The Cultural Agency committee's decision followed a yearlong debate over how to update the nation's system for levying extra copyright fees on gadgets, given dramatic changes in recent years in the digital content business, said government official Hiroyuki Suzuki.

Under the current system, the charge - generally 3% of the product's wholesale price - is included in the price of recording devices and other gadgets that can be used to duplicate copyrighted material, and most shoppers aren't even aware they're paying it.

Since last year, recording companies and other lobbyists have said the same system should be applied to recording devices with hard drives, including music players like Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod, as well as flash-memory players.

The panel's members, including academics and consumer-rights activists, have been so divided on where to draw the line on what constitutes copyright infringement that many had speculated they would not be able to agree by the December deadline.

Although the media here calls the system the "iPod tax," the money goes to recording companies, composers and artists so it's technically not a tax. Similar systems exist in some European nations.

Obsolete

Opponents say the current system is an obsolete way of monitoring digital music purchases, while others contend that consumers would be doubly charged under the proposed change because they often already pay royalties on digital purchases.

Apple in Japan had no comment Thursday on the government's decision.

Apple's iPod, which controls about 70% of the global market, has been a big hit in Japan, the home turf of rivals like Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp., which make their own music players.

Recently, iPod's market share in Japan has grown to 60%.

Japanese downloaded 1 million songs in the first four days after the iTunes online music store opened in Japan in August _ the fastest launch of the service in any of the 20 nations where it is now available, including the United States.