Stranglehold on music copyrights is loosening in Japan


Staff Writer

Pop music agency Avex Group Holdings, known for managing artists such as Exile, Namie Amuro and Tokyo Girls’ Style, announced in October that they plan to transfer the copyright administration of up to 100,000 songs from the current holder, JASRAC (Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers), to their affiliate copyright organization, e-License. Then in December, Avex announced that e-License and JRC (Japan Rights Clearance), another copyright mangament company, would be merged into a new organization, NexTone, on Feb. 1, 2016.

Having the two companies combined could spell the end of JASRAC’s monopoly over various areas of the music copyright management business. The launch of e-License generated competition over the copyrights of recorded and interactive music, and it is reported that NexTone has a long-term goal of penetrating the performing rights copyrights still dominated by JASRAC.

On April 28, the Supreme Court ruled that JASRAC is an obstacle to other copyright groups involved in music broadcasting. That means JASRAC’s share of the market, which now stands at 98 percent, should be reduced to encourage more competitors to enter the market, which should lead to better services for copyright holders.

JASRAC’s business model has long been criticized for its strict payment demands: television and radio shows must pay their dues, but even privately owned bars and cafes that want to play music in their establishments need to register with the organization — though categorized as ippan shadan hōjin (general incorporated association), a type of company ran without profit.

A law was passed in 2001 — the chosakuken tō kanri jigyōhō (law regarding copyright management) — that helped trigger the launch of a number of new copyright organizations. Before this law passed, musicians and lyricists were forced to sign to JASRAC, due to difficulties of artists managing unauthorized copyright usages themselves. The first private enterprise to be involved in managing music copyrights was e-License, founded in 2000 in anticipation of the legal changes. A third organization, JRC, joined the field in 2015.

It has been seven years since Fair Trade Commission investigated JASRAC to assess whether they were had a monopoly over copyrights. The Fair Trade Commission issued a cease-and-desist order to JASRAC in 2009. However, the order was turned down in June 2012.

Masahiro Anan, the current president of e-License — expected to become NexTone’s CEO — announced on Dec. 17 that NexTone plans to provide services that focus on new digital platforms, and promises the new company will provide healthy competition to JASRAC.