Culture & Sport

In Japan, music schools don’t need to pay copyright fees for students who learn music, the Supreme Court rules

The Supreme Court of Japan ruled that music schools don’t need to pay copyright royalties for music played by students, dismissing the appeal made by the Japanese Society for the Rights of Authors.

Piano Yamaha
© Jordan Whitfield

The Supreme Court of Japan on October 24 ruled that music schools don’t need to pay copyright fees for students playing music. It considers tuition, and profits, of music classes as compensation for receiving instructions on improving skills and not only for playing or using copyrighted music.

As such, the Court considered that students’ musical performances were not covered by the regulation that requires payment of copyrights. However, teachers’ performances are.

The decision, expected to affect thousands of schools nationwide, follows a lawsuit filed five years ago by 250 music class organizations like the Yamaha Music Foundation against JASRAC, the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors which manages copyright fees.

JASRAC announced in February 2017 that music classes – “instruments classes, singing classes and other facilities that teach their students how to play musical instruments, sing songs, etc.” – will be charged for the use of music in their facilities as they make profits out of it. Clubs, bars and other facilities where music is played need to pay copyright fees.

JASRAC implemented a licensing agreement with a royalty fee of 2.5 percent of a school’s total tuition income. But a facility with less than 30 students and a monthly tuition fee lower than 4,000 yen (27 dollars) for each student is required to pay 6,000 yen (40 dollars) per month when there is no licensing agreement, according to JASRAC’s grid. More than 5 percent of its income.

The Tokyo District Court on February 2020 considered that schools make a profit out of music and should pay royalties.

But the 2nd Intellectual Property High Court in March 2021 made a distinction between music used and played by students and by teachers. It decided that only fees should be collected for teachers’ performances because student performances were meant to improve their own skills.

JASRAC then appealed the decision considering copyrights should also be collected for student performances. It argued students are under the direct management of their teachers.

But the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal considering that students, unlike teachers, are not exactly users of the creative work. It justified students “receive instructions on techniques, on how to master and improve them” and that student performances are “only a means to that end.”

Moreover, it justified that the tuition fee is compensation for receiving these instructions and not solely revenue made from playing music and using copyrighted creative material.

With the Supreme Court decision, the JASRAC may change copyright fees applied to music schools.

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Supreme Court decision, October 2022, PDFMusic classes, JASRAC, PDF

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