Online music trade riles labels

Record industry orchestrates legal action, copy-proofing

by Satoshi Toi

The battle between online music-swapping service providers and the Japanese music industry is intensifying, with the industry vowing to crack down on what it calls illegal sharing of digital copies of music.

According to Isamu Tomizuka, chairman of the Recording Industry Association of Japan, “Music is being stolen. We will have to take self-defense measures to protect the foundation of the music industry from damage that is spreading like a pyramid scheme.”

In November, MMO Japan Ltd., an operator of an online file-swapping service, put on the domestic market File Rogue software, enabling subscribers to retrieve songs free of charge.

The association said after music record output peaked in value at 607.4 billion yen in 1998, it has since declined, hitting 503 billion yen last year. Additionally, CD single output plunged 21 percent in 2001 from the previous year.

The Japanese Society for the Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers and a group of 19 record companies asked the Tokyo District Court late last month to prohibit MMO Japan from handling music files digitally copied from copyrighted software.

The music industry is also studying the sale of CDs equipped with a copy-prevention function, something that is already used in some countries in North America and Europe.

CDs will be encoded with special signals to prevent them from being copied via personal computers.

Recording of CDs onto cassette tape recorders will be possible, but not digital recording on hard disks and other devices, according to the industry.

“We are studying various technologies,” said record label Toshiba-EMI Ltd. The new CDs are expected to be on the market by the end of the year.

There are also moves to protect TV images, where the rights of scriptwriters, performers, musicians and others are involved.

To prepare for digitization of TV signals in fall 2003, NHK and TV stations belonging to the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan are studying a technology called “copy-once.”

With this technology, involving special signals in TV waves, recording can be done only once.

The TV stations are already consulting with electrical appliance manufacturers, and the Information and Communications Council of the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry will draw a conclusion in October.

Copy-once is offered for digital broadcasts for a fee, but the Department of Legal and Business Affairs of Tokyo Broadcasting System Inc. said the company, as a free-of-charge broadcaster, “will fully discuss inconveniences for audiences and make them well-known.”

The popularization of broadband services, which enable high-speed exchange of massive amounts of information via the Internet, makes it much easier to copy music and video images.

The telecommunications ministry has reported that the number of subscribers to digital subscriber lines topped 1.5 million last year, backed by the government’s “e-Japan priority program” aimed at turning the nation into an information technology superpower.

Following global moves to protect digital content, a law allowing disclosure of information about copyright violators will become effective by May.

Hisamichi Okamura, a lecturer at Kinki University who is well-versed in Net copyrights, said: “Copyright protection is an urgent task, but excessive protection allowing no copying may damage the functioning of society, which grows with impartiality and imitation.

“The development of arts and culture requires a balanced protection of copyright holders and those enjoying their work.”