New US-Japan row looms over golden oldies

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The Independent Online
Nostalgia, especially musical nostalgia, is a way of life in Japan. On Sundays and public holidays, a busy road in the centre of Tokyo is taken over by impersonators of Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones.

Nostalgia is cheap, too. Compared with CDs of contemporary pop, which sell at around 2800 yen (pounds 17), you can pick up a misspelt, but acoustically perfect, compilation of "Steve Wonder" or "Bud Powll" for a few hundred yen. But this may soon change: golden oldies are set to become the next battleground between Japan and its foreign trading partners.

On Friday, Mickey Kantor, the American trade negotiator, denounced Japanese CD manufacturers for their "piracy" of $500m (pounds 320m) of recordings from the golden age of popular music. Supported by the European Commission, the United States is to file a complaint with the World Trade Organisation, which could, if upheld by the WTO and rejected by Japan, lead to trade sanctions. "What is affected here is one of the most vibrant - and popular - periods in the history of American music," said Mr Kantor, citing among others Duke Ellington, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan.

For recordings made after 1971, the Japanese government is vigilant in its application of copyright laws. Before then the waters are murkier. Europe and the US claim that under a WTO agreement known as Trips (trade- related aspects of intellectual property rights), royalties must be paid on music recorded as early as 1946. Japan insists that before 1971 copyright protection is discretionary.

Since the mid-1980s trade disputes have become a staple of US-Japan relations, with the Americans insisting that Tokyo open up its markets and reduce its $4.1bn bilateral surplus. Last year, a trade war over Japanese automobile imports was averted by a last-minute compromise.

The man with whom Mr Kantor did battle then, the Trade and Industry Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, is now Japan's Prime Minister. He will meet President Bill Clinton in California later this month and Mr Kantor said it was likely that the US leader would raise the golden oldies problem then.

t Hong Kong - More than 13,000 pirated CDs were seized at the weekend in a raid by the Hong Kong authorities on a flat above Golden Shopping Arcade, the territory's largest and most notorious computer software piracy centre, Reuter reports. Five men were arrested.