The quickly evolving Japanese digital music market has taken another turn: Local labels are either removing or considering removing copy protection for digital downloads.
According to reports, Victor Entertainment and Avex Group Holdings are planning to completely end digital rights management (DRM) copy protection for downloaded music by the end of this year. Warner Music Japan has been introducing non-DRM tracks in stages since the beginning of this year.
Warner Music Japan Chairman & CEO Kei Ishizaka told Billboard: "We have been making decisions to offer Non-DRM tracks based on discussions with each content provider, (taking into consideration) their sales strategy and the improvement of usability for all users."
Universal Music Japan and EMI Music Japan have begun introducing non-DRM tracks while Sony is considering the issue.
Japanese Major labels' policies on DRM have long been seen to be out of step with Western nations, where DRM was abandoned.
The movement towards non-DRM downloads follows action by Japan's Parliament to assess stiff penalties to illegal downloaders. Those found with pirated music or movie files could face up to two years in prison and a fine of 2 million yen ($25,110).
In addition, the Sony Corporation recently announced the first cloud-based subscription service in Japan, Music Unlimited, that will have content from all the major labels.
The shift toward non-DRM digital sales has seen various stages. In February this year Warner Music Japan and other labels began offering DRM-free tracks on the iTunes OTA service in Japan.
Warner Music Japan has taken the lead is some instances. In April it started providing non-DRM tracks on the digital music store Rekochoku's smartphone platform. Rekochoku is the biggest seller of digital music in Japan. Billboard estimates their overall market share to be 60% currently. Earlier this month, Sony announced it would be launching its cloud-based music subscription service Music Unlimited in Japan with the permission of all four majors.
Ishizaka notes Warner is considering expanding its non-DRM sales: "Currently we are having conversations with other content providers who want to sell Non-DRM tracks."