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For many young people, ordinary cell-phone ring tones and alarms are monotonous and boring. So they replace those tones with chaku-uta (literally “arriving music”), or musical ring tones downloaded from the Internet. But there is a problem: A large number of these ring tones are downloaded for free from illegal Web sites.

Uploading chaku-uta without a copyright holder’s consent is already illegal and punishable under the law. Last month a 28-year-old man who ran the illegal Dai San Sekai chaku-uta Web site was given a suspended prison term and fined ¥5 million by the Kyoto District Court. About 20,000 tunes were on his Web site. He had earned more than ¥120 million in ad revenue over three years. The government has submitted to the Diet a bill to revise the Copyrights Law, making chaku-uta downloads from unauthorized sources illegal, but the law does not impose penalties. The government aims to enforce the revision from Jan. 1, 2010.

Chaku-Uta originally is a trademark of Sony Music Entertainment, which started the fee-based downloading service in 2002, but the term has become genericized. These days, chaku-uta tunes include not only edited versions but also full-length versions. In 2008, some 330 million chaku-uta tunes were downloaded from legal fee-based Web sites. But that same year an estimated some 400 million chaku-uta tunes were downloaded for free from illegal Web sites.

After the October 2008 arrest of the Dai San Sekai Web-site manager, growth in chaku-uta downloading from illegal Web sites slowed, but many illegal chaku-uta Web sites remain. These sites hamper the efforts of the music industry to compensate for declining CD sales through fee-based online music services.

Young people who have become used to downloading music for free may not like the idea of paying for it. But the law revision will serve as a strong reminder that downloading from illegal Web sites infringes on the rights of composers, musicians and other members of the music industry.

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