Variety has reported that one of the Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarter expert panels has recommended that pre-authorisation for re-use of copyrighted content over internet channels be scrapped, requiring potential redistributors to simply pay royalties to copyright holders for content they stream on webcasts rather than gain prior authorisation. (see posts in VarietyAsiaOnline and commentary on ars technica)

According to a Nikkei BP publication article, a similar proposal has been put forward by Japan’s Keidanren‘s chairman Fujio Mitarai and Itochu chairman Uichiro Niwa , has been put forward as a way to both allow for the full utilisation of copyrighted content that may otherwise be ‘gathering dust’, and as enabler to fill the ever-expanding distribution channels with ‘much needed’ digital content.

[The government should establish new legislations that include a] “more simplified, convenient procedure that could replace pre-authorization by each right owner” in a bid to promote the distribution of digital contents.

The IPSH’s Intellectual Property Strategic Plans have long stated the aim to maximise the distribution of content over digital broadband channels (see Chapter 4 of the 2006 Strategic Plan (in pdf)).

The proposal was criticised by a group of 17 copyright organizations including the Japan Writer’s Association and JASRAC (Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers). Free-to-air commercial broadcasters are likely to be against the proposal as well as it not only loosens their control of content for which they own broadcast rights, but also threatens to erode their traditional business model of selling content-viewing audiences to advertisers.

Which situation is better for the sustainable development of the content industry is not a simple question to answer. On the ‘rights’ front, one school of thought would suggest content holders should be able to maintain control of their products and distribute them in a way that they see fit. At the opposite end of the spectrum, opinons abound that third parties should be able to redistribute content provided copyright holders are being paid for its use.

While it makes sense for a corporation to have control of its product portfolio and use it in ways it sees fit in order to maximise return (or minimise losses), allowing content to be reused by third parties may actually prove to be a profitable way for copyright holders to reap returns both on popular content and in particular on content that has not proved so profitable and has been consigned to be ‘locked in the vault’. While the knee-jerk reaction of incumbent rights holders would be to reject the new proposal, it might well be worth their while to consider the merits of a system that (on a limited basis?) provides them with new channels to distribute and gain revenue from their content.

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Skipping from content in Japan to pharmaceuticals in Thailand (see articles on compulsory licensing in Bankok Post and a Huffington post on IPR and access to medicines), parallels can be drawn between the two, where a government passes legislation that allows local firms to distribute the intellectual property developed by one patent/copyright holder provided they pay royalties for fair use. While ensuring the supply audio-visual programming on the one hand and the availability of life-saving (generic) medication at a low price on the other seem worlds apart, they also share common economic properties: high upfront development costs, extremely low marginal costs that make them both ripe for unauthorized use and compel developers to maintain firm control of distribution.