Politics and Law Feed

Power Button - Episode 74: Squashing SOPA And Poking PIPA

Power ButtonThe Internet rose up as one this week in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills that have been working their way through the United States Congress.  In this episode of Power Button, Brad Hilderbrand, Joey Davidson, and I get a bit political as we discuss the bills and how the video game journalism side of the business covered the protests and/or participated in them.  Was it appropriate for news sites to black out their publications for the day?  Should websites owned by big business be held to the same standards as independent publications?  We hash it out and get to the bottom of things. Remember that even though both bills have now been shelved, we haven't seen the last of legislation that impacts the Internet.  I'm sure we'll see bills like SOPA and PIPA again.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow all of us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons, @aubradley84, and @JoeyDavidson or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.  Next Week: Now that the politics are handled, we're going to let our sociopathic tendencies shine as we discuss Saints Row: The Third.  Call the hotline and tell us what you think of the game!


Power Button - Episode 74: Squashing SOPA And Poking PIPA


Wash Your Hands Of SOPA

Generic imageThe Internet has transformed our civilization on a scale not seen since the printing press, but nothing important and essential goes unlegislated forever.  You may have noticed that a number of your favorite websites such as Wikipedia, Reddit, and Wordpress have gone dark today in protest of something called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).  These bills currently working their way through the United States House of Representatives and Senate respectively would gut the fair use and safe harbor provisions that allow people to legitimately quote articles, post images, and share music and video clips online (among other things).  Wikipedia explains these overly broad and poorly written bills currently working their way through Congress (although Wikipedia is offline today, SOPA-related articles remain accessible):

[SOPA] would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement, while making liable for damages any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement.

Opponents say that it violates the First Amendment, is Internet censorship, will cripple the Internet, and will threaten whistle-blowing and other free speech actions. Opponents have initiated a number of protest actions, including petition drives, boycotts of companies that support the legislation, and planned service blackouts by English Wikipedia and major Internet companies scheduled to coincide with the next Congressional hearing on the matter.

The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on November 16 and December 15, 2011. The Committee was scheduled to continue debate in January 2012, but on January 17 Chairman Smith said that "[d]ue to the Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks, markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act is expected to resume in February."

Opponents have warned that SOPA would have a negative impact on online communities. Journalist Rebecca MacKinnon argued in an op-ed that making companies liable for users' actions could have a chilling effect on user-generated sites such as YouTube. "The intention is not the same as China’s Great Firewall, a nationwide system of Web censorship, but the practical effect could be similar," she says. The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) warned that websites Etsy, Flickr and Vimeo all seemed likely to shut down if the bill becomes law. Policy analysts for New America Foundation say this legislation would enable law enforcement to take down an entire domain due to something posted on a single blog, arguing, "an entire largely innocent online community could be punished for the actions of a tiny minority."

Additional concerns include the impact on common Internet functions such as linking or access data from the cloud. EFF claimed the bill would ban linking to sites deemed offending, even in search results and on services such as Twitter. Christian Dawson, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Virginia-based hosting company ServInt, predicted that the legislation would lead to many cloud computing and Web hosting services moving out of the US to avoid lawsuits. The Electronic Frontier Foundation have stated that the requirement that any site must self-police user generated content would impose significant liability costs and explains "why venture capitalists have said en masse they won’t invest in online startups if PIPA and SOPA pass."

The potential abuse of this prospective law is staggering.  As Gizmodo points out, "The resources it would take to self-police are monumental for established companies, and unattainable for start-ups. SOPA would censor every online social outlet you have, and prevent new ones from emerging."  Today's Internet strike may inconvenience you for a few hours, but if either of these bills become law, then today's efforts are just a sample of what you can expect.  Many of your favorite websites will have to shut down or drastically censor themselves in order to comply with the law.  Small independent sites like Press The Buttons would cease to exist in their current forms.  Even large sites like Facebook and Twitter would have to drastically alter their policies in order to continue to do business.  I urge all of you who live in the United States to contact your senators and representative today and voice your opinion on the so-called Internet blacklist bills.  Take a break from Steelport, head away from Hyrule, and come out of Karkand in order to make those calls, write those letters, and send that e-mail.  Spread the word to your friends and family, too.  While stopping piracy is important, crippling the open Internet to do it is about as counterproductive and outright harmful as things get.


Please Don't Pirate Donkey Kong Country 3

Donkey Kong Country 3Two years ago we had a look at how Nintendo's EarthBound handles illegal copying and other such modifications.  As you'll recall, the game makes things increasingly difficult and frustrating in an effort to throw software pirates into agonizing situations.  Most video games aren't that inventive or devious.  Consider Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble also for the Super NES that occasionally checks to ensure that the proper amount of SRAM is available to the game.  If it doesn't like what it finds (say, too much or too little which would indicate the presence of a copying device used to backup and pirate games or some other modifier), then the action comes to a halt and this ominous screen appears that combines the Game Over image with the boss battle theme and some brief explanatory text.

Donkey Kong Country 2 pulls a similar trick, but without the background music.  Most Nintendo games of the era displayed similar errors and warnings when the integrity of the system was compromised, but few of them went to this level of detail.  Titles such as Super Mario All-Stars, Super Metroid, and Super Punch-Out!! merely display a black screen with simple text citing copyright statute, for instance.  EarthBound still wins the prize for most inventive copy protection, but DKC3 has to score a few points for the basic effort and creepiness factor alone.


Power Button - Episode 53: Court Is Now In Session While Duke Nukem Forever Leaves An Impression As We Cope With Our inFamous 2 Obsession

Power ButtonAll rise!  Episode 53 of Power Button is now in session!  This week on the show the honorable Joey Davidson, Brad Hilderbrand, and I sit at the bench and gavel out some discussion about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association that cements free speech protection to video games.  We kick the decision around and explore how it benefits publishers, developers, and players.  Then in our second segment, Brad and I dig into Duke Nukem Forever and inFamous 2 to see what makes them tick as we work our way through both adventures.  How far over the line of good taste does Duke tread?  Why is Bertrand's militia the best new video game villain of 2011?  You'll have to listen to find out.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via  and you can even follow all of us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons, @aubradley84, and @JoeyDavidson or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


Power Button - Episode 53: Court Is Now In Session While Duke Nukem Forever Leaves An Impression As We Cope With Our inFamous 2 Obsession


Jon Stewart Hits Free Speech Protection For Video Games

Jon Stewart and the team over at The Daily Show have turned their critical eyes on video games plenty of times in the past, and now that the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a decision regarding Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association that cements extending free speech protection to video games, the program had to weigh in on the issue.  However, don't expect Stewart to be all sunshine and lollipops about the result.  Using the recently released Mortal Kombat for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 as evidence, Stewart argues that perhaps games aren't worthy of such protection.  Now, granted, while seeing poor Sonya Blade ripped in half out of context is grotesquely shocking, it's important to remember that while good trash like Mortal Kombat thrives on gore and violence, it's not the only game to be protected by this ruling.  Other violent and less over-the-top titles such as Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, and other such things benefit from this decision as well, so while it's still easy to hold Mortal Kombat up as an example of everything wrong with the video game industry, games like it are outnumbered by examples of everything right with the industry as well.  Don't miss Episode 53 of Power Button next week in which we discuss the Supreme Court ruling and spend more time on the issue than The Daily Show was able.


U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Video Games Qualify For Protection Under The First Amendment

Phoenix WrightWe've been waiting for a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in the case against video games since November of last year, but this morning the court came through with an affirmation in favor of everyone's favorite digital interactive entertainment.  Video games qualify for protection under the first amendment, so no more chilling "selling video games to minors is illegal" attempts at lawmaking by the self-appointed moral guardians for this country!  GamePolitics sums it up like this:

The United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the video game industry and retailers in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (formerly known as Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association). The full opinion can be found is here. According to Justice Scalia, who wrote the opinion: "the act forbidding sale or rental of violent games to minors does not comport with the 1st Amendment." Alito concurred with the judgment, joined by the Chief Justice. Justices Thomas and Breyer dissent, in an opinion by Thomas - according to SCOTUSBlog.

The court had to decide if a state law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors violated the First Amendment right to free speech. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled in favor of the EMA, saying that the law violated the First Amendment.

There's more coverage and analysis at places like GamasutraGame Informer, Kotaku, and Joystiq.  I'm overjoyed that the court ruled this way, particularly since I was extremely pessimistic over the impending verdict back in November.  Nosy moral guardians have a way of pestering people over popular forms of entertainment, and I'm especially tired of lobbying firms and vote-hungry politicians trying to clamp down on the things I enjoy at someone else's behest.  While laws preventing the sale of so-called objectionable games do not directly impact me, my fear was that developers would begin to self-censor themselves over risk of running into the law which would have an effect on the kinds of games that I enjoy.  There are some games that I consider tasteless and would lose no sleep over if they vanished tomorrow, but they have a right to exist in the marketplace and be enjoyed by those who like them.  I'd imagine that the Helen Lovejoys of the nation aren't finished being nosy about what other people buy, but after all of this legal wrangling, I think they've earned some time off.  Perhaps they can use their new free time to take up video games.


Sony Hacked Yet Again

Picard facepalmAnother setback for Sony today as it's been announced that hackers... you know what?  You don't need my little summary.  Without any explanation I'm sure you already kind of know what's happened.  Let's just jump right to the Reuters article.

So-Net, the Internet service provider unit of Japan's Sony, alerted customers that an intruder broke into its system and stole virtual points from account holders worth $1,225.  "What we've done is stopped the So-Net points exchanges and told customers to change their passwords," So-Net said in a statement to customers on its website in Japanese.

At least this time the damage is fairly localized, but still... enough!  No more of this!  The hackers have made their point.  Disrupting Sony services and stealing customer information have taught us all the true meaning of Christmas.  Can we get things back to normal now, please?


80,000 Deus Ex Accounts Hacked

Deus Ex: Human Revolution UPDATE: Joystiq has a statement from Eidos owner Square-Enix that makes this sound not as bad as originally reported. 

Hackers claiming to have splintered off from the maligned Anonymous collective have hit the gaming industry with a new hack attack.  Those who play Eidos's Deus Ex: Human Revolution should be aware that 80,000 accounts have been compromised with plenty more personal information now in the hands of unscrupulous people.  Making matters worse, data theft doesn't seem to have been the sole motive in this attack.  Hackers bragging online made mention of wanting to use the hacked Deus Ex website to launch nasty intrusions on users' PCs.  Here's PC Gamer with more:

Visitors to DeusEx.com logging on to the site yesterday will have seen the above message, left by the hackers after the attack. According to the hackers’ IRC chat logs, the names credited with the hack belong to a series of Anonymous members disliked by the real culprits, evo and @n. It’s unclear whether the attack had a real purpose, but the outcome could have been worse than data theft, as his excerpt from the hacker chat suggests. Krebs On Security have the rest of the chat log here.

[16:07] evo: one thing that would be funny
[16:07] evo: i write a nasty virus
[16:07] evo: that will bsod on startup
[16:07] evo: fuck up all your drivers
[16:07] evo: delete tons of files
[16:07] evo: forkbom on start
[16:07] evo: etc
[16:08] evo: we put that in an exploit kit
[16:08] evo: on the main page
[16:08] evo: there security will be responsible
[16:08] evo: for like
[16:08] evo: thousands of fucked up computers
[16:08] evo: and it would make the news

Square Enix hasn’t yet commented on the hack, which also saw 9,000 resumes stolen. The affected sites are now back up. If you are a registered user at Eidos.com or Deus Ex, it might be a good idea to change your passwords.

Rock Paper Shotgun also has coverage.  I don't know what I can say that hasn't already been said in the aftermath of the PlayStation Network attack and subsequent service shutdown.  Lax security on the servers in question is an issue, yes, but the real blame lies with those that would intrude on systems and cause havoc just for the sake of making trouble.  What's the quote from The Dark Knight?

Alfred: A long time ago, I was in Burma. My friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders by bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. So we went looking for the stones. But in six months, we never met anyone who had traded with him. One day I saw a child playing with a ruby the size of a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away.

Bruce Wayne: So why steal them?

Alfred: Well, because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn. 


Sony Offering Free Identity Theft Protection To PSN Users

PlayStation NetworkIf you're one of the tens of millions of customers impacted by the PlayStation Network and Qriocity hacks that resulted in the theft of all kinds of personal information, then Sony is coming to your aid.  The company has announced more details regarding its plan to offer free identity theft monitoring to PSN users in the United States through Debix, Inc.  The PlayStation Blog has the details

Sony Computer Entertainment and Sony Network Entertainment International have made arrangements with Debix, Inc., one of the industry’s most reputable identity protection firms, to offer AllClear ID Plus at no cost to PlayStation Network and Qriocity account holders for 12 months from the time an account holder registers for the program.

Please note that we will start sending out activation emails for this program over the next few days, and you will have until June 18th to sign-up and redeem your code. You will need to sign up directly through AllClearID, not on Sony’s websites, and details, including step-by-step instructions for the program, will be emailed to United States PSN and Qriocity Account holders soon.

European PSN users will be offered a similar deal shortly.  In the meantime, let me ask: how many of you are going to take advantage of this offer?  I need to read up on this company and how they do business, but it seems foolish to not use the service if Sony's paying the bill.  There's no telling where our information has spread by this point, and while I've done all I can do to secure what's left, our horses are running around out there free of the barn.  Someone needs to fill the John Marston role and watch for them while wandering the plains.


Power Button - Episode 48: One Week Later

Power ButtonOne week after working the anger and bile out of our systems regarding the hack attack that has impacted Sony's PlayStation Network, Brad Hilderbrand and I are back to offer some additional thoughts on the fallout and finish working through the five stages of identity theft grief.  At least we know that this kind of hack can never happen to a Sony product again.  Oh, but wait!  It did happen again, as this time it's Sony Online Entertainment that's been on the receiving end of a hacker's ire.  We go through the cycle all over again and analyze this latest system intrusion.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via  and you can even follow all of us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons,@aubradley84, and @JoeyDavidson or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


Power Button - Episode 48: One Week Later