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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.

Japan Times article on recent net related legislative developments

A quick pointer to a Japan Times article about some of the issues mentioned in my last entry. Chris Salzberg, of Global Voices and Gyaku.jp fame, was so nice to include a quote from a recent conversation we had about this issue :-)

The problem, however, is that everything on the Web is downloaded. Just to view a page, a browser must store its contents on the user’s computer. Since it is impossible to know beforehand whether downloaded content is legal or not, any page view would, under the proposed revision, place the user at risk of violating copyright law.

Andreas Bovens, a Tokyo-based Belgian who blogs on copyright issues in Japan at chosaq.net, sees a danger in this situation.

“It seems like the main targets of this proposed new legislation are Web sites offering unauthorized chaku-uta (ring tone) or music downloads,” he says. “The message they seem to want to bring across is that downloading from those sites is illegal.

“However, although the scope of this legislation seems small, its effect is huge. It affects basically everything that we do on the Net.”

JASRAC & co. link copyright management consolidation plans to term extension

For the last half year or so, Japanese rights groups have been pushing for a 20 year extension of the current life+50y protection term of copyrighted works (previous coverage: 1, 2, 3). In September, the Daily Yomiuri reported that a committee of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry was looking into a registration system to facilitate the online distribution of previously aired television programs, while also suggesting the protection term for copyrighted works should be extended.

In the meantime, a couple of months have passed—JASRAC has sent its Notice & Takedown request to YouTube and requested it to proactively check for copyright infringements before uploaded content appears online… And last week, CNET Japan reported that JASRAC is now also pushing for a centralized “portal site” for rights information, so as to easily identify the author(s) of a work and facilitate licensing. In addition, there are plans to streamline the currently cumbersome procedures for creating derivatives of works of which the author is unknown.

Facilitating licensing procedures sounds like a good idea (*), but JASRAC and other rights groups want something in exchange: 20 years of extra protection. The rights groups point out that’s a fair deal (translated quote from CNET): “This is not just a call for an extension of the copyright protection term, but the goal is a situation where you can easily get a license for a work, and use it immediately.”

It doesn’t need to be said that a 20 year copyright extension goes against the very goal of the copyright system, but there are also other serious problems with the deal that is proposed here:

  1. There is no guarantee that this database or portal site is ever going to be realized. A term extension is law, while the promise of a consolidated copyright system completely depends on the will and participation of various rights groups.
  2. Although JASRAC and the other rights groups project easy licensing of copyright works, there is nothing that prevents them from not granting licenses to interested parties. Actually, if we look at how the music labels have systematically denied licenses to chaku-uta distributors other than their own Label Mobile venture, I’m far from optimistic.
  3. The biggest problem however is that the portal site and term extension plans are being represented as a give-and-take operation, while it is actually a common-sense-and-take one. Making licensing procedures more flexible and open should simply be a sound business move in an increasingly turbulent content market. The conservative and opaque Japanese content biz however sees this as a monopoly-undermining and thus very scary development — so scary, that they demand a compensation in the form of 20 years extra protection…

To be continued.

(*) … although it further solidifies JASRAC’s first-ask-then-upload mantra, and sidesteps possibly more productive collective blanket licensing scenarios.

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?

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…

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.

True.

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.

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)

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 2ch.net 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.

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.

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.

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…