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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan to Up Copyright Protection

TOKYO -- Following complaints from the United States and Europe, a Japanese government agency said Tuesday it is planning to give 50 years copyright protection to all records and tapes.

Japan currently gives no copyright protection to records from before 1971, meaning people can legally copy old Elvis Presley and Beatles albums and sell them without paying the artists or recording companies royalties.

The United States filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization on Feb. 2, claiming Japan's rules cost the U.S. record industry $500 million a year.

Naoko Ichiyama, an official at the copyright division of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, said the government wants to revise domestic laws to give 50 years copyright protection to all records.

She said the agency is now drafting the legislation and plans to submit it to Parliament for approval in the fall.

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto indicated after his meeting last Friday with President Clinton in Santa Monica, California, that Japan was considering changing its rules.

Ichiyama said that under WTO rules, Japan would hold negotiations soon with the United States. But she said Japan's move to extend copyright protection does not necessarily mean Japan will accept the U.S. allegations.

The European Union also filed a WTO complaint over Japan's refusal to honor music copyrights before 1971 and said Europe's recording industry was losing $120 million a year.

Japan has yet to decide whether to seek a negotiated settlement with the EU, Ichiyama said.

For decades, Japanese shops have done a brisk trade in classic Western rock, jazz and pop albums, copied from originals and remanufactured, often with different cover art, liner notes and so on.

The Beatles have long been a favorite of copyists; some shops sell ersatz Beatles CDs for under 500 yen ($4.80), compared with 3,000 yen for officially licensed products. Other performers heavily targeted by the copy market are the Rolling Stones, Cream, a broad range of Motown acts and Bob Dylan.

Blues legends are also targets: B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters are particular favorites.