Japanese Music File Sharing: a 2007 Update

By: Steve Myers (steve@thetamusic.com) Steve Myers is president and chief enthusiast of Theta Music Technologies, which specializes in the development of music-related software applications.

Over the past few years, I’ve often been asked if file sharing – especially music file sharing – is as widespread in Japan as in the US and Europe. My answer has generally been something along the lines of ‘it certainly exists here, but the number of people doing it is pretty small compared to most other countries.’ In just the past year, though, we’ve seen a sharp increase in action taken by Japanese record industry and copyright organizations to step up efforts against file sharing.

Here is a timetable of the most important developments from last year:

** Jul. 25: RIAJ releases the results of a July survey showing that 3.5% of Internet users in Japan (1.76 million people) had used file-sharing software in the past year.

** Sep. 25: Responding to a motion filed by RIAJ members and affiliates, the Tokyo District Court orders 3 major Internet service providers to disclose the names and addresses of 19 individuals believed to have uploaded music files using file sharing software.

** Oct. 20: JASRAC sends a formal complaint to YouTube, requesting the company to remove copyrighted content. YouTube responds by immediately deleting 30,000 Japanese video files.

** Nov. 26: A group of Japanese rights organizations, led by JASRAC and RIAJ, start the ‘Ongaku Ihan’ campaign. Running through Jan. 31, the campaign is directed largely at mobile phone users, describing the legal and security issues surrounding file sharing.

** Nov. 27: A 45 year-old Nagasaki man is arrested for offering free copyrighted ringtones on his own mobile site without permission.

** Dec. 5: JASRAC formally contacts YouTube, requesting preventative measures against the upload of copyrighted videos.

** Dec. 13: Isamu Kaneko (the developer of Winny, Japan’s most popular file-sharing application) is found guilty of assisting copyright violations and sentenced to pay a fine of JPY1.5 million (US$12,500). Kaneko’s trial had lasted over two years, and he is expected to appeal the ruling.

** Dec. 19: YouTube responds that it would like to send some of its senior staff for a meeting with JASRAC

** Dec. 21: A group of Japanese rights organizations, led by JASRAC and RIAJ, announce that the three major wireless carriers – NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and SoftBank – have agreed to take measures to prevent sharing of digital music files for mobile phones.

I found the last announcement about mobile file sharing particularly interesting, as well as the Nagasaki arrest for ringtone uploading, which I believe is the first of its kind in the world.

I suppose it’s not so surprising that mobile file sharing has become a major concern here – after all, 90% of digital music downloads in Japan are to a mobile phone. Researching further, though, I was a bit taken aback at just how prevalent these free mobile sites are, especially compared to just one year ago, which was the last time I had looked into the issue.

At that time, there were just a handful of sites with very rough instructions for making your own chaku-uta (mastertones).

This time, though, I was quickly able to find several ‘underground’ sites offering free mastertones and full-song downloads, and also encouraging other users to create and upload their own files. Sites such as ‘Muryou Shugi’

(which translates roughly to something like ‘Free-ism’) provide very detailed information now on how to convert tracks from a CD to the various formats, and anonymous bulletin board sites such as 2-channel offer tools for making the handset-specific adjustments needed to obtain the best sound quality.

Although it does take a little effort to make your own mastertone and full-song tracks for mobile phones, the tools are for the most part readily available. Each carrier also issues its own tools to each ‘official’ content provider for enabling the finished file to be set as a ringtone on the phone. Just looking at some of the posts on 2-channel, however, it appears that ‘unofficial’ tools which do the same thing are also available to anyone for free download.

It remains to be seen what specific measures will be taken by the wireless carriers to prevent file sharing and illegal distribution to mobile phones, but this will no doubt be an issue to watch in the coming year.

Posted on February 1, 2007 in What's New

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