The Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) sparked a public uproar in February when it announced it will start demanding that private music schools pay copyright fees.
The nation’s largest copyright management agency says that when teachers play a song on the piano in front of their students without permission, they are committing a copyright violation.
JASRAC drew fire again in May when media reports surfaced alleging the organization had demanded that Kyoto University pay a copyright fee for posting online a congratulatory address written by professor Juichi Yamagiwa that included a line from Bob Dylan’s classic song “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
JASRAC has long earned notoriety for what critics see as strong-armed collection tactics.
A JASRAC spokesman, however, told The Japan Times that its objective is to “contribute to the healthy development of music culture.”
The agency distributed ¥112 billion to music labels and artists in 2016.
“The copyright law requires people to obtain the permission of copyright holders when they benefit from the rights holders’ music,” he said.
Here are some questions and answers about the copyright group:
What are JASRAC’s main duties?
It was founded in 1939 as Japan’s first organization managing music copyrights. As of March 31, the organization managed about 3.7 million pieces of music.
JASRAC handles copyrights of songs and their lyrics on behalf of copyright owners, who include music publishers and artists. The organization was managing copyrights on behalf of 17,610 clients as of April 1.
Operators of all businesses, including broadcasters, publishers, bars, cafes and hair salons, must sign an agreement with JASRAC and pay copyright fees to use music for commercial purposes.
The organization also charges fees from operators of funerals and wedding ceremonies. If someone wants to play Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” at a funeral, the operator must get permission from JASRAC and pay the copyright fee.
The JASRAC spokesman said not many funeral operators have signed agreements, but the group will continue to send out notices.
What are some of the ways that copyright-protected music is used?
Uses include performing a song at a live gig or a karaoke tournament, playing a song as background music in a store or other business, such as a restaurant, and leasing out CDs.
Meanwhile, publishers must pay copyright fees to print lyrics in a book, magazine or newspaper.
For stores smaller than 500 sq. meters, the fee is ¥6,000 a year for unlimited use of JASRAC songs as background music.
It costs more to hold a concert using JASRAC songs. To use 10 songs managed by the organization in a 100-minute concert with up to 100 people in the audience who pay ¥1,000 to get in, it would cost ¥4,320 per show for the operator, according to a price simulator available on the JASRAC website.
How does the group operate?
JASRAC has about 20 offices and 500 employees nationwide to inform new businesses that they’re required to pay for copyrighted music and to keep tabs on existing businesses to make sure they maintain the proper level of fee payments.
On top of its own employees, the spokesman said JASRAC works with other organizations to collect fees, such as companies that lease karaoke machines to bars.
When a bar rents a karaoke machine from a leasing company, its contract with the leasing company includes a section mandating that it pay JASRAC for the music played, the spokesman said.
Why does JASRAC have a bad reputation?
The organization has been criticized for being overly harsh with small businesses that use music without permission.
JASRAC said that in June 2016, it filed petitions for arbitration against 212 hair salons, restaurants and clothing stores for allegedly failing to pay fees for background music.
The move shocked many who were unaware they were supposed to pay JASRAC copyright fees simply for playing CDs or music from iPods or smartphones.
JASRAC began managing the copyright fees for music played as background music in 2002 and in recent years has expanded its collection targets. The organization started gathering fees from fitness clubs in 2011, cultural centers in 2012, dance schools in 2015 and karaoke schools in 2016.
The organization will begin collecting copyright fees from private music schools starting next year.
What is the latest controversy over JASRAC?
The organization caused a stir in February after announcing it will begin collecting copyright fees from private music schools operated by instrument manufacturers starting in January 2018.
In response, about 350 music school operators and other music businesses, including Yamaha Music Foundation and Kawai Musical Instruments Manufacturing Co., formed a group to file a lawsuit against JASRAC as early as July.
They argue that JASRAC should not demand copyright fees for using music for educational purposes.
However, according to a press release issued by JASRAC in February, private music schools must pay fees because they operate for “commercial purposes.” It also said that regular schools teaching music classes as part of the standard curriculum are excluded.
Copyrights expire 50 years after the death of an artist, meaning that most classical music is exempt from copyright protection. However, the agency spokesman said music schools tend to use contemporary music, including pop songs.
Article 22 of the Copyright Law gives composers the right to perform their music. A copyright is violated if others play it without permission, JASRAC claims, adding that it therefore must demand that schools pay fees.
“Our task is not about monitoring or banning music. We encourage legal use of music by signing a contract with us,” the spokesman said.
To help “develop music culture in Japan,” the organization will continue to expand areas where rights holders are protected, he said.