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  1. This week it was revealed that Spotify wants to patent a technology that will enable artists to check whether their uploaded songs have elements that are too similar to others. One of the aims is to help artists avoid copyright infringement lawsuits. But, doesn't the thought of artistic impression being policed by a computer sound like an episode of Black Mirror? When I started writing music in in my teens, I didn’t even think about how to begin. I just did what every other starting writer does – I copied, emulated, plagiarized and otherwise ripped-off everything I’d enjoyed from the music I’d listened to thus far. Badly. Deprived of divine inspiration, it wouldn’t have been possible any other way. Show me a composer who hasn’t committed at least one of the above at some point and I’ll show you someone who spontaneously learned how to speak as a child without hearing others do so. It was for these reasons I was horrified when MBW reported this week that Spotify has filed for a patent to scan music uploads so that they can be assessed for potential plagiarism. The theory is that if a track (or part thereof) is deemed to be too similar to a preexisting track, the artist can adjust their creation, thereby avoiding accusations of plagiarism and potential copyright infringement lawsuits in the future. Without condoning professional musicians who think it’s acceptable (it’s not) to copy large parts of others’ tracks and pass them off as their own, it worries me that a computer program could end up with the power to stop an artist in their tracks and tell them to take another route. There are dozens of millions of songs on streaming services today and millions more besides. So, go ahead and hum a six-second tune of your own making right now. Guess what – someone, somewhere has done that before. Now hum another original tune without being influenced by any music you’ve ever heard in the past. You can see where this is going. Of course, we don’t know how or even if this technology will ever be used. It might be deployed moderately but if not, the thought of needing to obtain some kind of permission from an algorithm that could, in the future, have access to a database of every song ever made, sounds a bit like an episode of Black Mirror to me. Some may be thinking, “You watch too much Black Mirror”, and those people would be right. But imagine if this future technology fell into the wrong hands and was aggressively used to scan all of the music made thus far for ‘plagiarism’? There wouldn’t be enough copyright troll lawyers to go round. Or, imagine it comes pre-installed in your music software, stopping you in your creative tracks whenever it detects a collision. The thing about music is that it can’t develop or evolve without some kind of plagiarism, or ‘influence’ if you prefer a less loaded word. Proof of that is proudly on display when we search by genre, a particular decade, or music from a geographical region, because these artists copy from each other to perpetuate a style. Indeed, to a certain extent, and when it’s not carried out at the expense of others, music lovers enjoy a bit of copying because we know what we like and we want more of it. But, apparently, the threat of being subjected to a copyright lawsuit in the future is now so severe, artists might need to double-check with a computer that they haven’t accidentally ‘discovered’ someone else’s combination of notes, chords, or rhythms, having got there too late. Sad really. Finally, this piece would not be complete without a reference to what I and many others believe is one of the most important few seconds in recent musical history. I’m talking about the ‘Amen Break‘ from The Winston’s 1969 track ‘Amen, Brother’. This snippet of music has been plagiarized, ripped-off, stolen, and otherwise utilized in thousands and thousands of tracks for the last 50 years. There seems little doubt that had the proposed Spotify system or one like it been around the first time this sample was used without permission, the uploader would’ve been gently advised that this had been done before. Taking that to its logical conclusion, that loop would’ve been denied the chance to inspire thousands of artists to make music people love. Recycling is good and plagiarism isn’t always bad. Humans are programmed to copy. Let’s not get too carried away when nobody is getting hurt. Source: TorrentFreak
  2. Amazon hopes to protect online streaming content with a newly awarded anti-piracy patent. The company has developed a technique where personally identifiable information can be dynamically added to streaming content, visibly or not. This is a relatively low-resource option to detect the source of pirated movies, TV-shows, and even live events. Amazon is not just the largest e-commerce retailer, the company also has a significant copyright portfolio. In recent years the company has increased its anti-piracy efforts, both individually and as a member of the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment. The company has booked some successes but copyright infringement remains a challenge. As with other streaming platforms, virtually every Amazon title is pirated shortly after its release. Amazon’s New Patent With a newly obtained patent, the company hopes to make it easier to find people who leak their content. The invention titled “encoding identifiers into customized manifest data” can be used for various purposes but copyright enforcement is high on the list. In short, Amazon proposes a technology to add unique identifiers to streaming video. While these types of ‘watermarks’ are not new, Amazon’s implementation is. Tracking Down Pirates The patent description is highly technical but when we focus on the anti-piracy application it becomes clear how Amazon envisions using it. The company itself provides an illustrated example of a ‘pirating’ subscriber who records a copy of its series “The Tick.” From the patent The subscriber in question has a unique identifier (ID:1011). When this person plays the video, Amazon generates customized manifest data (126) based on this ID. This is used as input for the Fire TV player (124) which requests video data based on the data and decodes the video fragments from the media server (122). When the subscriber records the video, with an HD camera in this example, this includes a code or mark that points back to the manifest data. “However, unbeknownst to user 102, a pattern of version information 110 is encoded into at least some of the content fragments (e.g., 112-118) identified by customized manifest data 126 and is recoverable as a version pattern 132 that can identify user 102 as the source of the recorded episode,” Amazon writes. The identification code can be clearly visible but it can also be invisible. That can be useful to make it hard for pirates to remove these identifiers. Imperceptible “It is desirable in some implementations that the overlay representing version information be imperceptible to the human eye,” Amazon writes. “Not only does that make it more difficult for content pirates to detect, alter, remove, or otherwise defeat the overlay, it ensures that the quality of the video content being marked with a version identifier is not significantly degraded.” Without going too deep into the technical details, it is clear that Amazon is trying to find and possibly implement advanced technologies to track pirating users. These technologies already exist, but can be quite resource-intensive. Instead of encoding the identifier or watermark in the video content, Amazon proposes to add it to the manifest data. As a result, Amazon’s solution can be more easily applied at the individual level. This can be useful to protect content on Amazon’s own streaming service, but other rightsholders may want to use it as well. Works on Live Content Too The company specifically mentions live streaming content, such as NFL matches including the Super Bowl. These live broadcasts can be played with individual marks, but they can also carry more general information such as people’s location. “It should be noted that the term customized manifest data is not limited to the level of specificity corresponding to individual persons or devices as described in the anti-piracy context. “For example, for an NFL broadcast scenario, customized manifest data might be a level of specificity based on geography,” the patent reads. According to Amazon, its solution may also avoid the need for client-side watermarking on the user’s playback device, which is another advantage. At this point, it is unclear whether Amazon already uses this technology but the company’s intentions are obvious; make it possible to track pirating subscribers. That said, ‘watermarking’ is not new and thus far it hasn’t stopped many pirates, so how effective it will be remains to be seen. Source: TorrentFreak
  3. Xiaomi recently submitted a design patent for a smartphone design with dual camera selfies at its corners. The patent was first spotted by TigerMobiles and features several images of smartphones sporting different placements of the dual selfie cameras at the top. As full-screen smartphones designs with pop-up selfie cameras such as the Mi 9T have somehow become the trend, Xiaomi is finding more ways to place the selfie camera. Specifically, some of the designs depict positions other than the teardrop notch or pop-up camera design. In fact, one design clearly shows the dual sensors located on opposite ends of the phone. While another other suggests that the top bezels could make a comeback. Admittedly, these designs do look odd at first glance, but given enough time, it’s likely that these designs could become the next trend. In any case, these are just patents, and at the time of writing, it’s unclear if Xiaomi will even act upon these designs for all its future smartphones. Source: 1. TigerMobiles via GSMArena // Image: TigerMobiles 2. Xiaomi Submits Patent For Dual Corner Selfie Cameras On Smartphones (via Lowyat.NET)
  4. Apple's updated patent points to a wrap-around display for the iPhone Forget foldable, here comes wrap-around (Image credit: Future) Rumors of a wrap-around iPhone screen have been floating around for years, but a newly updated patent shows Apple is still very much interested in the technology – even if it isn't going to be ready in time for the iPhone 12. As reported by Patently Apple, Apple has registered a continuation patent on the wrap-around display filing that we've seen before. Essentially, it's appending some new information on an existing patent, or tweaking the details that have already been logged. So while this patent isn't completely new, the fact that it's been updated shows that Apple is still seriously considering this technology. Whether it actually makes it into a finished product remains to be seen. New information added to the patent mentions the "continuous loop" of a glass display around a device: a screen that would function on the front and the back of your iPhone. (Image credit: Patently Apple/USPTO) Other phone makers are looking at similar ways to innovate on the standard glass-and-metal slab design we've now become so used to. The Xiaomi Mi Mix Alpha features a wrap-around screen, though it's being labeled as a concept device. In other words, it's for early adopters, and it might not work terribly well. Apple is typically very cautious with any new technology, and won't push out any hardware to consumers unless it's sure that it's ready. Samsung is another company with a patent for wrap-around screens, and has been pushing the display over the edges of its Galaxy phones for several years now. Could wrap-around be the new foldable? Whatever Apple's plans, it seems unlikely that the 2020 iPhone 12 will have anything quite so innovative. One of the more recent rumors about the handset suggests it will come with a screen sporting a 120Hz refresh rate. Source: Apple's updated patent points to a wrap-around display for the iPhone (TechRadar)
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