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.

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  1. […] 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 ins […]

    » chosaq » Japanese mobile phones as iPod replacements? on January 27th, 2005 at 15:29

  2. I must say that I’m curious to see if it’s possible to encode your own MPEG-4 aacPlus files

    Guess what: me too ;-)
    Which is why I got the W21T and immediately started working on encoding my own files to see if the phone could read them…
    So far, very unsuccessfully, I must say.
    From my previous experience converting sound files to phone-supported formats, there are thousands of ways I could have gone wrong in the encoding… Although I am not excluding the possibility of the phone puking on any sound file not copyright-marked…
    But the main problem and biggest source of frustration so far has been the limitations on the ways to transfer the files: mails seem to be automatically filtered out of readable aac sound format (and intelligently so, I may add, since for example, a text file bearing the same extension will be let through, so it must be looking at the mime or file headers). Bluetooth support being terminally crippled, I guess my only remaining choice is to get a miniSD card reader to see what I can do with it…
    I’ll let you know where I get…

    » dr Dave on January 31st, 2005 at 23:44

  3. Cool dr Dave, keep us informed :-)

    » Andreas on February 1st, 2005 at 00:34

  4. Nailed it! I’m in Japan, and I speak/read a little of the lingo, but I’ve managed to create a wav, encode it and email it to my new toshiba 603t, on the japanese vodafone network.
    I found this site>

    which references Yamaha and their SMAF audio, another compressed media format, this time for mobile phones, you can get the audio software from (in english!)

    and then email it, and it seemed to work just dandy… I’m not sure what technical bits and pieces you’re up against where you are though…

    » Nicholas Bieber on August 25th, 2005 at 22:14

  5. Nicholas,

    Great news… but I’m afraid this doesn’t really apply to AU phones like mine…
    Dunno which company you are with, but it sounds like they are using a different format (easier? better?). AU uses aacPlus, and it’s not only a pain to encode: I have yet to see any way that you can freely transfer such files to the mobile (it won’t let you through the smart card or the net connection, even less so through email)…

    Of course, if I’m missing something, please do let me know: I’d still love to be able to break that damn thing into playing my music, not the crappy j-pop it will let you purchase on AU-sponsored websites…

    » dr Dave on August 26th, 2005 at 10:47

  6. I’ve just bought the W31T and thought, like you, that the guy at the phone shop was only giving the company line and not aware that it was possible. Turns out he was right. I can’t figure out a way to get my other music files to play on the inbuilt music player. If you figure out a way to do it I would very greatful if you could post it. Thx Doug

    » Doug on September 4th, 2005 at 23:01

  7. Most AAC+ players will also play AAC files, so the iTunes software (for instance) can be used to rip CDs into unprotected AAC, which you ought to be able to transfer to the miniSD card by using a card reader. Of course, if AU have specifically crippled the player to disable AAC playber, and/or to disable playback from any directory other than the encrypted folder, you may be stuffed.

    » Malcolm on January 20th, 2006 at 18:21

  8. […] 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 Japanese manual the page numbers below are referring to). […]

    » chosaq » Mobile DRM in Japan: another close look on April 27th, 2006 at 17:41