from the bonkers dept
Long time Techdirt readers may recall the iterative changes that Japanese copyright laws have undergone over the course of the last several years. While they aren’t the only changes to have occurred, the topline summary was to turn copyright infringement from a predominantly civil law issue into a criminal one, particularly in cases that prosecutors can identify as not falling under the following provision in the Japanese constitution:
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 harm produced by such act does not exceed the harm to be averted.
In other words, if you’re not avoiding more harm than you’re causing by committing copyright infringement, you have the potential to face years in prison if convicted, along with fines. All the more so, apparently, if you’re infringing on the manga or anime industry’s content.
And now these changes to the laws are having the real world effect of putting people in jail for the crime of the kind of copyright infringement that might not even lead to a conviction here in America. One man was just sentenced to 2 years in prison for uploading and monetizing some YouTube videos that were let’s plays and summaries of animes.
A Japanese court has convicted a man of violating copyright law after he uploaded gameplay and anime videos without publisher permission. Reported by Japanese paper Asahi Shimbun, the 53-year-old man, Shinobu Yoshida, was sentenced to two years in prison and assessed a 1 million yen fine (or about $6,700 USD.)
Yoshida was arrested in May of this year after uploading gameplay videos of the visual novel Steins;Gate: My Darling’s Embrace back in 2019. According to a press release from the Content Overseas Distribution Association (CODA), a Japanese anti-piracy trade group, the complaint apparently stemmed from the fact that Yoshida monetized the videos, which violated a Japanese law that prohibits making money off copyrighted material. Yoshida also uploaded videos summarizing episodes of the Spy × Family and Steins;Gate anime shows.
The differences between American copyright laws and Japanese laws are bonkers. As I stated in the opening, there is a very real chance that uploading let’s plays and anime summaries, even if those summaries used some footage from the anime, would fall under fair use protections. Less so with let’s plays, probably, but let’s plays are also generally permitted by a large portion of the video game industry, seeing them as doing more good than harm to those games in terms of interest in them and sales.
In the case of this man and what he uploaded, the main impetus for wanting him jailed appears mostly to be, spoiler alert, spoilers.
CODA characterized the complaint as “malicious cases of posting videos containing content and endings (spoilers) without permission from the rights holders, […] and unfairly gaining advertising revenue through copyright infringement.”
Asahi Shimbun reported that the prosecution stated Yoshida’s actions were, “a malicious act that tramples on the effort of content production.” They argued that because he uploaded videos that condensed and spoiled anime episodes and videos of gameplay from a visual novel — a style of game that focuses on reading to experience the story rather than through gameplay — consumers would be less incentivized to spend money on either. According to Shimbun, this is the first time such a conviction has occurred in Japan.
Spoilers got a man 2 years of jail time. Just let that sink in. And, yes, the source article does note that Yoshida acknowledged to the court that he knew his actions were violating the law when he did them… but so what? That doesn’t in any way change the notion that criminalizing copyright infringement in this way is absolutely absurd. And if the monetization was the key issue here, well, YouTube does provide a way for rightsholders to demonetize videos like these and even yoink the monetization for themselves.
All of that would be better than a man in his fifties rotting in jail for two years over some anime spoilers.