Top court decision on copyright fees eases fears of music schools

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Masato Oike, center, who heads a group formed to protect music education, speaks at a press conference following the Supreme Court ruling on Monday.

Music educators across Japan breathed a sigh of relief following a Supreme Court ruling in a lawsuit contesting the extent to which copyright fees can be collected for performances in music classes.

The top court on Monday upheld a lower court decision not to allow the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) to collect copyright fees for student performances at music schools, ruling that such performances “are not subject to copyright fees.”

While the top court ruled Monday that the music copyright management body cannot collect fees for student performances, JASRAC can collect fees for performances by music instructors.

“I’m slightly relieved there will be no fee for student performances,” said Yoko Kobayashi, who has been teaching music in Tokyo since 1990.

About 500 students, from children to 70-year-olds, attend classes at the music schools she runs. Lessons mainly feature classical music, but sometimes students want to learn pop songs.

“If classical music was the only thing on the curriculum, it would narrow the development of the students,” she said. “Learning pop songs is important to boost motivation.”

The Copyright Law stipulates that the term of protection for music and other works is up to 70 years following the death of the author. Pop and anime theme songs, whose copyrights are controlled by JASRAC, are subject to a levy.

Music schools had previously refused to pay such fees. Following the Supreme Court ruling, they will no longer be able to refuse to pay fees levied for performances by instructors.

“We would like JASRAC to set fees that are commensurate with the reality that teachers just show how to play parts of the music for demonstration purposes,” Kobayashi said. “Otherwise, students might be reluctant to learn pop music, or schools will have to ask students to shoulder the financial burden.”

The plaintiffs, who comprised about 250 music school operators including the Yamaha Music Foundation, have formed a group to protect music education.

At a press conference in Tokyo held after Monday’s ruling, the head of the group, Masato Oike, said he feared there would be a drop in the number of people learning to play musical instruments if the court’s decision had gone the other way. “I think the ruling will halt a decline,” Oike said.