Copyrights


The Intellectual Property Strategic Program of 2007 (PDF version here) has as one of its many goals, to reach a conclusion on whether to extend the term of copyright protection from 50 years to 70 years by the end of the fiscal year (March 31).

Yet the working group convened under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology is split in whether to recommend the extension or not, according to Daily Yomiuri article by Yoshikazu Suzuki.

It is no wonder that members are split, with the panel being made up of rights holding organisations such as JASRAC and the Japan Writers Association, who of course have extending the term of protection, and lawyers and economists who feel an extension would be unfair, and would not provide any further incentive for creators to generate new copyrighted works.

The following argument makes sense if we consider that people are generally ‘rational actors’. If a novelist writes a work at 30 years of age, the current term will protect her work until she is 80 years old. For artists and creatives older than 20, the chance of the copyright expiring in their living years decreases considerably with every year that passes.

Unless, of course, copyrights are left in estate to relatives, friends, or trust funds. But clearly, those who stand to benefit most from an extension of the copyright term are the rights managing organisations themselves. As we get closer to 2010, the volume of copyrighted works that continue to expire undoubtedly grows. (I have no stats on this, but have the growth in music and television programs – given that broadcasting in Japan started in 1953 – in mind)

While proponents point to the added ‘incentive’ (of posthumous revenue?), there are also economic and creative barriers that an extension potentially raises. As Suzuki writes:

An extension would [not be without drawbacks for] copyright holders. During the Oct. 12 symposium, playwright Minoru Betsuyaku and nonfiction writer Shinichi Sano said the extension would hinder writers seeking to produce new works based on the work of past authors. It also is questionable what kinds of advantages and disadvantages would accrue to people who want to enjoy copyrighted works.

It does appear a tough one, given that the IP Strategic Headquarters wants to reconcile the rights of copyright holders with the ‘multi-use’ and reuse of content by artists and users. We know which way JASRAC are always going to vote.

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Nova Scotia’s film industry is to get the tax incentives it sought (see previous DISCONTENTS entry).

A news release from the Premier’s office on 13 September indicates that the industry will receive its requested 50 percent tax credits for films shot in Halifax, and a 60 percent tax credit on films shot in rural areas. Any company who films 3 or more films in a year will receive an extra 5 percent on top of the applicable rate.

The tax credits, calculated on the number of local residents employed, is aimed at boosting employment in the industry. According to the press release however, it is not just the tax credits that make the province attractive for filmmakers:

Nova Scotia is known for many positive attributes that help attract film production including experienced film production crews, talented actors, impressive locations and a solid infrastructure.

The release also quotes Ann Mackenzie’s analysis of the need for government assistance:

“A number of factors are coming into play this year including a short ACTRA strike, a stronger Canadian dollar, and more attractive incentives in other jurisdictions. We do not want to lose our position as the fourth largest film centre in the country, a position we have held for the past ten years.

David MacLeod, chair of the Nova Scotia Motion Picture Industry Association believes the increased tax credits will allow the film and television industry to be “intensely competitive and ensure employment for hundreds of Nova Scotians.”

There is no mention of making ‘Canadian films’, no policy drive for local companies to retain the copyrights for the productions being made. Are there any data on the numbers of foreign (including U.S.) versus Canadian productions shot in Canada disaggregated to the provincial level?

Tax credits for labour might keep a certain number of locals employed and technically trained, but just how sustainable is that? Does it encourage or enable these employees to eventually make their own commercially viable productions? Or does the model lock the industry into a fee-for-service model indefinitely?

From Nikkei BP’s Tech-On site. A group of ‘cultural organisations’ including JASRAC, Japan Writers Association, Japan Artists Association, and Japan Cartoonists Association among other organisations have announced plans to create a website that will enable searches of copyright information on literature, photos and music via the Internet.

Aiming to launch the site in January 2009, the site intends to allow anybody to easily search copyright-related information such as copyright terms and right holders.

JASRAC and the group support (or rather are the proponents) of a movement for the extension of the posthumous protection term from 50 years to 70 years in Japan. The website no doubt is to show policymakers that the group is providing access to copyright information for those wishing to locate right holders of particular properties, which warrants extended protection of copyrighted term.

The Keidanren’s Japan Content Showcase may be linked to the site.

The group may have differing opinions with Keidanren about the future of copyrights and how legislation should be amended to aid either the protection or exploitation of copyrighted properties. (see previous posts)

The Keidanren Chairman Mita contests the claim of ‘high costs’ of using properties where right holders cannot be located: “I have received indications that it currently costs much to use works for which right holders are unknown,”

Things are looking up for the character business in Korea, according to an article in the English Chosun.

Industry size. The sales volume of the character industry in Korea totaled W4.288 trillion in 2005, with Korean characters claiming a 41 percent share of the market, up 6 percentage points from three years before.

Trade Surplus. According to data on character-related products, the export volume of W163.6 billion surpassed the import volume of W123.4 billion in 2005. This is a turnaround from the previous year. 2004 figures suggest exports were W134.2 billion and imports W148 billion.

International collaboration.

The successful overseas debut of Pucca was the fruit of a multinational collaboration. Korea’s Vooz Character Systems developed and marketed Pucca, the U.K.’s Jetix put up the funds, Canada’s Studio B produced the animation, and an American writer took care of the story. Korea’s advanced information technology did its part in the development of the character.

According to officials from the Secretariat of Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters within the Cabinet Office, reports of Intellectual Property Working Group/Panel making recommendations to introduce the compulsory licensing of content over broadband has been misreported.

The news originally appearing in Japanese newspapers was picked up by English sources such as Variety in a way that suggested the Panel had formally recommended the rule change.

Secretariat officials indicate that the compulsory licensing idea was raised during panel discussions but was not actually a formal recommendation that has been compiled in the final report. (The Headquarters have records of these meeting online in Japanese)

A similar proposal has however, been publicly made by the Chairman of the Keidanren, as mentioned in a May 30 DISCONTENTS entry.

The Strategy Headquarters, who have released their 2007 Intellectual Property Strategic Plan at the end of May (English translation not yet available), have as their goal to change copyright law to allow the greater distribution of content online within 2 years. A concrete way of crafting such legislation into the legal framework has not yet been achieved, and promises to be an uphill battle vis-a-vis opposition from incumbent copyright holders who fear an erosion of their market power.

Here is a story from the Business Guardian about the music industry’s reaction to ‘the artist formerly known as’ ‘Prince’ “giving away” in a bundling deal with the Mail on Sunday newspaper in the UK.

The Entertainment Retailers Association said the giveaway “beggars belief”.

In an appalling and misguided attempt at sabre-rattling, ERA co-chairman Paul Quirk has come out, first appealing to his ‘integrity’ to ‘return the favour’ to those who have supported him:

“It would be an insult to all those record stores who have supported Prince throughout his career,”

…before moving on to bemoan the lack of integrity society at large shows in its treatment of the music industry as an artform:

“It would be yet another example of the damaging covermount culture which is destroying any perception of value around recorded music.

…before finally turning to threaten Prince (but more pointedly other artists) that they would be out of a day job without the retailers:

“The Artist Formerly Known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores. And I say that to all the other artists who may be tempted to dally with the Mail on Sunday.”

A three-pronged attack but with very little substance.

The words smack of a music industry (or retailers in particular) who have seen the huge spike in online sales of music through retail platforms such as i-tunes. Distributors and retailers rightly fear online distribution of music, as it gives artists unprecedented access to markets, and provides users with a way of unbundling or disaggregating what we know as an album: what fans may call a coherent collection of music that mark where the band are at a point in time, while others may see it as a way of up-selling a few good songs by bundling it with a bunch of less-than-stellar tracks, a la the block-selling of films by distributors prior to the Paramount Act.

Take a look at some of the figures Chris Anderson gives in his book The Long Tail. Take a look then not at record sales (which the industry explains are taking a dive due to piracy) but at total earnings from copyright bodies. In Japan, JASRAC has posted annual increases in revenue despite drops in CD retail sales.

It makes me question at first whether such executives realise both the creative industry features and digital content characteristics of the goods they are talking about. But surely they know all too well that with the advent of iTunes and the like, artists can make a living out of being ‘artists formerly [or never] available in record stores’.

On a related note, it was reassuring to see an instance of an artist who uses CDs as a way to promote his music and to focus on earning revenue from concerts. Naturally, not all artists make performance-driven music, but for those who do it makes the digital distribution of music (in both its legal and illegal forms) a positive for the performer who can expect to attract more patrons to their concerts, gigs, raves….

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.

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