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.