Japanese Only?! Outraged over location discrimination

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?

7 thoughts on “Japanese Only?! Outraged over location discrimination”

  1. One thing about iTunes is that song prices are different in each country. I believe that iTunes Japan songs are actually cheaper than iTunes US songs (Y100 vs. 99c); UK and European songs are the most expensive. It’s not a huge difference unless you’re downloading a lot of music, and it’s certainly enough to make the various stores want to impose geographic limitations, since otherwise everyone would just be using the cheapest store available. If they equalized prices, everyone would have to pay a weird and constantly changing amount for their music (e.g. 99 cents, 114 yen, 81 eurocents, 56p, and even then it wouldn’t be exactly equal) or use a single country’s currency (like when you buy Skype minutes, which are priced in euros no matter which currency you pay in).

    Also, did you know that CD rental is still illegal in the US?

  2. The price difference between USD$1 and one UK pound is pretty huge!

    But Joe is correct, this access restriction has nothing to do with the stores themselves, and everything to do with the licensing terms of the content providers. Despite their best efforts, grey market importations of foreign cds or DVDs remain legal, and now they are trying to use technological means to continue their worldwide campaign of price gouging. And I thought globalization was supposed to open up closed domestic markets to competition…

  3. Yes, you can get the iTunes Japan music cards from J-List. You have to use a dummy Japanese address when registering but they work very well. You don’t even have to muck through Japanese text since iTunes will work in your native language.

  4. Another thing I just noticed last night: my iTunes account in the US won’t work in Japan.

    And I really REALLY wanted to download that James Taylor song that iTunes Japan doesn’t carry… (sniff)

  5. Joe, you can have multiple accounts — I’ve got three. Just log out of the Japan account, switch to the USA store using the selector at the bottom of iTunes, and log in to the other account.

  6. Hi,
    I have a question on a related subject that maybe you can answer. Why can’t I find any music sharing blogs from Japan (I have found 1 & some podcast sitesm but that’s it). You seem them in the US, Europe, South America & China but I can’t find any Japanese ones. Any suggestions?

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