Scott Ertz - Staff

Scott Ertz

Scott Ertz

Former Segment Host

Current Host

Current UpStream Contributor

Current Product Reviewer

Current Episode Author

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Scott is a developer who has worked on projects of varying sizes, including all of the PLUGHITZ Corporation properties. He is also known in the gaming world for his time supporting the rhythm game community, through DDRLover and hosting tournaments throughout the Tampa Bay Area. Currently, when he is not working on software projects or hosting F5 Live: Refreshing Technology, Scott can often be found returning to his high school days working with the Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), mentoring teams and helping with ROBOTICON Tampa Bay. He has also helped found a student software learning group, the ASCII Warriors, currently housed at AMRoC Fab Lab.

Recent UpStream Articles

TikTok and UMG end relationship, muting videos on the platform

posted Sunday Feb 4, 2024 by Scott Ertz

When creating content, there are a couple of ways you can handle music. You can use no music, which many users do. You can create the music yourself, which is less common. You can license the music you use, which can be costly. Or, you can use the music licensed through the platform you're using. When it comes to the last, you give up all control and leave yourself open to future copyright violations if those terms change. That is what TikTok users discovered this week after Universal Music Group (UMG) ended its relationship with the video-sharing service.

How does music licensing work?

To produce a video within the bounds of the law, you are required to have the rights to all audio and video within the video. If you create everything yourself, you will generally be in the clear (though there are some scammers out there who might make your life difficult, but that's a different issue). Using no music or music you create yourself will guarantee legal safety.

Another option is to license music, either through a licensing service like Motion Array, or to commission custom music. Either way, so long as you secure the correct licensing, you will own the rights to use the music in your content. You may have to prove your licensing, but with the correct documentation, you will be legally safe, as well.

The final way to deal with music is to use the licensing deals that the publishing platform has worked out. For those who create throw-away content, the bread and butter of services like TikTok and Meta's Reels, using the platform's licensing is common. But, this method gives all control over the legality of your content to someone else, meaning that at any point, your content could become a violation of DMCA and other copyright rules.

UMG changes the tone of TikTok

For weeks, UMG and TikTok have been in discussions over renewing their relationship. Those negotiations broke down and UMG pulled its licenses from the site. This means that anyone who had used any music from UMG artists, such as Taylor Swift, Post Malone, and Lady Gaga, woke up to silenced videos.

For a platform that thrives on videos of people dancing and lip-syncing, videos without any audio becomes far less engaging. Unlike Meta, which only mutes the offending aspect of a video, TikTok muted entire videos, even if the previously licensed music was only used in a small portion of the video.

A reminder to creators

This abrupt relationship change should be a wake-up call for creators, whether or not they were affected by this situation or not. Building your house upon a foundation you do not own is a recipe for disaster. Changes to services and licensing can massively affect your brand, and you have no control over it.

The most extreme version of this is a complete shutdown of a service you rely upon. For example, we've seen podcast hosts shut down overnight, taking down brands. But, having the audio removed from your videos is a close second, and one that could have been avoided.

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Google is killing its website cache, ending another web backup

posted Sunday Feb 4, 2024 by Scott Ertz

For years, Google Search results have offered more than just a title, description, and link to the page. In addition, there has been a link under the result for the cached page. This link allowed you to view a website even if its server wasn't working correctly. Now, however, that option has been removed from Google Search results and the cache itself will soon be deprecated entirely.

What is a cached webpage?

A cached webpage is a version of a web page that is stored on a web server, local server, or on the user's computer. When a user visits a website, their browser may download a copy of the site's pages and their elements such as images, scripts, and stylesheets. This process is known as caching. The purpose of caching is to make subsequent visits to the same site faster and more efficient by loading the site from the local cache instead of downloading the same content again from the server.

The cached version of a webpage can be served to the user when the live page is unavailable or when the user's internet connection is slow or offline. It can also help reduce the load on the web server and save bandwidth. However, because a cached page is a snapshot of a webpage at a particular time, it may not reflect the most recent content or updates made on the live page. Therefore, users may need to clear their cache or refresh the page to see the most up-to-date content.

Why Google cached webpages

Google cached webpages as part of its search engine functionality. When Google's bots crawled the web, they would create a snapshot of each webpage they visited and store it in Google's cache. This process allowed Google to have a version of the webpage readily available for users to view, even if the actual webpage is temporarily inaccessible or has been removed. By caching webpages, Google could provide users with uninterrupted access to information and a better browsing experience.

Google created this feature early on its its existence when the web was a far less mature and more volatile place. Servers were not as robust as they are today and websites would regularly shut down. This could be because of technical issues, a sudden rise in popularity that overloaded hardware, or even a DDoS attack against the server. Without services like CloudFlare, a simple situation could shut down a site. Having a cache of the site gave Google users a backup in this case.

Shutting down the cache

Today, the web has changed. It's a far more stable place. Services like Azure allow you to scale up your website instantly if you need more capacity. CloudFlare can help you mitigate a DDoS attack. And the servers we use even for shared hosting are far more capable than they were before. Because of that, Google has confirmed that cached pages are no longer available in Search results and soon the cache itself will become unavailable to users.

Google has encouraged users to try out the Wayback Machine by the Internet Archive. This project has been around nearly as long as the web itself and regularly caches pages all over the internet. But, it is not the only web cache available, as Bing still offers cached pages in its search results. But, the loss of another web archive is a potential loss to the web itself. Perhaps Google can donate its cache to the Internet Archive to improve its cache. It's unlikely, but we'll see.

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Microsoft layoffs wiped out Activision Blizzard eSports team

posted Sunday Feb 4, 2024 by Scott Ertz

Following the completion of its acquisition of Activision Blizzard, Microsoft has laid off 1900 employees across its gaming division. This was mostly said to be a downsizing of duplicated positions following several acquisitions. However, one of the divisions that seems to have been completely wiped out is the former Activision Blizzard eSports team, which has caused various problems for the company's brands over the years.

Microsoft's overlap layoffs

The recent Microsoft gaming layoffs are part of a major restructuring of the company's gaming division, which includes Xbox, Zenimax Media, and the recently acquired Activision Blizzard. Microsoft acquired Activision Blizzard, the publisher of popular franchises such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Overwatch, for $69 billion in October 2023, making it the largest gaming deal in history. The layoffs, which affect about 1,900 employees or 9% of the gaming division, are intended to eliminate areas of overlap, align priorities, and create growth opportunities.

The Microsoft gaming layoffs have sparked a debate about the labor issues and challenges facing the gaming industry, which has seen a wave of job cuts across several companies in 2024. Some of the factors behind the layoffs include the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shift to cloud gaming, the consolidation of the market, and the rising costs of game development. The layoffs have also raised questions about the future of Activision Blizzard, which has been embroiled in a legal scandal over allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination, and toxic work culture. Microsoft has pledged to improve the working conditions and culture at Activision Blizzard, as well as to support its creative vision and autonomy.

Clearing house at Activision Blizzard's eSports team

The impact of the Microsoft layoffs on the Activision Blizzard esports team is said to be devastating. Reports suggest that nearly the entire team has been let go, clearing house on the department. The team was responsible for organizing and producing some of the most popular and lucrative eSports leagues in the world, such as the Call of Duty League and the Overwatch League. The esports team was hit hard by the layoffs, as many of the staff members revealed on social media that they had been let go.

The layoffs have raised concerns about the future of Activision Blizzard's esports franchises, which have been struggling with declining viewership, revenue, and engagement in recent years. The layoffs could also affect the quality and frequency of the esports events, as well as the relationships with the teams, players, sponsors, and fans.

However, the Call of Duty League and the Overwatch League have been involved in their own struggles. In particular, the company's strong grip on the leagues has caused issues with growing them, both in terms of active teams and viewers. A focus not on the quality and dedication to the products but instead on the money being brought in has had a detrimental effect on not just the leagues they own, but also the industry as a whole.

Microsoft is said to still have plans for eSports within the Activision Blizzard brands but is pivoting the business model. Perhaps this push is what could end what is currently being called the "eSports Winter."

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Apple's DMA "malicious compliance" may not satisfy EU regulators

posted Sunday Feb 4, 2024 by Scott Ertz

The battle between the European Union (EU) and Apple has been going on for years and covers nearly every aspect of technology. Most recently, the EU updated regulations that require all devices to offer unified chargers. The most notorious battlefield, however, has been over the company's "gatekeeper" status on its mobile platforms. The Digital Markets Act goes into effect next month, and Apple has announced its plans for compliance. But, regulators are not particularly happy with the plans.

What is the Digital Markets Act?

The Digital Markets Act (DMA) is a new EU regulation that aims to make the digital economy fairer and more contestable by imposing a set of obligations and prohibitions on large digital platforms that are considered "gatekeepers" of the digital sector. Gatekeepers are platforms that have a significant impact on the internal market, serve as an important gateway for business users to reach their end users, and enjoy, or will foreseeably enjoy an entrenched and durable position. The DMA covers eight different types of core platform services, such as online search engines, app stores, social networks, and online marketplaces.

The DMA introduces rules for platforms that act as gatekeepers in the digital sector. These rules include, among others, certain obligations and prohibitions, including not using data collected to compete with businesses using the platform, allowing users to uninstall all pre-installed software, and allowing regulators effective audit access to algorithms.

However, the aspect that has been the biggest point of contention has been the requirement to allow developers, publishers, and users to bypass the platform's internal content mechanisms. The DMA requires that gatekeepers like Apple permit and facilitate third-party app stores on their platforms. Apple has fought this in courts around the world but has now announced its compliance policies in the EU.

Apple's DMA compliance complaints

Apple has famously had a "walled garden" for its iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and other platforms. This means that only Apple's own App Store can be an official source for distributing applications to its devices. This rule exists on all platforms except for Macs, where you download software outside of the App Store, though the store does exist there.

The company has long been derided for its draconian rules within the App Store. This includes the 30% fee charged to publishers for any in-store purchases. But, Apple also requires that all purchases be processed through their system, so there is no way for developers to avoid the charge.

Apple's DMA compliance plans

Apple makes a lot of its money through these fees, so it is no surprise that they have fought the changes as they have been pitched, But, as the DMA's "gatekeeper" rules go into effect next month (March 7, 2024), the company has put together its plans for compliance. This week, the plans were announced and the response has been expectedly comical.

Apple will, in compliance with the law, allow third-party app stores on their mobile devices. But, it is important to remember that this will only be allowed in the EU, so everyone else is out of luck without their own version of the DMA. This includes game stores from Epic Games, who started the whole fight, and Xbox, whose Game Pass streaming app has not been allowed on Apple's devices. But, Apple is not going to make it easy for these stores.

The basis of these new rules is the "core technology fee" which will be charged to the developers themselves. If a developer decides to use a third-party app store or a third-party payment processor, Apple will charge the developer a half euro per user account per year. This means that, if a developer releases a game through the Epic Game Store for the iPhone and receives a million active users for their game, they will owe Apple 500,000 euros, even through Apple has not had a hand in any aspect of the process. And, if they use their own payment processor for in-game purchases, they will own another 500,000 euros to Apple for NOT using their technology.

The response has not been positive

Eric Sweeney from Epic Games came out swinging. He was displeased with the announcement, and said in a post on X,

Apple's plan to thwart Europe's new Digital Markets Act law is a devious new instance of Malicious Compliance.

They are forcing developers to choose between App Store exclusivity and the store terms, which will be illegal under DMA, or accept a new also-illegal anticompetitive scheme rife with new Junk Fees on downloads and new Apple taxes on payments they don't process.

Apple proposes that it can choose which stores are allowed to compete with their App Store. They could block Epic from launching the Epic Games Store and distributing Fortnite through it, for example, or block Microsoft, Valve, Good Old Games, or new entrants.

There's a lot more hot garbage in Apple's announcement. It will take more time to parse both the written and unwritten parts of this new horror show, so stay tuned.

Xbox President Sarah Bond had a softer but just as focused statement, saying,

We believe constructive conversations drive change and progress towards open platforms and greater competition. Apple's new policy is a step in the wrong direction. We hope they listen to feedback on their proposed plan and work towards a more inclusive future for all.

Her statement was in response to one from Daniel Ek, founder and CEO of Spotify, who has also had a lot of words for Apple in the past. He said,

After sitting with our legal team to parse through the fine print of Apple's DMA announcement (that took a while), which is, at best vague and misleading, I wanted to share my thoughts.

While Apple has behaved badly for years, what they did yesterday represents a new low, even for them.

The European Commission has taken notice to the response from developers and publishers. In a statement, EU industry chief Thierry Breton said,

The DMA will open the gates of the internet to competition so that digital markets are fair and open. Change is already happening. As from 7 March we will assess companies' proposals, with the feedback of third parties.

So, while the goal of the DMA was to end this fight once and for all, it appears that it has merely spurred Apple into a "malicious compliance" situation that observes the letter of the law while completely spitting in the eye of the intent of the law. The EU does not usually take kindly to this type of behavior, so expect the response to be intense.

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The original version of Mickey Mouse becomes public domain in 2024

posted Monday Dec 18, 2023 by Scott Ertz

The original version of Mickey Mouse was created in 1928 by Walt Disney. In the decades since then, the character has changed a lot, from adding color to significant modernizations. However, the copyright on the original version of the character expires in 2024, moving Mickey Mouse into the public domain. But, that doesn't mean that all of Mickey Mouse will be public domain, and it doesn't mean that we'll see the character being used to market new and unrelated brands.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as an author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression. It gives creators of original material the exclusive right to further use and duplicate that material for a given amount of time. This means that the original creators of products and anyone they give authorization to are the only ones with the exclusive right to reproduce the work. Works are considered original when they are independently created by a human author and have a minimal degree of creativity. Examples of unique creations include novels, art, poetry, musical lyrics and compositions, computer software, graphic designs, film, original architectural designs, and website content.

However, copyright does not protect ideas, discoveries, concepts, theories, brand names, logos, slogans, domain names, and titles2. For an original work to be copyrighted, it has to be in tangible form. In the U.S., the work of creators usually is protected by copyright laws until 70 years after their death. If the original author of the copyrighted material is a corporation, the copyright protection period is 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years, whichever expires first.

The expiration of Steamboat Willie

The first appearance of Mickey Mouse was in the black and white animated feature Steamboat Willie. That piece was published in 1928 by the then-newly founded corporation that would become the Walt Disney Company. 95 years later brings us to the end of 2023, which will be ending in just a few days. At the end of the year, the 95 year copyright will expire, meaning that the original version of Mickey Mouse will no longer have a valid copyright.

While the character and the film are entering the public domain, it doesn't mean that the character as a whole will therefore be usable by everyone. Artists that want to make use of that version of the character can, within the realm of their artistic expression. However, other versions of Mickey Mouse, a character which has evolved over the years, will maintain their copyright.

In addition, the company retains a trademark on the character as a "corporate mascot and brand identifier," so don't expect him to become the mascot for your local pizza place. A spokesperson for The Walt Disney Company explained to The Associated Press how the change will work.

Ever since Mickey Mouse's first appearance in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, people have associated the character with Disney's stories, experiences, and authentic products. That will not change when the copyright in the Steamboat Willie film expires.

More modern versions of Mickey will remain unaffected by the expiration of the Steamboat Willie copyright, and Mickey will continue to play a leading role as a global ambassador for the Walt Disney Company in our storytelling, theme park attractions, and merchandise. We will, of course, continue to protect our rights in the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright.

So, you might see derivative works of the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse, artists still need to be careful how and where they use the character in their art. There is a line, and you should not cross it, because Disney is a very litigious corporation.

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