Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tokyo Confidential Is Officially Dead(?)

Tokyo Confidential, the Japan Times column that “summarizes articles appearing in vernacular tabloids”, had been caught up in the Mainichi’s WaiWai controversy. I argued at the time that Tokyo Confidential and WaiWai were very different animals and that the former would be safe from serious repercussions. So I was surprised to hear from PS that TC had been suspended pending “editorial review”. Much later, last Sunday, PS gave me information from an unimpeachable source stating that the Sunday JT would be carrying a notice that the Tokyo Confidential would be discontinued and that the notice would include an apology to the magazines for their unauthorized use. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the notice on the otherwise content-rich online JT, but I’ll take it on faith that it appeared on the realpaper version.

So much for my powers of prediction.

Now, the original source also claimed that some magazines were willing to let JT use summaries of their material but they attached such onerous conditions that JT decided that it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. So my reasoning behind my optimism, that is, the distinction between the two features, still appears to stand. It would be interesting to know just what those conditions were, though, since there must be a level of paraphrasing and even direct quotes that would have enabled JT to clear the fair use threshold, with or without permission. Note that a not insignificant portion of international news in the mainstream dailies is generated by trawling the websites of CNN, NYT, WaPo, ad nauseum.

Here’s something that might shed some light on the weekly magazines’ concerns. You may be aware that Sankei’s Japanese-only website continues to carry many reports that would have belonged solidly in the now-defunct TC or even WaiWai, but nobody to the best of my knowledge is raising a ruckus. But Sankei, the relatively recent online affiliate of MNS, is an anomaly. The Sankei website is uncommonly rich in regard to content, including (from my perspective) verbatim reports of the Prime Minister’s press briefings, official and unofficial, in full. It also stands in stark contrast to the other dailies for its generosity regarding access to its archives. Asahi is at the other extreme, maltreating even its paid subscribers. Tabloids and weeklies guard their contents even more jealously. All this lends credence to the original source’s explanation for the TC’s demise. Still, it would be interesting to know just what those conditions were.


Durf said...

The "onerous conditions" bit rings quite true with me. The publisher where I work deals with the publishers of original Japanese content that we translate for our magazine. They're generally happy to let us translate and print stuff on paper, but when it comes to the scary world of electrons and .html suffixes they get very shy. Rather than navigate the morass of "this company says no, this company lets us print excerpts, and this one says fine, but only for a year" we just produce our own summaries and go with those.

We sometimes get authors who refuse to give us permission to translate and publish, but those are much less common. Writers love seeing their words in print even if publishers see it as lost revenue for some reason.

Jun Okumura said...

Durf: Interesting to hear that your experience gibes with that of TC. The Japanese media’s online strategy should be studied in detail and experts probably are doing it already. Too bad I don’t have the time to look around. It would be interesting to compare the situation with those of other countries.

Incidentally, my knowledge of copyright law is less than spotty, but I assume you’re putting enough distance between the wording and phrasing in the originals and those of your summaries that your output won’t be regarded as a translation.

Durf said...

Yes, there's plenty of distance there. Usually the summary is done by someone who hasn't translated or edited the piece in question, and is simply producing a 100-word synopsis of the 3,000-word article without looking at the original Japanese in the process.

Adamu at Mutantfrog and W. David Marx at his various sites have looked at restrictive Japanese approaches to translation and copyright in the past, but I don't think there's a single repository where you could go look at all that content at once.

One of my favorite J. newpaper sites used to be the 佐賀新聞, which had all its articles online going all the way back to the mid-1990s. I think they got in trouble with the folks at Kyodo and so on for leaving all the wire reports there as well.

(Reposting this with a corrected name spelling; please zap the previous one.)

Jun Okumura said...

Yes, Durf, I’ve noticed in the past that years-old wires could sometimes be found in local newspapers too. So I guess that’s a thing of the past, now that Kyodo has caught on.

I think that a comparative study of the very different Internet strategies of the U.S. and Japanese media would be the perfect subject for a bilingual graduate student.