Ahead of Aladdin, watch the lost film that helped shape it

There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services, and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.

What to watch

The Thief and the Cobbler: Recobbled Cut (Mark 4), a 2013 Garrett Gilchrist recreation of Richard Williams’ unfinished feature film. Begun by Williams’ London-based studio in 1964, then seized by a financier and farmed out to another animation company for completion in 1992, The Thief and the Cobbler tells the story of an ancient Arabian city governed by a decadent king and a corrupt vizier. When a wily thief crosses paths with a kind-hearted cobbler named Tack, the encounter launches a chain of events that leads to Tack falling for the king’s daughter, and the city falling under siege by a tribe of one-eyed monsters. The fourth and most complete of Gilchrist’s “recobbled” cuts (which attempt to restore as much of Williams’ original vision as possible) uses footage from a much-bootlegged work print, combined with some original Gilchrist art, rare clips provided by animators who worked on the project, and pieces of the compromised 1993 theatrical version.

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Why watch now?

Because Aladdin opens this weekend.

After the massive box-office success of the live-action The Jungle Book in 2016 and the live-action Beauty and the Beast in 2017, Walt Disney Studios seems to have gone all-in on the idea of remaking its own animated classics, replicating those films’ most memorable images and musical numbers with actors and CGI. This year has already seen a new Dumbo, with The Lion King and Lady and the Tramp still to come, plus Mulan and The Sword in the Stone in 2020.

And this week brings Aladdin, directed by Guy Ritchie, and co-written by Ritchie, John August, and Vanessa Taylor, who adapt the 1992 animated original fairly closely. Will Smith takes on the role of Genie (voiced by Robin Williams in the cartoon), who helps a resourceful thief and a compassionate princess outwit an evil vizier.

Some animation fans may note the irony of Disney squeezing more money out of a movie that sometimes comes perilously close to ripping off The Thief and the Cobbler. The 1992 Aladdin is loosely based on the ancient story of Aladdin and his magic lamp, from One Thousand and One Nights, and there are elements in Disney’s version that aren’t in Williams’ film, such as the Genie. But both movies feature an evil vizier with a pet bird, and a rotund king with a beautiful daughter. And Aladdin and his pet monkey share characteristics with both Williams’ thief and cobbler. There’s an uncanny similarity in visual design between the two films — and the two viziers in particular.

The Thief and the Cobbler was hardly a secret project. Williams started working on an early version in the 1960s, after illustrating a series of books drawn from folklore about the Sufi “holy fool” Nasrudin. Richard Williams Productions was already a successful UK animation studio then, renowned for its visually striking commercials, movie credits, and animated TV specials. For decades, Williams plowed a lot of his profits into paying employees to work on what would become The Thief and the Cobbler. Over the years, he talked extensively about the film to reporters, and showed demo reels to potential investors. (One of those presentations led to his studio getting hired to do the Oscar-winning animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit.) Several Williams staffers found other jobs after working with him — including two who worked on Aladdin.

Granted, The Thief and the Cobbler takes a very different approach from Aladdin. In the late 1980s, Williams struck a deal with Warner Bros. to finance the completion of his dream project via a bond company. But by the time the studio saw an early cut of his work, Walt Disney had scored big with the musical fairy tales The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, neither of which resembled Williams’ quirky collection of Arabian vignettes. When Warner pulled out of the project, the bond company hired another animation studio, headed by Fred Calvert, to finish it. A version released by a new distributor overseas added cutesy songs, plus dialogue for the previously mute Tack. Then Miramax acquired that cut and tampered with it further, jettisoning more of the purely visual comedy, and hiring Jonathan Winters to give the once-mute thief an internal monologue.

Who it’s for

Animation connoisseurs and anyone obsessed with “lost films.”

Like Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind or Terry Gilliam’s first attempt at The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Williams’ unfinished The Thief and the Cobbler is the stuff of legend among cinephiles. But while Gilliam eventually got a second chance to make his movie, and while Welles’ film was eventually pulled together posthumously by simpatico colleagues and released on Netflix, the original The Thief and the Cobbler will never be salvaged, because Williams and his animators never completed all the sequences they needed.

Still, Gilchrist’s “recobbled” cut — not endorsed by Williams, by the way — does look like a half-masterpiece. In his commercial work, Williams had a reputation for “wow,” always delivering finely detailed images and fluid motion beyond what even Disney was doing. His film strings together moment after moment of that wow, with dazzlingly complicated shifts in perspective achieved entirely with pen and ink, plus some lovingly crafted silent comedy and a fun voice performance by a rhyming Vincent Price as the villain (recorded mostly between 1967 and 1973).

Where to see it

Gilchrist’s cut of the The Thief and the Cobbler — along with an impressive assemblage of Richard Williams’ other animation work — is available for free, with ads, on Gilchrist’s YouTube channel, TheThiefArchive. There’s also a fascinating 2012 Kevin Schreck documentary about the making of The Thief and the Cobbler called Persistence of Vision, available to rent or buy on Vimeo.

Save $90 on a certified refurbished Netgear WiFi system from Amazon

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.
Good luck finding a quality mesh WiFi system anywhere else at a price *this* good.
Good luck finding a quality mesh WiFi system anywhere else at a price *this* good.

Image: Netgear

Some things you’re right to have qualms about buying used, like underwear or a mattress

But a home WiFi system shouldn’t be one of them — especially at a price this good.

Today on Amazon, you can save $90 on a Netgear Orbi WiFi system that’s certified refurbished. (That means it’s pre-loved but inspected, cleaned, and certified to look and function good as new.) 

The same setup costs upwards of $349.99 when bought brand spanking new, so this deal is saving you quite the pretty penny.

The Orbi system is one of those cool, newfangled mesh (or “whole home”) WiFi networks, which involve multiple nodes spread throughout one’s abode. Without boring you with the nitty-gritty details — you can find those here — mesh networks are really good at eliminating WiFi dead spots and generally offer far stronger connections than traditional router setups. 

For its part, Netgear’s Orbi system includes a Wifi router and two satellite modules. Together, these devices are capable of creating a single network big enough to cover large homes up to 6,000 square feet — so no matter where you are in your home, your signal won’t stop or drop.

The Orbi system comes with its own companion app, which can be used to pause the WiFi connection, test its speed, enable parental controls, and more. Additionally, it’s fully compatible with Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant; pair it with either virtual assistant and you’ll be able to control your WiFi with voice commands. 

Get a certified refurbished Netgear Orbi WiFi system from Amazon for just $209.99 — 30% off its usual price of $299.99. 

It’s hard to get a wheelchair-accessible Lyft or Uber in most places. Here’s why.

When Harriet Lowell’s husband was rushed to the hospital with a pulmonary embolism, she couldn’t be there with him.  

She rides an electric power scooter. And very few Lyft cars can accommodate it — which is why Lowell sued the company back in 2017. 

“It’s a basic human right to be able to get around,” said Lowell. She claims White Plains, where she lives, and other areas outside of big cities are an “afterthought” when it comes to accessible rides.

“It’s a basic human right to be able to get around.”

She argues that car services like taxis, which are more likely to be equipped to take wheelchair riders, have been pushed out of her community in upstate New York by companies like Lyft and Uber. And most Lyft and Uber drivers don’t have a WAV, or wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

To get a sense of what it’s like as a WAV customer, I opened Uber in a busy San Francisco neighborhood in the middle of the day. I was quoted a 2-minute wait for a car to take me from my office to my house. For a WAV it was a 12-minute wait. When I opened the Lyft app, it was only a 1-minute wait for a regular Lyft, but there wasn’t even a wheelchair-friendly option available — only extra seats in a Lyft XL.

Places like White Plains only have a fraction of the Uber and Lyft drivers that San Francisco does. Lyft argues that it’s a technology company, not transportation company, so it shouldn’t be forced under the American with Disabilities Act to provide services for people who use wheelchairs or motorized scooters.

Harriet Lowell is fighting Lyft through the courts.

Harriet Lowell is fighting Lyft through the courts.

Image: courtesy of Harriet Lowell

The class-action lawsuit only names Lyft, since Uber has been more amendable to working with Lowell and the Westchester Disabled on the Move organization, Lowell claimed. Lyft declined to comment on the suit.

Lyft started offering WAVs in 2015, but it’s still limited to nine cities, including Boston, New York, and Phoenix.

Uber has offered a WAV option in the U.S. since 2015. Late last year it added six cities, including Washington, D.C., New York, and Toronto, for a total of 12 in North America. It’s also now available in Europe, India, and Australia. It’s also committed itself to offering an average wait time of 15 minutes for WAVs in six cities. 

Uber’s website explains how drivers can modify a number of cars — including a Dodge Grand Caravan, Toyota Sienna, or Honda Odyssey — to become a WAV. But again, Uber hires drivers, not vehicles, so it has little control over what kind of vehicles are available to its riders. 

To make up for the large service gaps, both ride-sharing companies have set up partnerships over the years. More recently, in several of its WAV cities, Uber has been working with MV Transportation, a third-party service that provides drivers with wheelchair accessible vehicles. 

Both Lyft and Uber partner with paratransit services through public transit systems like Boston’s MBTA The Ride program. Most paratransit rides need to be requested 24 hours ahead. But this partnership allows for on-demand requests with similar pricing to a ride-share fare. Both companies say they are working on expanding reach and improving arrival times.

Deep within the Uber app you can find WAV rides -- if they're available where you live.

Deep within the Uber app you can find WAV rides — if they’re available where you live.

Image: screengrab / uber

“We have developed partnerships with several third-party Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle providers to increase the availability of their vehicles in many of our largest markets,” said Lyft spokesperson Campbell Matthews in a statement via email. “We’re always looking for ways to expand our offerings and partnerships to ensure increased access to transportation.”

But even with these promises, some excluded riders are fed up.

Lowell said she ultimately doesn’t care how Lyft (and Uber) start offering WAV rides, but that they make a good-faith effort to do so and provide options for different types of riders.

“I want to know that I can get a Lyft, go shopping, go to my medical appointments, go anywhere like anyone else,” Lowell said.

Since more ride-share drivers aren’t going to suddenly start driving wheelchair accessible vans on their own accord, Uber and Lyft have to figure out how to expand their partnerships with third-party WAV service providers and paratransit services that are already equipped for wheelchairs — but it might take a lawsuit (or two, like this Bay Area class-action suit against Lyft) to get there more quickly. 

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Why Amazon won't be worth $1.5 trillion in about 800 days like this analyst predicts

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Don’t be so quick to sell your house and bet all the after-tax gains on Amazon’s stock price (AMZN) reaching $3,000 in 800 days or so, as one analyst now basically suggests doing.” data-reactid=”15″>Don’t be so quick to sell your house and bet all the after-tax gains on Amazon’s stock price (AMZN) reaching $3,000 in 800 days or so, as one analyst now basically suggests doing.

Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson snagged some pre-Memorial Day weekend headlines by saying Amazon’s stock could reach $3,000 sometime between mid-2021 or within 24-36 months. The hypothetical move would mark a 65% price explosion in a stock that is known, for the most part, to only go up over time. Amazon’s market cap assuming a $3,000 stock price would be a shade over $1.5 trillion.

“We have a high degree of confidence that Amazon shares can reach this level with no major acquisitions or other significant changes to the business. A potential AWS (Amazon Web Services) spin-off, however, would, no doubt, help to highlight the relatively low valuation of the other segments,” contends the upbeat Olson.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Getting lost in all the hype around this stock call is a rational discussion of Olson’s assumptions for Amazon’s business. By and large, Olson expects the torrid growth rates Amazon has become known for on Wall Street to slow across the board. Yes, slow, which should make an investor wonder why Amazon won’t need a longer period of time to reach the $3,000 mark (if it does so at all).” data-reactid=”18″>Getting lost in all the hype around this stock call is a rational discussion of Olson’s assumptions for Amazon’s business. By and large, Olson expects the torrid growth rates Amazon has become known for on Wall Street to slow across the board. Yes, slow, which should make an investor wonder why Amazon won’t need a longer period of time to reach the $3,000 mark (if it does so at all).

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Color yours truly a stock geek with no life, but usually a significantly higher stock price in a short period of time comes with accelerating growth rates for a company.” data-reactid=”19″>Color yours truly a stock geek with no life, but usually a significantly higher stock price in a short period of time comes with accelerating growth rates for a company.

But that’s not what Olson believes here.

“Specifically, we assume a multi-year deceleration in growth for every major category of Amazon’s business, along with very minimal adjustment to comp group multiples, despite Amazon growing significantly faster than comps in both the cloud (AWS) and advertising segments,” writes Olson.

FILE - In this Tuesday, May 30, 2017, file photo, the Amazon logo is displayed at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square. Amazon announced Thursday, Sept. 7, that it has opened the search for a second headquarters, promising to spend more than $5 billion on the opening. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)FILE - In this Tuesday, May 30, 2017, file photo, the Amazon logo is displayed at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square. Amazon announced Thursday, Sept. 7, that it has opened the search for a second headquarters, promising to spend more than $5 billion on the opening. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Amazon logo is displayed at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York’s Times Square. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

The specifics are further fleshed out in Olson’s financial modeling. A couple of quick observations:

  • Amazon’s North American retail sales growth is expected to slow sequentially each quarter of 2020.

  • Amazon’s North American retail operating margin is seen on a steady downtrend in 2020.

  • Shipping and fulfillment costs is expected to spike 19.5% and 21.2%, respectively, in 2020 versus 2019.

  • Total sales growth is expected to drop below 20% — and stay there — after the second quarter of 2020.

  • Global retail operating margins seen only rising to 4.3% in 2020 from 2.9% in 2019. Meanwhile, AWS operating margins seen unchanged in 2020 at 29%.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="I’m not trying to hate on Amazon’s prospects or Olson’s work (I enjoy his analysis on Netflix (NFLX)). It’s just that big calls such as this need to be carefully scrutinized (as do all Wall Street calls). Remember, Amazon is entering its next decade with shipping costs likely on a permanent uptrend and tougher competition from formidable rivals Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT).” data-reactid=”40″>I’m not trying to hate on Amazon’s prospects or Olson’s work (I enjoy his analysis on Netflix (NFLX)). It’s just that big calls such as this need to be carefully scrutinized (as do all Wall Street calls). Remember, Amazon is entering its next decade with shipping costs likely on a permanent uptrend and tougher competition from formidable rivals Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT).

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="“We wouldn’t bet against Amazon,” Crossmark Investments global chief strategist Victoria Fernandez said on Yahoo Finance’s ‘The First Trade.’ Fernandez has no positions in Amazon.” data-reactid=”41″>“We wouldn’t bet against Amazon,” Crossmark Investments global chief strategist Victoria Fernandez said on Yahoo Finance’s ‘The First Trade.’ Fernandez has no positions in Amazon.

Yes, it’s hard to bet against Amazon to Fernandez’s point. Although it’s not hard to view research such as Olson’s with greater skepticism than the norm.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-host of ‘The First Trade’ at Yahoo Finance. Follow Brian Sozzi him on Twitter @BrianSozzi” data-reactid=”43″>Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-host of ‘The First Trade’ at Yahoo Finance. Follow Brian Sozzi him on Twitter @BrianSozzi

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Read the latest financial and business news from Yahoo Finance” data-reactid=”53″>Read the latest financial and business news from Yahoo Finance

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flipboard, SmartNews, LinkedIn, YouTube, and reddit.” data-reactid=”61″>Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flipboard, SmartNews, LinkedIn, YouTube, and reddit.

Apple’s keyboard ‘material’ changes on the new MacBook Pro are minor at best

According to iFixit, Apple made two changes to the new keyboards that are on its just-announced, spec-bumped MacBook Pro. The changes seem to amount to a new membrane that might be more effective at repelling debris and a new dome switch that might be more resilient. And though it’s much too early to say whether or not those changes will make a difference in improving the keyboard’s reliability, what is clear right now is that Apple is still just tweaking its design instead of overhauling it.

The iFixit teardown was necessary to find out what Apple’s design changes were because the company refused to actually explain them beyond telling reporters that it had utilized a “new material.” So the teardown commenced, and the results are subtle enough that it has taken special scientific equipment (and will take even more in the future) to determine the difference.

The first of iFixit’s discoveries is that Apple is, in fact, using a new material for the polymer membrane inside the keyboard. It’s essentially plain old nylon now, according to an FITR analysis. Apple began using a polymer membrane inside the keyboard last year. The company insisted it was there to reduce noise, despite patent filings and service documents confirming that they were intended to protect against debris.

The newer material is “clearer and smooth to the touch,” according to iFixit. Though why the change might help is anybody’s guess. Perhaps it’s better at not allowing dust to get stuck under it? At this point, only Apple really knows for sure.

The second change is even more mysterious. On Apple’s butterfly keyboard, there is a metal dome switch underneath each key. It’s the thing that makes the electrical contact that registers a keypress. Apple appears to have made minor changes to these switches in the new keyboard.

Left: old, 2018 switch. Right: new, 2019 switch.
iFixit

iFixit says that “The difference in surface finish from the 2018 version (left) to the 2019 (right) indicates Apple may be using a revised heat treatment, or alloy, or possibly both.” However, a full analysis of what’s changed will require much more sophisticated equipment than iFixit currently has access to. Again, it’s a question that Apple could answer at any time.

What does seem clear, however, is that these metal switches are likely the culprits for many (though probably not all) of the keyboard failures people have been experiencing. They’re just tiny and delicate — they work by popping down and pushing back up “like a really tiny jam lid or Snapple cap,” iFixit notes. It’s not hard to imagine the world’s tiniest Snapple lid deforming under the kind of stress all laptop keyboards have to endure.

So it makes sense that Apple would be iterating on this part and trying to make it as resilient as possible — but it’s also surely true that there’s a limit to how effective that strategy could possibly be. As for what could be breaking those switches on current keyboards, theories run from dust to grit to metal fatigue. A very popular Reddit post from earlier this month lays out the case for the latter.

Apple’s butterfly keyboards have undergone several revisions since their debut on the MacBook in 2015, but none have managed to fix the underlying reliability issue. The second generation came with the 2016 MacBook Pro, with a slight update in 2017 to dampen noise. Problems persisted, and the 2018 MacBook Pro came with a third-generation keyboard with silicone membranes. Now, in 2019, the third generation has been tweaked with the new membrane and switch materials.

Every one of those keyboards sold in the past four years, as well as the new 2019 models, are now covered under a new repair program, and Apple has said repair times for keyboard issues have been shortened as well. It’s up to you to decide whether the more comprehensive repair program should be cause for relief or concern.

It’s impossible to know right now whether the new design detailed by iFixit will solve the reliability problems once and for all. What we can say for sure is that the fundamental design of the butterfly keyboard hasn’t changed. That means that when one breaks — even if that happens more rarely now — it will require an intensive repair.

At the end of the day, Apple’s butterfly keyboard has a much bigger flaw, one that this model’s tweaks cannot fix: too many people have simply lost faith in this design. Apple could theoretically combat that loss of trust with more candor, but it certainly hasn’t been forthcoming thus far. Getting the company to even admit that there might be a problem has been a yearslong process.

When it comes to consumer trust in Apple’s butterfly keyboards, different materials won’t make a material difference.

Philips Wake-Up Light is on sale for $38 off at Walmart

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The Wake-up Light fills your room with bright yellow light to wake you up more naturally.
The Wake-up Light fills your room with bright yellow light to wake you up more naturally.

Image: philips

If you are not a morning person, waking up can be a real pain. I set five alarms to go off every few minutes and that still doesn’t get me out of bed, so I know the struggle. Philips gets that struggle, too, which is why the company created its Wake-up Light, an alarm clock that uses light and sound to wake you in a more natural way.

Normally the Philips Wake-up Light with sunrise and sunset simulation costs $139.99, but it’s on sale at Walmart for $99.95.

This light will have you waking up easier and more refreshed as it gradually brightens over the 30 minutes before your set alarm time. By the time the tone goes off, your body is ready to get up and moving from the sunrise simulation. You can even set the alarm tone to be one of five nature sounds for an even more relaxed wake-up.

In addition to waking you up, the Philips Wake-Up Light can help you relax before bed at night with its sunset simulation, which dims the light to help you wind down. The light color spectrum goes from soft reds and warm oranges to bright yellow. 

Walmart reviewer Zorica writes:

“I was never a morning person and hated getting up early, especially if an alarm woke me. Since buying the sunrise simulation wake up light, this gradual light helps me wake up, even before the alarm comes on. I am no longer grumpy in the mornings and get up with a smile!!”

The Philips Wake-up Light is clinically proven to make you feel more refreshed when you wake up. Snag it on sale for $99.95 at Walmart.

YouTubers and record labels are fighting, and record labels keep winning

Glenn Fricker didn’t run into any issues when he uploaded a video about digital music editing to YouTube in 2014. But in April, nearly five years and 600,000 views later, he received an email from YouTube notifying him that Warner Music Group had claimed copyright over a 15-second video clip he included of Iron Maiden. As a result, the entire video would now be blocked.

Fricker was pissed, and he didn’t know what to do. “YouTube is not very forthcoming with their information or communication,” Fricker told The Verge. “I did have a contact there, but I haven’t heard from her in a year-and-a-half.”

Copyright issues have plagued YouTube and its community for years, but creators are calling this moment in time one of the worst eras for trying to navigate the platform. Over the past six months, multiple YouTubers have run into issues with what they describe as aggressive copyright claims from record labels. That includes two of today’s most popular creators: Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson, who said he lost more than “five figures” on a video for simply saying the Bon Jovi lyric “livin’ on a prayer,” and beauty guru James Charles, who complained that an a cappella song parody was unjustly claimed.

It’s not just mega successful influencers like Donaldson and Charles who say they’ve seen an increase in copyright claims. Independent music education channels — such as people teaching viewers how to play parts of songs or breaking down how tracks are constructed — are also struggling with record labels’ claims. Unlike the aforementioned creators, most of these channels aren’t amassing tens of millions of followers or views. It’s not just two or three videos they have to worry about, either. It’s almost every video.

It’s a real problem for creators who want to remix or create educational content about popular music, and the law isn’t necessarily on their side: fair use law is limited in scope, and even musical covers and a cappella performances are still protected by various forms of copyright. It all leads to a tense balance between the interests of video creators and musicians, with YouTube caught in the middle.

[embedded content]

Fricker is a professional audio engineer who has worked in the music industry for years. On his YouTube channel, he teaches various tricks of the trade to other engineers and musicians, occasionally deconstructing tracks to show where a recording went wrong.

He never thought too much about it. Until one day he woke up to an email reprimanding him for using part of an Iron Maiden song.

“The record labels literally got all the power,” Fricker said. “There’s no third-party arbitration system there. They make the claim and you could deny it, but what’s the point?”

Another music channel, The Guitar Manifesto, has run into problems using riffs from popular songs to show what different guitars sound like. Rob, who operates the channel and doesn’t disclose his last name, has received copyright claims on videos that include brief covers of songs from popular bands like Nirvana.

When a record label issues a copyright claim, it has two different options: either pull the video down entirely, or allow the video to remain up but collect some or all of its ad revenue. Because of requirements under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, YouTube is obligated to take down copyrighted content that’s been uploaded by users, with little incentive to question ambiguous cases once they’ve been identified by a label.

This is all possible because of a much-heralded tool YouTube has built, known as Content ID. Content ID allows copyright holders to upload their content to YouTube’s system, which will then scrub through the millions of videos uploaded every day in search of violations. The system appears to be increasingly successful: it took seven years for it to deliver $1 billion to copyright holders, but only two years to do the next billion. Another two years later, YouTube announced it had surpassed $3 billion in total payouts.

Creators do have some options to contest a copyright claim or update their video. That often requires going back into a video, editing out impacted segments, and either working within the existing video or re-uploading it entirely. The content — like a guitar tutorial — may not work if you remove the audio or cut around it.

The Guitar Manifesto hasn’t had videos taken down, but it has had labels claim revenue from its videos. “It seems to be a big thing at the moment where a bunch of guitar channels are getting claims put against their videos due to copyright infringement,” Rob says. Even playing 10 seconds of music in a 30-minute video can lead to a record label getting all the money it takes in. Rob said he relies heavily on advertising revenue and will often go in to edit segments out that YouTube dinged him for in order to monetize videos.

In order to prevent a video from being completely blocked in the US, the operator of another guitar instruction channel, Paul Davids, removed a portion showing viewers how to play a “two second lick” from The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” which also included a several-second clip from said song. “Hotel California” is one of the many songs that automatically leads to a video being blocked in most countries, according to a tool YouTube built for creators to see if any of the songs they want to use or cover will end up getting their video blocked. Davids’ video, “10 Extremely Tasty Licks (you should know),” now includes only nine licks.

[embedded content]

YouTube has put a strong emphasis on educational content, including the type of tutorials and informative commentary that Fricker and Rob both produce. Executives have touted educational content as an area the company wants to invest in and expand upon. The company announced in October 2018 that it was investing $20 million in creators who produce educational videos, and it’s used this type of advertiser-friendly content as a way to encourage more companies to run ads on the platform.

Because their videos are educational, both Fricker and Rob believe their use of popular songs should fall under fair use — a carve-out in copyright law that allows people to use copyrighted content if the resulting work is transformative enough that it’s completely separate from the original work it’s using. Fricker says his videos should be “in the clear” because he’s creating commentary and educational content. Rob says he “can’t even use a D chord” when trying to demonstrate how to play a specific song because the title in combination with the single chord played results in a copyright claim.

But fair use is more complicated than it’s often made out to be. And depending on who you ask, it’s not clear whether these videos can be protected under it.

One complicating factor is that both recordings of popular songs and the actual composition of those songs have separate copyright protections. So even a cover or an a cappella performance is at risk of being claimed because a song’s melody and accompanying words are protected by composition copyright. Musicians also have “synchronization rights” to their compositions, allowing them to decide whether their song can be synchronized with a piece of visual work, says Jeff Becker, an entertainment lawyer at Swanson, Martin & Bell.

Becker says that, generally, YouTubers aren’t in the clear to use copyrighted music unless they’ve obtained proper permission from all parties involved. It’s not just the record label creators need to worry about. Artists, composers, and songwriters all have their own rights.

Fair use protects transformative works, Becker says, but the line for what defines transformative isn’t clear cut. When decisions are subjective, content reviewers are going to err on the side of caution, since YouTube could face legal repercussions if it fails to act. “If you have to think about it, you’re probably not using it in a fair use way,” he says.

Other experts disagree. If you’re using a segment of a song in a 20-minute transformative video, “it’s almost certainly a fair use case,” says Mitch Stoltz, a senior attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. There was hope a decade ago that YouTube would cut out content gatekeepers and allow creators to reach audiences without encountering traditional hurdles, but that hasn’t entirely happened. Instead, Stoltz argues, “what we’re seeing is gatekeepers emerging in a different form.”

Stoltz acknowledged that there are a lot of misconceptions around fair use. It’s not necessarily okay to play a song just because you’re only using five or six seconds, he says. But if you’re using a small segment from a song to create an entirely new video, it’s “almost always fair use, and that ought to be protected.”

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Fricker did manage to get his video unblocked. But doing so didn’t involve going through YouTube’s formal channels: it involved publishing a YouTube video about the problem and being lucky enough for that video to gain attention on Reddit. “That’s the only real recourse you got on YouTube — just talk about it,” Fricker said.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki recently acknowledged creators’ widespread concerns about copyright claims, saying the company will try to do more to clarify what’s going on. In a note to creators, Wojcicki said she’s heard that they’re “frustrated” with claims over short and incidental music playback, but didn’t go so far as announcing changes to stop them. “We are exploring improvements in striking the right balance between copyright owners and creators,” Wojcicki wrote.

A spokesperson for YouTube reiterated Wojcicki’s message in a statement to The Verge, adding that the company “will continue to explore further improvements that strike the right balance between creators and rights holders.”

YouTube offers a handful of tools to help creators caught in a copyright claim. An audio-swapping tool can remove copyrighted songs that are preventing creators from getting paid. YouTube’s current appeals process also ensures that people can address copyright concerns without losing ad revenue, so long as they do it within five days. Artists who upload cover versions of songs may also be able to split the revenue with the record label or original composer, depending on YouTube’s agreement with the label. There are even online classes YouTube encourages users to take to better understand how fair use and monetization work when using licensed works.

But YouTube also has to keep record labels and their artists’ best interest in mind, too. YouTube’s music streaming service, YouTube Music, is a crucial part of the platform’s offerings to Premium subscribers — something Wojcicki has spoken about in previous interviews. When YouTube and Universal Music Group, one of the biggest conglomerates in the music industry, re-signed their agreement in 2017, Universal CEO Lucian Grainge spoke to the importance of “growing compensation from YouTube’s ad-supported and paid-subscription tiers,” for artists on YouTube.

Even people at record labels have trouble striking a balance between allowing YouTubers to use songs and ensuring their artists receive fair compensation. An executive at a major label, who asked to remain anonymous to speak about copyright claims, told The Verge that they were aware of a notable YouTube creator who got mad over a copyright claim on a video that contained nearly two minutes of sliced up music from a famous rapper’s songs. The executive said the label prefers not to take down videos, but their primary concern has to be their artists and songwriters receiving the royalties they’re deserved.

Part of the issue that creators run into on YouTube is there’s no single deal among the major record labels governing how copyright claims work. YouTube has different deals with Universal, Warner, and Sony, according to the executive. Some companies are more aggressive when it comes to claiming videos, the executive said.

The conflict also speaks to a long-running divide between artists and gatekeepers. YouTube was meant to let anyone with a camera reach an unlimited audience, but as YouTube professionalizes, video creators increasingly feel squeezed out by Hollywood and record labels. “Labels have made their living by fucking people over,” Fricker said. “This is just the labels doing what they do on a new platform.”

The particulars may have changed, but this same conflict has surfaced again and again. “It’s been a constant battle and the various issues change over time,” Stoltz says. “But what’s going on under the surface is really just, “Can a mass of creators speak to the world, or are they going to be filtered by the traditional gatekeepers of popular culture?’”

It’s a challenging problem to solve at YouTube’s scale. A fair use video is ultimately a video that contains copyrighted material, which makes it difficult to clear in a consistent, automated way. “It’s really hard to rely on an algorithm to know if something is fair use or not,” Becker says. “That’s really hard to fucking do — especially if you’re a computer.”

The conversation isn’t going away. More copyright concerns from creators are appearing every day, from every corner of YouTube. Confusion over how copyright claims work is affecting the beauty community, vloggers, podcasters, memesters, and everyone in between. Stoltz sees this as more than just a conversation about fair use and copyright infringement; it’s more than just a conversation about what type of content is monetizable. This is a conversation about the future of culture on YouTube.

“Adding in a lot more gatekeepers and adding more curation — that’s not the YouTube that’s wide open and the YouTube that we know today,” Stoltz said. “That’s what’s at stake.”

Plugable gaming headset is $5 off on Amazon

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.
No surround sound gimmicks — these are the real deal.
No surround sound gimmicks — these are the real deal.

Image: plugable

Maybe you’re a homebody who doesn’t much feel like taking part in the outdoor festivities that come along with Memorial Day Weekend — and maybe some of your friends feel the same way (we think that’s just fine). A great way to enjoy the comfort of the great indoors: video games. And if you’re looking to play them online with your other buddies, you’re going to need a top-of-the-line gaming headset

And Amazon has just the one you need — you can pick up Plugable’s Onyx Performance Gaming Headset for $5 off of its usual price for the next four days, so get a move on if you really want to enjoy your home-loving self this weekend. 

This headset is a truly immersive auditory experience — no surround sound gimmicks that much more expensive models bring to the table. The large ear cups reproduce the sound elements in games the way they were to be heard, and the high-precision retractable microphone is perfect for chatting with your Apex Legends squad as you compete for the top spot. What’s even more impressive is how comfortable they are — the plush memory foam padding and wide headband will get you tons of gaming mileage without having to rest your ears (you might even forget that you’re wearing the headset). With this quality at this price, it’s a hard deal to beat. 

Grab the Plugable Onyx Performance Gaming Headset and get online this weekend — save $5 when you purchase on Amazon

Watch Samsung’s new AI turn Mona Lisa into a realistic talking head

Soon, it might be trivially easy to create a fake video of someone -- anyone -- talking.
Soon, it might be trivially easy to create a fake video of someone — anyone — talking.

Image: Samsung AI Center, Moscow

Need more convincing that it will soon be impossible to tell whether a video of a person is real or fake? Enter Samsung’s new research, in which a neural network can turn a still image into a disturbingly convincing video. 

Researchers at the Samsung AI center in Moscow have achieved this, Motherboard reported Thursday, by training a “deep convolutional network” on a large number of videos showing talking heads, allowing it to identify certain facial features, and then using that knowledge to animate an image. 

The results, presented in a paper called “Few-Shot Adversarial Learning of Realistic Neural Talking Head Models,” are not as good as some of the deepfake videos you’ve seen, but to create those, you need a large number of images of the person you’re trying to animate. The advantage of Samsung’s approach is that you can turn a single still image (though the fidelity of the resulting video increases with more images) into a video. 

You can see some of the results of this research in the video, below. Using a single still image of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Salvador Dali, Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and even Mona Lisa, the AI was able to create videos of them talking which are realistic enough — at moments — to appear to be actual footage. 

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None of these videos will fool an expert, or anyone looking close enough. But as we’ve seen in previous research on AI-based generated imagery, the results tend to vastly improve in a matter of years. 

The implications of this research are chilling. Armed with this tool, one only needs a single photo of a person (which are today easily obtainable for most people) to create a video of them talking. Add to that a tool that can use short snippets of sample audio material to create convincing, fake voice of a person, and one can get anyone to “say” anything. And with tools like Nvidia’s GAN, one could even create a realistic-looking, fake setting for such a video. As these tools become more powerful and easier to obtain, it will become tougher to tell real videos from fake ones; hopefully, the tools to discern between the two will get more advanced as well. 

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Best Buy cancels Samsung Galaxy Fold preorders

Samsung is taking its time bringing the Galaxy Fold back to market. And frankly, that’s probably for the best. The Note debacle from a few years back was an important lesson about what happens when you rush a product back to market. That one resulted in a second recall — PR nightmae upon PR nightmare.

With a release date still very much in limbo, Best Buy has sent notes to those who pre-ordered the Fold. Spotted by The Verge, the letter has since been posted to Best Buy’s support forum. It cites “a plethora of unforeseen hiccups,” (fair enought) adding, “Because we put our customers first and want to ensure they are taken care of in the best possible manner, Best Buy has decided to cancel all current pre-orders for the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

The letter goes on to assure customers that the big box retailer is “working closely with Samsung” to help deliver the product to customers. At the moment, however, their guess on the timeframe is as good as ours.

Recent reports have suggested that an announcement was imminent, with the company having solved design flaws that had reviewers peeling off screens and getting debris jammed in the holes of the folding mechanism. More recent reports gave the product a June 13 release date, but that too appears to have been scrubbed for the time being.