Another Casualty of JASRAC’s Fun Police

I recently came across this sad story in my referrals:

Live music spots are disappearing one by one in Japan!
I am a live Jazz fan, and often go to Jazz clubs in my home town. Recently I visited one of my favorite clubs and was informed that live jazz was to be canceled at the end of the month.

I couldn’t believe it, and asked why this was going to happen. The owner replied “JASRAC (Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers, equivalent to ASCAP) ordered retrospective fee payments for the last 10 years of the club’s operation. There’s no way I can afford to pay, so I’ve decided to stop live music”. The JASRAC representative then presented a scrap of newspaper with a story reporting a recent lawsuit and subsequent closure of another Jazz club that had fought, and lost, a similar situation. In the end, however, the owner decided to submit to JASRAC’s demands and pay the fees.

JASRAC also refused to negotiate future licensing costs, and stated that a fixed fee must be charged regardless of how many live performances are held. The club could have one live show each week, or a show every day of the year, and the cost would be the same. JASRAC also refuses to reveal how they calculate fees for each club.

In Japan, NHK(National publicly funded television) fees must be paid by all people that own TVs. However some people manage to avoid paying fees, are unaware of fees, or simply slip though NHK’s administrative cracks. When these people are discovered, NHK usually just asks these people to begin payments from the next month onwards. JASRAC, however, demands payments for the past 10 years.

Does JASRAC truly protect the rights of musicians? I often by CDs from musicians playing at live Jazz clubs. I believe live Jazz promotes CD sales and helps artists succeed.

It’s just appalling that JASRAC can nitpick and police even the most minor activities. The hyper-aggressive protection of intellectual property is not just limited to JASRAC, mind you: Johnny’s Talent Agency (the promoters of SMAP etc) fiercely guard their superstars, a practice that leads to odd rivalries and ridiculous news like Takuya Kimura refusing a major movie award for no apparent reason. Disney is also particularly heavy-handed. I read (on 2ch mind you) that Disney once forced a school to remove an image of Mickey Mouse from their pool that was to be used in an event. How can a culture of openness, ambition and imagination flourish when there’s an environment that often punishes even modest forms of creativity?

15 thoughts on “Another Casualty of JASRAC’s Fun Police”

  1. I totally agree. The copyright fee collection systems in Japan bear no relation to any actual use of copyrighted material, yet they have powerful backing in the copyright statutes. It’s ridiculous and completely unfair, but the government committees which review these things are staffed with professors and lawyers who just sit around and gab once a month without reaching any concrete conclusions on how to improve things.

    On a similar note, good POV on “IP imperialism”–the US exporting its fanatical IP protection to other countries through free trade agreements.

    (That Mickey Mouse story was from Florida, by the way. Or at least there was a story very much like it in Florida)

  2. OK, hands up. Who doesn’t pay their NHK subscription?

    When the guy came around I suddenly found out that I didn’t speak Japanese any more. This was one of the few places I was a bad gaijin. That and getting tanked at a certain 300-yen bar in Osaka.

    I think the Mickey Mouse thing is okay. I’m sure the same rules would apply in most capitalist democracies. A couple of years back a city council was ordered to remove a picture of some Disney characters on the side of the public toilets here. It had been painted by prisoners as a sort of work experience scheme.

    Jazz covers though? Music often thrives by being ripped off and played live by other musicians in pubs. That does seem a bit extreme.

  3. raises hand

    But that only happened once, and I only had a TV because the previous tenant had left one behind, and it was under my bed making it very difficult to watch. So when NHK Man came around, I told him I didn’t have one.

    I used to live close to a 100 yen bar (that is not a typo) in Tokyo. One of my neighbors would go there, buy ten beers for ¥1,000 and say “OK, I’m set for the next hour or so.” Unfortunately, the crowd basically only consisted of salarymen; apparently the women regard the 100 yen bar crowd as uncouth, and at least demand a 300 yen drinker.

  4. That 100 yen bar wasn’t around Waseda was it? I saw one there last year.

  5. A hundred yen a drink? How big are the beers – sakazuki-size?
    My SO refuses to allow me to pay the NHK fees due to their corruption and political troubles – it’s not really my decision. Oh, and not speaking Japanese is not a help – I was given an English-language pamphlet….

    I recall a similar Mickey Mouse issue – a daycare centre has painted some Disney characters on its wall, Disney sued and got them removed (on the grounds, one pundit said, that the daycare centres was a for-profit organization and thus the Disney characters were being used in a profit-gathering way) and then Warner Bros stepped in amidst the publicity and announced that the centre could use THEIR figures free.

    I find the theme of this thread slightly ironic in terms of the China Disneyland news that has been mentioned here (and elsewhere) previously. Too much protection or too little? How would JASRAC prove that said Jazz club had been playing its members songs for ten years? Would JASRAC cover overseas artists as well?

  6. How would JASRAC prove that said Jazz club had been playing its members songs for ten years? Would JASRAC cover overseas artists as well?

    If you think this logic is off, consider that the government was recently proposing to levy a fee on every MP3 player sold in Japan. What threw them off in the end was mainly that people can use MP3 players to play DRM’ed songs from iTunes etc., in which case they have already paid the artists and would effectively be paying them twice if there were an additional copyright fee on the player itself.

    And JASRAC still gets a portion of every CD rented and blank media sold (but only “audio” CD-Rs and DVD-Rs…. the “data” ones are not subject to the fee even though they are functionally identical).

  7. I forgot if you or someone posted this earlier, but:

    JASRAC is horribly corrupt. Lots of “black box” money that is passed out to their big corporate peers when they can’t find the proper recipient for royalties. In the US, there is software that automatically identifies which songs are played on the radio through looking at the sound-wave profiles, but JASRAC refuses to use this as it would make distribution of money more fair and help out smaller companies. You can go on and on with other examples.

    General philosophies about illegal intellectual property use on the internet are way behind in Japan, but this is not a question just of ideas: the monopolistic JASRAC is used to complete and utter dominance and control of how money is distributed in the industry and they don’t like the idea that technology is going to take money away from their corporate partners.

  8. ”Oh, and not speaking Japanese is not a help – I was given an English-language pamphlet….””

    I faked “gaijin Japanese” and told the guy I had no reason to watch NHK as I couldn’t understand it and I just used my TV for videos. (私。。。見ない。。。TV。見る。。。Video。)He was bloody insistent, but in the end I seemed to convince him that I shouldn’t have to pay. I think I’d be a little more scrupulous these days.

  9. I paid the NHK fees…. I felt okay with it as I think that they some very good programs. I would probably donate to PBS if I lived in the USA.

  10. Oh, I certainly agree that NHK have some very good progs, and my SO watches them a lot. I feel kinda guilty about not paying whenever the envelope arrives – the first time I paid cash, and but have conveniently forgotten to bother each time the envelope arrives, every few months.

    Joe: yes, I saw on some ‘audio’ CD-Rs that I bought that a certain amount went to JASRAC. I wonder if this is also the reason for ‘video’ and ‘data’ DVDs? I asked a worker at Yamada Denki what the difference was and got a vague and muddled answer, so this is probably the real reason (no, the ‘video’ DVD-Rs do not mention Jasrac as far as I have been able to tell).

  11. There’s a separate clearinghouse that skims money off the top of sales of “video” DVD-Rs. The audio, video and data discs are all the exact same product–the only difference is the price and which group of copyright holders get the markup.

    (The only reason I know this is because I spent a good part of this spring going through minutes of the Cultural Agency review committee which oversees the remuneration systems. Ah, the joys of academia…)

  12. Nice to know I have been circumventing the system by buying the cheap ‘data’ ones for everything then…. ^Д^….

  13. I have no problem paying NHK fees. My problem is with paying the goons who come by (who are paid a hefty commission for each fee they collect). Bloody outrageous.

  14. The “goon” who tried to collect from me was an old man, and I think he was overjoyed that I spoke some Japanese (it was a gaijin building), which may explain why he didn’t step in to look at the obvious television under my bed.

Comments are closed.