The start of Apple Computer Inc.’s music-downloading service Aug. 4 heralds big changes in the landscape of Japan’s music business and culture. Music lovers can now choose their favorite songs from among 1 million songs offered by iTunes Music Store. With Apple’s entry into the Japanese market, an increasing number of people are expected to start downloading music from Internet sites, using their computers. After storing the data in digital portable players, consumers can carry around and listen to selections from a body of music equivalent to several hundred CDs.

The 1 million songs offered by Apple’s new service come from 15 Japanese record labels. Customers may download most songs for 150 yen apiece; 10 percent of the tunes cost 200 yen each. In the first four days of iTunes’ operation, 1 million songs were downloaded. Apple’s entry has already had an impact on Japanese rivals. LabelGate, Japan’s largest music-downloading service, has announced a price reduction from 200 yen to 150 yen. Other Japanese services are doing likewise.

Competition in the field of digital portable players will intensify. Apple’s iPod players have slightly more than a one-third share of the Japanese market. Other makers are trying to catch up. In July, Apple, Sony and Toshiba started selling new products, all of which are no heavier than mobile phones and small enough to be carried in a shirt pocket.

Since the invention of daguerreotype and the gramophone, human beings have pursued technology that will record sounds and visual images as accurately as possible. Digital technology, as a culmination of these efforts, makes it possible to record signals of sounds and visual images with extremely high fidelity. But as digital technology makes progress and increases in popularity, it will become crucial to solve problems related to copyright law.

One big problem has been the illegal reproduction of copyrighted works and/or infringement on copyright piracy. In a U.S. lawsuit over the video recording of TV programs, a court ruled in 1984 that such video recordings at home do not constitute a copyright violation. The ruling has become an international standard, allowing individuals to record music and movies for personal use.

The spread of digital technology in the 1990s posed a new problem. The marketing claim that digitally recorded signals, in principle, would not deteriorate prompted greater enthusiasm for recording copyrighted works. So, in 1993, Japan introduced a system of imposing a surcharge on recording machines that incorporate digital technology, and on the recording mediums used in such machines, as a way of compensating manufacturers and individual artists responsible for copyrighted works. A surcharge of several yen is imposed on mini-discs and DVD discs, and several hundred yen on a digital recording machine.

In the 21st century, the spread of digital portable players like iPods has complicated copyright-related problems. The hard disks and semiconductor memories used in these machines are not subjected to copyright-related surcharges because they are considered original-storage mediums for computers.

JASRAC (Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers) is calling for the imposition of surcharges on digital portable players. A copyright-law subcommittee of the Council for Cultural Affairs has discussed the issue, but has yet to reach a conclusion. One member said that, because people already pay fees to download music over the Internet, imposing the surcharge would mean a double payment. Another said a surcharge should be imposed on digital portable players even if they can be used for purposes other than storing and playing music. A third member said imposing a surcharge on digital portable players alone is inadequate due to the rapid progress in digital technology.

Another big issue is the use of file-sharing software, which enables unidentified people to exchange music and visual image data over the Internet without paying fees. Huge amounts of illegally copied data can be transmitted instantly.

JASRAC’s data indicates a new trend amid the problems. While CD sales have been dwindling every year, copyright payments have registered a record amount for three years in a row, reaching 110.9 billion yen in fiscal 2004. Revenues from transmitted karaoke songs and ringtone melodies for mobile phones are also increasing each year. Revenues from music downloading services are expected to rise rapidly in fiscal 2005.

Nomura Research Institute estimates that the music downloading market will grow from 8 billion yen to 88 billion yen in the next five years. Discussion of copyright-related issues in the digital era should cover a wide perspective, including the main point of paying due rewards to artists who turn out excellent works.

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