Downloading music and movies in Japan is prohibited under the country’s Copyright Act, meaning that anyone who does so is liable to prosecution or civil suits.
Unusually, however, current legislation doesn’t offer the same levels of protection for creators of other creative works, such as still images (including ever-popular manga publications), software, and games. This disparity has prompted complaints from rightsholders who have been pressurizing the government to close the gap.
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.
What remains unclear are the punishments to be handed down and under what circumstances.
The original recommendation of up to two years in prison and fines of two million yen (US$18,052) appears to be still on the table but a Mainichi report states that might only apply to those committing serious offenses, such as repeatedly downloading pirate content.
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.
Also of interest is that the government appears ready to tackle the issue of ‘pirate’ indexing sites, known locally as “leech sites”.
In September 2018, an advisory panel recommended that these sites should be outlawed. Carrying no infringing content themselves, these services provide hyperlinks to content hosted elsewhere and currently sit in a legal gray area.
There are an estimated 200 ‘leech’ sites in Japan and both the government and rightsholders wish to close the legal loophole that currently protects them. The aim is to criminalize those who knowingly link to content when they should “reasonably be expected” to know that the content is infringing.