On Japanese music and piracy

Piracy in Japan is something that is a much more serious crime than in other countries. This is why our views on piracy clash big time with theirs. I want to explore some of the key points on Japanese music piracy.


As I said earlier, it is illegal and prosecuted in Japan to download or pirate stuff. I’ve spoken with a few Japanese people about this, and even with Americans, and neither of them support certain kinds of piracy as much as we do in Europe. Yet in Europe we piracy a lot more freely than in other places. This is a fact, and this is why so often Japanese musicians (overall newer bands) are so concerned about it. To them, piracy means loss of sales, but not everything is just white or black…

Sometimes bands take the risk and release some “European edition” DVD or CD, but this does not mean that you will go to your local music store and find said product there. Far from it. This is limited to a handful of countries. Namely the UK, France, Germany, and maybe some other countries in Europe having more. However these European editions are often cheaper than the Japanese ones, due to the value of Yen vs value of Euro, plus shipping costs.
So if you are not lucky enough to live in one of those selected countries, and your favorite band does not happen to release European editions, then your only option is piracy or/and spend a lot of money importing stuff.

Back in the day, when I started listening to Japanese music, I would obtain it from P2P software that doesn’t even exist anymore. Sometimes you’d become friends with the user you exchange music with, and suddenly you’d learn about their bands, which led to a huge variety of bands to learn about, care about and listen to. Nowadays, although people keep on using P2P software, there are sites such as Youtube where you can listen to their music (or even watch their newest PVs) entirely for free. This has the plus that you don’t need to download it at all. So in a way streaming sites are somehow helping people stop downloading songs or videos.

The extended use of Youtube, and other streaming sites, has caused the rise in popularity of some bands. When you watch a video you’re recommended similar ones, or you can find others in that channel related to the artist or to the label, which is kinda similar to back then when you stumbled upon someone and then began exchanging names of bands.
Youtube (I am using it as example because it’s the most popular one) allows users to friend one another, subscribe, and send messages. This is nowhere as big as other social sites such as Facebook, however, you can always stay up to date whenever your favorite artists releases a new video. This all translates into free promotion.

However, some years ago it was way easier to find certain videos on Youtube. Videos uploaded by fans that they ripped from their collection, or just videos that are subtitled (and trust me, a lot of work goes into these). But with the rise of popularity of social media sites, and as artists have gained presence in them, they have been filling more and more copyright claims, erasing any video to upload their own, which are usually short previews, or just delete the videos and don’t upload anything in the end. Which then again, kinda leaves the user no other option but to go for piracy; because if you want a specific song that the artist has erased from the site, where else are you going to obtain it? This is a slap to the face on the artists’ side…

This whole “I am now on Youtube so let’s erase every video that shows my full work to upload previews” has done more bad than good. This is a very Japanese thing however, and I understand it. Still, why delete a full video only to upload a preview? That only makes the user angry and leads them to find it logical to pirate.
At this point it seems selfish on the artists’ part to do this. Overall when you think about the high value of Yen, which makes Japanese products expensive, and then add on top of that shipping costs for a CD or DVD, which is often more than the value of the product itself (mainly if you buy singles). Sometimes you find DVDs for 80€. Then add shipping and you’re paying over 100€ for a DVD. A DVD, that if you could find in your country, wouldn’t be more than 40€.

Then, there’s the whole concerts thing.

It is widely known that artists don’t make most of their living off DVDs and CDs sales. They make the biggest money from other sources, one of which is concerts. With the decline of European economy a lot of bands have stopped coming altogether. Even when they do come they only ever go to the same places, most of the time, which are usually the countries I mentioned at the beginning of this article. I don’t think this is by chance; if a CD is sold in a foreign country, you automatically believe that you are more likely to be welcomed than in a country where your CDs don’t sell – but they don’t sell because they aren’t available. A lot of fans move around Europe, touring as their favorite artist does. A lot of people spend a ton of money on these trips, and with our current economy, this means huge sacrificies to the majority of us.

The fact that usually a ticket to one of these artists is way more expensive than another artist doesn’t quite help, and it’s still unfair from a user point of view, but from the artist’s view they are risking a lot.

This risk translates ultimately into this: they’re coming again or not. How do you make people sure they know about you, in such circumstances, so that you can rest assure that you’ll make a sold out?

By promoting yourself on the internet. Deleting their videos (because they are fans; they don’t upload your video or song on YT just to say “fuck you”, they do so because they want to make a statement about their love for your work), isn’t good promotion. For anyone. Ever.

I personally don’t condone piracy if you can go to your music store and get your music there. Who wants to pay for outrageous shipping costs and then wait up to 3 months, with the risk of customs hitting your package AND the possibility of spending even more money, just to have a music CD in your hands?

If Japanese music was accessible for everyone piracy wouldn’t exist, and if piracy didn’t exist Japanese music wouldn’t be famous abroad.

So in my opinion they need to learn to co-exist.