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On YouTube JP and the Japanese entertainment biz

Very interesting news last week: YouTube Japan has officially launched, incl. six partnerships with major Japanese tech and content producers. From Japan Economy News & Blog:

Included in those business partnerships are satellite broadcaster Sky PerfecTV, social networking giant Mixi, Yoshimoto Kogyo, animator GDH, and Casio. Casio intends to build cameras specially-made for creating content that can be uploaded directly to You Tube [sic].

This is a killer move for Mixi, and a very interesting step in thus far rather undiscovered terrain for Casio. (Lesson for Sony: increasing compatibility is also an option if you want a piece of the video sharing cake; you don’t have to buy or create a complete video sharing site for that.)

But of course, not everybody’s happy. A coalition of Japanese television, music and film companies has expressed its anger about YouTube’s undertakings and even asked to “reset the service.”

Of course the industry’s anger with anything disruptive is nothing new. A quick roundup about its stance with regard to YouTube:

  • 2006-10: JASRAC demands YouTube to take down 30,000 allegedly infringing clips; YouTube complies. It is the first time YouTube takes down so many videos in one swoop.
  • 2006-12: JASRAC sends a letter to YouTube asking it, among other things, to proactively check for infringements and show copyright warnings in Japanese.
  • 2007-01: JASRAC announces it wants a centralized “portal site” for rights information, so as to easily identify the author(s) of a work and facilitate licensing. Although this sounds good in theory, such a system would obviously strengthen JASRAC’s case for a first-ask-then-upload model. As cherry on the cake, JASRAC demands 20 years of extra protection for copyrighted works in exchange for being so benevolent (cfr. its announced “portal site”).
  • 2007-02: YouTube shows Japanese copyright warnings to Japanese YouTube users.
  • 2007-08: a few months after a Japanese YouTube UI was released, YouTube Japan officially launches.

So, who’s gonna win this fight? My bet is on the companies that have signed a deal with YouTube, or otherwise not discourage sharing of the media they produce.

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…

Japanese government eyeing Linux? Quick deconstruction of a non-story.

On October 6, this article in The Age: Japan to boost Linux use. Note the following quote:

Separately, Japan, China and South Korea agreed earlier this year to jointly develop a new computer operating system based on Linux as an alternative to the dominant Windows, the official said.

“Apart from the procurement issue, this project is intended to develop an operating system that supports languages that have Chinese characters,” the official said.

There are two problems with this story.

First, is Asian language support really that bad in the current Linux distributions? As far as I know, they all come with excellent support for Japanese, Chinese and Korean and usually offer the option to change the GUI language upon login. So why a special Asian version?

Secondly, isn’t this story a non-story? “Japanese government eyes Linux” like headlines have been repeated for almost three years now (or maybe even longer?). A small overview of the “meme”:

See the trend? Nothing’s happening, really. To make things even more interesting, there was the news in November 2004 that the Japanese government had chosen Sun JDS as part of an “initiative to promote the use of open-source desktops in educational institutions.” Upon closer reading however, it seems like the Japanese government didn’t place an order with Sun: “They haven’t bought any software, […] [b]ut they’re endorsing an open-source desktop community.” Ahh, they’re endorsing it. I see.

My idea: the Japanese government isn’t really looking at Linux as a Windows replacement. Instead, the administration knows that by dropping the words “Linux” and “open source” every few months, the media will pick it up and fabricate a “Japanese government eyes Linux” type of story – and that, of course, results in cheaper deals with Redmond. Just my 2¢.

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)

Japan, ‘an intellectual property-based nation’

I just had a look at a recent WIPO press release, WIPO Policy Advisory Commission Endorses Use Of Intellectual Property As a Tool for Development (via Furdlog). The text quotes Hisamitsu Arai stating that the Japanese government wants to turn Japan into an intellectual property-based nation and outlining Japan’s strategy for achieving a dynamic economy and vigorous society through the strategic creation, protection and exploitation of intellectual property. This quote seems to be taken from the Strategic Program for the Creation, Protection and Exploitation of Intellectual Property on the Japanese government’s website. Not completely unexpected, the 230 Kb html document has a very protective ring to it. Strengthening the Protection of Intellectual Property, Reinforcing the Measures against Pirated Copies, Expanding the Scope of Legal protection against circumvention of Means of Technical Protection, etc. are some of the oneliners used in the document, of course with the noble goal of secur[ing] incentives for the creation of intellectual property.

Again: when will they see that people not only need incentives (in the form of stronger protection) for content production, but also materials and resources? The only recognition thereof can be found in the Ensuring the smooth use of research materials part of the text:

[…] the GOJ will make efforts to further promulgate among universities and public research institutes the conditions regarding the transfer of research materials and the rules for simple transfer procedures in order to ensure the smooth use of tangible materials in research activities.

But well, to be honest, this sounds more like improving the communication and the exchange of resources between libraries then ensuring the availability of a commons.

There’s still a long way to go.

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.

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).

Winny developer found guilty

Pretty big news on the file-sharing front today: Isamu Kaneko, the developer of P2P software Winny (earlier entries), was found guilty of “assisting copyright violations.” MSN-Mainichi comments:

[I]t is rare for the developer and provider of high-tech software in the IT field, which the government is promoting, to be punished for users’ abuse of the program. It appears likely that the ruling will affect future technology development.

This Japanese Mainichi article has more details about the ruling. Apparently, the court didn’t like the fact that Kaneko developed his software while being aware that it was (going to be) used for exchanging copyrighted files. The court further found that Winny “physically and psychologically facilitated copyright infringement” and that “most of the files exchanged on the network were copyrighted.”

Kaneko is expected to appeal against the ruling.

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).

14 days of Ubuntu

I’m a long time OSS fan: I’ve been using and recommending Firefox from when it was called Phoenix, OpenOffice.org since its StarOffice days, and The GIMP since version 1.0 or so. I also frequently use VLC, Inkscape, Miranda IM, TortoiseSVN, Hugin and of course, WordPress. So, with all the Ubuntu fanboyism going on these days, I decided to install Ubuntu 6.06 on my 2 year old Toshiba Dynabook CX: the installation was a breeze — my CX was suddenly sexy again. And surprise, surprise: in contrast with earlier Linux installation attempts, everything worked out of the box. That is, almost everything… Some things needed additional tweaking (1). And more tweaking. And more. And in some cases, I simply gave up (2).

So, let me first start with (1), the additional tweaks. What follows is an extensive list of Ubuntu howtos/links I found helpful, including a tutorial I wrote myself. For my own and your reference:

  • EasyUbuntu: painless installation of video codecs, libdvdcss, flash, rar support and MS core fonts.
  • The Unofficial Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake) Starter Guide is a must-have bookmark. I used it for installing Adobe Reader, VLC, Wine, Opera, etc.
  • Picasa: follow the instructions.
  • Skype: don’t install 1.2 (it won’t work), but live on the cutting edge: go with the 1.3 Beta instead.
  • Interesting for web developers and masochists: install IE5, 5.5 and 6 on Ubuntu.
  • Register Gmail as your default mail client.
  • Add a Last.fm protocol handler in Firefox. For use with the amazing Amarok 1.4.1.
  • We’ve already installed the MS Core fonts with EasyUbuntu. Here’s how we can make them prettier (autohinting).
  • Fix an error in the keyboard layout. Find out your changes are reverted everytime you reboot. Then make the fix run automatically at startup.
  • Activate Japanese through System>Administration>Language Support. If you’re not very fond (haha!) of Ubuntu’s Japanese font rendering, this fine optimization guide will come in handy. I believe it disables some of the earlier mentioned autohint enhancements though.
  • A guide I wrote myself: how to enable Japanese font support in Adobe Reader.
  • Two other links worth bookmarking: How to install anything in Ubuntu and Root Access with sudo and gksudo.
  • Google Earth instructions on this page. If it doesn’t work (it didn’t for me), install Aiglx+Compiz (see below) and try again.
  • Excellent instructions for installing Aiglx+Compiz on the Dynabook CX (or other systems with an Intel Graphics Card). Update 2006-09-03: as of last week, this method is broken. You can update earlier Aiglx+Compiz installations by following these instructions. If you start from scratch, this new guide seems to offer the solution. An overview of the default shortcuts can be found on the Compiz site. Drool away.
  • Update 2006-08-22: the default compiz window theme can be changed by installing the CGWD Themer and activating CGWD instead of gnome-window-decorator. Worked for me by adding “cgwd” to the Startup Programs tab under System>Preferences>Session. I’m currently using a blend of Murrine Metacity + Murrina Gtk Color Schemes + Tango-Style icon mod (see Gnome Themes for more) with the Kiwi CGWD theme. Very relaxing.
  • Update 2006-08-22: as suggested, I looked into cpufreq. Here’s a guide that explains what it is and how you can use it. I usually set the “governor” to “conservative” and switch to a fixed frequency (e.g. 800 MHz) when playing a movie or watching a YouTube video. Works great so far — the temperature is still higher than on XP, but no extreme jumps anymore.
  • Update 2006-08-22: in order to boost performance, I followed refactored.net’s and Arve’s suggestion and installed a 686 processor specific kernel and the “official” Intel 815/852/855 graphic drivers. Slightly better, no extreme improvements though.
  • Update 2006-08-21: keeping the best speed tweak for the last — be sure to have a look at the Swiftfox project, which distributes processor optimized Firefox builds. Unnecessary, I thought, but I’m blown away by the result: my Pentium M optimized Swiftfox has replaced the default Firefox install. Sound in flash was broken again, but I found a quick fix: instead of launching Swiftfox with a simple “swiftfox” command, I use “aoss /usr/bin/swiftfox” — flash works great now, even without the 1 second time delay mentioned earlier!!
  • Update 2006-08-21: Aptana: this Japanese howto gave me the idea to try launching Aptana as ./aptana and indeed, suddenly things worked. With the help of this thread, I wrote a small script for launching Aptana from the start menu. Script looks like this:
    #!/bin/bash
    cd /home/USERNAME/Aptana
    export MOZILLA_FIVE_HOME=/usr/lib/mozilla
    ./aptana
    I placed the script in /usr/bin and linked to it from the start menu. For a nice Aptana Icon, check out this thread.

So far so good.

Then over to (2): the stuff that is and remains broken.

  • Skype 1.3 beta sort of works, but the signal is far from optimal. Gtalk replacement Tapioca has similar problems, but I have no idea how to fix it.
  • Google Earth and Picasa both work, but with a certain delay (even at low quality settings). Jerkily moving images aren’t pretty to look at.
  • Metacity is stable but looks boring, Compiz is great but has its bugs.
  • Flash animations and movies work, but there’s no sound. You can fix this, but then you’re stuck with a 1 sec time delay. Also: CPU usage always hovers around 100% when opening a flash file.
  • Video works better than I thought, but also here: serious CPU usage issues. DVD playback is partly broken: no access to menus or subtitles, no forwarding or rewinding either.
  • Bluetooth doesn’t work. Built-in SD slot isn’t recognized.
  • Beagle is a fine search tool, but it’s definitely no Google Desktop Search. Doesn’t find the files I expect it to find.
  • Aptana, my last hope in my quest for a decent auto-suggest enabled CSS editor, doesn’t work for some reason or another. And yes, I did the extra required steps.
  • I probably haven’t searched enough, but I can’t find a TortoiseSVN like tool for Gnome. There are Nautilus scripts, but they definitely can’t stand the comparison with TortoiseSVN. Update 2006-08-21: Not very impressed with the suggested eSvn. Using the command line for the time being.
  • No Suspend nor Sleep functionality. Shut down + restart is the only option. Update 2006-08-21: refactored.net suggested installing “hibernate”. Done, but the problem remains: switching to hiberate mode is no problem, waking up is. A forced restart is usually all that is left.
  • Sudden 100% CPU peaks: checking the system monitor usually doesn’t make me any wiser (= the percentages displayed do not add up to 100).
  • The temperature!! According to my CPU Frequency Scaling Monitor, the CPU temperature starts at around 45 degrees (bootup), only to move up quickly to 70, 80, sometimes even +90 degrees. This results in an unpleasantly warm keyboard and a continuously noisy fan. Annoying. After playing around with cpufreq, I have the CPU~temperature combo somewhat under control. Still too warm though.

So, although Ubuntu is the best Linux distro I’ve used so far, there are still some clear defects that I don’t know how to deal with (other than filing bugs and waiting for updates).

To me, Ubuntu has no real benefits over XP at this point. Yes, there’s the powerful command line, a better security model, a couple of nice Linux-only apps (like Amarok), and if you want, the OSS ideology, but still — I want to start getting things done after a while. An XP reinstall isn’t far away, to be honest… We’re slowly gettin’ there… ;-)

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.

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”.

Copyright news from the Bunkachō

Some recent copyright news from the Bunkachō, Japan’s Agency of Cultural Affairs:

Two links: copyright policy overview + OpenCourseWare

I was actually working on another blog entry, but these links simply couldn’t wait:

  • The Protection and Use of Copyrights is an English PDF file that gives a nice overview of the not always so nice changes in the Japanese copyright law in the period 2003-2004: “Measures to prevent the reverse import of phonograms”, “Conferral of rental rights for books and magazines”, “Reinforced penalties”, “Stronger copyright protection for cinematographic works”—yep, it’s all there.
  • In other news: great evolutions on the Japanese Open Access front. There is not only a new blog in town, but also a real OpenCourseWare project à la MIT’s, listing courses of 6 Japanese universities. Excellent! (via Hans)

Reverse import ban and right of rental into effect

On January 1st, 2005, both the controversial right of import for recordings and the right of rental for books and magazines came into effect. As noted on Copy & Copyright Diary, the changes are not reflected yet on the CRIC website, meaning that there is no English translation available for now.

So far, the scope or the right of import for recordings is unclear—2005 will show how far it reaches. As for the right of rental for books and magazines, the first results are in: about a month ago, Benli blog reported that the yet to be launched (?) Rental Right Management Center (貸与権管理センター) that serves as an intermediary between the rental shops and the authors and publishers, will not allow any rentals during a period of three weeks after publication and thereafter charge book rental shops a fee of 280 Yen per volume. The author gets 80 Yen, the rest goes to the Center itself, the publisher, etc. In a reaction to this development, Book-Off, one of Japan’s biggest retailers of second-hand books, CDs and videos, decided to close its book rental business, thereby affecting more than 200 shops throughout Japan.

By the way, that’s not all: the Sankei Web article mentioned above quotes a member of the Mystery Writers of Japan group, who wants the right of rental to be expanded to public libraries. (I wrote about this before.)

Unfortunate developments, to say the least.

(Via Copy & Copyright Diary)

Conversation between Ikeda Nobuo and Lawrence Lessig

Strange this fine e-mail conversation between Ikeda Nobuo and Lawrence Lessig, quoting Richard Perlman and Richard Stallman, has almost no refering links. Ikeda and Lessig tackle the recent Winny crackdown and the rise of CCCDs. A quote (Ikeda):

Moreover, since the Internet is essentially a P2P network in which a
“host” is connected directly to another host, such charges can be
applied to web servers and FTP servers. The police alleges that Kaneko
has the “clear intention” to violate the law because he confessed that
he had wished to change the current regime of copyright. Thus, in Japan,
any P2P developer can be arrested if he criticizes the copyright.

In the US, the developer of the P2P software and the code breaker of
copy protection were judged as not guilty. So Japan might be becoming
the most aggressive “copyright extremist” in the world.

Certainly worth a read.

Towards a stricter regime for book lending

Last week, the Japanese Ministry of Culture announced plans for an amendment of the copyright law, in order to introduce a system of fees for the lending of books, in the same way as for CD and video rental. An article over at Sankei Web cites the 貸与権連絡協議会, which is in favor of the amendment:

出版物の利用形態が変化しており、発行印税だけでは不公平。貸本でも対価が漫画家、作家に入るようにしてほしい

This means as much as: As the ways of using publications have undergone a lot of changes, a royalty-only system is unfair. We want book lending compensations for manga authors and novelists. The new system will increase the price of publications sold to rental shops with 200 or 300%, a change that will be reflected in the price book borrowers will have to pay.

And it won’t stop here; the same article quotes the Ministry of Culture stating that after the introduction of this amendment (which has rental shops as its primary target), the discussion about asking fees for library materials is open.

貸与権が認められれば、次は図書館の本にも著者が著作権料を請求できる公共物貸与権の導入について議論が始まるだろう

It is sad to see that, while there are ongoing efforts to widen the Japanese commons, the Japanese Ministry of Culture seems to move in the direction of copyright extremism and a curtailment of the availability of culture.

To be continued.

Plala vs. filesharing

Plala, a Japanese OSP has announced it will start constraining its subscribers’ use of Win-MX and Winny, two popular filesharing applications. Plala’s product page states:

「ぷらら」では、昨年12月の会員規約改訂により、平均トラフィックを大幅に超えるご利用のあった場合において事後的に個別対処をさせていただいてきたところですが、「Win-MX」や「Winny」などの違法著作物のネット流通に対する著作権保護対策が不充分であり、実態として違法著作物の流通が甚だしく行われている一部アプリケーションのご利用においては、11月より順次、上りトラフィックを中心に他の会員の通信において迷惑にならない程度にトラフィックを制御させていただくことにいたしました。

The reasoning behind Plala’s decision is noteworthy:

  1. The Plala network is said to experience slow downstream transfer rates due to the intensive upstream filesharing traffic of some of its users.
  2. The filesharing on these networks (in this case Win-MX and Winny) is said to mainly consist of the sharing of illegal files (違法著作物).
  3. So, in order to improve these slow transfer rates, Plala decided to constrain (still unclear how exactly) the use of Win-MX and Winny – of course with a “hey, it’s illegal anyway” ring to it.
  4. Bonus: they might even lower the price of their service or start offering new services, in case this policy manages to lower the network costs.

All this sounds a littlebit to much like a quick-and-dirty solution to me; a few unclear estimations and statements about the percentage of users that is using filesharing programs and the effect this has on the network + a rather drastic change in the Plala network architecture that absolutely doesn’t take into account the fact that one can also share ‘legal files’ through filesharing networks.

I’d better like to see some discussion concerning copyright issues on filesharing networks – not an immediate and untransparent technical solution. Maybe the Plala staff should have a chat about copyright on the net with the people of the Dutch OSP Xs4all…

Via 『ぷらら、「Winny」や「Win-MX」のトラフィック制御を11月より開始』.