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Essay

The price of music

By Patrick St. Michel

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Nearly every week, JASRAC trends on Japanese Twitter. It's usually not because people are praising the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers, but because, once again, JASRAC has pissed off everyone in Japan.

In May, JASRAC sent a warning to Kyoto University after the school's president quoted American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan's famous song Blowin' in the Wind.

Earlier in the year, the organization, which collects copyright fees, announced plans to collect fees from music schools across Japan — because students often practice using popular songs, and perform them in a classroom setting. These two news items blew up online, generating angry tweets and message board posts bemoaning JASRAC's greed. Even J-pop superstars posted tweets.

"If you are a teacher or student who wants to use my songs for classes, I want you to use them for free without worrying about copyright," Hikaru Utada tweeted. Hundreds of thousands of people shared her tweet.

JASRAC has long attracted hate, not just because of how they collect fees, but also whom they collect fees from. They even lean on mom and pop hair salons! And when news of another seemingly ridiculous incident emerges, the internet blows up again. Many have accused the organization of ruining music in Japan thanks to its militant attitude to collecting money.

There is some truth to the claim. Pop music is meant to be heard by as many people as possible — it stands for "popular" after all. In most countries, it's common to hear catchy numbers playing all over the place, whether inside a restaurant, store or cafe. Music should be shared. JASRAC's policies crush that image. Ideas like charging music schools, meanwhile, appear to hurt those most passionate about the art.

Still, I have some sympathy for JASRAC. Many people online listen to music for free via YouTube, or on a cheap streaming platform such as Apple Music or Line Music. Music has lost a lot of value in people's minds over the last decade. JASRAC is, in theory, trying to make sure composers and artists get their fair share. And a lot of the charges it collects aren't that high. For most small businesses, the charges are around yen10,000 a year.

But JASRAC handles everything in a clunky way that makes it look like a crowd of vampires trying to suck out whatever fees they can. Their goal may be noble, but they go about it in a clumsy manner. Unless they can fix that, they should expect to trend on Twitter a whole lot more.

音楽の値段

楽曲の著作権使用料の徴収をめぐり、たびたびメディアやSNSなどで話題になるJASRAC。最近は、音楽教室からも著作権使用料を徴収する方針を打ち出し批判を浴びている。

The Japan Times ST: June 23, 2017

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