Since 2012, downloading music and movies that have been illegally placed online has been prohibited in Japan under the country’s Copyright Act.
However, the legislation only applies to movies and music, leaving many other copyrighted works exposed.
To close this apparent loophole and to protect other content such as still images (manga publications, for example), last year the Cultural Affairs Agency mulled the expansion of Japan’s Copyright Act. Last week, a government panel adopted the policy, recommending that current anti-downloading legislation should be expanded to cover all copyrighted content.
With punishments of up to two years in prison and fines of two million yen (US$18,039) on the table, the public clearly needs to know where the line will be drawn. As it stands, however, the recommendations seem absolute. If a user believes something – anything – to be copyrighted and placed online illegally, they are breaking the law by downloading it.
Understandably, this is not only causing concern among Internet users, but also those who feel that such a broad law could prevent research, stifle creativity, and cause the public to lose faith in the true purpose of copyright.
In an ‘Emergency Statement’ signed by 87 academics, researchers, lawyers, and other experts, the government is urged to think again about the scope of the proposed legislation. Under the current proposals, the group believes that private copying could be rendered illegal, even to the extent of outlawing screenshots for private use.
“We believe that the limitation on the right of reproduction for private use purposes has the function of restricting the freedom of information gathering in the private domain. It is a legal foundation that supports the intellectual and cultural activities of individuals, and even Japanese industry,” the signatories write.
The group believes that the proposed legislation has been rushed through in a very short time (five meetings in three months), without carefully considering the consequences. They want the authorities to think again, to protect the public interest.
Citizens regularly need to take screenshots, copy and paste, and other similar acts in order to educate themselves, exchange opinions, and express themselves. Covering all copyrighted content in all circumstances will prove damaging and counter-productive, the group argues.
Importantly, those calling for the proposals to be considered more closely appear to be broadly in favor of tightening up the law to protect rightsholders. However, there are serious concerns over the potential for collateral damage when even snippets of text could be criminalized.
To that end, they suggest amendments to the proposals to mandate that it’s only a crime to reproduce copyright works when the act causes real financial damage to content owners, in the case of those who pirate whole movies, music, manga publications, books, and so on.
Keeping the proposals as they are would not only be damaging to society as a whole, it could even undermine public faith in the rights system, they add.
“Rapid reform of the law exerts an excessive atrophy effect on the freedom to gather information in the private domain. It may also cause the public to lose confidence in the validity of the copyright system,” the statement warns.
Only time will tell how the statement will be received in government but as things stand, criminalizing millions of citizens over small-scale and even private copying seems likely to cause more problems than it solves.