and its attorney. However, the case wasn’t over just yet, as the court left room to file an amended complaint, to fix the shortcomings in its allegations.

The filmmakers seized this opportunity and added more details to their claim, arguing that U.S. courts do have personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

Initially, this renewed effort appeared to fail. In January, Magistrate Judge Mansfield issued a report and recommendations, concluding that the provided evidence is still insufficient. However, US District Court Judge Seabright sees things differently.

In a detailed 45-page order, Judge Seabright highlights the novelty and complexity of these types of jurisdictional questions. In this case, the defendant allegedly operated a torrent site from another continent, while also uploading torrents to third-party sites.

“Defendant was not physically present in the United States while committing the alleged actions—instead, Defendant sat behind his keyboard in Gujranwala, Pakistan,” Judge Seabright writes.

Virtual vs. Physical Presence

To be held liable, the filmmakers would have to show that the man has a substantial connection to the United States. In legal terms, this is referred to as the purposeful-availment and purposeful-direction tests.

Judge Seabright recognizes that courts can have different takes on this matter. Some require an actual physical presence, while others also count virtual access, through a web server for example.

The Magistrate Judge evaluated this case based on the more strict “physical” requirement but Judge Seabright disagrees.

“Tortious acts that once required international travel, and later the somewhat faster process of international mail, can now be accomplished in a matter of seconds with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks.”

According to the court, the Internet has transformed how foreign defendants interact with the United States. In this case, the defendant used US-based servers from a remote location, which is sufficient to invoke liability.

“[T]he court concludes that when a defendant uses the Internet to commit a tort confined to the digital realm, the defendant’s tortious actions occur at the location of the computer (e.g., web server) that the defendant manipulates to commit the tort,” Judge Seabright writes.

No Direct Copyright Infiringement

Now that the operator of MKVCage can be held liable, it doesn’t automatically mean that he is. With regard to direct copyright infringement, Judge Seabright doesn’t believe that the allegations are plausible.

The filmmakers accuse the man of ripping the “Hellboy” movie, for example, but it’s not clear if US servers were used to do that. In addition, the Judge doesn’t find it plausible that the defendant uploaded actual copies of the movie to torrent sites.

The latter shows that the Judge has a good understanding of how BitTorrent works. The ‘torrent’ files that are shared online are just metadata, and not actual copies of the movies.

“It would make little sense for a ‘torrent website’ to host and provide downloads for the larger movie files. That would defeat the purpose of a torrent network’s peer-to-peer architecture, which achieves greater reliability than a traditional client-server architecture in transferring large files because it does not suffer from bottleneck issues.

“For those reasons, the court finds implausible Plaintiff’s allegation that Defendant uploaded movie files onto torrent websites in the United States,” Judge Seabright writes.

Adding to this, the ruling includes another interesting legal observation. According to the Judge, uploading torrent files that point to pirated movies is not seen as direct copyright infringement.

“[i]f Defendant uploaded onto the torrent sites torrent files associated with the Hellboy movie, then there is no reproduction infringement, because the torrent files do not contain copyrighted material”

Contributory Copyright Infringement

The court concluded that direct infringement is implausible, but the same is not true for contributory copyright infringement. The torrent files themselves are not infringing, but they do allow others to pirate the film.

As such, the MKVCage operator can be held liable for this offense, particularly because the website used servers that were based in the United States.

“Defendant hosted his mkvcage websites on servers leased to him in the United States. Accordingly, Defendant’s publishing and promoting of infringement-enabling torrent files, and his general facilitating of connections between direct infringers, occurred in the United States,” Judge Seabright concludes.

After nearly three years, this means that the filmmakers can move ahead with their request for a default judgment. This can potentially result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages for MVKCage’s operator.

Perhaps just as importantly, the copyright holders have a favorable verdict that they can use in similar cases that may come up in the future.

Update: HB Productions’ attorney Kerry Culpepper informs us that MKVCage.fun did include links to full copies for “Hellboy”.

“The MKVCage website did have download links for complete file copies of the movie (not just torrent files) [pdf]. Some of the file sizes were as large as 2.3 GB – clearly not just a torrent file.”

“Also, the MKVCage operator was one of the peers that was sharing copies of the movie on 1337x website. Nonetheless, I am pleased with the result.”

Until next week,

- js.

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