Masao Morita, Sony Music Entertainment Japan (SMEJ) chairman and representative director, used his MIDEM keynote to call for tougher government action on illegal downloading.

The Japanese government introduced a revised copyright law to make unauthorized downloading of copyrighted material illegal, in line with the law on uploading content. However, doubts emerged during the Jan. 25 MIDEM keynote about any process of enforcement for this law, which became effective this month.

"In Japan we changed the law and it is illegal to download [copyrighted content without permission]," said Morita. "Technically that law doesn't have any punishment. We are asking [government] to add the punishment [measures] for [illegal] downloading. [But] there is no guarantee."

He added: "As a music industry, we have to protect the content, we have to work with the police force on how to protect the content."

The session was conducted amid claims that forthcoming SoundScan Japan data will show a huge decline - 27% - in the value of physical retail sales in 2009. However, the figures will reportedly have SMEJ back at No. 1 as market leader.

Morita said young people were not buying CDs as they once did and "that is impacting this record company," but he continues to have faith in the product - the music - and stressed that SMEJ has been developing digital services for a decade.

He said that Japanese consumers are "still interested in foreign music" although "flexibility" in areas such as deals on ringtones and commercial tie-ups are key for international artists moving into the territory.

Sony recording artist Bob Dylan is playing a major 12-date tour of Japan in March. Morita - an English speaker - said language was not important to music fans in the country, although Dylan was perhaps a special case.

"I don't understand what he is singing," he said. "But still he is very popular. He's a great Sony artist."

Morita also bemoaned the disappearance of professional music retail managers who introduce customers to new music, but noted the rise of the mail order service which he believes is among the biggest retailers of physical music product in Japan - a comment welcomed by a representative from in the audience.

Despite the decline in physical sales, Morita refused to accept the idea of liberalizing downloads with DRM-free products in a market dominated by mobile music.

"Never!" he said to laughter. "I personally cannot accept that. Content has a value and it has to be protected."