Piracy

iTunes Snafu Made 'Thor: Ragnarok' Available Almost a Month Early (engadget.com) 45

An anonymous reader shares a report: When you check out the 'Thor: Ragnarok' page on iTunes, it says pre-orders of digital copies are expected to arrive on February 20th. But as TorrentFreak reports, some people got their hands on the Marvel film about a month early due to some sort of snafu with iTunes and Movies Anywhere. According to TorrentFreak, a Reddit user said in a now-deleted post that their legal purchase of the film on Vudu landed them an iTunes copy of it the next day. "I pre-ordered Thor Ragnarok on Vudu yesterday and it links it to my iTunes also. But curiously it showed up in my iTunes library this morning (pre-orders shouldn't). And now I can watch the full movie in HD," they wrote. "I obviously downloaded it right away. I know its supposed to come out February 20th." Others then responded that going that same purchase route made the movie available to them in iTunes as well.
Piracy

Studios Sue Dragon Box in Latest Crackdown on Streaming Devices (variety.com) 54

An anonymous reader shares a report: Netflix and Amazon joined with the major studios on Wednesday in a lawsuit against Dragon Box, as the studios continue their crackdown on streaming devices. The suit accuses Dragon Box of facilitating piracy by making it easy for customers to access illegal streams of movies and TV shows. Some of the films available are still in theaters, including Disney's "Coco," the suit alleges. Dragon Box has advertised the product as a means to avoid paying for authorized subscription services, the complaint alleges, quoting marketing material that encourages users to "Get rid of your premium channels ... [and] Stop paying for Netflix and Hulu." The same studios filed a similar complaint in October against TickBox, another device that enables users to watch streaming content. Both TickBox and Dragon Box make use of Kodi add-ons, a third-party software application.
Businesses

Uber Used Another Secret Software To Evade Police, Report Says (bloomberg.com) 226

schwit1 shares a Bloomberg report: In May 2015 about 10 investigators for the Quebec tax authority burst into Uber Technologies's office in Montreal. The authorities believed Uber had violated tax laws and had a warrant to collect evidence. Managers on-site knew what to do, say people with knowledge of the event. Like managers at Uber's hundreds of offices abroad, they'd been trained to page a number that alerted specially trained staff at company headquarters in San Francisco. When the call came in, staffers quickly remotely logged off every computer in the Montreal office, making it practically impossible for the authorities to retrieve the company records they'd obtained a warrant to collect. The investigators left without any evidence.

Most tech companies don't expect police to regularly raid their offices, but Uber isn't most companies. The ride-hailing startup's reputation for flouting local labor laws and taxi rules has made it a favorite target for law enforcement agencies around the world. That's where this remote system, called Ripley, comes in. From spring 2015 until late 2016, Uber routinely used Ripley to thwart police raids in foreign countries, say three people with knowledge of the system. Allusions to its nature can be found in a smattering of court filings, but its details, scope, and origin haven't been previously reported. The Uber HQ team overseeing Ripley could remotely change passwords and otherwise lock up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, and desktops as well as shut down the devices. This routine was initially called the unexpected visitor protocol. Employees aware of its existence eventually took to calling it Ripley, after Sigourney Weaver's flamethrower-wielding hero in the Alien movies. The nickname was inspired by a Ripley line in Aliens, after the acid-blooded extraterrestrials easily best a squad of ground troops. 'Nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.'

Media

Ask Slashdot: What's the Best Media Streaming Device? 206

The network card died on Thelasko's smart TV -- and rather than spend $65 on a new one, they're considering buying a nice, simple streaming box. I am running a Rygel server on my PC, but rarely use it... I primarily only watch Amazon Prime, Netflix, and YouTube for streaming, and am wondering what Slashdot users have found to be the best option. I'm considering Roku or Chromecast because they are well known and supported. However, I have heard a lot of news about Kodi devices being more hackable.
AppleTV? Amazon Fire TV? The Emtec GEM Box? Building your own from a Raspberry Pi? Leave your own thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

What's the best media streaming device?
Businesses

Ford is Giving Its Factory Workers Robot Exo-suits To Ease To Burden of Building Cars (qz.com) 49

Mike Murphy, writing for Quartz: Ford's cars are getting closer to driving themselves, but they still need humans to build them. And because people aren't quite as durable as robots, it's trying to make those jobs easier by developing a suit with Ekso Bionics that takes the stress out of working long hours on a car assembly floor. Ekes, founded in 2005 in California, builds exoskeletons, essentially robotic assistive systems that people strap into to make walking, lifting, and standing easier. It's worked with the US military to build suits for soldiers. The system Ekso developed with Ford, called the EksoVest, doesn't use any motors to make working on factory lines less stressful, and it's nothing like what you see in movies, as it simply uses hydraulics to redistribute weight so that workers can comfortably raise their arms above their heads for extended periods of time. The suit can be worn by anyone from 5 ft to 6 ft 4 inches tall, and can provide lift assistance up to 15 pounds per arm. Some assembly-line workers at the average Ford plant lift their arms 4,600 times a day -- or about 1 million times a year, the company said.
Businesses

People Are Using PornHub To Stream 'Hamilton' and 'Zootopia' (qz.com) 92

An anonymous reader shares a report: There's more on PornHub than pornography. People are using the streaming-video site -- a sort of YouTube for pornography where users can upload and watch adult videos -- to stream pirated copies of high-profile titles like the Broadway musical Hamilton and Disney's animated movie Zootopia. Where YouTube has been fighting for years to keep pornography off its site, PornHub now finds itself in the position of having to purge its platform of videos that are decidedly safe for work. The full, 75-minute first act of the historical, Tony Award-winning play, Hamilton -- with its original cast, including creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda -- is on PornHub, one Twitter user discovered. As the most sought after ticket in town, the play just set a new high-water mark (paywall) for Broadway after taking in $3.8 million at the box office for the week ending Dec. 24.
Movies

Movie Ticket Sales Hit A 22-Year Low in 2017 (msn.com) 162

An anonymous reader quotes the Los Angeles Times: Hollywood is celebrating the end of 2017 with astronomical sales from "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," which is on track to soon exceed $1 billion in global ticket sales and eventually become the biggest movie of the year. But that won't be enough to write a happy storyline for the industry. Although movie ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada are expected to dip just below last year's record of $11.38 billion, the number of tickets sold is projected to drop 4% to 1.26 billion -- the lowest level since 1995, according to preliminary estimates from studio executives.

The falloff in ticket sales can mostly be explained by a handful of movies that flopped, especially during the dreary summer season that posted the worst results in more than two decades. Even such massive hits as "Wonder Woman," "Thor: Ragnarok" and "It" couldn't make up for a lackluster summer lineup populated by rickety franchises ("Alien: Covenant") and poorly reviewed retreads ("The Mummy"). However, the long-term decline in attendance reflects systemic challenges facing the industry. Audiences are spending less time going to the movies and are consuming more entertainment on small screens and through streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon that are spending billions on original video content. At the same time, while higher ticket prices have helped to offset attendance declines, they have made consumers pickier about what movies they're willing to go see. And those increasingly discerning consumers turn to social media and Rotten Tomatoes to decide what's worth their time and money.

Books

In a Declining Comics Market, DC Beats Marvel (hollywoodreporter.com) 159

An anonymous reader quotes the Hollywood Reporter: Looking at the most-ordered comic books in the North American comic market, DC Entertainment had a particularly strong year, with seven of the top 10 issues of the year being published by the home of Superman, Batman and the Justice League... just three years ago, not one DC title made it to the list, with nine titles coming from Marvel alone. (By comparison, Marvel takes just three places this year, with one of those due to its inclusion in a subscription mystery box service)... Perhaps surprisingly, the big winner of 2017 looking at the top 10 list is DC's crossover between its DC Universe and Watchmen properties. The first issue of the Doomsday Clock series charted third â" and could end up higher on the final list for the year, depending on re-order numbers in December â" but all four issues of the prologue storyline "The Button," from summer issues of Batman and The Flash, also made it into the top 10.

it's worth noting that, across the board, order numbers for comics in the North American market fell 10 percent compared with last year. The market is shrinking, unless something turns it around soon... One last thing to note about the year's top 10, and also the comic market as it currently exists in general: It's probably time to stop pretending that mass media projects significantly impact comic book orders. In a year with Justice League, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Logan, Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming in theaters, there isn't a Justice League, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Wolverine, Thor or Spider-Man title in the top 10. Indeed, Marvel has just canceled the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book series.

Mavel had the most-ordered comic book of the year -- Marvel Legacy No. 1 -- though the article notes that all of its numbers are inevitably skewed by "ordering incentives put in place by publishers that require that a certain number of copies are ordered by stores in order to achieve a specific discount."
Star Wars Prequels

'Star Wars' Franchise Crosses $4 Billion, Eclipsing Disney's Lucasfilm Price (hollywoodreporter.com) 187

Combined, Disney and Lucasfilm's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: The Force Awakens have surpassed $4.06 billion in ticket sales at the worldwide box office. That's more than what Disney paid to buy George Lucas' Star Wars franchise. From the Hollywood Reporter: While an interesting benchmark, it doesn't, of course, account for the hundreds of millions spent to produce and market the trio of films, or the fact that Disney splits box-office grosses with theater owners. Conversely, Disney has minted additional money from lucrative ancillary revenue streams, merchandising sales and theme park attractions. Opening in North America on Dec. 15, The Last Jedi zoomed past the $900 million mark on Thursday, finishing the day with $934.2 million globally, including $464.6 million domestically and $469.6 internationally (it doesn't land in China until Jan. 5). The sequel to The Force Awakens was directed by Rian Johnson, and has dominated the Christmas corridor. The Last Jedi will jump the $1 billion mark over New Year's weekend on its way to becoming the top-grossing 2017 release, eclipsing the $1.264 billion earned by fellow Disney title Beauty and the Beast. In December 2015, filmmaker J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens shattered numerous records on its way to grossing $2.068 billion globally, including an all-time best $936.7 million in North America, not accounting for inflation.
Privacy

That Game on Your Phone May Be Tracking What You're Watching on TV (nytimes.com) 98

Rick Zeman writes: The New York Times (may be paywalled) has an article describing how some apps track TV and movie viewing even when the loaded app isn't currently active. These seemingly innocuous games, geared towards both adults and children work by "using a smartphone's microphone. For instance, Alphonso's software can detail what people watch by identifying audio signals in TV ads and shows, sometimes even matching that information with the places people visit and the movies they see. The information can then be used to target ads more precisely...." While these apps, mostly available on Google play, with some available on the Apple Store, do offer an opt opt, it's not clear when consumers see "permission for microphone access for ads," it may not be clear to a user that, "Oh, this means it's going to be listening to what I do all the time to see if I'm watching 'Monday Night Football."'
One advertising executive summarizes thusly: "It's not what's legal. It is what's not creepy."

DRM

Filmmakers Want The Right To Break DRM and Rip Blu-Rays (torrentfreak.com) 107

An anonymous reader shares a report: Breaking DRM or ripping Blu-Rays discs is a crime In the United States. While there are fair use exemptions, these don't apply to the public at large. Interestingly, filmmakers themselves are now urging the Copyright Office to lift some of the current restrictions, so that they can make the films they want. [...] Technically speaking it's not hard to rip a DVD or Blu-Ray disc nowadays, and the same is true for ripping content from Netflix or YouTube. However, people who do this are breaking the law. The DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions specifically forbid it. There are some exemptions, for educational use for example, and to allow for other types of fair use, but the line between legal and illegal is not always clear. Interestingly, filmmakers are not happy with the current law either. They often want to use small pieces of other videos in their films, but under the current exemptions, this is only permitted for documentaries. The International Documentary Association, Kartemquin Films, Independent Filmmaker Project, University of Film and Video Association and several other organizations hope this will change. In a comment to the Copyright Office, which is currently considering updates to the exemptions, they argue that all filmmakers should be allowed by break DRM and rip Blu-Rays. According to the filmmakers, the documentary genre is vaguely defined. This leads to a lot of confusion whether or not the exemptions apply. They, therefore, suggest to apply it to all filmmakers, instead of criminalizing those who don't identify themselves as documentarians.
Movies

MoviePass Adds a Million Subscribers, Even if Theaters Aren't Sold on It (nytimes.com) 122

From a report: As streaming services like Netflix and Hulu surge in popularity, movie theaters have been trying to compete by rethinking the concession counter and installing seats that resemble beds. Yet attendance was flat at North American cinemas in 2016, and analysts are predicting a 4 percent decline in 2017, bringing ticket sales to a 22-year low. Perhaps something more radical is necessary. Mitch Lowe, a Netflix co-founder, certainly thought so when he took over a ticketing firm called MoviePass in June 2016. By August of this year, when MoviePass introduced a cut-rate, subscription-based plan -- go to the movies 365 times a year for $9.95 a month -- Mr. Lowe had been declared an enemy of the state. "Not welcome here," AMC Entertainment, the largest multiplex operator in North America, said in an indignant August news release that threatened legal action. It may be time to get on board: MoviePass said this month that it had signed up more than one million subscribers in just four months (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). It took Netflix more than three years to reach that level when it started selling low-priced subscriptions for DVD rentals in 1999. Spotify was relatively quick, at five months in 2011. It took Hulu 10 months to reach one million later that year. "We're actually shocked," Mr. Lowe said. "We seem to have hit a nerve in America."
Businesses

Movie Theaters Were Already in Trouble. With Disney's Fox Deal, It's Double (bloomberg.com) 193

Disney's acquisition of Fox's film studio will unite some of the most lucrative movie franchises, from Disney's Star Wars and Marvel series to Fox's X-Men and Avatar. With control of more blockbusters, not only does Disney gain more leverage over theater chains such as AMC and Carmike Cinemas, it also wins more films it could distribute exclusively on its upcoming online service -- cutting out cinema operators entirely. From a report: "Disney is becoming the Wal-Mart of Hollywood: huge and dominant," says Barton Crockett, a media analyst at B. Riley FBR. "That's going to have a big influence up and down the supply chain." Together, Disney and Fox accounted for 40 percent of ticket sales in 2016 in the U.S. and Canada, a level of market concentration that could draw scrutiny from Washington. If the deal goes through, theater owners could get squeezed. Usually a film's box-office revenue is split evenly between exhibitors and the studio. But Disney previously has gotten theaters to hand over a larger share -- sometimes more than 60 percent -- on its biggest, most popular films, such as the Star Wars series. Now it could try the same tactic with Fox's Avatar, which has four sequels in the works. "While the future of movie exhibition looks increasingly dim, a Disney-Fox merger will elevate its level of pain," says Rich Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG LLC. Cinema chains have already suffered this year from a string of box-office bombs, including Warner Bros' King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and online video services such as Netflix are keeping more moviegoers at home.
Education

How Harvard Teaches CS Students How To Code (kqed.org) 138

Harvard computer science professor David J. Malan "is pretty amazing!" says long-time education-watcher theodp. And he's sharing a link to the online version of Malan's famous CS50 class, "if you can't pony up the estimated $63,025-a-year sticker price to take 'the quintessential Harvard (and Yale!) course' on campus."

KQED's education site "MindShift" reports: Malan's class attracts students who have never taken computer science before, as well as kids who have been coding a long time. His goal with this diverse group of learners is to create a community that's equal and collaborative. One way he does this is by asking students to self-identify by comfort level. Those groups become different section levels, and they sometimes get different homework, but harder assignments are not worth more credit. Malan said recently that the "less comfortable" group has dominated his 700-person course. "At the end of the day all students are treated with the same expectations," said Malan, speaking at the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston.

Students are graded based on each individual's growth; Malan and his team of teaching assistants don't use absolute measures when assigning grades. Instead, they look at scope, how hard the student tried, correctness, how right the work was, style, how aesthetic the code is, and design, which is the most subjective. When it's time to assign grades, Malan and his teaching fellows have lots of in-depth conversations about how each student has improved relative to where he or she started...

The course includes a tool that rewrites error messages to make them easier to understand, plus a code-checking tool which they're planning to open source. There's also a cloud-based IDE which "allows students to access their code from multiple locations," though students can also submit their code through GitHub. (The original submission complains that Harvard's students are "coddled.") But Malan says the class works partly because there's an intentionally social aspect to it -- including numerous teaching assistants holding office hours in public spaces and "the human structure within the course." Guest lecturers have even included Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Ballmer.

But all these technical details don't really capture the wild flavor of the course and all of its multimedia bells and whistles. Malan's fast-paced lectures often close with relevant clips from movies -- for example, a lecture on cryptography which ended with video from a movie you'd see "if you turn on your TV on December 24th."
Wireless Networking

Airlines With the Best In-Flight Wi-Fi (latimes.com) 52

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Los Angeles Times: In the heated competition between airlines in the U.S., JetBlue Airways offers an extra perk that is pretty alluring to most travelers: Free, high-speed wireless internet. For that reason, an internet comparison site named JetBlue as the top domestic airline for overall WiFi service, followed by rivals Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Virgin America. The ranking by Highspeedinternet.com considered not only the speed of the connection but the cost and the availability on every plane. JetBlue won the top spot because the New York-based carrier offers free WiFi with speeds of 15 megabits per second on 78% of its fleet, according to the ranking. Southwest Airlines ranked second because it offers WiFi at speeds of up to 10 Mbps for $8 per flight on 90% of its fleet.

If you want to be assured to have WiFi on your next flight, Virgin America is the only domestic carrier that offers internet connections on 100% of its fleet, for a price of up to $25, depending on the length of the flight. Virgin America's WiFi speed is 15 Mbps, which is considered fast enough to stream movies and television shows. Don't care about connecting to the internet? Frontier, Hawaiian and Spirit Airways are the only three major U.S. carriers that offer no onboard WiFi at all, according to the ranking.

Star Wars Prequels

Ask Slashdot: Thoughts On Star Wars: The Last Jedi One Week Later? [Spoilers] (independent.co.uk) 300

AmiMoJo writes: After what feels like an eternity of waiting, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has finally reached cinemas, scoring a whopping $450 million opening weekend worldwide. While reviews have been unanimously positive for Rian Johnson's blockbuster, there's been huge backlash online, many fans expressing disappointment. There's no better place to see the great divide between critics and fans than on Rotten Tomatoes, where the critical consensus scores 93% while audiences score The Last Jedi 56%. The Last Jedi is apparently worse than Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Conversely, critics say The Last Jedi equals A New Hope and The Force Awakens, only falling behind The Empire Strikes Back.

One problem with Rotten Tomatoes' audience score, along with IMDB, is there's no vetting process. Instead, we should look to the movie's CinemaScore, an America-based exit poll system that scientifically works out an audience score. The Force Awakens earned an A score, with 90% of all respondents being positive, the average score being 4.5. According to Deadline, non-Disney sources are saying the backlash has been primarily online "trolling." The publication also points to one Facebook page titled "Down With Disney's Treatment of Franchises and Fanboys" who are claiming to use bot accounts to target the film's score.
SPOILERS: With Star Wars: The Last Jedi being released one week ago, we ask you to share your thoughts of the film now that you've had some time to watch and digest it. How did you like Daisy Ridley's performance? Do you think Kylo will try and turn Rey again as Supreme Leader? How will General Leia's future be dealt with now that Carrie Fisher has passed away last year?
Piracy

AnyDVD Supports UHD Blu-Ray Ripping, While Devices Patch Security Holes (torrentfreak.com) 68

The controversial ripping tool AnyDVD has released a new beta version that allows users to decrypt and copy UHD Blu-Ray discs. The software makes use of the leaked keys that came out recently and appears to work well. Meanwhile, disc drive manufacturers are patching security holes. TorrentFreak reports: This year there have been some major developments on this front. First, full copies of UHD discs started to leak online, later followed by dozens of AACS 2.0 keys. Technically speaking AACS 2.0 is not confirmed to be defeated yet, but many discs can now be ripped. This week a popular name jumped onto the UHD Blu-Ray bandwagon. In its latest beta release, AnyDVD now supports the format, relying on the leaked keys. "New (UHD Blu-ray): Fetch AACS keys from external file for use with 'UHD-friendly' drives," the release notes read. The involvement of AnyDVD is significant because it previously came under legal pressure from decryption licensing outfit AACS LA. This caused former parent company Slysoft to shut down last year, but the software later reappeared under new management. Based on reports from several AnyDVD users, the UHD ripping works well for most people. Some even claim that it's faster than the free alternative, MakeMKV.
Movies

What Disney's Acquisition of Fox Means For the Future of Film and TV (qz.com) 139

Disney announced on Thursday it had reached a $52 billion deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox. It is "the biggest and most consequential media merger in an era of big and consequential media consolidation deals," reports Quartz. "The deal will have a lasting effect on film, television, and the internet." From the report: If the merger is approved, Disney will own: All of Fox's film studios (20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, and Fox 2000); Fox's television studio; FX Networks; National Geographic; Fox's stake in European broadcaster Sky; Fox's stake in North American streamer Hulu. Staying with the hollowed out 21st Century Fox is the Fox broadcast network, Fox News, Fox Sports, and Fox Business. With Fox's film and TV studios and its cable networks, Disney will acquire the rights to literally hundreds of popular television series and movies. (Some of which include Avatar, X-Men, Deadpool, Modern Family and The Simpsons.)

Imagine all of the properties mentioned above, plus all of Disney's existing franchises (Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, etc.) combined into one internet streaming service. You won't have to imagine for long, because that's pretty much exactly why Disney CEO Bob Iger was so keen on buying all of Fox's biggest assets. Disney plans to release a streaming entertainment service in 2019. It would have been quite formidable on its own, even without Fox's help, but now it will likely be the first true rival to Netflix in the streaming space. Before today, Disney, Fox, and Comcast (NBCUniversal) all shared equal 30% stakes in Hulu (Time Warner owns 10%). But when Disney takes over Fox's share of the streaming service, it will own 60%, becoming a controlling majority owner, relegating Comcast to minority owner in the process.

20th Century Fox, we hardly knew ye. Okay, that may be a bit premature, but it's clear that Fox's film business won't be the same if the merger is approved. The deal marks the first time in modern history that one major film studio has purchased another, eliminating one of the "big six," and essentially giving Disney control of two-thirds of Hollywood. (The other four major movie studios are Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Sony.)

Communications

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Has Critics In Raptures (bbc.com) 269

gollum123 shares a report from BBC: "Rousing." "Thrilling." "Addictively bold." Just a few of the superlatives the critics are using to describe the latest film in the Star Wars saga. The Last Jedi, writes the Telegraph, is "enormous fun" and "will leave fans beaming with surprise." The Guardian calls it "an explosive sugar rush of spectacle" possessing "a tidal wave of energy and emotion." Variety, though, swims against the tide, describing it as "the longest and least essential chapter in the series." Rian Johnson's film, says Peter Debruge, is "ultimately a disappointment" that "gives in to the same winking self-parody that is poisoning other franchises of late." Writing in The Verge, Tasha Robinson tends to agree: "Audiences will likely come away from The Last Jedi with a lot of complaints and questions." Driver's Kylo Ren is singled out for praise by USA Today, who describe the character as "blockbuster cinema's most magnetic and unpredictable antagonist since Heath Ledger's Dark Knight Joker." Have you seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi? If so, how do you think it stacks up against the others in the saga?

Slashdot Top Deals