End urged to WWII copyright penalty

Kyodo

The nation’s music copyright body is pushing the government to seek an end of what it says is a “unilaterally imposed” 10-year extension for Japan to continue paying royalties to rights holders in 15 World War II victor nations, beyond the typical 50 years after a holder’s death applicable in Japan.

“The war will not be over until this issue is resolved,” Shunichi Tokura, chairman of the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC), said Monday in urging the government to start negotiations with each victor country to persuade them to scrap the extension.

The request was made to Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who, according to Tokura, said the government will “ponder it.”

JASRAC is taking issue with a provision of the San Francisco Peace Treaty that Japan signed in 1951. Japan is required to extend its copyright period by around 10 years to cover the period from the 1941 start of the war in the Pacific theater until the signing, when Japan was judged not to have protected victor countries’ copyrighted materials.

In the petition presented to the foreign minister, JASRAC said copyrighted works were not well protected during wartime on either side, but that Japan alone had an “obligation for wartime additions unilaterally imposed.”

Germany and Italy, which along with Japan fought against the Allied powers, are not faced with the same obligation on the grounds that it was an issue common to both sides in the fighting.

“The administration of (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe is calling for a departure from the postwar regime,” Tokura said. “This is a classic example. It (the San Francisco Peace Treaty) is clearly an unfair treaty.”

According to JASRAC, the copyright on the old U.S. hit song “Lover, Come Back to Me,” for example, is supposed to have expired at the end of 2010 in Japan, the end of the 50-year protection period after the 1960 death of the songwriter, Oscar Hammerstein II, a U.S. national. But it is extended to January 2020 in line with the provision.

JASRAC said last year alone it collected around ¥160 million in royalties to be paid to overseas rights holders for the extended portion of the copyright period.

Many of the Western countries to which Japan is paying royalties for the extended period provide copyright protection for 70 years after a rights holder’s death.

In 2007, the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Society (CISAC), an umbrella organization of copyright groups worldwide, adopted a resolution calling for the extension not to be imposed but effectively on condition that Japan extend the protection period to 70 years.