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Download law yet to bite after a year

by Steve McClure

Special To The Japan Times

It has been a year since Japan introduced penalties for downloading pirated music and video files.

So far no one has been arrested — let alone punished with the maximum two years in prison and/or fine of up to ¥2 million that the revision to the Copyright Law now allows for.

Maybe that’s because the industry is sitting pretty as hordes of one-time illegal downloaders who are now on the straight and narrow are buying bucketloads of legal “product.”

Well, erm, not exactly. The most recent data released by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ) shows that production data (which roughly corresponds to retail sales) for physical media such as CDs was down 7 percent in the first eight months of 2013 from the same period last year.

But perhaps more people are buying music digitally, you might think. Well, think again — RIAJ data show digital-music sales in the January-June period fell roughly 30 percent from the first half of 2012. The one bright spot was that digital sales via PCs and smartphones continued to rise, with singles and albums up 35 percent and 52 percent, respectively, in monetary terms.

It’s also worth noting that music-copyright fee collection agency JASRAC is also taking a tougher line against illegal file-sharing.

The RIAJ points out that one effect of the new penalties is that CD rentals are up (Japan is unique among major music markets in allowing rental). But the pittance that labels receive as rental royalties hardly makes up for the ongoing sales slide.

Despite the RIAJ figures, Warner Music Japan Chairman/CEO Kei Ishizaka, who takes a stridently hard line against illegal downloading (“Exterminate downloads!”), says the law is working.

“Since Japan introduced this law, peer-to-peer file sharing has declined by 20 percent to 40 percent and is continuing to decline,” he says, citing RIAJ data.

“This legislative action and its enforcement has been successful so far,” says Ishizaka, citing an RIAJ survey that says 70 percent of the public is aware of the new penalties.

But music publisher Jonny Thompson says it’s too early to say whether the new penalties are having any effect.

“I’m sure more people are aware and perhaps might give it more of a thought or two (though I think we’ve probably all had enough of the dancing camera guy in the movie theater!),” says Thompson, general manager, international, at Tokyo-based music publisher Nichion. “But I think the jury is still out as to whether it’s going to have some monumental impact on improving CD sales or paving the road for a major streaming service.”

Speaking of which, none of the major international music-streaming services have taken the plunge and entered the Japanese market, despite widespread expectation they would do so this year. The most likely explanation is that it’s proving hard to get local labels and production companies on board.

“The original intent of the law is to choke off the market for illegal content and therefore eradicate the sites that offer the illegal content,” notes one music-industry insider who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

“I think to some extent that is working,” he says. “What is also helping is the move away from legacy phones to smartphones, and what seems a preference by people or — perhaps to a greater extent — the smartphone’s innate ability to induce people to download legal content, such as using iTunes, onto these devices — and the ‘Galapagos’ phones’ innate lack of the same.”

While admitting that the new penalties haven’t exactly ignited digital music sales, Ishizaka is optimistic about that market sector.

“It looks rather quiet these days and in a sense it is it confusing, but we are now in process of strengthening the digital business and looking ahead to big results,” he says.

  • Danielle Porat

    Those are some pretty heavy fines and jail prospects, although I’m surprised that with no one being prosecuted that anyone cares. Maybe the Japanese are just more law abiding than everyone else! They don’t mention anything about youtube in the article or what user-ship is like there. And of course if youtube is there than they do have access to any streaming service that accesses it like torch music. Of course that would pale in comparison to something like spotify. Anyway, hopefully they’ll get one of the big stream services soon, and no one will have to spend 2 years in jail!

    • MoMoCHu5360

      The thing is in the Japanese music scene, they only upload short versions of the music videos (90% of the time) and people can’t really stream from youtube like that. Even when someone goes and uploads a full version of the video they may have gotten from the DVD or something, it gets removed in just a few hours, if not minutes. Take a look at Avex’s youtube channel, an you’ll see nothing but short versions of songs.

  • thewritestuff1

    The Japanese music publishers association is making efforts to increase interaction with non-Japanese publishes and writers. At Midem 2014, they will be hosting song pitching sessions and other goodies. Last year’s event with guitarist Marty Feldman as an eye-opener. http://cannes-or-bust.com/2013/11/japanese-music-publishers-to-host-pitching-session-at-midem/