Good Luck, Japan: Government About To Make All Copyright Infringement A Criminal Offense

from the this-should-go-well dept

We often bemoan the sheer volume of copyright infringement lawsuits that occur here in America. With an overly protectionist mentality coupled with a culture of ownership, the civil courts are frankly bursting with these lawsuits when there are so, so many more efficient ways we could do things. But we can at least take some comfort in the fact that in America copyright infringement is largely a civil matter, with criminal copyright infractions being relegated to true commercial uses of infringing activities, or those over a certain dollar amount. This saves an insane amount of undue headache for our criminal justice system.

But not every country does it this way. In Japan, for instance, copyright law has long been such that any copyright infringement having to do with music and movies has been the subject to potential criminal prosecution. This has already resulted in citizens being hauled into court by the government under potential sentences of two years in prison for the downloading of a single movie or music file. That outlandish disparity in crime and punishment has resulted in call outs from groups like the EFF. And, yet, despite such clapback, the Japanese government is currently recommending that this exact same criminalization and punishment regime be rolled out to every instance of copyright infringement, rather than relating only to music and movies.

Last year it was reported that an advisory panel for the Cultural Affairs Agency was considering the possibility of rendering the downloading of a broader range of content as a criminal offense, roughly in line with laws passed in 2012 outlawing various forms of file-sharing. This week, those plans took a significant step forward.

According to local sources, a government panel adopted the new policy on Wednesday, recommending to the Cultural Affairs Agency that current anti-downloading legislation should be expanded to cover all copyrighted content. The Agency is now expected to submit a bill to amend the Copyright Act.

While the exact punishment guidelines are currently being debated as I write this, that two-year sentence guideline from the 2012 law is very much being looked at as the standard. To roll this out to copyright infringement writ large is flatly crazy. As we and many others have stated over and over again, many people casually engage in copyright infringement in their daily lives without even realizing it. To subject such behavior to multi-year prison sentences is both pernicious and misguided. If criminal cases are pursued uniformly for copyright infringement, it’s going to put nothing short of a stranglehold on the Japanese courts.

It’s also worth noting that all of this is being done in a way vague enough that it’s almost certain to cause confusion and chaos.

Additionally, these sentences would only be handed down in the event that victims of infringement file criminal complaints. However, the threshold for a criminal complaint is unclear and could cause issues for the legal system if there are large numbers of referrals.

Now, Japanese copyright law has steadily become more restrictive over time. But this move, if enacted, would represent a giant leap forward into a real age of restriction and undue punishment for the Japanese public. So, good luck to my Japanese friends. I can’t wait to see the fallout.

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Comments on “Good Luck, Japan: Government About To Make All Copyright Infringement A Criminal Offense”

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68 Comments
Killercool (profile) says:

Quick question

Does Japan at least have specific, clear cut rules about what is or isn’t infringement? Legally mandated thresholds that tell you whether or not your particular action is infringement?

Because, there are SO MANY things that can be called infringement.

Coke’s design on their can in your movie? Jail.

Poster on a wall as you band walks past it in your music video? Jail.

More than six notes following a specific cadence? Jail.

Stills from a videogame in your article critiquing said game? Jail.

Home movie of your baby dancing to a Prince song? JAIL!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Quick question

the thing with Japan is that anything that nakes it into criminal courts almost invariably end in a conviction. look up the exoeriment which is Saiban-in. They basically have a judicial class and those outside generally cannot become judges, and they don’t have juries (excepting the innovation that is the saiban-in). Of course, culturally, having juries or not may hardly matter in Japan, but an extremely high conviction rate, which cannot be entirely accounted for by police excellence and prosecutorial wisdom, is troubling, particularly with extensions like this to what is considered criminal.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Sounds good. You first.'

As we and many others have stated over and over again, many people casually engage in copyright infringement in their daily lives without even realizing it.

Including, I’ve no doubt, the very ones passing this insane expansion to an already moronic law. As such, I feel that it would only be just for their use of copyrighted content to be gone over with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, and any that are found to be guilty can enjoy sitting in a cell for whatever term they felt was reasonable to subject anyone else to.

Unless of course they want to admit in public that they’re not only stupid(for treating copyright infringement as a serious crime worthy of any jail time) but grossly hypocritical as well…

Vidiot (profile) says:

Imagine a cell block full of incorrigible plagiarists – scary!

Don’t make me get all Gilbert-and-Sullivan, now…

Japanese Emperor sings:

My object all sublime

I shall achieve in time—

To let the punishment fit the crime,

The punishment fit the crime;

And make each prisoner pent

Unwillingly represent

A source of innocent merriment,

Of innocent merriment!*

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Basically, back in the 1980s, piracy was rampant at rental establishments; they weren’t just renting original copies of games, they were renting illegal copies. So the Japanese copyright lobbies successfully got a law passed that required permission from the copyright holder for games to be offered for rent.

There’s a pretty good rundown in this 2012 piece at Kotaku.

Technically it’s not a full ban on game rentals; you can offer games for rent if you’re granted permission by the rightsholder, and as the article notes, Koei started a rental business on that premise in 2006. But of course the market has changed since the heyday of rentals, and Koei’s rental business never really caught on.

All-Seeing_Jedi says:

But Among Friends & Family???

Who among that crowd passing these asinine laws hasn’t loaned an LP, CD, VHS movie, DVD, cassette, 8-track or 45 to a friend to make a copy for themselves? I would bet you money most all have.

At one time I heard the big labels in entertainment wanted to tax television after the advent of the VCR because people could record shows and movies.

I heard that the recording industry fought tooth and nail to keep writable CD technology out of the hands of the public because the digital age meant near-studio quality copies could be made.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

/s?

Also, if not for that "widespread anime and manga piracy" going on for decades, anime and manga would be nowhere NEAR the level of acceptance, distribution, and fandom it currently enjoys in the US and other world markets today.

I would even go out on a limb and say piracy of anime and manga for the past couple decades is in large part why it’s even mainstream in the US today. There are other factors as well but up until the last few years, it was damned difficult to actually buy anime and manga in the US without having to pay exorbitant prices and international shipping fees to import it. Piracy was in many cases the only option. Especially for lesser known series. Now it’s got it’s own section in bookstores and major retailers, and is widely available on Amazon for cheap.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I would even go out on a limb and say piracy of anime and manga for the past couple decades is in large part why it’s even mainstream in the US today.

Ain’t no “going out on a limb” here — piracy via tape-trading is exactly why anime became a “thing” in the United States. We would not have nearly the same level of anime fandom in the U.S. without tape traders and fan-subbers bringing over shows like the uncut Sailor Moon, Ranma 1/2, and Neon Genesis Evangelion to stoke the flames of fandom. And I can say the same thing for manga and scanlations: Viz probably would not have recently announced a U.S. release for Gokushufudou (a.k.a. The Way of the Househusband) if people hadn’t pirated scanlations of it and talked it up as an entertaining manga.

The current North American anime industry exists because a bunch of tape traders got together decades ago and said, “This anime shit is amazing. We gotta get other people in on this.” Anyone who says otherwise is a goddamn liar.

Anonymous Coward says:

I smell Nintendo behind this one.

I fully expect that all people associated with Let’s Play, fan art/conventions, emulators, etc. will have suits filed against them in Japan, and anyone who bothers to visit the country who has an outstanding warrant will be duly arrested.

Nintendo may even go for extradition from countries JP has treaties with.

Daydream says:

Every time I see a story about copyright law being ratcheted up, the comments always seem to be in the same vein, made up of either "about time those pirates get what they deserve" or "so when are we going to lock up the maximalists for copyright infringement HAHA WE DON’T THEY’RE RICH".

…Actually, I see a lot of that latter style of comment. Does anyone have a compilation of occasions when large movie/music/video game/etc companies breached copyright in some way? Using someone else’s work outside the bounds of free use, violating the terms of a license…all those government people who use pirated copies of software?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Little digging and you can find more than a few instance of hypocrisy when it comes to copyright maximalists, yes.

You’ve got the group that pushed HADOPI with a handful of violations.

The US army making use of vastly more copies then they licensed, and then paying a relative pittance for it.

An anti-piracy group violating a contract with a musician, engaging in commericial copyright infringement on a wide scale, and who tried to demand a third of a cut of what he was demanding they pay him.

SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith violating copyright in an incredibly stupid manner, as whoever put together his campaign page used a CC image, but failed to credit the photographer, the only requirement to be in compliance with the license, followed by, as pointed out in the comments, attempting to brush the whole thing under the rug.

And of course, and old but gold one, the Canadian record labels engaging in mass commercial copyright infringement, under the insane idea(and one you can be damn sure they’d never let anyone else use) that they could sell music compilations now,without getting the licenses to do so, and get around to paying for the music later. If they could be bothered.

I suspect with enough digging people could find many more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Seems to me that this move, like so many others over at least the last 2decades, is falling completely in line with theultimate plans of the entertainment industries! Get 1 country to ve bought, to be stupid enough to enslave the population and then use it as a lever for the next country! It had been working very wrll for the industries up to now, why would they change their method? The aim has always veen to take control of the internet and those who use it!
As for the shit kaws waiting to come into olay 8n the EU, th8nk about what the EU Commission has veen saying. That massive companies should be pay other companies that use the net. All that will happen is that their will be a change of companies that will be paid, will charge more money and restrict more people, ie take away a free service and replace it with a chargeable one! All to enrich the entertainment industries!

Châu says:

日本政府がばかです

What is punish for take DVD, CD, book, etc from stores? Harm from download movie, whole CD, book is less than download, because no person take any thing, just copy bits.

Government will have IP tax pay for this? Prison not free. Creators create problem should need pay big tax for this every year, fail pay tax, cancel copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s just another desperate attempt at deterrents. In Japan, though, deterrents work better than they do elsewhere.

Part of the reason is that Japan’s judicial and criminal justice systems are notoriously backward outliers among developed nations. It seems that judges there have no checks and balances, juries have 100% conviction rates (because expressing any kind of skepticism in public is frowned upon), lawyers only exist to barter for leniency, and there are many horror stories from people who have been in Japanese jails and prisons.

Most Japanese actually live very free lives, with law and order, and the success of deterrent laws like this one, way more a matter of peer pressure and cultural norms (not a lot of rocking the boat there) rather than surveillance, physical intimidation, and strict/excessive enforcement.

I really doubt there will be Japanese courts and prisons full of social media users who copied an photo or gameplay video without permission. There will just be slightly fewer such posts originating in Japan.

Anonymous Coward says:

Protecting Creators is a Noble Cause

Good for Japan! They recognize that most creators are non-binary, non-cis people of color. These great people create beautiful works of art which many thieves wish to take without paying, stealing from their diverse non-traditional family groups.

The racists and homophobes here on Techdirt seem to be perfectly fine robbing from these creative geniuses, as you clearly do not think of these diverse creators as humans worthy of respect. I know in previous posts you have accused me of satire, but that is only because you refuse to look deep down in your soul to address the bigotry and hatred you have towards anyone who is not a CIS white male.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Protecting Creators is a Noble Cause

who is not a CIS

Computer Information Systems? Common Intelligibility Scale? Confederacy of Independence Systems? GASP I knew it! Star Wars is real! Hang on let me get my lightsaber!

bigotry and hatred you have towards anyone who is not a CIS

On the contrary, there is no such thing as a good CIS battle droid. I hunt them down with my lightsaber whenever I find them. Stupid clankers!

Space5000 (profile) says:

Life Imprisonment

So if someone violates Copyright 40 times via average music downloads for example, the person could get 80 years?
And let me guess, is robbing a bank a less offense by law?

We have license not sales, outlawing backups, and now this. Its really hard to agree with Copyright when it does mainly nothing but violates actual human rights these days.

Anonymous Coward says:

Let’s see… Japan, right? With a demographic of mostly older folks and poor birth rates? Plus a judicial system more hell-bent on guilty verdicts than even the US, to the point where Ace Attorney was written as a parody (and if not for the spirit medium junk might easily qualify as a documentary)?

Yeah, it’s only a matter of time before they hit the "sue a dead grandma" problem.

Gazbit (profile) says:

Just to clarify.

  1. Capturing copyrighted images from publicly available broadcasts, web sites, ebooks is LEGAL (unchanged).
  2. Re-uploading copyrighted #1 images to the internet without proper permissions is ILLEGAL (unchanged).
  3. Saving #2 copyright infringing images to local device (incl. screen capture) is going to become ILLEGAL (currently it is LEGAL).

So far storing copyright infringing uploads to your own device is LEGAL (even if you know the content was illegally uploaded). The new law will change this so that the users who download images from illegal content (mostly mangas) web sites are going to be held liable as well.

So where is the big problem ?

  1. This law fails to effectively target the copyright violators the law initially intended to target (browser caches are not considered storing).
  2. This law will curb a lot of creativity and open discussions.
  3. Japanese Police is known to abuse laws even when the law makers clearly denote the intended purpose and the scope of the law. Police will be able to hold anyone with a smartphone in their cells for up to 20 days while they "investigate" possible copyright violations on their devices. Disappearing from the world for 20 days is usually enough to get someone fired from job, and is a very effective means of coercing a confession.
Gazbit (profile) says:

Re: Re: Just to clarify.

For the intended use of the law, this is apparent since you intentionally go to well known pirated content websites for the purpose of accessing illegal content.

For abusive use of the law, average person does not (like storing favorite images from tweets – which is potentially illegal but most people are uneducated).

Unfortunately, every person in Japan is expected to understand the laws (all laws are readily available and well documented) and being purposefully ignorant does not grant you any protections.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Just to clarify.

"since you intentionally go to well known pirated content websites for the purpose of accessing illegal content."

  • No, sorry to disappoint you but, I do not do that.

"potentially illegal but most people are uneducated"

  • People in Japan are uneducated .. about what? Does Japan have anything like fair use?

Sounds like Japan is similar to the US when it comes to the ignorance of the law thing, except in the US you might not even be allowed to read the law(s) that you may be violating.

Gazbit (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Just to clarify.

I never meant "you" you. Sorry if you took this personal.

People in Japan are uneducated .. about what?

About copyright and content related laws. Many people assume that it must be allowed since many other people do it
(most do not bother to familiarize with the laws because they assume their actions are already non-criminal).

Does Japan have anything like fair use?

As long as they are fair they are OK. Unfortunately the police can have a person in custody for up to 20 days to decide whether it was "fair", and therein lies the possibility of abuse of the law if the scope of the law can be misinterpreted (law enforcement often ignore the supplementary document that describe the purpose of the law in detail; this succeeds if the suspect breaks under extended period of detainment).

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