The JASRAC Shakedown

Ikiru Gondola SongJASRAC (Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers) has been in the news a lot recently, and not in a good way. The fun started when JASRAC demanded that music schools, such as those run by Yamaha Music Foundation start paying licensing fees in 2018 or else be taken to court. Yamaha, faced with raising children’s music lesson fees, has threatened to sue JASRAC.

Japanese artists such as Hikaru Utada have publicly denounced JASRAC’s actions and don’t want their music rights used in such an abusive aggressive way. Ryuichi Sakamoto bluntly says JASRAC is a monopoly, which it is.

Instead of listening to the complaints of the artists whose rights it controls, JASRAC continues to turn up the heat by having police raid and shut down piano bars in Shinjuku because they were singing songs without paying JASRAC license fees. Remember that famous scene in Kurosawa’s ‘Ikiru’ when Takeshi Shimura sings the “Gondola Song”? That would not happen now because JASRAC wants a cut from the piano bar.

jasrac logo.jpegThe Shakedown
I knew a guy who worked for JASRAC. He made a huge salary and loved to throw his money around going to bars, treating his friends to the best Opera seats the world over. He also liked talking about his shakedown method: he would go around drinking at various bars and casually ask if the bar had a license for the background music. If they did not, he offered to negotiate a license deal right then and there, or threaten police and legal action. And of course lots of license deals got him big bonuses. I suspect bar bills were written off as a business expense as well. A sweet life.

The JAS-RACKET monopoly does’t sit well with record labels either. The Avex Group quit JASRAC and signed with a different, less expensive rights agency last year. JASRAC’s image is already Uber-like odious. It will be interesting to see if sinks any lower when the Yamaha case goes to court and JASRAC has to justify why children have to pay license fees for their music lessons.


The 10.5-inch iPad Pro, The Tipping Point and All That

I think a lot of people, myself included, have been somewhat unhappy with our Macs and iPads. The Mac does not feel like it’s where it needs to be, and that’s why so many people were upset with the 2016 MacBook Pro models. The problem is that Intel has not been where it needs to be, and might not get to where it needs to go. X86 is a truck. It can do mobile, but will never be mobile like the Apple A-series chip.

The iPad was not where it needed to be either but that’s all changed now with the new ‘WWDC’ iPad Pro models, especially the 10.5 inch, iOS 11 and the A10X chip. I have read many 10.5-inch iPad Pro reviews the past few days, to me the best one is The Brooks Review. Ben Brooks’s analysis feels just right, John Gruber’s review roundup is a runner up. Both of them quote Federico Viticci’s review (iPad Pro with Smart Cover/Smart Keyboard fits inside the new leather sleeve, nice catch).

Brooks sums it up nicely:

I suspect that people won’t only be moving to iPad from Macs, but people who have long used only their iPhones (though they likely have a laptop somewhere) will look at these changes and decide there’s now a compelling reason to grab an iPad. To talk about using iPads.

It’s going to be a hell of a holiday iPad season.

APFS and Unicode Normalization

One key feature of macOS High Sierra is the arrival of Apple File System (APFS) as the default file system format. The iOS 10.3 update migrated the iOS file system from HFS+ to APFS, an amazingly smooth transition that was celebrated at WWDC last week.

The WWDC APFS developer session video is well worth your time if you have access. I am familiar with font encoding issues but was completely unaware of the Unicode Normalization file system issue that developers outside the ASCII bubble have been worried about. The best blog to read about APFS and Unicode issues is The Eclectic Light Company by Howard Oakley. His take on AI is great too.

I particularly enjoyed reading his explanation of Unicode file naming and the limits of having the file system handle normalization. There will be two different flavors of APFS, native normalization will be default for iOS 11, the default for macOS High Sierra is normalization-insensitive. This should work well. The basic encoding issue that affects all systems everywhere however, remains:

it is time for the Unicode Consortium to map indistiguishable characters to the same encodings, so that each visually distinguishable character is represented by one, and only one, encoding.

That is a stark challenge, and one that I am sure will never even be started. But until we do, today’s minor running sores will only fester and grow.

I have heard similar complaints about the Unicode Consortium from Japanese font developers over the years. Unicode has done many good things but like any human organization there are agendas and politics. For some, the Unicode Consortium working method is too top down for comfort. Sometimes grand plans don’t work out, like IVS.

As Oakley points out, getting a big new effort off the ground is too much to ask of the Unicode Consortium.

First Apple Pay Scam in Japan Reported

Sankei Newspaper is reporting the first ever scam involving Apple Pay used to illicitly purchase 981 cartons of cigarettes worth almost 4.5 million JPY, approximately 40,000 USD.

According to Saitama Prefecture police, a group of three Chinese nationals purchased the cigarette cartons using two iPhones over a 10 hour period at a convenience store in Kawaguchi City, Saitama, totaling over 700 transactions between March 26 and 27. The single transaction limit was 20,000 JPY. Massive purchases by visiting Chinese tourists, known as ‘baku-gai’  (explosive buying), has been common and doesn’t raise concerns, though the trend is declining rapidly.

One member of the group was arrested and charged with fraud. Investigators believe the group used stolen credit card credentials and convinced the credit card company to send Apple Pay verification codes to different email addresses claiming the iPhone device owner had changed.

Security experts quoted in the article say that Japanese credit card companies need to be much more stringent authenticating card owners to avoid similar scams in the future.

As with most Japanese police reports details are pretty spare as the investigation is ongoing. It’s not clear from the article how the credit card information was obtained: a case of identity theft or some other means. Fault is clearly with the unnamed credit card company. There is not much Apple can do if credit card companies issue Apple Pay authorization codes without confirming identity.

Update 6/12: The Japan Times ran the story on June 3 from Kyodo New service. The English version is exactly the same as the Sankei Japanese one. It is interesting that the police knew the credit card data had been stolen but the credit card company apparently did not.

Update 8/22: recent similar credit card identity theft cases involving Chinese students and Apple Pay have also been reported by Japan Times but are simply that: credit card identity theft obtained by phishing. Apple Pay is in the title to sell the newspaper story.

Apple Maps Flashes Some Pink

I don’t know why, but all three major Japanese map products use the same color to indicate large underground structures: pink. It’s a perfect slyly perverse color choice for Shinjuku, a place that Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki called ‘the lucky hole of Tokyo.’

Yahoo Japan Map and Google Maps have offered detailed indoor mapping for some time. After vamping with “carefully curated navigation instructions so it’s easy to get around Japan’s extensive underground tunnel networks.” Apple Maps is about to get serious with indoor mapping and flash some real pink in iOS 11 as Tokyo is one of the launch cities for indoor mall maps.

Tokyo malls are underground shopping arcades attached to the large private rail train stations and department store retail empires of Keio, Seibu, Odakyu, Tokyu, etc. JR East only got started with the privatization of JNR in 1987 but has furiously rebuilt Tokyo station underground into a formidable retail area.

Shinjuku is the world’s busiest station and the most complex. The core JR East station is surrounded by multiple onion-like layers of  private line stations and subway lines interlaced with mazes of underground shopping malls. Here is a quick comparison of the big three Japanese map products focused on Keio Mall in the Shinjuku underground west exit side.

Apple has not uploaded any indoor map data for iOS 11 developer beta yet, I suspect it will come late in the beta cycle. Here is the current Apple Map view of Shinjuku west.

Apple Maps view of Shinjuku station with pink underground structure outlines added in iOS 10.1

Close up of Keiko Mall underground (pink) west exit of Shinjuku station (purple). The small round green Family Mart icon is roughly center point of Keio Mall
Here is the same Keio Mall area in Yahoo Japan Map:

Yahoo Japan Map view of Shinjuku west Keio Mall underground. Nice clean detail that is a hallmark of Yahoo Japan cartography. The different connecting station parts are clearly shown with platform stairs and exit signage exactly matching what you find on the ground. Store backgrounds are color keyed without icons and labeled clearly. The square green Family Mart icon is the same store as the round green icon in the previous Apple Map screenshot.

Larger view of Shinjuku station clearly shows how everything connects which Google Maps does not. Again, note that exits are clearly marked in yellow.
Here is Google Maps view of Keio Mall:

Keio mall google
Google and Apple both have a cartography obsession with three C icons that distract and clutter up information. Notice that Google Maps simply places text labels where they fit with no attempt to align anything, also Google does not display any of the surface exits clearly marked in Yahoo Japan Map.
Here is the indoor Apple Maps image from the iOS 11 preview page:ios11-indoor-maps eidt.png

Even with just the sample we can already see that Apple’s indoor maps will look a lot more like Google than Yahoo Japan: lots of ‘triple C’ (custom color keyed) icons though store background colors remain neutral grey with tiny colored dots indicating store type. The sample shows promise but we won’t know until we see it in action as indoor maps are incredibly difficult to do well.

It will be fascinating to see how it all works in Apple’s take of Shinjuku station, the world’s most complex indoor mapping challenge. If Apple Maps can crack it, or even just match Google, Japanese users will certainly see it as another success following the well received launch of Japan transit.