Photo/IllutrationStudents take a violin lesson. (Provided by Yamaha Music Foundation)

A self-proclaimed “housewife” who took violin classes for two years turned out to be a spy dispatched by Japan’s largest music copyright body for its mission to collect royalties from music school operators.

She is expected to testify on July 9 in a lawsuit that will decide whether playing music in classes should be considered a “performance for the public” and subjected to copyright fees.

The Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) has been playing hardball in its quest to collect music royalties from karaoke parlors, dance studios and others who use songs in their businesses.

This is not the first time JASRAC has resorted to such covert action.

In the music class case, the woman in May 2017 visited a Yamaha music school in Tokyo’s Ginza district to observe a lesson. Shortly thereafter, she enrolled in the school and listed her occupation as “housewife,” according to a statement that JASRAC submitted to the Tokyo District Court.

She started taking a course for experienced violinists the following month, and received several lessons a month until February 2019.

She even participated in a recital held to show what the students had learned in class.

However, the woman was actually a JASRAC employee who was secretly observing the ways schools like Yamaha use music in their lessons.

According to the JASRAC statement, in a typical lesson, the instructor played a song as a demonstration, and the students would follow by playing the same number.

In one lesson, the instructor played a song from “Beauty and the Beast,” for which JASRAC manages the copyright, with accompaniment sounds prepared by Yamaha.

“It sounded so splendid that I felt the sensation of being in a concert hall,” the spy said in JASRAC’s statement.

She also said students in the class, including herself, were “all at attention while listening to the instructor’s explanation and demonstration play.”

JASRAC is expected to argue at the July 9 court hearing that the employee’s eyewitness accounts substantiate its arguments.

“It is a commercial use of music when instructors and students play composed music in class,” the association has said. “Schools that manage such performances and benefit from it are therefore obligated to pay music royalties.”

Four witnesses representing music schools, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, are also scheduled to testify on July 9.

“Teachers and students play music with the intent to teach and learn skills and techniques, not with an aim to appreciate composed music,” the plaintiffs’ side has argued.

A piano instructor who composes practice pieces is also expected to testify as a witness for the plaintiffs: “I never think of receiving copyright fees from playing in a lesson.”

Article 22 of the Copyright Law states that the composer and author of lyrics of a song have the exclusive right to perform the work publicly for the purpose of making it seen or heard directly by the public.

Based on that stipulation, JASRAC in February 2017 announced it would collect royalties from music schools equivalent to 2.5 percent of the revenue received from lesson fees.

Outraged by JASRAC’s move, about 250 music school operators, including Yamaha, filed the lawsuit at the Tokyo District Court in June 2017, seeking confirmation that the copyright association has no right to make such a claim.

However, JASRAC appears confident with its interpretation of the law, having racked up wins in similar court cases against operators of karaoke bars and social dance classes, among others.

The courts have ruled that the use of music CDs for dances and the singing of customers in karaoke boxes fit the “purpose of making the music heard directly by the public.”

These operators have been ordered to pay copyright fees to JASRAC.

JASRAC employees have also spied on karaoke bars that refused to pay royalties. Pretending to be customers, they secretly recorded what was taking place at these establishments.

“The right of performance is particularly susceptible to violations because it is not concrete,” said a public relations official of JASRAC. “Investigations (from the inside) are necessary to grasp the actual situation and substantiate the testimony.”