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Japan's music school students not subject to copyright fees, but teachers are: high court

This May 14, 2019 file photo shows a building that houses JASRAC, in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward. (Mainichi/Kazuhisa Soneda)

TOKYO -- Japan's Intellectual Property High Court ruled on March 18 that performances by students in lessons at music schools are not subject to fees from Japan's music copyright body, in a modification of a February 2020 ruling that stated teachers and students' playing was chargeable.

    In the prior ruling, the Tokyo District Court stated that because music schools are involved in selecting pieces of music, and profit by playing them, the schools are primary actors using music played by teachers or students. This definition makes them subject to fee collection by the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC).

    Conversely, the Intellectual Property High Court presided by Judge Masayuki Sugano viewed teachers and students separately. The court decided that students -- not music schools -- are primary actors using music played by them, because they play to improve their own skills under the instruction of teachers and are not required to perform above a certain level. However, with consideration for Japan's Copyright Act allowing the collection of fees on music played publicly, the high court decided students' performances are not for public consumption because they play to be heard by specific teachers.

    Meanwhile, as teachers' performances are conducted as part of music schools' instruction and supervision, the court said schools are the primary actor in the use of music played by teachers. From a music schools' perspective, the students are the public, and teachers' performances are for public consumption, so the court said teachers are subject to copyright fees as ruled in the first trial.

    In February 2017, JASRAC announced it would take copyright fees for music usage from music schools. A group of some 250 music school operators across Japan filed a suit against the move in June that year. The plaintiffs and their lawyers issued a statement reading, "If the development of music culture is taken into consideration, the importance of education provided by music schools must be respected fully."

    In response to the latest court decision, JASRAC issued a statement saying, "We cannot accept the ruling, and we will consider an appropriate response, including a final appeal."

    "Music school operators make profits by using music," said JASRAC's Managing Director Takashi Miyauchi. "It is reasonable that operators give suitable remuneration to creators."

    (Japanese original by Kazuhiro Toyama, City News Department, and Noboru Hirose, Cultural News Department)

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