Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007

A new legislative proposal was introduced yesterday to U.S. Congress by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The new law, called “Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007” not only increases penalties for copyright violations and makes it easier for the government to perform searches and seizures, but also includes something new: criminalizing “attempts” to violate copyright laws.

From the document:

“… an attempt to violate the criminal copyright statute should be counted an offence whether it is successful or not.”

I am not a lawyer, but this sounds scary. The document does not specify anywhere what constitutes an “attempt”. For example, imagine that I mistakenly configured my home web server so that my music collection became accessible from outside. No one ever downloaded anything – but it was an attempt, wasn’t it?

There is more interesting stuff in this proposal. For example, how do you like this one:

“…Because prosecutors work for public good, they should be able to institute an infringement prosecution even if the copyright has not yet been registered.”

Or this:
“…penalties that apply when the offense "consists of' reproduction or distribution, also apply when reproduction or distribution is intended but not completed.”


“Currently, a Federal court may issue an order authorizing the use of a voice intercept (otherwise known as a "wiretap") in the investigations of a host of Federal crimes; copyright and trademark counterfeiting crimes are not among them. This is unacceptable.”

You can read the whole text of the bill here (PDF), and some analysis here.

I do hope that this bill will never become a law. DMCA is bad enough without this sort of enhancements. Giving the government ability to sue people for attempts and intents to share a file is stupid and dangerous.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

S.T.A.L.K.E.R - localization disaster.

Yesterday I’ve managed at last to get my hands on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. I was extremely interested in this game since the day it was announced (November 2001) for several reasons.
First, the game is loosely based on a sci-fi novel “The Roadside Picnic”, which is one of my favorite sci-fi novels of all the time. In Russia it was (and, probably, is) a cult novel, read by almost everyone. A masterpiece movie by Andrei Tarkovsky, also loosely based on this book, added to its popularity. (By the way, do yourself a favor and read it – not only will you treat yourself to one of the finest works of science fiction, but also, if you are playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R, you will get some insights on nature of the game world). The setting of the novel seemed to be amazingly well-suited for a computer game, and I dare say that it was a dream of many Russian programmers to create such a game. (I did one, very primitive, for a programmable calculator when I was in school). So, the news about a full-scale game based on the “Roadside Picnic” immediately caught my attention.

Second, I am very interested in the state of the game development market in Russia – partially because of my general interest in game design/development, partially because of myself being of Russian origin, and partially, because I am somewhat puzzled with the fact that Russian programmers, artists and game designers, having tremendous potential, still didn’t realize it in any significant number of world-class games.

And third… Well, as I said, the project was announced in November 2001. The original release date was sometime in 2003, but the game was delayed so many times that I thought the project eventually will be sacked to cut losses. So, when I’ve heard that the game is being released at last, I was all curios as to what is the result of the over-ambitious and over-delayed project.

Well, I am not going to write a game review here. It will be enough to say that the game is a resource hog, but is definitely worth playing. It looks beautiful, and it sounds…

Here we came right to the point I was going to talk about. It’s not the quality of the sound – it’s the fact that the sounds in the game were not localized at all. The game features a lot of speech – and in the version I’ve bought 3 days ago from a US retail store, all the speech is still Russian. (Well, to be more precise, all but the speech of some main characters.) It’s not only bad that the amazing ambiance effect is totally lost for non-Russian speaking players (I’ve spent 10 minutes just listening to a random conversations of non-player characters sitting around a campfire: they were discussing their lives, telling jokes and even playing a guitar! This is so cool – but 100% in Russian, without even subtitles). Some quite important phrases are left in Russian too. For example, if you approach certain characters with a gun in your hands, they will react by saying: “Uberi pushku!” which is Russian for “Put away your gun”. If you don’t understand this, too bad for you. Or, early in the game a helicopter appears above your head, and you can hear a radio conversation of military men in the ship, which goes something like the following:
-What’s this jerk doing down there? Let’s kill him.
-Let him be, he’s not that important to waste ammo on him…

And, as you could guess, the conversation is also in pure Russian, without any subtitles. So without knowing the language the player misses an important bit of information – the attitude of military towards him.

I feel really sorry for the developers and designers of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. It seems like someone was trying to cut some corners in localization. But as a result, not only the corners were cut – foreign players were also cut off the game. Such a stupidity!

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Digg and the magic number

The story of the magic number which is claimed to be the HD-DVD production key is quite amusing. In short: the key somehow leaked, someone put it onto their blog and then published the story on Digg. The company which produced the key started sending cease and desist letters to all blogs that published this number. Digg got one of those letters, and the owners of Digg decided to comply and removed the article. This action infuriated Digg users - they started writing incredible number of comments containing the number, and the bloggers all around the world started writing posts about it. And, as a result, Digg owners gave in. Kevin Rose, the founder of Digg, put a post on his blog with the key number in the title, admitting that he heard the voice of the crowd, and that Digg will no longer remove the articles with the key. He said:

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.
If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

The whole story in more detail is described, for example, here.

Just some of my thoughts on the topic:

  • This is probably the first case which shows the real power of the sites with user-generated content; or, to be more precise, of the users of such sites. This case might become an important turning point in the relations between users and site owners.

  • If the protection of HD-DVDs relies on a single number, then it’s in a sorry state indeed. I can’t believe that the developers of the protection thought the number will remain a mystery for any significant time.

  • The behavior of the AACS (the company developing the protection and requesting the removal of the key from blogs) is an example of total stupidity. Frankly, they couldn’t do more to promote publishing of the key in thousands of blogs. This is similar to the story of Herostratus. One can think that by now people should learn: issuing a decree to forget Herostratus isn’t the best way to make people forget him.

  • If someone needs another proof that DMCA went a little bit too far - here it is.

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