Search Results for DRM

Scribd now blocks DRMed PDF uploads

Scribd logo Remember my recent post about Scribd accepting DRMed PDF uploads and converting them to a range of formats, among which unencumbered PDF? Well, it seems like this feature now belongs to the past (hat tip to C2162 and Josh for the heads-up).

If you try to upload a DRMed PDF file now, you bump into the following warning:

Scribd’s conversion system determined that you uploaded a PDF that is encrypted and protected by password security. Unfortunately, due to legal restrictions, Scribd is unable to accept password-protected PDFs. If you own the rights to the document you uploaded, we’d love it if you could upload a non-encrypted version of the same document!

If you believe this message to be in error, or have any other questions, please send us an email at Thanks!

It’s worth noting here that Scribd’s uploader does not only refuse to convert the DRMed PDF to other formats, it also interferes with (and ultimately blocks) the upload itself, something that Scribd is legally not required to do, as far as I know. This behavior is different from Gmail’s, which dealt with a similar loophole last year: Gmail’s View as HTML functionality is now crippled when used with DRMed PDF files, but sending or saving such PDFs is of course still possible.

Circumvent PDF DRM… with Scribd!

About a year ago, I wrote about how Gmail’s “View as HTML” functionality allowed you to get around secure PDF files’ print and copy-paste restrictions. Four weeks later, Google released an update (or downgrade, if you will) of its Gmail service, and the loophole was fixed.

Scribd logo However, when trying out Scribd today—a site with the noble goal to “create the world’s largest open library of documents” and even touted by some as the “YouTube of documents”—it seems that a similar feature/bug is also present in Scribd’s online document converter.

As a little test, I uploaded this secure PDF document to Scribd, and as you can see, all text extraction limitations are gone: HTML view, plain text view and even unencumbered PDF view!

I’m very curious to see whether the Scribd folks are going to cripple their service, or leave it as is…

N.B. This only works with PDF files with text extraction and printing usage restrictions, not with PDFs that prompt for a password when you try to open them.

Update: as pointed out by C2162 and Josh in the comments, Scribd has altered its service so that this doesn’t work anymore.

Teruten’s braindead DRM

Yesterday, Japanese DRM manufacturer Teruten announced that, in May of this year, it will start offering a DRM service aimed at protecting online content. Personal blogs will be able to use Teruten’s “WebShell” DRM for free; for company websites the cost will be 500 Yen per page per month. (!)

The Teruten website’s frontpage links to a test page where you can see the DRM in action. According to the instructions, you have to install an ActiveX control, after which you can view the page, but not view its source, copy or save images, nor print. Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work — in Internet Explorer. If you view the page in Firefox, you get a dialog screen saying “ActiveX loading is failed” and that’s it. Opera gives a more unexpected result: it does render the page completely, and ignores the ActiveX control’s crippling commands. I was able to save the page’s images and print without any problem…

My advice for Japanese companies and bloggers who are afraid their website content will be “stolen” if they don’t “protect” it: don’t have a website.

About and audio DRM

The nice thing about living in Tokyo is that, in order to be updated about all things tech, you just have to take the train. Napster Yesterday for instance, the Yamanote line train cars taught me that Napster (this one, not the legacy one) has opened a Japanese version of its online store in the beginning of October (totally missed that as I was in Belgium then). This is a noteworthy development, because of a number of reasons:

First of all, is the first flat rate all-you-can-download music service in Japan. And to be honest, the rate isn’t that bad: 1280¥/month is quite affordable. Of course, if you can live with the fact that, after a year and 15360¥ spent, you own exactly 0 songs…

Also important: Tower Records might be dead in the US, but as you see on the picture I took, it’s alive and well in Japan: “Napster x Tower Records,” reads the poster.

And of course, DRM ahoy! Needless to say, Napster files will not work on your iPod, Mac or the upcoming Zune. They will work on some (only some) mobile phones though. For instance, have a look at the Docomo x Music page and go to the “products” tab. If you hover over the phone images, you can see the supported “storage format” in the left sidebar — messy, to say the least. My favorite is the blue SH903i in the middle: Napster/WMA (Windows Media DRM), SD-Audio (SD-Audio DRM) and AAC (Chaku Uta Full DRM). That’s three completely different DRM formats for playing music on a small portable device — not to speak about the several interfaces for purchasing and managing music. Seems like the people preparing the SH903i manual also had a hard time explaining the differences, incompatibilities and restrictions — such a hard time, that they released three audio manuals: one explaining Napster To Go, one SD-Audio and another one WMA. Ouch.

Update 2006-10-27: I’m currently trying out the one week Napster trial and must say that I’m not very impressed. Choice is limited, and most Japanese songs are not a part of the all-you-can-download program, so you have to purchase them separately. I also have my doubts about the crappy Japanese interface, which seems to be rushed out in order to launch before the release of the (incompatible) Zune in the end of 2006.

Annotations to the APIG DRM report

Two weeks ago, the All Party Internet Group (APIG), a UK based discussion group open to all Parliamentarians in both the House of Commons and House of Lords, released a rather progressive report on DRM technology. I won’t comment on the APIG’s recommendations (or “key points”) here—they all sound very reasonable—but instead, highlight a couple of noteworthy (but not always smart) remarks and formulations in the report. In order of occurrence:

¶ 19 states that, “[b]ecause TPMs can almost invariably be circumvented, a legal framework is needed to prevent unauthorised copying at a commercial scale […].” The next sentence however features a completely flawed real-world analogy: “As EMI observed to us, the widespread availability of colour printers has made it easier for people to forge banknotes, but this hasn’t led to the legalisation of counterfeiting!” I don’t get it at all—very strange this comparison was included in the final report.

¶ 23 starts with saying that “[t]he Internet is inevitably going to radically alter all current content distribution models” and continues: “DRM has the potential to speed up this process because many content owners are unwilling to provide content in an innovative manner unless they can prevent unauthorised copying.” My question: was it necessary to include this statement in the report? Do the authors really believe that (and I quote Cory Doctorow) “studios will make movies and just not release them, they will amass a great pile of unreleased material in their Hollywood vaults and sit before the doors, arms folded, glaring at the world until it arranges itself into a more accomodating configuration?”

The argument started in ¶ 23 is continued in ¶ 27, where they link new DRM-driven business models to the marketing of long tail content: “[these DRM-driven models] could also significantly affect the viability of making available the ‘long tail’ of work […].” Again: this smells like another paragraph hijacked by the pro-DRM lobby.

Going back a few paragraphs, to ¶ 24: it’s good to see the report pointing out that the “reduction of the music business” must be considered in the context of the “general state of the economy.” It further recommends to “inquire if money is being spent on other forms of entertainment instead.”

¶ 29: “Some industry respondents suggested that consumers should welcome TPM systems because it would prevent them from committing illegal acts.” <irony>In other words: DRM is a feature!</irony>

¶ 30 mentions that DRM “can be used to segment markets so that different people people pay different prices.” My question (leaving the possible problems that come with price segmentation for another time): why do you need DRM for this?!

I don’t know very much about British copyright law, but if I read ¶ 41 and ¶ 43 correctly, making backups of CDs you own (and, for that matter, copying CD tracks to your iPod) seems to be illegal in the UK.

¶ 45 and ¶ 49 point out that DRM prevents the development of interoperable, innovative applications, cfr. the non-existence of “portable video jukeboxes”. Great this is included in the report.

Also great is ¶ 53, quoting Paul Sanders: “Paul […] pointed out that rights holders had given up monopolies in the past to assist other industries, and in the end sell more content […]. He suggested that the music industry would gain, rather than lose, by dimishing their rights.”

An interesting point is raised in ¶ 68: as DRM will be implemented on the hardware level, the report says it is “quite possible that TPM systems will become unbreakable. We therefore believe that permitting circumvention is unlikely to be a long term method of addressing an ill, and that the proper way to address a serious problem would always be to require the removal, or partial removal, of the TPM system.”

¶ 71 mentions that some big content guys aren’t very enthusiast about Creative Commons licenses. They pointed out that CC licenses “could affect an artist’s ability to enter into an exclusive license at a later stage.” The report rightfully points out that, in case CC licenses become “commonplace for bands […], the industry approach to ‘exclusivity’ will doubtless be tempered by the new reality.” A very sane remark, that is.

I like the concept of libraries as a “lender of last resort” that is put forward in ¶ 75: a good argument for DRM-free library collections.

In ¶ 88, an interesting explanation for the phenomenon of disabled read-aloud functionality on eBooks, a setting that undoubtedly hurts visually impaired users of the content in question: “[I]n some cases the problem was that “audio rights” had been sold to another party and the eBook publisher was being cautious not to infringe.” Needless to say, “there is a very significant difference between a trained actor’s performance […] and what can be achieved by computerised text-to-speech systems.” It’s just incredible that this kind of stuff happens.

¶ 110 talks about what to do when DRM systems are discontinued. APIG “reluctantly agree[s] that this is an issue best left to the market,” making the comparison with other outdated tech for which the government didn’t dictate any special arrangements. I don’t know if it’s that simple though: imagine copy-controlled CD software that is not compatible with Windows Vista, for example… (for more, see CD DRM: Compatibility and Software Updates).

Gmail cripples DRMed PDF files’ “View as HTML” functionality

Attachment cannot be viewed

Google has rolled out a couple of new Gmail features this week. And guess what: one of them is not mentioned on the “What’s new on Gmail?” page. Readers of this blog probably know what I’m talking about…

Indeed, Gmail has crippled its “View as HTML” functionality so as to comply with Adobe’s PDF copy-control scheme. In case an email attachment is a DRMed PDF file (= a PDF with copying and/or printing restrictions), clicking on the “View as HTML” link returns the message displayed in the screenshot.

Mobile DRM in Japan: another close look

On this blog and in my Japan Media Review paper, I’ve mentioned several times the restrictive DRM mechanisms inside Japanese keitai (mobile phones). Since about a year has passed since the last update, it’s time for another look — study object is AU’s W32T (the numbers below correspond to the Japanese manual‘s page numbers).

First, a quick intro for those unfamiliar with the concept: basically all Japanese keitai are internet enabled, and have a mail client and one or two browsers built in. This browser can be used for accessing websites, or else, for downloading content on-the-go. Downloaded or external content can be saved on the usually rather small internal memory unit (a couple of MB) or on removable flash memory (usually a few hundred MB). Some models also have an infrared port or are Bluetooth enabled, thereby giving its owner another way to move content from or onto his/her device.

And of course, DRM galore:

  • The basic rule is that almost every piece of content that touches your keitai gets a “copy-protection ON/OFF” flag (p 186). Notable exceptions are BMP and SWF files, which are always locked; DCF-type JPGs (= your own pictures), PIM data and email inboxes on the other hand are always unlocked (lucky us!).
  • Copy-protected files cannot be forwarded via mail (p 109) nor exchanged via Bluetooth (p 172). Furthermore, any form of editing is prohibited: this means you cannot resize copy-protected movies (p 179) or images (p 176), add GPS metadata to them (p 180) or reuse them as part of a “photo-mix” (p 344). Even using a copy-protected movie as an incoming call animation is forbidden (p 167).
  • Moving (not copying!) copy-protected files to the miniSD removable flash memory is possible, but only in case the content provider explicitly allows it. Caveat: when you move copy-protected files from the internal phone memory to the miniSD card, the files in question are automatically put in a (probably CPRM powered) “secure” folder, preventing them from being accessed with other devices than the keitai they were originally downloaded or received with (or a new keitai using the same number and carrier). Also interesting to know is that, in case you try to get access to the secure folder with a device other than the W32T, there is a chance the directory in question is corrupted and the data within might become unusable… (p 185)
  • EZ Movies (p 212) and EZ Channel mini-broadcasts (p 233) not only come with copying restrictions, but usually also have playback limitations built in, allowing the content provider to exactly define the number of playbacks customers can enjoy (play-count and absolute/relative time based expiration dates are possible). Free EZ Channel content for instance can only be played 3 times, and the downloaded TAR package is automatically deleted once a new episode becomes available.
  • The W32T, as well as most other recent keitai, supports playback of personal, non-downloaded movies or songs, provided they’re in the correct format — of course, there are non-official tools to help you with the conversion process. However, once you copy or move the media files in question from the miniSD card to the phone’s internal memory, the files’ copyright-flag is switched to ON, locking them to your mobile phone and inhibiting further processing (such as forwarding or resizing).
  • Another copyright related nag: the W32T’s Opera powered browser has no image download or select+copy functionality. I am not sure whether this was a copyright inspired design decision or not, but a few lines of JavaScript easily work around this lack of functionality.

That’s all for now. If you think that is a lot of DRM in such a small device, then bear in mind that I haven’t even touched DRM enabled mobile ebook reader applets, LISMO‘s DRM, or OneSeg Mobile TV DRM — something for future entries…

Circumvent PDF DRM… with Gmail!

Apparently, Gmail’s built-in “View as HTML” functionality, which allows you to view the content of PDF files (and other types of documents) as if they were classic webpages, works regardless of the files’ usage restrictions (= DRM). I don’t think this is a bad thing ;-) but just wonder how Google can back up this design decision — or is it a mistake?

Gmail screenshot

You can try this out yourself:

  1. Create or download a DRMed PDF file. I used this file from the Adobe site.
  2. Open the file with Adobe Reader and click on the “Lock” icon in the down-left corner to see which restrictions apply. Our example file can be printed, but editing or text extraction is not allowed.
  3. Send the file as an attachment to your Gmail account.
  4. Open the mail you’ve sent yourself and choose the “View as HTML” option below the (empty) mail body.
  5. An HTML version of the encrypted file is displayed — part of the layout might be gone, but the text can be extracted with a simple copy/paste command. In case the original PDF file had printing restrictions, those are stripped as well.

Note 1: a quick test with a PDF file with print restrictions yielded similar results — Gmail converted the file in question without any problem.

Note 2: Google Search on the other hand does comply with the copy restrictions inside PDF files — this search query for instance gives only non-encrypted PDF files a “View as HTML” option.

Update: Google has tweaked its PDF viewing functionality, so the trick described above doesn’t work anymore.

Update 2: There’s a similar loophole in Scribd (for now).

Update 3: Scribd was updated and now rejects DRMed PDF uploads.

Legal, theoretical and real-world effectiveness of DRM

I’m a bit late with this post, but anyway. Prof. Lenz has posted another DRM related entry with good comments, in which a couple of interesting points are raised. Let me first talk about the “effectiveness” of DRM. To keep my argumentation clear, I will discuss a couple of other noteworthy points in a next post.

Lenz refers to the 2001 Copyright Directive’s definition of the word “effective”. Article 6, Paragraph 3 states:

[…] Technological measures shall be deemed “effective” where the use of a protected work or other subject-matter is controlled by the rightholders through application of an access control or protection process, such as encryption, scrambling or other transformation of the work or other subject-matter or a copy control mechanism, which achieves the protection objective.

Lenz correctly points out that this definition is “slightly circular”: in case DRM simply “achieves the protection objective”, it is already considered “effective”.

This, say, legal effectiveness is of course very different from DRM’s theoretical effectiveness: as DRM always relies on a “security through obscurity” approach, it can theoretically never be “effective” – most DRM systems are indeed hacked within days or weeks after their release.

Lastly, there is also something like DRM’s real-world effectiveness, which relates to what I said in my previous entry: most DRM systems “work” fine, simply because the consumer doesn’t care, or doesn’t know any better.

So, to summarize: if you fear (or know) that the theoretical effectiveness of DRM is near 0, but you want to keep its real-world effectiveness as close to 1 as possible, then the only way to do that is by maximizing its legal effectiveness. In human language (and I’m talking about the content industries): if you fear (or know) that your DRM will be compromised, but you want to keep consumers within its boundaries, then you need a helping hand from the law (= anti-circumvention provisions).

DRM and Open Source, part 2

Prof. Lenz has posted a reaction on my previous entry:

If a DRM system is based on obscurity, it violates basic crypto design principles. See Wikipedia on Kerckhoff’s Law.

Indeed, that is exactly what DRM does – from Cory Doctorow’s DRM paper: “Because DRM is based on “security through obscurity” — that is, in hiding from a user the way that it works — it is inevitably broken in short order […].” Ernest Miller’s commentary on Engadget’s Jack Valenti interview refers to exactly this problem: Valenti thinks the problems with DRM will be solved with stronger algorithms – Miller comments that Valenti is “unclear on how cryptography works,” meaning that simply stronger algorithms won’t take the flaws in the DRM threat model away.

Actually, one advantage of open source software for security related programming is exactly that it follows Kerckhoff’s Law as a default.


So, if there is any influence the development model has on the effectiveness of DRM, it is probably the other way around.

I am sure it’s impossible to move DRM systems away from the “security through obscurity” approach (cfr. supra): they simply would stop functioning as DRM. So yes, in the case of DRM, open source production does mean that people are able to hack through the DRM even faster.

Doctorow believes that no DRM can be effective, ever. […]

So do I. I don’t believe there is a non-hackable type of DRM. This doesn’t mean however that all DRM systems can be hacked right now – ploughing through obfuscated code takes time. It also doesn’t mean that all DRM systems of which the flaws are known are constantly compromised: most of them “work” fine (cfr. the DRM inside chaku-uta, game cartridges, iTunes songs, etc.), simply because the consumer doesn’t care, or doesn’t know any better. And that is what the DRM deploying entertainment business knows too.

Sony DRM installing a rootkit

There quite a shockwave going through the blogosphere about rootkit like software that is installed when you try to run certain Sony CCCDs on your Windows machine. Sysinternals has the technical details, and good insights can be found in the Slashdot comments. I especially liked this one, as it hits the nail right on the head:

My refrain to the copyright holders: The people being hurt by this DRM software are people who have already communicated their intent to do the right thing by purchasing the CD. Sony has just guaranteed that a lot of people will never make that mistake again.

Note that Japanese consumers do not seem to be affected by this problem: last year, Sony stopped distributing CCCDs on the Japanese market.

Update: Sony has released an uninstaller for the rootkit discussed above – in order to get it, you have to go to the website of the company who created the rootkit and then run their ActiveX control on your system. Oh-oh… (via Slashdot)

Update 2: Ed Felten: “SonyBMG ‘Protection’ is Spyware”. Worth a read.

Update 3: The story continues. Gen reports that Microsoft has classified Sony’s rootkit as malware and will be removing it through its Malicious Software Removal Tool. Via Digg then comes the news that Sony’s rootkit may contain parts of the LGPLed LAME mp3 encoder. Expect another update soon.

Update 4: Sony’s uninstaller suffered from a big security hole and is offline again. As for Sony’s OSS infringements, Jon Johansen reports on his blog that some of the code Sony ripped off is the FairPlay code he wrote for VLC.

Some DRM news from the NHK Open House 2005 exhibition

Just as last year, I went to NHK Open House, where NHK was showing off its latest progress in the realm of DTV. Some observations:

  • As expected, the Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting for Handheld Receivers corner featured Vodafone’s recently announced DTV cell phone, as well as an older AU prototype (action pictures). I was told none of both is capable of recording television programs, so the DRM I wondered about is not at issue (yet).
  • Last year, there was a lot to do about content protection and advanced CAS; this year however, the DRM section was only represented in a much smaller booth about DTV home servers that can be used to transfer programs to external devices, such as DoCoMo’s OnQ prototype. The OnQ has DRM on board, but the guy in the booth couldn’t give me any details.
  • Also in the DTV home servers section, a new kid on the block (at least to my ears): the Digital Certificate System for Educational Contents, which will permit less restricted use of DTV content in educational contexts. Apparently they slowly start to understand that copy-once or no-copy regimes are way too restrictive and cut into uses that would otherwise be allowed under the limitations on rights provision of the Japanese copyright law. Not to give you any false hopes though, because on the same page, they also mention a new system of “Digital Watermarks for Streaming Data”.
  • And then a last thing: when I asked an NHK employee if it was true that DTV wasn’t really taking off in Japan, I got a confirming nod; the person in question also told me they will probably postpone the date (currently 2011) for pulling the analog plug…

Some mobile DRM news

  • Last week, Sony Ericsson announced a “collaboration with Sony’s music download service Connect™, which will open on-line digital music purchasing to mobile phone users in various countries around the world.” A related PCWorld article learns us that both parties are looking at using OMA DRM in order “to stop the phone from being used to make unauthorized copies of copyright music files.” Three things to note here:
    1. Sony is apparently moving away from its own OpenMG DRM.
    2. Connect is a European Sony venture, in Japan there is Mora. Curious if we’ll see OMA integration in the Mora service, too.
    3. The phone they talk about will also support MP3:

      The Walkman phone will play music file formats such as MP3 and AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), according to Rikko Sakaguchi, Sony Ericsson’s head of product and application planning.

      I doubt we will see this one in Japan though.

  • Microsoft and Nokia announced a similar project on the same day; OMA DRM, WMA, Windows Media DRM, MPEG-AAC and Media Transfer Protocol support are the keywords there.
  • Expensive Anti-Piracyware Threatens Open Standard:

    Several consumer electronics makers balk at the $1 charge for anti-piracy technology proposed by the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), they told Reuters.

    TheFeature’s Mike Masnick take on this issue:

    The complaint is that $1 is too expensive. However, it’s not just the dollar that’s expensive — it’s the fact that they would be paying an extra dollar to make their own handsets less valuable to customers. That’s a very difficult business proposition to sell at any price.

    Couldn’t say it better.

    Update: MocoNews comes with a clarification/correction:

    The Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) has denied that it is responsible for setting the $1 per device charge for digital rights management on mobile phones. The denial is in response to a reuters story that came out claiming that OMA was responsible for the charge instead of MPEG-LA, the group that has actually the charge.

Paper on DRM in Japan published in Japan Media Review


Back in October, I blogged about the paper I presented at the Reproduction in Modern Japan conference in Yale University (2004-10-8/9/10).

A revised version of this paper has been published in the mid-February issue of Japan Media Review. Currently the paper is free as in “free beer”, meaning that its full text is available online—a Creative Commons licensed version follows in a couple of weeks.

Several people gave feedback on the first version of this paper; I especially would like to thank (in alphabetical order) Alex Cameron, Ian Condry, Karl-Friedrich Lenz and Luk Van Haute for their helpful suggestions and corrections, most of which were incorporated in the final version.

Chaku Uta Full and DRM

While a lot of tech analysts watch Apple’s upcoming announcement of a Motorola phone with a built-in iTunes client, allowing for mobile music downloads, KDDI’s AU already launched a similar concept on the Japanese market in November 2004: AU’s 36000-downloads-in-the-first-three-weeks Chaku Uta Full service. The service allows owners of an AU W22SA, W22H, W21CA or W21T mobile phone to purchase downloads of full songs and listen to them on their mobile phone through a special headset or built-in speakers. Format used is MPEG-4 aacPlus (also known as HE AAC), which allows for high quality sound at low bitrates; stores where you can buy Chaku Uta Full include Lmelo, et al. Prices are between 210 and 420 Yen per song. Yes, that’s expensive.

However, here is the interesting part—and yep, I’m talking about the DRM.

Page 124 of the W22H manual tells us the device’s miniSD card is CPRM-compatible, meaning that the ways in which you can save certain types of content are constrained. Content with a copyright flag, such as Chaku Uta Full, can only be transfered to a certain encrypted folder on the miniSD card—this probably means you can’t transfer the Chaku Uta Full files you purchased to your computer nor play them on it. Furthermore, as the content in the miniSD card’s encrypted folder is somehow tied to the phone number of the phone it was purchased with, you can only transfer or play it with a phone with that very phone number. It thus becomes possible to transfer DRMed data from your old mobile phone to your new one, considering that you do not switch to another carrier and that you keep your number (= almost always more costly than getting a new number).

So, to summarize: KDDI has launched a quite expensive, but apparently successful service of high-quality and low-bandwidth music downloads that are heavily DRM encumbered, but can be transfered to another mobile phone in case you stick with your carrier and phone number (=expensive).

N.B.: I must say that I’m curious to see if it’s possible to encode your own MPEG-4 aacPlus files (e.g. with the Helix DNA Producer SDK and the AAC add-on package) and transfer them to your mobile phone. The guy in the AU shop told me it wasn’t possible, but I had the impression he didn’t really know what I was talking about; AU’s website and manuals don’t make me any wiser either. If it works, it might well undermine KDDI’s Chaku Uta Full business model. If anybody has a clue, please leave a comment.

Update: Slate has an excellent article on aacPlus.

Paper on DRM in Japan online

I returned to Tokyo on Thursday. I had an excellent trip, did all the things I wanted to do (including buying great coffee at Bleecker St.) and met a lot of interesting people along the way (some of which already started commenting on my blog entries :-) ).

Then, about the paper I presented at the Reproduction in Modern Japan conference over at Yale: I am currently looking for an academic journal to publish the paper, but also curious for feedback. Hence my decision to make the current (draft) version available online: download Closed architectures for content distribution: a threat for Japan’s creative future? (pdf) and post or mail your comments, thoughts, rants, etc.

Update 2005-02-13: Thanks for all the feedback. A revised version of my paper is published in the mid-February 2005 issue of Japan Media Review.

N.B.1: Note that, unlike the rest of this site, the draft is available under a classic all rights reserved license until it is published. After publication I plan to make the final version available under a CC-license (given that the journal that agrees to publish my paper allows me to do so).

N.B.2: Thanks and shoutouts to Bart Bagrowicz and Masamichi Yokogawa for proofreading and suggesting a couple of grammatical tweaks.

Collaborative Japanese translation of Cory’s DRM speech

M@Blog’s Matt just threw Cory Doctorow’s DRM speech (see also this earlier entry) into a Wiki and calls for help translating it to Japanese.

Give it a go!

Cory Doctorow on why DRM is a bad idea (for Sony and others)

In his Microsoft Research DRM Talk, Cory Doctorow explains why investing in the whole DRM thing was a bad move for Sony.

When Sony brought out the VCR, it made a record player that could
play Hollywood’s records, even if Hollywood didn’t like the idea.
The industries that grew up on the back of the VCR – movie
rentals, home taping, camcorders, even Bar Mitzvah videographers
– made billions for Sony and its cohort.

That was good business – even if Sony lost the Betamax-VHS
format wars, the money on the world-with-VCRs table was enough to
make up for it.

But then Sony acquired a relatively tiny entertainment company
and it started to massively screw up. When MP3 rolled around and
Sony’s walkman customers were clamoring for a solid-state MP3
player, Sony let its music business-unit run its show: instead of
making a high-capacity MP3 walkman, Sony shipped its Music Clips,
low-capacity devices that played brain-damaged DRM formats like
Real and OpenAG.


[…] Sony shipped a product that there was no market
demand for. No Sony customer woke up one morning and said, “Damn,
I wish Sony would devote some expensive engineering effort in
order that I may do less with my music.”

Although it seems there are some inaccuracies (via K. F. Lenz), the article is a fine read and approaches the whole DRM matter in a refreshing way.

Why DRM works

A fine read over at Copyfight: Why Use DRM If It Doesn’t Work?. The following quote is a very important and interesting point:

What happens if the content industries start selling content in an unencumbered format? Well, technology companies are going to start developing products that use that content in new and innovative ways. Some of these ways may very well undermine the existing business models of the content industries. Without DRM the content industry would have very few levers with which to influence the consumer electonics and software companies. […]

However, by insisting on proprietary DRM (well, under the DMCA it might not have to be proprietary), the content industries are in a much better position in negotiating how technology will be permitted to develop.

Rereading my earlier entry about Sony’s LIBRIe, this seems to make sense (even when talking about Japanese copyright law). By offering content in a proprietary DRM controlled format, Sony is able to control the development of digital devices that can read this format – which, of course, strengthens Sony’s market position.

Is the importance of mobile content portability overstated?

On January 1st, Danah Boyd wrote an interesting entry about teenagers’ ephemeral online profiles. A quote:

Teens are not dreaming of portability (like so many adults i meet). They are happy to make new accounts on new sites; they enjoy building out profiles. (Part of this could be that they have a lot more time on their hands.) The idea of taking MySpace material to Facebook when they transition is completely foreign. They’re going to a new site, they want to start over.

This got me thinking — can this idea also be applied on Japanese teenagers and their mobile download behavior? Could it be, for instance, that the importance of content portability between different devices is overstated, and that most people don’t really care about whether the stuff they download to their phone is DRMed or not? Maybe the mobile ringtones/-tunes, wallpapers, screensavers, menus, games and apps (almost all of them DRMed) that people download are perceived as a sort of throwaway personalization building blocks, and not so much as “purchased media” one ought to be able to play on different devices. This would mean that every time you buy a new phone, you start all over again collecting the right music, graphics, etc. — rebuilding your mobile identity(*), if you will. And yes, that is exactly what most Japanese cell phone owners seem to be doing with every new phone they own.

I would like to point out that the paragraphs above don’t change my stance towards DRM (I still think it’s a bad idea) — I am only searching for an explanation of the ever rising mobile downloads, and Japanese customers’ apparent indifference towards mobile DRM and its impact on cross-device portability (let alone on fair use, etc).

What do you think? Thoughts, additions?

(*) The difference with a profile on a social networking site is of course that the mobile identity building mentioned above isn’t really visible to the outside world (except for people seeing your mobile phone screen). However, judging from the number of digital and real world keitai mods that are available nowadays, I think it’s safe to say that purchasing GUI enhancements, wallpapers, ringtones, etc. is more about personal customization and mobile identity, than about building a full-fledged media library (as you’d do on your computer).

FFWD 2007

A quick look at the copyright related developments I see (or don’t see) happening in 2007. My predictions, in no particular order:

  • We’ll see more experiments with DRM-free major label music in the line of Yahoo Music’s efforts, but a full switch to DRM-free music distribution will not happen in 2007. And no, I don’t see Amazon’s rumored music store project turning the tide.
  • The Zune’s sharing feature will be incorporated in other music players, but in a much more interesting fashion. That means we’ll see devices with uncrippled wifi-support, allowing for unlimited (and possibly even cross-device) sharing.
  • The content industry (esp. in Japan) will continue pushing HD broadcasting and formats, while ignoring what most people actually want: instant, lightweight, malleable, shareable and mashable media à la YouTube and its more open variants.
  • The chaku-uta business won’t go away, but sales will slow down as more and more customers find out they’ll have to purchase all their media again when they switch to their second or third 3G handset.
  • One Japanese mobile carrier (SoftBank?) will start offering a cellphone with real MP3 support. AU and DoCoMo will try to ignore this development and stick to their DRM-encumbered, if-you’re-lucky-MP4-enabled handsets instead.
  • Japan will extend the term of protection for music and literary works from 50 to 70 years. Alas.
  • Once the time is there to start purchasing Vista licenses, the Japanese government will announce it is thinking about switching to Linux, which, as I’ve argued before, is just a negotiation tactic.

And what do you think?

US Copyright Office releases new list of anti-circumvention exemptions

The U.S. Copyright Office has updated its list of exemptions to the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions. (link to the the 2003 version)

Things worth noting:

  • Seth Finkelstein’s censorware related exemption is gone and has been moved to the “Other Exemptions Considered, But Not Recommended” list. Seth has a post about this.
  • There’s a new exemption concerning DRM wrapped around audiovisual works (1) and surprisingly, also a cellphone unlocking related exemption (5):

    Computer programs in the form of firmware that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network.

  • Exemption 6 is the most interesting one though, as it is clearly inspired by the Sony rootkit debacle:

    Sound recordings, and audiovisual works associated with those sound recordings, distributed in compact disc format and protected by technological protection measures that control access to lawfully purchased works and create or exploit security flaws or vulnerabilities that compromise the security of personal computers, when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of good faith testing, investigating, or correcting such security flaws or vulnerabilities. tidbits

Straight from the feedreader, interesting bits of copyright related thinking on The Technology Liberation Front (quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs):

In My DRM Agnosticism & Indifference toward Media Format Compatibility, Adam Thierer explains how he thinks about the relationship between DRM and innovation:

Other times, however, incompatibility can breed competition and innovation. I still have not heard anyone here explain to me how we’d actually have more video game console competition if you could play all your games on just one console. I think the intentional incompatibility among gaming consoles has been a primary factor in keep the console platform market vibrantly competitive and kept everyone on their toes, constantly innovating to stay alive. […]

And Tim Lee’s reaction:

[…] [I]ncompatibility isn’t an unintended side-effect of DRM–it’s the whole point of the technology. There isn’t any offsetting benefit to the consumer.

I agree with you that we’re not in a doom-and-gloom scenario, although maybe I don’t emphasize that as strongly as I should. There’s still healthy progress going on in the consumer electronics industry, and I don’t think that will change any time soon. I just think this progress has occurred despite, not because of, the DMCA.

Broken Windows and Copyrights discusses reader X. Trapnel’s idea that the entire argument for patent and copyright is an example of Bastiat’s broken window parable:

[…] What is not seen is what would happen in the absence of [IP] protection: the innovator would have to keep innovating in order to maintain his market, leveraging his expertise into further productive developments, while newcomers would be able to experiment on their own with the knowledge produced by the first. Money that once went to monopoly rents would go instead to other, more productive things–including further innovation.

The neo-Schumpeterian retort is that this is hopelessly naive: innovation requires large capital investment and the reasonable hope of monopoly rents to recoup it. But this is mere question-begging, and its plausibility lies, again, with the distinction between What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen: when we give innovators monopoly privileges of this sort, we thereby tilt the playing field dramatically towards heavily capitalized firms by jacking up the costs of the inputs (eg., prior innovations, a skilled legal team, insurance against lawsuits) to production.

Good insights also in Why I Don’t Say “Intellectual Property” (and You Shouldn’t Either)

[…] Intellectual property is such an effective frame precisely because it sounds, at first impression, like an ideologically neutral term. If Boldrin and Levine want to counter that influence, they need to come up with a term that sounds equally neutral, but that frames the subject in a way that subtly undermines the concept in the long run. […]

I’ve commented on this post, but apparently, my submission hasn’t made it through the moderation process yet.

How (not) to invest in music

Back in January 2004, Robert Scoble wrote about the problem of DRM lock-in, and more specific about Apple’s FairPlay. Scoble:

Let’s say it’s 2006. You have 500 songs you’ve bought on iTunes for your iPod. But, you are about to buy a car with a digital music player built into it. Oh, but wait, Apple doesn’t make a system that plays its AAC format in a car stereo. So, now you can’t buy a real digital music player in your car. Why’s that? Because if you buy songs off of Apple’s iTunes system, they are protected by the AAC/Fairtunes DRM system [sic], and can’t be moved to other devices that don’t recognize AAC/Fairtunes [sic]. Apple has you locked into their system and their devices.

Scoble then went on explaining why Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM is a safer bet than FairPlay, mentioning the possibility for third-party licensing and the PlaysForSure initiative, resulting in a wide ecosystem of compatible devices. Sounds reasonable? Imagine you followed Scoble’s advice — it’s 2006 now, and you’re drooling over Microsoft’s latest, the Zune… A rewrite of the quote above illustrates why you’re 0wned:

Let’s say it’s 2006. You have 500 songs you’ve bought on MSN Music/Urge/Napster/… for your PlaysForSure labeled music player. But, you are about to buy a Zune. Oh, but wait, Microsoft made the Zune so that it is not compatible with Microsoft’s own Windows Media DRM format. So, now you can’t buy a Zune. Why’s that? Because if you buy songs off of MSN Music/Urge/Napster/…, they are protected by the Windows Media DRM system, and can’t be moved to other devices that don’t recognize Windows Media DRM. Microsoft has you locked into the (who knows, maybe soon defunct?) DRM system they developed and the devices they approved as part of their PlaysForSure program.

The one and only solution? Do what Cory Doctorow says: “Protect your investment. Vote with your wallet. Buy open.”

On the Zune’s 3×3 limit and device specific limitations

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the Zune and its wireless sharing functionality, which is — surprise, surprise — defective by design. If you share a song with another Zune owner, the recipient can only listen to the song in question for three times, and he/she has to do this within three days — after that, the file is rendered unusable. A couple of days ago, it was widely reported this was done by wrapping the file in DRM, which made many raise the question whether this would “violate Creative Commons licenses” or not. Go to James Grimmelmann’s Laboratorium for a great analysis of the issue:

It’s not clear to me that this design decision actually causes legal trouble for anyone. First, Microsoft is not, presumably, loading up these devices with CC-licensed media and streaming the files around. Thus, Microsoft hasn’t even passed the basic threshold for violating a license: having been a licensee in the first place. If anyone is violating the licenses here, it’s the users loading up CC files on Zunes and them sending them to friends along with some tasty DRM.

Trouble is, I’m not sure that a CC licensor has a case against users who do just that. The process of placing a file on a Zune is not “ditribut[ing], publicly display[ing], publicly perform[ing], or publicly digitally distribut[ing] the Work,” so it is explicitly allowed by the license. (It’s also a fair use.) That leaves the act of sending it to a Zune-playing friend. In almost all cases, that’s a private, non-commercial copy that cannot substitute for any market for the original. In other words, we are in one of the heartlands of traditional fair use. […]

A couple of days later a Zune developer gave some further clarifications:

We don’t actually “wrap all songs up in DRM:” Zune to Zune Sharing doesn’t change the DRM on a song, and it doesn’t impose DRM restrictions on any files that are unprotected. If you have a song – say that you got “free and clear” – Zune to Zune Sharing won’t apply any DRM to that song. The 3-day/3-play limitation is built into the device, and it only applies on the Zune device […]

So, instead of a DRM system, we have to do with a device specific limitation here. That doesn’t take away the fact that this measure makes the Zune defective by design though. Cory Doctorow comments as follows:

Rightsholders’ wishes are important to MSFT as an excuse for monotonically ratcheting up the restrictions, but are irrelevant when they enable restrictions to be relaxed.

This case is a good illustration of the thin line between DRM and non-encryption based restrictions inside devices. It’s worth noting that there is a legal difference between both techniques: in case somebody writes software to get around the 3×3 limit, the anti-circumvention provision won’t come into play (as there is no DRM being circumvented). Instead, MS will probably release a firmware upgrade for the Zune, thereby triggering subsequent rounds of patches and firmware upgrades for the months and years to come.

To conclude, I’d like to point out that both DRM “wraps” and device specific limitations à la Zune’s 3×3 limit are a fact of life on the Japanese market — especially the mobile market. Two examples:

  • On some Japanese mobile phones, only SD-audio is supported. This means you can only transfer MP3 files to your mobile phone through the SD-Jukebox software, which wraps the files in DRM before copying them to your mobile. Copying them back from your mobile to a computer is only possible if it is the computer they originated from. Needless to say, DRM is wrapped around music files regardless of their license. But as Grimmelmann has pointed out (see above), this isn’t necessarily a problem (although it’s definitely annoying).
  • Another example: if I mail a bitmap or Flash file to my Toshiba mobile phone, the device automatically marks the file as copy-protected. No DRM involved here, just a device specific flagging system (crippling the device for no good reason).

Oneliner of the month

Möbius strip

Hands-down winner of the prize for best oneliner of the month is Engadget’s Ryan Block. In his entry about circumvention tool Hymn being able to strip iTunes 6’s FairPlay DRM, Block notes that it probably won’t take Apple too long to issue a patch to block this latest Hymn hack — he concludes:

DRM man, it’s like a freaking möbius strip of consumer hurt.


In other news: the recently released FairUse4WM app strips the DRM from Windows Media files. However, before you start celebrating: a patch is already underway.

Copy-once soon to be retired?

It seems like the days of the “copy-once” flag for digital broadcasts are counted in Japan — from “Japan may ease ‘copy once’ rule for digital TV broadcasts – report”.

The government plans to ask broadcasters and makers of home appliances to ease a copy protection rule for digital television broadcasts to allow viewers to copy recorded programs more than once, aiming to improve viewer convenience before analog terrestrial broadcasting is replaced by digital services in 2011, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported citing government sources.

Notes about this quote:

  • “[…] aiming to improve viewer convenience […]”: finally — people have been complaining about the broadcast flag since it was introduced in April 2004.
  • “[…] before analog terrestrial broadcasting is replaced by digital services in 2011 […]”: indeed, that’s the problem: DTV doesn’t sell as expected (guess why?) and even the NHK people know that 2011 is an unrealistic date for switching to digital.
  • “[…] citing government sources […]”: it’s maybe necessary to point out that this is not an entirely unexpected move by the Japanese government. Back in December 2005 for instance, the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA) issued a report in which it suggested to rethink the whole copy-once system, something the broadcasters didn’t like. About two months ago, the Keidanren seemed to be on JEITA’s side about the copy-once issue, and announced it would start a committee investigating copy-once relaxation methods, while suggesting “[i]t may influence government discussions on the issue.” So probably, that’s what we see happening here — to be honest, sooner than I expected.

Another quote from the article:

According to government and industry sources, the recording limit will likely be lifted in stages, starting with news, educational and similar programs for which copies could be of great use. An entire removal of the copy limit could take time because of the need to win approval from copyright holders and actors in the programs, for example.

Let’s see…

Update: I forgot to say that this is maybe one of the first instances of the Japanese tech industry publicly opposing the content industry’s demands. Possibly the start of a trend, but it remains to be seen if the same thing will happen in e.g. the mobile phone sector, where there is less choice (between DRM laden or not) and where devices have a shorter product life (basically requiring people to purchase new phones every two to three years whether they want it or not).

David Robinson and others on Zune

A quick pointer to a recent Freedom to Tinker post by David Robinson: Rethinking DRM Dystopia.

I was surprised to read recently that Zune, Microsoft’s new music service, will probably scan users’ iTunes libraries and automatically buy for them (at Microsoft’s expense) copies of any protected music they own on the iTunes service.

If true, this news might have an enormous impact on the digital music market — think about:

  1. how a strong Microsoft music player would give the labels more leverage in their negotiations with current price-setter Apple
  2. how this gives the content industry even stronger veto power over which media devices can enter the market
  3. how companies that only develop a portable music player without also building an online music store and negotiating with the labels are out of luck (*)

Zune logo

I still need to chew a bit on this, but I think David Robinson draws the right conclusion (sorry for all the quoting) — from his post:

What are the lessons here? Personally, I feel like I underestimated the power of the market to solve the possible problems raised by DRM. It appears that the “lock in” phenomenon creates a powerful incentive for competitors to invest heavily in acquiring new users, even to the point of buying them out.

What a very interesting thinking experiment this is…

Update 2006-09-19: there’s a lot of coverage about the Zune, but, as Tim Lee points out, nobody seems to talk anymore about the earlier mentioned buy-out scenario… Vaporware?

(*) For now, it is unclear if third parties will be able to develop Zune-like music devices. Tim Lee points out that the Zune won’t be PlaysForSure compatible, giving Microsoft a lot of market power in picking the players (if any) that are allowed to ride the Zune wave.

Digital music delivery figures of Q1 2006 (+ correction)

Last week, the Recording Industry Association of Japan released its “sales figures of digital music delivery” for the period January-March 2006. Surprisingly high numbers, but the “% vs. pre. Period” in the original table seemed a bit too steep. Apparently, the RIAJ made a mistake: the numbers of the “% vs. pre. Period” actually reflect the “% vs. same period last year”, while the comparison with Q4 2005 (= the previous period) is simply omitted.

I dug up the sales figures of 2005 and completed the Q1 2006 table with the missing data.

  1st Quarter (Jan. – Mar.) 2006
units (’000) units: share units: % vs. previous period units: % vs. same period last year value (JPY ’000) value: share value: % vs. previous period value: % vs. same period last year
Internet Downloads 5,916 7% 119% 534% 1,220,498 10% 140% 393%
Mobile Digital Content 83,031 93% 107% 163% 10,928,720 90% 114% 173%
Other 17 0% 121% 212% 23,992 0% 71% 139%
Grand total 88,964 100% 108% 171% 12,173,210 100% 116% 183%

A couple of notes:

  • Read the small text: “figures represent singles on a ‘per-track’ basis and albums/mini-albums on a ‘per-album’ basis […]”. In other words: the number of individual “internet download” tracks sold is probably higher than the 5,916,000 “units” in the table.
  • The numbers for Mobile Digital Content are hard to believe: 83,031,000 units downloaded, and 10,928,720,000 Yen spent (about 131 Yen/unit = about the price for a song, as there are no full album downloads available, I believe). If you plot the 10,928,720,000 Yen against the number of mobile phone users (a littlebit less than 90 million as of March 2006, according to Wikipedia), you get 121 Yen spent per person per three months. And that’s on average! For a heavily DRMed product!
  • The “Other” category then, is a bit of a mystery—the small text helpfully explains “Other: other than the above 2 items”. Well, thank you.

Tim Wu on IP and how it affects industry structure

I just finished reading Tim Wu’s “Intellectual Property, Innovation, and Decentralized Decisions” essay, which was recently published in Virginia Law Review (but already a while available on SSRN). In his article, Wu makes the point that “we must weigh the benefits of intellectual property assignments, which include subsidizing or making possible desirable economic activity, against the costs of the centralization of economic decisionmaking and the creation of barriers to innovation and market entry,” something to which I wholeheartedly agree.

Wu further argues that the question whether or when to grant intellectual property rights can be reframed as a “choice about the decision architecture for the industry in question.” The nice thing is that this is also perfectly applicable on the DRM problem, which, as you know, has not too much to do with content “protection” but everything with market control. If a company includes DRM in a product, it retains a high level of legal (and temporarily, also technical) control over innovations and competition in the primary and secondary markets surrounding the product.

So, recommended reading.

Keidanren pushing for a relaxation of DTV copying restrictions

Interesting news in the Daily Yomiuri Online: Keidanren eyes copyright law change. Apparently, the Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) understands that the slow adoption of DTV might have to do something with the restrictive DRM scheme Japanese broadcasts are locked in. From the article:

The Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) will set up an intellectual property rights committee to propose revising the Copyright Law in a bid to promote the reuse of TV programs, sources said Monday.


The committee will discuss the definition of “private use” under the Copyright Law, including the relaxation of regulations prohibiting the duplication of recorded digitally broadcast programs.

And of course:

It may influence government discussions on the issue, the sources said.

Also interesting to note:

The committee also will study a proposal to include general user rights in the law along the lines of a similar law in the United States, which says that fair use of content does not constitute a copyright violation.

Does this refer to Boucher’s DMCRA proposal maybe?

Very interesting developments, and the fact that the Nippon Keidanren is behind all this, shows that Japanese companies start realizing DRM doesn’t make a lot of sense, business-wise.

Gmail to fix PDF usage restrictions loophole?

From a recent PDFzone article linking to my “Circumvent PDF DRM with Gmail” entry of a couple of weeks ago:

[…] John Landwehr, Adobe’s director of security solutions and strategy, said that Adobe contacted Google when it learned of the issue and the two companies worked together on a fix.

“Google’s implementation of Gmail Web-based e-mail was not accurately interpreting particular permission bits via its PDF-to-HTML conversion,” Landwehr wrote in an e-mail […].


Landwehr said that, moving forward, the Gmail HTML interpreter will no longer convert PDFs to HTML if a PDF’s owner specifies that the document isn’t to be copied or printed—similar to how the Google search engine HTML interpreter handles such documents […].

It seems like the fix mentioned in the article is a work in progress though: for now, PDF documents that have usage restrictions are still accompanied by the “View as HTML” link.

Misguided NYT article on France’s anti-FairPlay efforts

A couple of days ago, this disturbing pro-DRM piece in the New York Times: Austan Goolsbee comments on the French government’s moves to make Apple open up its proprietary FairPlay DRM. N.B.: in the meantime, there is nothing left of the original proposal — from BoingBoing: “[the proposal] has been hijacked by entertainment companies and DRM vendors, and now promises to be one of the worst DRM laws in the world.” But let’s go back to the NYT article:

In their fervor to free listeners from the shackles of their iPods, French politicians have abandoned one of the guiding principles of antitrust economics: penalize companies that harm consumers, not the ones that succeed by building better products.

Well, I think disabling one’s legally purchased files because they’re un-DRMed, taking away consumers’ paid-for rights to stream, and including a clause that allows Apple to change the license agreements for music you’ve purchased is pretty harmful stuff. Not to talk about all the iTunes compatible third-party music players we will never see…

If the French gave away the codes, Apple would lose much of its rationale for improving iTunes. Right now, after the royalty payment to the label (around 65 cents) and the processing fee to the credit card company (as high as 23 cents), not to mention other costs, Apple’s margin on 99-cent music is thin. Yet it continues to add free features to iTunes because it helps sell iPods.

Opening the codes threatens that link. Apple would need to pay for iTunes features with profits from iTunes itself. Prices would rise. Innovation would slow.

I don’t understand the author’s reasoning at all. Over the last year, Apple has indeed been adding features to iTunes that make it easy to put free, user-generated content on your iPod, Podcasts and a video conversion tool being the most important two. These free features however, aren’t added because the iTMS songs are DRM-protected — quite the contrary: Apple sees that it is a good idea to jump on the Long Tail bandwagon and make it easy for people to enjoy user-generated content on-the-go. Advantages? More people buy iPods and Apple has more bargaining power in its talks with record labels. (*)

In addition, imagine Apple would invest the money it now spends for DRM and for lawyers tracking down circumvention/compatibility efforts in R&D instead — I bet we’d see even a better iPod product.

Even worse, sharing the codes could make it easier for hackers to unravel Apple’s FairPlay software. Without strong copy protection, labels would not supply as much new music.

Welcome to 2004: hymn has been around since August of that year.

(*) Update 2006-05-02: the Financial Times writes that Apple has renewed contracts with the four largest music labels to continue selling songs for 0.99$ per download, instead of going for a variable pricing system, as is currently the case in Japan. A related must-read: Joel Spolsky’s “Price as Signal”.

A follow-up

Some observations regarding my previous entry, which received WAY much more attention than I had expected :-)

  1. John Dowdell (who works for Adobe), Duane Nickull and some commenters on this blog were quick to point out that the term “PDF DRM” is maybe a bit wide. That is, the circumvention trick only works with PDF files with an “owner level password” (preventing you from printing, or copying snippets). On the other hand, “user level password” protected PDF files (the ones that prompt for a password when you want to open them) and Adobe’s server side rights management setups are obviously NOT affected by the hack I described.
  2. There were quite a bit of incoming links from Asian (mostly Chinese) blogs and forums — first time that happens.
  3. Apparently, there is a Firefox extension that does the exactly the same thing: check out PDF Download 0.6.
  4. Several people pointed out that circumventing PDF copy/print restrictions is possible in a number of other ways, KPDF being one of them.

Cory Doctorow on DReaM (again)

Another follow-up to my thinking experiment about Sun’s Open Source DRM effort — Cory Doctorow in BoingBoing, reacting on a ZDNet blog entry:

[…] The gimmick is that Sun’s technology has to be run as signed code on trusted computing hardware, which means that while you can see the code, you can’t change it, improve it, or build on it.

Once you have code you can’t modify on hardware you can’t access, “open source” can’t be meaningfully used to describe a project. […]

Sun’s project doesn’t subvert DRM, it subverts open source. It complies — barely — with the letter of older OSS definitions, while gutting their spirit. […]

In other words, DReaM is absolutely not as “open” as Sun claims it to be. This doesn’t come as a surprise, though – an “open” DRM architecture is simply impossible.

UMD’s downfall

Almost a year ago, I briefly mentioned Bandai’s plans to start offering DVD+UMD packs and pointed out that this “deal” is a fine illustration of what DRM is all about: it prevents content portability, thus forcing you to buy the same stuff over and over again. Consumers have understood this on time (or maybe nobody was really interested in watching movies on-the-go), and voted with their wallet: UMD movie sales are absolutely down, up to the point where the big movie production houses have announced (or are about to do so) that they’ll stop doing UMD releases, but stick to DVDs instead.

Possible reasons why the UMD failed as a movie format:

  • According to the article I linked to, the studios released too many movies, too fast.
  • Not enough demand for on-the-go movies. From the article: “The arrival last fall of Apple’s video iPod only hastened the PSP’s decline as a movie-watching platform.” Make the comparison: expensive, physical UMDs featuring full-length movies you can only watch on a PSP or rather cheap, downloadable movie files featuring TV programs you can watch on your Windows/Mac machine and iPod. (note: I didn’t say I like Apple’s video store initiative – it just seems to “work” better than Sony’s UMD model)
  • A business model built around DRM incompatibility. Sony expected consumers to buy the same content twice, but instead, a lot of PSP users simply circumvented their DVDs’ CSS and ripped the resulting VOB files in a format suitable for the PSP (as suggested by the article‘s “I think a lot of people are ripping content and sticking it onto the device rather than purchasing”). Also, the artificial reduction in screen real estate — movie files played from a MemoryStick only play at a smaller resolution as UMD movies — didn’t entice them to buy UMDs instead.
  • Region control mess, which makes it impossible to watch a Japanese UMD movie on an American PSP. And that is just one example.
  • The proprietary, completely closed format that is UMD. As far as I know, there are no devices other than PSPs capable of reading UMDs, let alone writing to them. Increasing the number of devices that can read/write UMDs would confirm that the now meaningless U in UMD stands for something and position it as a media format worth caring about.

More about Sun’s DReaM

Sun’s DRM plans are in the news again. A quick overview:

  • During the last couple of weeks, Sun has released the DReaM source code and related specs. Note that the dev space mentions “Updates to VLC for DreaMCAS Client”. I suppose they’re talking about the VLC player.

  • On March 21, Sun has organized an Open Media Commons workshop – interestingly, its press release features a quote by Lawrence Lessig:

    “In a world where DRM has become ubiquitous, we need to ensure that the ecology for creativity is bolstered, not stifled, by technology. We applaud Sun’s efforts to rally the community around the development of open-source, royalty-free DRM standards that support “fair use” and that don’t block the development of Creative Commons ideals.”

  • Two days later, Lessig posted this on his blog:

    [S]ome confuse praise for better DRM with praise for DRM. So let me be as clear as possible here (though saying the same thing I’ve always said): We should be building a DRM-free world. […] But just as one can hate the Sonny Bono Act, but think, if there’s a Sonny Bono Act, there should also be a Public Domain Enhancement Act, so too can one hate DRM, but think that if there’s DRM, it should be at least as Sun is saying it should be.

    I still don’t understand how an Open Source DRM can possibly work – posted a comment about that on Lessig’s blog.

  • And apparently, I’m not alone – from a comment on a related Slashdot article:

    As a separate issue, how would an Open Source DRM system work? If I’m able to decrypt a file once, I’m able to save it in an unencumbered format. It’s fundamentally different than encryption; PGP, for example, isn’t designed to prevent you from posting every email you get to a web page. Current schemes assume that the recipient of the keys can be trusted to use them for only the intended purpose. This seems to be based on an assumption that a hacker can’t see the code or key (because they’re using a microcontroller that has a hardware Code Protect feature), that a network protocol can’t be emulated (for cases where a key must be retrieved from a server), or that it’s too much of a pain to bother (presumably what Windows Media and Fairplay must do). These are all essentially security through obscurity, and I don’t see how that can work in an Open Source environment.

  • Also: a Wired article with a silly title, Reasons to Love Open-Source DRM, featuring an even sillier quote/statement:

    As [Tom] Jacobs [= project lead of the Open Media Commons] pointed out to me, it was once necessary to code web pages for multiple browsers, before standards were put in place that allowed them to be coded only once. If Sun’s DReaM comes true, the same could happen for protected music.

The impossibility of Sun’s Open Media Commons

Back in August, Sun announced it would start with an open source DRM project, confusingly dubbed “Open Media Commons”. The EFF’s Cory Doctorow and Donna Wentworth both pointed out the logical impossibility of the OSS+DRM combo. An interesting quote from Cory’s follow-up post about the issue:

Crypto isn’t about algorithms. Crypto is about threat-models. The threat model for SSL is a third-party eavesdropper. The threat model for DRM is that the intended recipient of the cleartext will gain long-term access to the cleartext.

In the meantime, the Open Media Commons website has gone live (that is, I hadn’t seen it until yesterday), featuring a press release paper about Sun’s own “open standards-based DRM solution”, called DReaM. I had a look at the document, but didn’t quite get what they’re at. Section 1.8 “Security through obscurity” states:

Historically, proprietary end-to-end architectures have relied upon obscurity to avoid being cracked. Such systems are based upon a false foundation of security promises. Such systems have been cracked and will continue to be breached.

That’s correct, but how can Sun’s DRM be any different? The problem with DRM is that it’s built around flawed threat model (cfr. Doctorow) – in any DRM system, recipient Bob and hacker Mallory are one and the same person, making DRM fundamentally different from SSL (although Sun doesn’t seem to think so). In other words, the only way to “secure” a DRM system is by obscuring how you descramble the encoded signal to a more enjoyable form – an approach that, as we know, is prone to hacking.

Applying this on DReaM’s alleged open source aspect, the conclusion is simple: if security can only happen through obscurity, open sourcing the project becomes an impossibility.

Note 1: Prof. Lenz believes open source DRM is possible, but I don’t agree: excluding people who contribute DRM-defeating code to the project may be easy, but nothing (except the law, maybe) stops them from using the project’s source code for creating their own circumvention tools. In other words, you can create an open source DRM, but it will be meaningless, as it will be hacked even faster than closed source DRM systems.

Note 2: as if the words “open” and “commons” aren’t confusing enough (we’re talking about DRM here!), the Open Media Commons frontpage’s “related links” section also links to Creative Commons, making it feel like an affiliate project or something (which I’m sure it’s not). Disturbing.

Mobile content update: chaku-uta full soaring, mobile DTV launch next April

Some mobile content news – DRM in the air, of course.

Found via a comment by Gen Kanai on a Bubblegeneration post: “chaku-uta full” downloads have broken through the 10 million mark. That is amazing for an overpriced, heavily DRMed product. For those interested, here’s a link to previous chaku-uta full coverage.

So, what’s the next big thing after chaku-uta full? Yep, mobile digital TV. On April 1st, 2006, Japan’s broadcast industry will launch DTV broadcasts for mobile devices. Although the first DTV enabled cell phones probably won’t have recording functionality on board, it is to be expected next-gen models will (have to) be responsive to the copy-once or no-copy flag that comes bundled with the broadcast signal. Note: I’ve covered this before on my blog and in my Japan Media Review paper.

iNews from Japan

I reported earlier that Apple’s iTunes Music Store was launched in Japan, thereby introducing another DRM format to the Japanese market: FairPlay. The Music Store seems to be a huge success, with 1 million downloads in the first four days. That’s more than what Sony’s Mora has been trying to sell in a month

There’s also some other iPod related news: ITmedia has another article + opinion piece about a possible expansion of Japan’s levy system to HDD based portable music players. The argument in favor of an expansion is classic: “There is a levy on MD players, so why not have one on iPods?” On the other hand, those resisting an iPod levy point out that there is DRM inside the iPod exactly for the purpose of “rights balancing” (whether that balance is fair or not is another thing), that iPods are also used as a backup tool, or else, for storing and viewing pictures, et cetera. It will be very interesting to see if the entertainment industry gets what it wants here. Expect more news over the next couple of months.

“Complicated copyrights”

You gotta love’s commentary on the rumors that iTunes Japan will be launched somewhere next month (emphasis added):

Apple’s entry [into the Japanese music download business] has been delayed because copyrights on recorded music are complicated in Japan.


Update: The rumors appeared to be true: iTunes Japan was launched on August 4, with a price tag of 150-200 Yen per song and with songs wrapped in the already familiar FairPlay DRM. Interestingly enough, Sony Japan does not participate …

The PSP and homebrew code

There has been a lot of interesting PSP hacking going on recently.

Around three weeks ago, the PSP’s UMD format was reported to be hacked, with game ISOs starting to appear, allowing developers to have a look at the internals of PSP games. At around the same time, somebody had come up with a tool for running homebrew code on the PSP. Soon thereafter, several emulators were released: first, a Gameboy emulator, soon thereafter also NES and SNES emulators.

However, there’s an interesting catch to all this hackery: tricking the PSP into running these emulators is currently only possible with the 1.0 Japanese firmware—later versions of the PSP firmware check if the code running on the PSP has been officially approved by Sony, preventing homebrew applications from being executed. In order to discourage users to continue using (or downgrade to) the Japanese 1.0 firmware, Sony now even forces PSP owners to upgrade if they want to play the latest games.

Although I am not sure if this handshaking method is a DRM like technology or merely some sort of obfuscation technique (in the former case, reverse-engineering efforts might clash with anti-circumvention regulations), the reason for its existence is clear: Sony wants to keep strict control over innovations in the PSP aftermarket, in a similar fashion as Microsoft did with its XBOX gaming platform (see also footnote 1906 of Stefan Bechtold’s The Present and Future of Digital Rights Management).

Vodafone launches DTV cell phone

In the last couple of years, NTT DoCoMo, KDDI’s AU and Vodafone KK have unveiled a number of conceptual mobile phones that were able to receive digital terrestrial broadcasts. Since last week, it seems we are beyond the prototype stage: Vodafone, Sharp and NHK announced the (trial) launch of a cell phone with DTV support. As I pointed out in section 5 of my recently published paper:

The implications of this evolution are impressive; not only the record labels, but also the broadcasting companies will have their say over how […] mobile phones will be able to deal with the content they touch, thus slowing down innovation and burdening the public with DRM bloated devices.

According to the press release, the phone will be on display during NHK Open House 2005 — I’m curious what kind of DRM they have embedded. Stay tuned for more.

Bandai’s DVD/UMD deal

In his December 2004 discussion with Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, Cory Doctorow pointed out that DRM:

[is being used] to sell you the same crap for more money.


[makes you buy] all your media over and over again.

It seems like a recent announcement by Japanese anime producer Bandai is a nice illustration hereof. Engadget reports:

Bandai is going to be the first company to package a DVD along with a UMD version of the same content to watch on your PlayStation Portable while on the go. […] You do have to pay extra for the bundle with the UMD in it (about ¥1,260, or $11.72), but at least it is less than what it would cost to buy each disc separately.

Although this looks like a sweet deal (you pay a lower price if you buy both DVD and UMD), the reality is that the DRM on both the DVD and UMD prevents you from porting the movie data between your computer and PSP (an otherwise perfectly allowed Me2Me use), thus forcing you to buy the same content twice.

Imagine a similar scenario being introduced to the music market: I can hardly believe consumers would pay for, say, a CCCD+ATRAC package (CCCD for your CD-player/computer, the ATRAC files for your Sony MP3 player).

Doing mobile music business in Japan

Until recently, Japanese record companies were mere onlookers to the mobile music market. The chaku-mero (ringtones) phenomenon was booming, and the music industry didn’t see any direct profit from it. The many chaku-mero distributors only had to clear their catalog’s copyrights by paying a fee to JASRAC and they were set; as the creation of ringtones doesn’t involve any remixing of original sound fragments, neighboring rights were left untouched, keeping the record companies out of the game (more info). All that changed in the last two years. The Japanese record industry’s recipe for turning the tide:

  1. Agree with a couple of big labels that chaku-uta are the next big thing; as chaku-uta are 30 second remixes of popular songs, neighboring rights (and thus the music labels) are part of the game.
  2. Create a central chaku-uta distribution service (Label Mobile), which offers chaku-uta of the labels involved.
  3. Convince mobile phone makers and carriers to jump on the chaku-uta bandwagon so that their devices:
    • support chaku-uta‘s (uncommon) audio format (amc, later 3g2 & 3gp)
    • support the restrictive DRM chaku-uta are wrapped in
  4. Use the power deriving from your neighboring rights: deny all licensing requests from (potential) chaku-uta distributors other than Label Mobile without giving a clear reason.
  5. Get your offices raided by the Japanese Fair Trade Commission (JFTC).
  6. (In the meantime: introduce chaku-uta full, highly priced, DRMed mobile music downloads for next-generation handsets)
  7. Get an order of the JFTC to “[s]top the practice of refusing licenses to companies other than Label Mobile.”
  8. Reject the JFTC’s warning.
  9. ???

(via MocoNews)

Sony’s confused music marketing strategy

A couple of days ago Engadget reported on the new Sony Ericsson W800 Walkman phone which comes with MP3 and AAC support. Copyfighter Derek Slater points out that this means that Sony markets a device that is incompatible with its own Connect online music store—Connect offers downloads in Sony’s proprietary ATRAC3 format wrapped in OpenMG DRM, which does not allow conversion to MP3 or AAC.

In fact, the situation is even worse; remember this news of a couple of weeks ago?

Sony BMG expects that by year’s end a substantial number of its U.S. releases will employ either Sunncomm’s newly enhanced MediaMax or First4Internet’s XCP to address piracy concerns.

This basically means that all Sony music for the U.S. market will soon be incompatible with Sony’s own W800.

Note that the situation in Japan (where the W800 is not available) is quite different. Sony Music Entertainment Japan does not produce CCCDs any longer and Sony Ericsson cell phones with MP3+AAC support do not exist; the only Sony devices that come close to the ‘cell phone+music player’ model are DoCoMo’s Music Porter and AU’s recently announced W31S, both of which support ATRAC3. (Note: the W31S also supports aacPlus.)

Tracking the content industries

A couple of new links in the sidebar’s reading section:

  • “the economics of content”. Fine reading and tons of news.
  • everything you want to know about mobile content. Not surprisingly, a lot of posts about mobile DRM and Japan. Part of the PaidContent family.
  • Billboard PostPlay: recently launched. Billboard PostPlay is “a news blog covering the business of digital music, both online and mobile music.” Also a PaidContent spin-off.

I also bumped into this November 2004 article on Japan’s mobile music biz: “Mobile music in Japan – Japan’s reality is our future” written by Jan Michael Hess. An interesting read and an excellent introduction to mobile music in Japan.

A new CEO for Sony

This weekend, Sony has appointed a new chairman/CEO: Sir Howard Stringer, currently the head of Sony’s U.S. division, will replace Nobuyuki Idei, who has led Sony for the last 10 years. More details in the New York Times, at PaidContent, etc.

I’m curious if Stringer can cure Sony’s malaise and find a solution for the often conflicting strategies of its technology and content divisions. Based on this recent CNET interview with Stringer, it doesn’t seem like Sony is going to get rid of its DRM flirting in the near future. Howard Stringer:

[…] The interesting thing is that technology companies and pure content companies sometimes have contradictory impulses. For us, the security of the content is still very, very important, and I think by working together now, we can protect content, because without content, most devices are junk. They may be very attractive, but a television, if you can’t watch anything on it, is worthless.

I’ve had a hard time convincing people of that, and I’ve had a hard time convincing the consumer electronics group to not discard the idea of security or copyright protection as irrelevant, because if you’re in China right now, it’s very hard to build a content business. You can’t do it.

But we’re working together in real harmony now, and we understand each other’s problems, and we have a better chance of solving some of these issues.

When reading this, I have serious doubts. But well, let’s see.

Update: For those interested, “How the iPod Ran Circles Around the Walkman” is a must-read on the subject. (Via Gen)

Japanese mobile phones as iPod replacements?

Recently, a lot of Japanese mobile phones are sold as if they are iPod substitutes—that’s only true to a certain extent. It is indeed correct that you can use them for full song playback and, in case you’re an AU subscriber, also download songs via their Chaku Uta Full service. When we look at the audio formats supported however, the situation is less iPod like.

As I explained in a related entry of two weeks ago, Chaku Uta Full for instance, come in the MPEG-4 aacPlus format and, unlike iTunes downloads, they can’t really be moved around between devices, let alone you can burn them to CD. The mobile phones that support Chaku Uta Full also have no MP3 support. If you want to play your own songs on your mobile phone, you have no choice but to convert your them first to MPEG-4 aacPlus. According to this thread, the NeroWaveEditor payware can help with the job. Note: as Chaku Uta Full providers won’t like this very much, I can imagine future phones preventing you from uploading your own MPEG-4 aacPlus files.

The recently announced W31SA series then comes with SD-Audio support (not with MP3 support, as Gizmodo incorrectly writes). In case you want to put your own music on your mobile phone, you have to purchase the SD-Jukebox third-party software that wraps the songs in DRM, preventing you from transferring them to another computer than the one they came from.

A look at DoCoMo’s Music Porter reveals a similar setup. Format there is ATRAC3 and special software is needed for ripping CDs and transferring tracks—I don’t know about DRM here, though. OpenMG maybe?

These examples show that the current generation of Japanese mobile phones is still far from being an iPod replacement—instead, they let customers taste from the portable audio hype, while restricting the experience by means of DRM and non-standard audio formats. Curious how long it will last.

Sony forced to rethink Librié concept

In April 2004, I reported about Sony’s Librié, an e-book reader only capable of displaying e-books in Sony’s proprietary BBeB file format— BBeB e-books are sold at Timebook Town and have terrible DRM inside, which limits their lifespan to only 60 days. After that, the e-books (and sometimes even your own annotations) expire and have to be purchased again.

Probably only to Sony’s surprise, nor the Librié nor Timebook Town have been a success so far. There may be several reasons for this, but it seems the Librié’s way too restrictive DRM may have something to do with it. Apparently Sony understands this, too—since November 1st, the Librié download section offers a set of conversion tools that allow users to convert their own Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF, (X)HTML documents or even RSS news items to the Librié’s BBeB format. Note: as the conversion process apparently turns your documents into a graphic BBeB file, text-zoom or text-selection won’t work. The (X)HTML2BBeB filter in the Librié IE toolbar doesn’t have this problem, meaning that you can download books for free from Project Gutenberg or its Japanese counterpart, Aozora Bunko, and read them on your Librié!

For more info, tips and screenshots, check Librie Templates.

Update: English info on Sony’s Librié software available on the LibrieWiki.

Fragile rights

When skimming through the comments on the Slashdot entry “The Future of Digital Audio”, I thought these two were particularly interesting: “no music for you” and its followup, “free replacements”. It’s a small discussion on the fragility of DRMed music—or better, of your rights to use that music. As the followup comment refered to the non-evil and some-rights-reserved loving Magnatune record company, I decided to send a mail to Creative Commons. And yep, they also think it is a great thread. :-)

Further reactions and finetuning

K.F. Lenz posted two followups on yesterday’s blog entry.

A reaction on the first one, DRM does not work (says Derek Slater)”:

Lenz says:

[Cell phone DRM] does offer more of a speed bump than most DRM on the personal computer platform.

That’s indeed what I am saying in my paper; the reason for this higher effectiveness as a speed bump is that DRM is not a choice, but a given in the Japanese cell phone market (cfr. p 7 of my paper). However, I don’t think that this higher degree of effectiveness means that DRM works here; piracy is still possible, although it is more complicated.

Lenz continues:

[I]f the position that DRM can never work was right, there would be really no need to worry about DRM in the first place.

I don’t agree with this. DRM (broken or not) prevents consumers from making legal copies in the context of limitations on rights, for instance (for an example in the realm of accessibility, see Joe Clark’s paper on “Accessibility implications of digital rights management”). Another problem with DRM is that it might be used for slowing down innovation in the digital devices market (cfr. p 12-17 of my paper).

Lenz’s second entry is about whether circumvention as such is prohibited in Japan.

When countering Lenz’s statement that “[in Japan,] [m]ere circumvention is only prohibited if it is done as a business in response to a request from the public” (cfr. art 120bis of the Japanese Copyright Law), I pointed to art 30 (1) (ii), which makes it illegal to circumvent the DRM wrapped around copyrighted works. Applying this to the circumvention of the DRM inside an e-book version of a public domain work was a step too far, though. I agree with Lenz’s correction:

Since there is no copyright to begin with, the limitation in Article 30 is not necessary. […]

[In Japan,] it is legal to extract content from DRM if the content in question is already in the public domain.”

I am wondering though, whether art 113 (3) (ii) could be used to prevent the circumvention of DRM wrapped around public domain works. Although art 113 (3) (ii) doesn’t talk about technological protection measures (art 2 (1) (xx)), it does mention the concept of rights management (art 2 (1) (xxi)) – can DRM circumvention be considered as an alteration or removal of rights management information?

Lenz and Slater on my paper

K.F. Lenz blogged about my paper on DRM in Japan. Then, Derek Slater wrote a followup on Lenz’s entry.

K.F. Lenz’ post starts with “DRM works says Andreas Bovens”. However, as Derek Slater points out, I didn’t really say that. Slater:

I think Karl’s statement that the article says DRM works, contrary to arguments like Cory’s, is misleading and misunderstands Cory and others a bit. The question is: does DRM stop piracy – does it stop the acquisition of unencrypted content over P2P/the darknet?

The DRM inside Japanese mobile phones does not stop piracy: 1. it should be possible to copy DRMed chaku-uta via a digital-to-analog-to-digital conversion process (cfr. footnote 46 of my paper) and 2. nothing stops users from converting mp3s they downloaded to songs in an encrypted format, which they can listen to on their cell phones [except for the price of a legal version of KDDI’s mp3-to-amc conversion tool, maybe] (cfr. Slater’s blog entry).

Thus, does DRM work as a tool for stopping piracy? No. Do certain uses of DRM work in the sense that they are accepted as being an evident part of the product a customer purchases? Apparently yes. Examples include chaku-uta or maybe even Nintendo game cartridges.

Lenz also has an interesting remark about anti-circumvention:

On the other hand, I hesitate to agree with the assertion on page 5 of the paper that Article 120bis of the Japanese Copyright Law prohibits the circumvention of technological protection measures. Mere circumvention is only prohibited if it is done as a business in response to a request from the public. In all other cases, circumvention as such is not relevant. For example, if someone circumvents DRM to extract an e-book edition of Akutagawa‘s “Kappa”, then that would not be a violation of copyright (the author is dead since 1927) and, since there is no prohibition of circumvention as such, that would be perfectly legal under Japanese law.

Article 120bis indeed mentions that circumvention done as a business in response to a request from the public is prohibited. However, article 30 (1) (ii) states that, in the case where reproducing a copyrighted work in the context of limitations on rights (e.g. a copy for personal use) requires the circumvention of technological protection mechanisms, such reproduction is not allowed. Extracting a DRMed e-book of Akutagawa for personal use is thus not legal, if I am correct.

I will add a reference to article 30 (1) (ii) in my paper (on p. 5 and 7) – thanks for pointing out the limitations of art 120bis.

Sony’s CCCD exit

A quick post from Ottawa – the student summit + conference were great!

As mentioned on a number of sites (Furdlog, Slashdot, Joi Ito) + my mailbox (thanks, Niko and Alex!): Sony stops producing copy-controlled CDs.

That’s awesome news. Curious when they will throw OpenMG out of the window.

The Reproduction in Modern Japan conference and much more

It has been pretty quiet overhere lately. The reason? I have been writing a paper about closed architectures for content distribution in Japan, which I will present at the Reproduction in Modern Japan conference over at Yale University. And there’s more on the agenda – a short overview.

A pretty busy schedule, as you see.

As for now, I will post the abstract of my paper – the full text (probably) follows in a week or two.

Read the rest of this entry »

Some pointers

ITMedia has two fine articles on the content industry’s recent move to copy controlled carriers, zooming in on recent developments such as CCCDs, the broadcast flag, etc. Excellent stuff. In Japanese…

(Via Copy & Copyright Diary)

Furthermore, Keitai Watch has a summary with slides of the Mobidec 2004 talk about the soon-to-launch MOPASS card. From the MOPASS website:

MOPASS card (”MOPASS”stands for MObile PASSport)is an integrated card that combines memory card and smart card functions. It is upward compatible, as a memory card, with existing flash memory cards used in PCs, PDAs, mobile phones and other information devices. For smart card functions access, it does not need a specific smart card reader/writer, but just uses a memory card slot. Therefore, in the MOPASS world, a variety of secure services can be provided only through a memory card slot of various information devices. Being a”bridging media”across various devices and networks, MOPASS card aims to target a “world of Private & Public Ubiquitous Networks” in an open and secure manner worldwide.

Especially notice the “open and secure manner worldwide” part:

  • “open” because that sounds good
  • “secure” because there’s DRM inside
  • “worldwide” because they hope everybody will like it

FTC vs. music companies

Yesterday’s Yomiuri Online has an excellent article on the Fair Trade Commission’s raids on 10 music and chaku-uta (=ringtunes) distributors, including Sony Music Entertainment, Avex and Label Mobile.

The short story: KDDI launched its chaku-uta service in December 2002; soon Vodaphone and DoCoMo followed and started manufacturing mobile phones supporting (DRM protected) chaku-uta downloads. This move was followed by the launch of several alternative chaku-uta sites, Label Mobile (which is created by Japan’s major record labels and has 80% of the market) being one of them. Japan’s FTC now suspects the record labels to obstruct fair competition in the chaku-uta marketplace, by refusing to license songs to chaku-uta providers other than their own Label Mobile business.

The FTC suspects the five companies colluded to create a situation where the most popular songs were available for chaku-uta download only from Label Mobile’s Web site to maintain their high market share, the sources said.

It is interesting to note (and the Yomiuri article does this in an excellent way) that this strategy was not possible with the earlier ringtone or chaku-mero downloads. Chaku-mero, which are actually covers of popular songs (chaku-uta are closer to remixes of those songs), only involve copyright. Paying a fixed fee to JASRAC allows chaku-mero distributors to create a chaku-mero version of a popular song.

Chaku-uta on the other hand also involve neighboring rights (cfr. the remixing aspect) and thus the permission of the respective record company is required. This obviously places the record industry in a strong position – songs were only sometimes licensed to smaller chaku-uta providers and always to Label Mobile. Hence the FTC’s action.

To be continued.

Modchips declared illegal or how-to-use-the-law-for-things-it-wasn’t-made-for

A few days ago, Geek News reported that modchips for Sony’s PlayStation gaming console are declared illegal in the UK. This is a cumbersome development. I shortly explain: modchips allow buyers to circumvent the built-in copy protection of games, allowing them to:

  • make copies or backups of their games
  • passing by the region coding systems found in several games (cfr. DVDs)
  • play pirated versions of games
  • use the consoles for purposes they were not made for (cfr. the Sony AiboPet thing) and, in a next stage, even develop compatible technologies that hook in on Sony’s console or games.

So, when the author of the Geek News article asks: [t]he ratio of modchipped consoles versus total consoles is amazingly tiny. Why is Sony so concerned about such a small segment of its population?, the answer has to be sought in Derek Slater’s entry on iTunes FairPlay and DRM lock-in of a few months ago. Although dealing with the DMCA and iTunes’ copy protection scheme, Slater’s analysis is perfectly applicable on the EUCD based modchip case – just replace the word ‘record’ with ‘game’ and ‘record player’ with ‘console’. Slater says:

[T]he copyright holder has gotten control of the record but never the record player; and the copyright holder’s control over the record has never given Apple or Sony and all the other involved vendors the right to dictate compatible technologies. All this done in a law whose purpose was to stop piracy.

So, to summarize: although Sony pretends it is cracking down on gaming piracy (thus dealing with the third point mentioned above), it also cuts into users’ rights (rendering the making of backups impossible and enforcing region code compliance). And even more importantly, it puts itself in a stronger market position by legally crushing any possible competition (cfr. the fourth and probably most threatening point). Creating compatible technologies around the PlayStation and other gaming consoles, that one day might threaten Sony’s or other companies’ business models, are is prohibited from now on (in the UK ea.).


Discovering that the paper about Anti-Circumvention Misuse (about DRM, that is) one is reading doesn’t allow for (even partial) content extraction makes one sigh. Another sigh when one finds out that even Google’s “View as HTML” option results in a your search did not match any documents. Blah.

Ian Condry’s paper on music piracy in Japan and the U.S.

I just read Ian Condry’s forthcoming publication Cultures of Music Piracy: An Ethnographic Comparison of the US and Japan (pre-publication draft). A quote to illustrate the article’s (familiar) ring:

Finding some balance in copyright enforcement is extremely important, but we need to balance more than simply ‘property loss’ and ‘penalties.’ Digital rights management imposes costs that are too seldom acknowledged. Even if the lawsuits ‘succeed’ in reducing sharing, they are likely to fail in the larger goal of leading us to a healthy music future because the social dynamics that drive our interest in music depend on word-of-mouth discussions, friend-to-friend sharing, and convenience in accessing music.

As its title suggests, the paper also makes some interesting points about Japan (with which I do not always agree):

  • P.14: What is striking, however, is that as of the fall of 2003, no one in Japan was blaming the Internet for the loss in sales: this Japan Times article shows that the Japanese record industry asserted already in 2002 (if not earlier) that there is a link between online file swapping and the industry’s sales fallback.
  • P.15: Japan’s copyright law is largely harmonized with the US, yet no consumers have been sued in Japan for using p2p networks.: the arrest of two Japanese Winny users in November 2003 and the recent arrest of the developer of Winny show that recently there are legal actions against people involved with p2p networks. Also, the article RIAA(J) spams Japanese file sharers indicates that there is some legal threatening of Japanese p2p users going on.
  • P.15: Instead, the Japanese are far more likely to access the Internet via cell phone, and connection fees make the time spent downloading a song prohibitively expensive. Instead, unauthorized copying, especially with CD burners, is blamed for the drop in sales: based on an interesting paper by the RIAJ. It is worth noting however that the RIAJ also issued statements (e.g. this one) in 2002 about how the then popular filesharing software Filerogue was having a negative effect on record sales.
  • P.15: Japan’s record companies are experimenting with copycontrol
    [end of paragraph]: in my opinion, the Japanese record companies are already far beyond the stage of experimenting with CCCDs. Akio Nakamata even suggests that there is a link between the rise of such CCCDs and the recent move to a right of import for recordings.
  • P.27: Initially, I assumed that a cross-cultural study of music piracy would reveal
    differences between the U.S. and Japan in the treatment of ideas of copyright,
    creativity, and music. Instead, what I found was a convergence of attitudes
    among fans in the U.S. and Japan, but a divergence in corporate and legal
    responses to declining record sales.
    : that divergence might be not so big, considering my other remarks. Also, when looking at e.g. the developing ringtone market, we see a completely different picture. DRM encumbered formats are the starting point (not the remedy) and reveal that the music industry is determined to prevent their customers from sharing tunes.

Online music sales in Japan

The Herald Tribune’s Todd Zaun wrote an interesting article about the state of online music sales in Japan. The following three paragraphs give an idea of what is going wrong.

Because Label Gate [=a gateway to online distribution services] is owned by record companies, they also set the prices. And to keep online sales from eating into music store sales, online prices have been kept relatively high. Songs by Japanese artists sell for ¥210, or $1.90, each, while those from Western artists sell for ¥158. Apple sells songs for 99 cents in the United States, 99 euro cents, or $1.20, in France and Germany and 79 pence, or $1.45, in Britain.

“If we make songs too cheap – make them a commodity – we’d only end up hanging ourselves,” said Yasushi Ide, a spokesman for Sony Music Entertainment. “We have to strike a balance” between expanding online sales and maintaining sales of CDs in stores, he said.

Mora uses Atrac3 audio compression technology, so its songs won’t play on many MP3 players or on Apple’s iPod. Mora also uses Sony’s OpenMG digital-copyright protection software to prevent songs from being copied more than three times.

So, what do we have: ridiculously high prices, a proprietary and not well-supported file format and DRM. Well, well.

Japanese consumers not saluting newly introduced broadcast flag

An interesting article in yesterday’s Japan Times Online: Viewers upset over digital TV taping restrictions. It says:

On April 5, NHK and the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan began airing their programs with a special transmission signal that allows only a single copy of the program to be made.


In the week after the measure was implemented, NHK and the grouping of private broadcasters received more than 15,000 inquiries and complaints about the scheme.

And further:

The duplication controls have been adopted to protect broadcast copyrights, an NHK official said, adding, “Easy violation of copyright would make movie and music copyright holders reluctant to provide their works and prompt actors and singers to refuse to appear on TV.”

A strange way of reasoning, as the success of actors and singers is often linked to the hype surrounding them. I don’t see how sharing television programs could harm them and take away the incentive to appear on TV.

Cory Doctorow gets it right:

‘Course, the broadcast flag doesn’t really stop you from capturing analog signals and putting their programming online; no, this is a measure that is 100% ineffective at stopping “piracy” and 100% effective at stopping new tech like VCRs from being invented without the permission of the movie studios.

An analysis that comes very close to Ernest Miller’s recent explanation about why DRM is valuable for the content industries; DRM puts them in a better position to negotiate how technology will be permitted to develop.

LIBRIe or LIBRiie?

According to this article over at Teleread (based on this recent dottocomu entry + comments), Sony’s long awaited E-ink technology powered LIBRIe is full of consumer unfriendly DRM-bloat.

Sony’s Librie reportedly has debuted in Japan with a library of just 400 books. That’s not all. Your purchase, er, your rental, will vanish in 60 days after you’ve plunked down your $5 or so.

I doubt this is going to be a hit…

NB: another recent e-book (but not DRM) related article: Publishers Push Return of the E-Book (Japan Media Review).

Beyond chaku-mero

In JinJapan’s Trends in Japan section, an interesting article about pay-per-download content for mobile phones Update: new link. Inspired by the succes of the all-around chaku-mero (= karaoke versions of popular songs which are used as ringtones), KDDI recently started offering downloads of so called chaku-uta, more expensive copy-controlled bits of popular songs. The following quote is particularly interesting:

Even if an electronic chaku-mero becomes a popular download, the copyright fees go to the karaoke company that rearranged the song for chaku-mero and the distributor; not a single yen is passed on to the record company that owns the rights to the original song. But since Chaku-uta replicates the sound of the original recording, permission for its use must be acquired, and the record company and artist concerned benefit from the sales as well. Thus, both parties are fairly willing to have their songs used.

Apparently, the author considers the sales model of chaku-uta as an improvement over the chaku-mero business – both the record companies and the artists benefit from the sales… But what about the consumer? OK, he’s got better sound quality (for only a 30 seconds sample), but pays more and receives the data in a DRM-controlled format…

Article: ‘The sound of the future’

An interesting article in the Daily Yomiuri about the current state and future of Japanese music: The sound of the future by Paul Jackson.

The article starts with the recent decision of the Tokyo District court that MMO Japan is subject to 71 million ¥ compensation to JASRAC and RIAJ for running the Filerogue filesharing software and contrasts several views and strategies concerning music downloads with each other (without being very critical, though). Jackson also touches the emerging phenomenon of 着歌 (chakuuta), which are copy-protected samples of hit singles that customers can download and use as ringtone for their mobile phones (currently only AU). In a next phase, Ryo Miyamae of Universal Music Japan foresees the emergence of an iPod like mobile phone that would enable users to download complete music tunes (and which will be, beyond doubt, full with DRM bloat).

New site feature

This blog has a new feature: if things work fine, you should see a PHP driven block called ‘Latest Japanese Copyright News’ in the frontpage’s sidebar.

A require_once() statement includes a file called rss.php, which grabs an RSS file and converts it to a series of links. The RSS file on its turn is generated by the fabulous Feedster blog search engine, and should consist of a set of links to topics related to this blog’s. The query currently used is title=(japan) AND description=(copyright OR "open source" OR filesharing OR "public domain" OR "file sharing" OR "creative commons") NOT (description=("copyright (2003 OR 2004)") OR permalink="") (probably to be reviewed sooner or later) and seems to produce useful results, though clearly with some false positives. Also, credit where credit is due: rss.php is powered by a slightly tweaked version of the Suttree PHP RSS parser‘s ‘t3h Geek’ variant.

Update 2004-01-06: I’ve updated the query; title=japan* AND description=(copyright OR p2p OR "file sharing" OR filesharing OR DRM OR icommons) NOT ("copyright (2003 OR 2004)" OR chosaq) should produce more useful results.