The Japanese government announced on March 5th that they would amend the copyright law to add two new rights to rights holders.
1) a right to control the import of music sound recordings which were produced legitimately under the license of the right holders
2) a right to control the rental of books (which was established in 1984 but was suspended until now)
There is a huge outcry re creating "importing" rights for sound recordings. Under the proposed amendment, right holders will enjoy the right of controlling imports for the first several years (not longer than 7 years). Currently, the neighboring right holders of sound recordings are enjoying the power to maintain retail prices under antitrust law (i.e. antitrust law is exempted for rights holders to maintain retail prices for certain copyrighted works). This antitrust policy has already been accused for its legitimacy. Still, creating a right to control the import of discs that are produced overseas (with a legal licenses), giving a second chance to charge royalties to these sound recordings that flows into the Japanese market would certainly effect the market in Japan. The parallel import issues regarding patents and trademarks are decided in the favor of importers (i.e. right holders cannot stop parallel imports of goods that are legitimately created overseas, because the right holders have already enjoyed the first chance of getting royalties, and don’t need a second chance to get money.) I cannot see why sound recording industries should have an exceptional privilege in this parallel import issues. Prof. Nakayama, one of the prominent scholars in this field, pointed out in an article that, such “double price protection” by copyright law and antitrust law cannot be found anywhere else in the world. He criticized that the government was rushing toward the harmful expansion of copyright without legitimate discussion with consumers and scholars.
Resuming a right to control the rental of books is less criticized. Some retail stores started renting comics, magazines and other printed materials, which seriously impacts the sale of these printed materials. The government decided to resume the right to control these rental services. However, at the same time, the publishers will create a collecting society to clear rights for these rental services so that the transaction cost will be lowered as much as possible. This combination of establishing a right while lowering the transaction cost is very important for the society to secure healthy information flow. What is left for use is to watch the license policy of this collecting society. I strongly hope that they will take a open, non-discriminatory license policy.