Elderly restaurant owner arrested for performing Beatles songs at his establishment

A few days ago, the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC, an artist copyright lobby similar to ASCAP/RIAA) was arrested for performing copyrighted music by artists including the Beatles at a restaurant he owned. Joi Ito posted an outline of the initial coverage of this incident, but I’m here to pass along some more detailed information, gleaned from J-cast, an online news site:

Arrested for performing the Beatles!

The owner of a restaurant (age 73) was arrested for holding live performances of songs whose copyrights are under tha management of industry association JASRAC without obtaining the group’s permission. Cases of copyright law violations that lead to arrest are extremely rare. JASRAC has commented that “there was no other way,” but criticism of JASRAC, who filed the criminal complaint, have arisen on the Internet.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Agency (MPA), the man is accused of copyright violation for performing The Beatles’ “Here, There, and Everywhere,” “Liverpool and All the World!” etc, which are managed by JASRAC, in his restaurant on the piano and harmonica for his customers without receiving JASRAC’s approval.

Repeated infringing performances

According to JASRAC, the man opened his bar in 1981, and looks to have begun his infringing actions in 1985. JASRAC warned him time and again, but the man would not listen, and also declined to hold talks with the organization. JASRAC brought suit against the man in 2001 at the Tokyo Regional Court, and the same year the court handed down a decision banning the performance of songs managed by JASRAC. He continued his performances for some time after that, so the group filed a criminal complaint with the Shakujii Precinct of the MPA for once again infringing on their copyrights.

In response to questions by J-Case, the JASRAC Public Relations Department commented, “We would normally not want to do such a thing, but from the perspective of fairness, there was no other way but this (filing a criminal complaint). Such terrible cases are rare, so JASRAC was left with no choice.”

According to the group, it has filed 146 such criminal complaints since 1948, but recently they have become extremely rare, and in the Tokyo metropolitan area there have only been about 4 cases in 20 years. Even if clear copyright violations are confirmed, almost all of them reach some sort of resolution at the litigation stage. What’s more, since it is up to the police whether or not to arrest the man, the chances are great that they determined this case to be “pretty bad.”

Criticism of JASRAC has emerged on the Internet

Meanwhile, on the Internet, Criticism of JASRAC has emerged. On Internet message board 2-channel, there have been many posts sympathizing with the arrested restaurant owner as well as criticism of JASRAC:

“JASRAC is a bunch of shakedown artists!”
“Who owns music, anyway? Even though creators want everyone to freely enjoy, we should be sad that it’s being used simply as a tool to sleazily make money.”
“Even if this was for commercial use, how on earth does playing music on a harmonica at one’s own restaurant harm the Beatles’ business activities?”
“I’d like to as whether they think this is really the right thing for a person to do, to publicly humiliate a 73-year-old man who plays the harmonica by throwing him in jail.”
“Is JASRAC trying to destroy Japan’s musical culture?”

Daisuke Tsuda, technology and music journalist and founder of The Citizens’ Council to Consider the Issue of Extending the Period of Copyright Protection, had this to say about this recent incident:

“There are many people who point out the fairness of the fees and musical freedom (regarding the usage fees paid to JASRAC). In reality, the system of fee collection (for live performances) at concert halls etc is vague, and it is a fact that there are times when there is no choice but to collect in that way. It is a problem that there are many people dissatisfied with a vague system that distributes funds in an unclear manner. There is need for performers, rightsholders, and consumers to debate further and create a system that is in line with the times.

Comment: It may be rare for JASRAC to actually have people arrested, but they regularly collect fees from karaoke bars and, as we see, small establishments. Plus, Japanese authorities are also hard on copyright violators, especially recently as the nation has embarked on an official policy of “a country build on intellectual property rights.” The creator of Japanese file-sharing software Winny was very publicly arrested in 2004 in a similar effort to make an example out of someone.

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