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Need to fix an iPhone or Android device? You can now break DRM under new US rules

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It’s now legal for consumers and repair firms to break an electronic device’s DRM protections to repair it, according to a ruling by the US Copyright Office.

The rules are part of newly adopted exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which prohibits circumventing digital rights management (DRM) protections used to safeguard copyrighted works.

Every three years the Copyright Office makes a ruling on petitions for new exemptions or the cancellation of existing ones.

The new ruling, which comes into effect on October 28, affects the legality of owners and professional repairers bypassing access controls on devices for specific purposes, for example, for repairs, jailbreaking, unlocking a device from a carrier’s network, accessibility, and education.

The ruling covers an array of devices, including smartphones, tablets, mobile hotspots, wearables, smart TVs, vehicles — including cars and tractors, as well as smart home appliances like refrigerators, Nest-like devices, and HVAC systems.

See: iOS 11 tips and tricks for business professionals (free PDF)

Specifically, the rules permit circumvention of access-control features to maintain or repair them.

The Copyright Office explains that the repair-related exemptions cover “computer programs that are contained in and control the functioning of a lawfully acquired motorized land vehicle such as a personal automobile, commercial vehicle or mechanized agricultural vehicle, except for programs accessed through a separate subscription service, when circumvention is a necessary step to allow the diagnosis, repair or lawful modification of a vehicle function.”

Security researchers are also exempt from the rules when hacking computer programs, such as electronic voting systems, so long as the activity is carried out in good faith and doesn’t break the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Jailbreaking smartphones was already allowed under existing exemptions, and now this situation has been expanded to include smart speakers, like Google Home and Amazon Echo devices.

While the exemptions will be welcomed by right-to-repair advocates, there are still practical limitations and contradictory elements.

As Motherboard notes, companies have made it hard to acquire the tools needed to fix devices and put in obstacles that make it difficult to bypass manufacturer-made restrictions, even if it’s now legal to bypass them.

For example, the recently discover ‘kill switch’ in MacBook Pros could be used by Apple to brick a device if it were repaired by an unauthorized repair shop.

Also, the Copyright Office, part of the Library of Congress, says it can’t make an exemption on a rule that makes it illegal for anyone to manufacture or supply tools that could be used to break copyright protection systems.

As Cory Doctorow puts it: “You’re allowed to jailbreak your iPhone, but no one is allowed to give you an iPhone jailbreaking tool, and if you make a tool for your own use you can’t share it or even tell people how it works.”

A worker tries to repair an iPhone in a repair store in New York.


Image: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

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After buying Bungie, Sony goes all in on live service games – TechCrunch

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After buying Bungie earlier this year, Sony is moving fast to integrate the company’s expertise into its broader vision.

In an investor presentation Thursday, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan outlined a near future for the company that focuses heavily on continually updated online games inspired by Destiny, Bungie’s long-running hit.

Sony expects to spend 49% of its PlayStation Studios development budget on live service games by the end of the year. By 2025, Sony plans to bump that to 55%, up from just 12% in 2019. By the end of 2025, Sony projects that it will have 12 different live service games of its own, up from just one now.

The company declined to answer questions from TechCrunch about which of its franchises might get the live service treatment, but the presentation cited God of War, Horizon Forbidden West, Spider-Man, The Last of Us and Uncharted in a list of its noteworthy single-player first-party titles. Sony-owned studio Naughty Dog has been hiring for a standalone multiplayer game, so a new game could indeed emerge out of The Last of Us or Uncharted’s virtual worlds.

Bungie is best known for creating the Halo franchise, though most recently the studio has become synonymous with Destiny, a fresh sci-fi series the company developed after leaving Halo with Microsoft. Like Halo, Destiny is a futuristic first-person shooter with precise, satisfying mechanics. But Destiny’s real appeal is Bungie’s impressively seamless online multiplayer experience that brings players into central hubs where they can explore and run missions together, making it more akin to World of Warcraft than a traditional FPS like Call of Duty.

Three years after splitting with Microsoft, Bungie signed onto a 10-year partnership with Activision. The company eventually split with Activision, too, paving the way for Sony to snap it up earlier this year for $3.6 billion. Bungie will remain a standalone game studio on the other side of the deal, à la Naughty Dog.

Just after the Bungie acquisition was made public, Sony CFO Hiroki Totoki confirmed the company’s plan to weave Bungie’s live game service know-how into its broader gaming offerings.

“The strategic significance of this acquisition lies not only in obtaining the highly successful Destiny franchise, as well as major new IP Bungie is currently developing, but also incorporating into the Sony group the expertise and technologies Bungie has developed in the live game services space,” Totoki said.

In bringing Bungie under its wing, Sony is buying a lot of knowledge about how to build online multiplayer games that expand over time, keeping players coming back for more. This kind of experience, usually called a “live service game,” explains how Fortnite is still one of the world’s most popular games years after it first made headlines for luring casual gamers and hardcore streamers alike into its colorful, chaotic world.

It’s also an extremely lucrative business model. Live service games generally have an in-game storefront that invites dedicated players to buy digital goods like character skins and clothing. Those assets cycle in and out, creating scarcity and nudging players to spend real cash to collect them. In a given content season, players in games like Destiny 2 and Fortnite can pay to earn a special set of these cosmetic virtual goods with a “battle pass.”

Some live service games, like Final Fantasy XIV, require players to pay for a monthly subscription to access the most recent content, while others are free to play. Happily, these days, most free-to-play games no longer require a paid subscription through Microsoft or Sony’s own premium subscription services.

Live service games add expansion content over time, and players often pay to access the new stuff, even while the core game remains mostly the same. For game makers, the real allure is maintaining a game that can live and grow over time, raking in revenue for years rather than burning bright and fizzling out a few months postlaunch.

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Twitter investors sue Elon Musk over acquisition shenanigans – TechCrunch

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The world’s richest man isn’t above trying to get a discount, apparently.

In a new lawsuit, Twitter shareholders are suing Elon Musk, alleging that he manipulated the price of the company’s stock for his own benefit in the course of agreeing to buy the company. The lawsuit represents a group of Twitter investors but would allow any shareholders to receive financial compensation.

The suit was filed Wednesday in federal district court for Northern California and argues that Musk intentionally drove down the company’s stock to secure a better deal. “The fair market value of Twitter securities has been adversely affected by Musk’s false statements and wrongful conduct,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit cites Musk’s decision to waive due diligence as a condition of the acquisition and his subsequent suspiciously timed claim that Twitter had misrepresented the number of bots on its platform.

“At the time, Musk was well aware that Twitter had a certain amount of ‘fake accounts’ and accounts controlled by ‘bots’ and had in fact settled a lawsuit based on the fake accounts for millions of dollars,” the complaint states. “Musk had tweeted about that issue at Twitter several times in the past, prior to making his offer to acquire Twitter with full knowledge of the bots.”

The suit alleges, as many people observed at the time, that Musk was likely trying to secure a discount by casting doubt on his commitment and disparaging the company. Since Musk’s initial commitment to purchase the company was announced, tech stocks — including Tesla, which accounts for the vast majority of Musk’s wealth — took a dive.

Following Musk’s comments, Twitter shares also dipped significantly, a phenomenon that the suit alleges is “highly unusual” given the company’s agreed-upon buyout price.

While Musk claimed the deal was on hold, there was no formal mechanism in place that would back up that claim. Even within Twitter, company leaders encouraged employees to proceed as though nothing had changed, noting that there was “no such thing” as casually pausing a binding agreement to buy the company.

The suit also alleges that Musk deliberately delayed filing a disclosure form when his stake in the company exceeded 5%, allowing him to continue to buy shares at a discount. After the form was filed and Musk’s purchases became public knowledge, Twitter stock soared by nearly a third.

“Musk’s disregard for securities laws demonstrates how one can flaunt the law and the tax code to build their wealth at the expense of the other Americans,” the complaint states.

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Instagram is currently down for some users – TechCrunch

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If you’re having problems accessing Instagram today, you’re not alone. The social media giant is currently experiencing some problems, according to reports on third-party web monitoring service Downdetector. The website indicates that issues began at around 12:30 p.m. EDT. NetBlocks, which tracks global internet usage and disruptions, has also noted that Instagram is facing intermittent international service outages.

Reports indicate that users are experiencing various issues with the service, including not being able to log back in after being logged out. Some users also reporting seeing a “Welcome to Instagram” message when logging on as though they have a new account. Others are unable see past a few posts or only seeing posts that were uploaded weeks ago. Some users are also reporting that they’re unable to refresh their home screen and are seeing a “we’re sorry, but something went wrong” notice.

Instagram and its parent company Meta have yet to acknowledge the issues. TechCrunch has reached out to Meta to learn more about the issues and will update this article once we get a response.

This story is developing…

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