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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.

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.

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.

A dangerous deal: compulsory registration for broadcasts + longer protection

There’s quite a bit going on in the Japanese TV broadcasting landscape lately — I already covered the (still ongoing) push for less a less restrictive broadcast flag, but there is more: according to the Daily Yomiuri, “[t]he Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry is considering introducing a system to facilitate the online distribution of previously aired television programs by simplifying copyright license procedures.” The idea is to “establish a new system requiring people to register themselves for copyrights and allow distributors to carry out the online distribution of past programming without having to obtain permission from those who do not register.” Sounds like a good idea and an improvement over the current situation, where permission from all parties involved is required in order to make a program available on the net — an unnecessarily strict rule that prevents any broadcasted content from being featured online legally, as it’s usually impossible to contact everybody involved.

I’m not sure what sparked the interest in changing the current system — one answer might be “YouTube,” which is very popular in Japan and shows the clear interest in quick-n-dirty online TV content (this in contrast to the relatively low interest in DTV, by the way). Another answer however is possible too: according to the same Yomiuri article, the committee in charge, “a panel tasked with studying how to develop universal Internet access in Japan,” also “proposes extending the period of copyright protection from the current 50 years after the death of rights’ holders to 80 years.” Needless to say, there is probably some “balance” talk involved here — you can already hear the broadcasters say something along the lines of: “if you make registration compulsory, that’s fine, but then we want longer protection.” So, worst case scenario: the broadcasters register all their copyrights, refuse to license it to any web-based TV distributors, and Japan is stuck with a protection term of 80 years for all works (after first broadcast / after the author’s death / etc.). Also note that “80 years” is more than the “70 years” review previously called for.

Copy-once soon to be retired?

It seems like the days of the “copy-once” flag for digital broadcasts are counted in Japan — from Forbes.com: “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).

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…