from the that's-not-how-constitutions-work dept
With site-blocking regimes now fully in vogue, far too many governments are getting in on this censorious party. In the cases of most governments, there is leeway in the overall legal structure to do this sort of thing, even if it is wholly unadvised and typically comes with disastrous results. But when Japan announced recently that it is considering site-blocking of so-called “pirate sites” in order to help its anime and manga industries, many familiar with Japanese federal law raised an eyebrow.
The country has no specific legislation that allows for site-blocking of any kind, let alone on copyright infringement grounds. In fact, the constitution expressly supports freedom of speech and expressly forbids censorship.
“Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed,” Article 21 reads. “No censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated,” the constitution adds.
If you wanted a federal constitutional provision that almost perfectly inoculated against censorious site-blocking over something as relatively mundane as copyright infringement, this would appear to be it. The writers of the Japanese constitution clearly were concerned about government censorship and specifically prohibited it.
This has not stopped the government from trying to dip its toes in these waters, chiefly by pretending that copyright infringement is something that it isn’t.
Mainichi reports that the government will argue there are grounds for “averting present danger”, a phrase that’s detailed in Article 37 of Japan’s Penal Code.
“An act unavoidably performed to avert a present danger to the life, body, liberty or property of oneself or any other person is not punishable only when the harmc produced by such act does not exceed the harm to be averted,” the Article (pdf)begins.
It’s fairly clear that this branch of Japanese law was never designed for use against pirate sites. Furthermore, there is also a clause noting that where an act (in this case blocking) causes excessive harm it may lead “to the punishment being reduced or may exculpate the offender in light of the circumstances.”
If Japan indeed goes down this route, it will be a complete mess at best and result in the eroding of its own constitution at worst. To combat copyright infringement. The very notion of this is insane. Creaking open the door for this kind of full site-blocking censorship, a door that will surely be burst through by every major and minor content producer in Japan and abroad, and subverting the nation’s constitution in order to support one specific industry within the country that isn’t hurting for money, make zero sense. The manga industry in Japan alone is a multi-billion dollar industry and it’s growing. Whatever challenges it faces from copyright infringement, it’s not existential in nature.
As of now, the government looks to be softening its approach to make this kinda-sorta voluntary by ISPs.
It appears that rather than forcing Internet providers into compliance, the government will ask for their “understanding” on the basis that damage is being done to the anime and manga industries. ISPs reportedly already cooperate to censor child abuse sites so it’s hoped a similar agreement can be reached on piracy.
Initially, the blocking requests will relate to just three as-yet-unnamed platforms, one local and two based outside the country. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg and if ISPs agree to block this trio, more demands are sure to follow.
This has been true in virtually every case where site-blocking has been introduced. It starts off as the mere exception before being strong-armed into the rule.
Don’t do this, Japan. Don’t torch your own constitution over a non-problem.