Some of you may have heard about all the great Internet media content sites popping up in Japan recently. I sure have. They’re offering hit shows and the latest music for a small fee, so I couldn’t happier to finally be able to access Japanese TV/music easily from my home in the Washington, DC area. Let’s try these wonderful new services, shall we?
Second Nippon TV: “You can only access this site from within Japan.” Crap!
iTunes Japan: Yes, you CAN access iTunes Japan if you buy a special card from the infamous jlist.com (Thanks to Wikipedia for the tip). Unfortunately, people overseas can NOT access iTunes Japan without giving J-List (or J-Box) a cut.
Yahoo!Japan Music: “Q: Can I download if I live overseas? A: Yahoo! Music Download is not compatible for purchasing songs from overseas. We are using a system that does not allow downloads from people connected from overseas (from IP addresses outside Japan). Based on the policy of the content providers, the distribution of the content outside Japan is not permitted, so we are using this system. Please understand. Hint: If you cannot download, no charges will accrue.” Huh? Now I’m rejected AND my intelligence is insulted!
Final Fantasy XI (MMORPG): OK, This I can use and play along with thousands of Japanese otaku. Um, thanks but no thanks guys!
Just a small but representative example. Listen up, Japan: I would gladly PAY for a lot of this stuff! PAY! MONEY! And I know there are thousands if not millions of Japanese and non-Japanese people who would similarly pony up. So what’s the deal?
I don’t know for sure, but here are a couple guesses based on what I know about the Japan situation:
1. I don’t know the ins and outs of Japanese copyright law, but I DO know that it is arcane and essentially designed to screw the consumer at every turn. One example: There is no general concept of fair use in Japan, making your run-of-the-mill Ultraman clip a possible lawsuit target! Copy protection on CDs is commonplace, criminal charges were filed against the creator of Winny (a P2P file sharing program in Japan) and of course let’s not forget about Sony’s mistaken belief that they could pull the same crap in the US that they get away with in Japan.
Of course, the recording industry in Japan has had mixed results in its efforts to clamp down on piracy. They made something of a compromise in the 90s to allow CD rental to take hold in Japan (for copying to cassettes and later MiniDiscs) by first making sure they got a percentage of each rental.
Nevertheless, the Japanese content providers, not to mention their consumers, are notorious copyright Nazis (see this iTunes forum post to see what I mean if you can read Japanese). The government, who would of course never miss a chance to suck up to big business, has gone so far as to run train ads featuring celebrities against consumer unauthorized downloads and use of pirated DVDs/designer bags etc. This may have something to do with it.
2. iTunes, for its part, had a hell of a time convincing record companies to go along with its business model (especially since some of them (Avex and Sony) run their own digital services). Not allowing songs (or dramas et cetera) to be distributed abroad could in some way shape of form protect the interests of labels who might have ditribution deals in Asia, where Japanese content is hugely popular. Another worry for the content masters may be that allowing the Chinese, for instance, to download high-quality video of their precious content would only lead to more pirated DVDs.
3. Avex’s service apparently suffered an attack from Turkish hackers in August 2005 (check here to see what it looked like—contains the F word!). Banning foreign IP addresses might be a convenient way to protect oneself from some of the less initiated loser 13-year-old hackers out there.
4. In the end, this is most likely the same logic that is applied to DVD region codes and blocking Japanese video games in the American market and vice-versa. Controlling when and where the goods are sold makes it possible to coordinate marketing efforts (and of course set prices). But, at least in this case, what’s the point if the vast majority of the content offered is a) In a language most people overseas do not understand, and b) Not intended for export? As ADV films has found, the type of people who would seek out your product without the help of a coordinated marketing effort are the same people who will build a market for your product for free.
I haven’t seen too much discussion on this topic (but then I don’t frequent tech forums). So why is this? Does anyone know for sure?