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Japanese video content copyright changes in the works? May 28, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Internet, Japan, Media.
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I’ve seen some channels (also here, and here for example, all based on this article) picking up the fact that the Intellectual Property Rights Policy Work Group is set to recommend that video content distribution over the internet be made easier to manage. Currently (legal) internet distribution of such content requires that the distributor get permission from all rights holders associated with the content. The rules for broadcasters is less strict, and the proposal seems to be an attempt to apply the TV broadcaster rules to the internet.

This is part of a drive by the Japanese government to try to make the Japanese content business a global business (and also to drive money and budgets to pet projects which can be claimed to be required to achieve this goal, of course).

Seems pretty attractive on the surface. However, this isn’t really new news. This is the Nikkei’s article regarding this year’s “progress”, and this is last year’s. The plans seem to be virtually the same, which shows that no progress was made last year.

Part of the problem, as the Variety article sort of alludes to, is the structure of showbusiness in Japan, where large, powerful, well connected (to both political, legitimate and less-than-legitimate businesses) “talent” agencies hold a lot of power. These are the groups like Yoshimoto Kogyo, Horipro, Ken-on, Johnny&Associates, etc, etc. (though in fact these agencies are far from difficult to track down, rather they are jealous of their assets and often refuse to give the required permissions which results in stalled efforts to redistribute content. Even for TV broadcasters, who may theoretically be able to just broadcast and pay roylaties later, would not dare going against the wishes of the agencies for whom they rely on “talent” to populate their programming. It would seem from the content aired on Japanese TV, the industry is totally reliant on pretty faces (around which a cross-media marketing blitz is executed) to get ratings. It certainly isn’t the quality of acting or wit)

All the more interesting to see that the working group doesn’t have a single representative from these agencies, but several representatives from broadcasters and content distributors. (see the list of representatives on P17 of this report)

I smell a political tug-of-war, with broadcasters and internet channels on one side trying to change the current status quo where talent agencies have huge amounts of power.

In any case, whilst the WG proposes that:

[..] Internet distribs of previously broadcast TV shows will no longer need to get permissions from all rights holders, as is currently required. Instead they will only have to ensure royalty payments to all rights holders following webcasts of the shows.

this statement requires careful reading. It doesn’t necessarily mean distributors will no longer need to get permissions from rights holders, this could be interpreted that distributors won’t need to get permissions from ALL rights holders, every one last one of them – especially the really difficult to track down rights holders who are no longer in the business or were not credited in the original material.

I can’t see the slave masters talent agencies giving up their grip on the entertainment industry that easily. The talent agencies (Yoshimoto and AVEX notably) are beginning to do their own thing with regards to internet content, and the broadcasters and film distributors (who are also embracing their own closed version of internet broadcasting) don’t want to miss out on the party.

A working group with heavy representation from the broadcaster set would naturally want new regulations which would allow them to use content without permissions from the agencies who they might be in direct competition with for the re-run internet VOD programming. (It is unlikely that agencies would shift wholesale to the internet, at least in the short term, as TV ad revenues are still very lucrative)

I predict that this tug-of-war will continue beneath the surface for a while.

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