Killing Music in the Name of Protecting It

The Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) has filed an official application to charge royalty fees to music schools who teach copyrighted music during class. Music schools have fought back saying there is no violation in teaching the music.

Just when Taylor Swift came around to put her songs back on Spotify, JASRAC decided to pull a stunt, which is so lacking in premise, it makes it difficult to pull their conclusion apart. If it makes more sense to put up music free on platforms like YouTube, then preventing music schools from teaching music shouldn’t be a sound move. In an era where everything is moving toward free, JASRAC appears to not understand the value of it.

In 2007, Radiohead released their In Rainbows album online as a pay-what-you-want offer. Some chose to pay nothing while others paid over $20. The album eventually averaged $6 per purchase. When they eventually released physical CDs and box sets, the album sold an astounding 3 million copies worldwide. But that’s not the main point. The band’s tour following the release of the album was its biggest ever, selling 1.2 million tickets.

That same year, Prince debuted his new album by giving it away in 2.8 million issues of the Sunday edition of London’s Daily Mail. He lost money on the distribution but more than made up for it with 21 sold out shows at London’s 02 Arena in August, bringing him record concert revenue for the region.

21-year-old Chinese pop star, Xiang Xiang, famous for her “猪之歌 (Song of Pig)” sold nearly 4 million copies of her album in 2009, almost all of which were pirated versions in the pirate nation of China, but she was fine with it because that was 4 million more fans she wouldn’t have had if they all had to pay full price for her album. That fame brought her offers for personal appearances and product endorsements.

Free music has played integral role in the thriving concert business by enlarging each artiste’s fan base. In 2002, the top 35 touring bands (including Eagles), made 4 times as much from their concerts as income from records and licensing. The Rolling Stones makes more than 90% of their money from concerts. In 2013, under the management of Live Nation, which also holds the rights to market Madonna, U2’s 360 tour broke the Rolling Stones’ record by selling over $700 million in tickets alone.

JASRAC’s action doesn’t seem to be placing musicians in priority. Either that, or they are too myopic in seeing that retaining the status quo of not charging money can benefit the industry. Singers like Utada Hikaru have taken to Twitter to voice their objection on JASRAC’s move saying they do not want royalty from music schools for teaching their songs.

It is one thing to charge more for a service that used to cost less; it’s another matter to charge a fee for something that used to be free. Instead of moving forward, JASRAC is trying to bring all of us backward. But placing my faith in humanity, I would expect JASRAC’s application to fall through. Otherwise, it may spell the end of Jpop.


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