Understanding Japan’s Anti-Download Bill


Many of our readers in Japan have likely heard about the country’s recent revision to its copyright law late last week [1], which makes illegally downloading music or videos carry a prison sentence of two years or less, or a fine of up to 2 million yen (almost $25,000). This is a tricky story to digest, as there are many reports out there that have been less than precise in how they have related this news. Here’s what I’ve gathered about the new law during some weekend reading.

The bill was approved on June 15 and goes into effect on October 1st. There have already been laws in place for uploading copyrighted content, with a maximum of 10 years in prison of a fine of up to 10 million yen (almost $125,000). But according to Mainichi Shimbun:

[C]omplaints have continued to come from the music industry, which claims that piracy cases have not dropped after downloading pirated content was made illegal. In response, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito sought criminal punishment for downloading, and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) also approved.

These are not the pirates you're looking for. Photo: timothy tsuihin on Flickr

Thus on June 15 during a meeting of the lower house education and science committee, a revision was submitted after a Q&A session, and was passed “with majorities in the LDP, New Komeito, and the DPJ without any questioning or testimony from experts.”

From what I can gather the new revision hinges on the user’s awareness that he/she has downloaded something illegal. The Japan Times cites DPJ member Yuko Mori as saying that the bill’s vague wording regarding “those who are aware” of the illegality could bring about “arbitrary prosecutions.”

Over on Torrent Freak, there’s a good explanation of the RIAJ’s proposed automated system for ISPs to monitor user connections and cross-check uploaded data against digital fingerprints of copyrighted content from an external database. The hope from rights holders is that your internet provider would then block infringing uploads, and maybe even send out warning letters to users.

There has also been discussion about possible offenses for viewing illegal content on YouTube. Headlines like Mashable’s ‘Japan could outlaw YouTube’ are overblown and misleading in my opinion, as I don’t believe a temporary cache of a video would fall under the umbrella of this law. As Japan Probe notes, it’s more likely that right holders are concerned about software or web services used to intentionally download and store local copies of illegal YouTube videos. The RIAJ has targeted such services in the past on behalf of a range of content companies.

[Photo: timothy tsuihin on Flickr]

  1. Update, October 1: The Mainichi Shimbun article, “Piracy bill approved in lower house without discussion,” which I originally referenced, is no longer online. I’m not sure why. I’ve updated the link to direct to a cached copy.  ↩

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