Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs, the government body promoting Japanese arts and culture, is considering a proposal by print publishers to revise the national copyright law. The proposal seeks to broaden the scope of online downloading activities that are considered illegal to include knowingly downloading pirated still images, such as scanned books.
Japanese copyright law already prohibits the act of creating and distributing copies of pirated content, but it specifies the deliberate downloading of only pirated video and music works as illegal.
According to Nikkei Business Publications, the proposal will be submitted to the Diet, the national legislature, when the next ordinary session convenes in the beginning of 2019. The measure was introduced on October 29 onto the agenda of the subcommittee which oversees publishing and copyright matters at the Council for Cultural Affairs. It follows four months of meetings held by an intellectual property strategy working group which involved top publishing executives and legal experts.
Domestic publishers have asked the government to include still images in the scope of copyright law as large-scale websites distributing pirated print content—namely Free Books, Haruka Yume no Ato, and Mangamura—have emerged since 2017. At the inaugural meeting of the working group in June, the publisher Kodansha
said it stands to lose ¥500 million in sales of digital comics every month because of these "leech" sites.
The revision initially called for publishers to work with law enforcement and web providers in blocking access to such websites. Legal experts in the working group, however, raised concerns that monitoring Internet access could be a violation privacy laws. Article 21 of the Constitution of Japan stipulates, "No censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated." Therefore, the group sought precedent in the video and music industry, which prohibited downloads of pirated video and music content in 2010 and also introduced penalties.
A Kodansha public relations official also echoed this stance in an interview with Nikkei Business Publications earlier this month: "For Kodansha, our first and second priorities are regulating leech sites and making still image downloads illegal. Next is introducing new legislations for automatic filtering, controls on advertisement and distribution, raising awareness on copyright, etc."
Publishers believe the revision will have a deterrent effect on the act of casually downloading pirated content. But rights groups argue that lawmakers and publishers have not clearly defined what still images are considered pirated. For example, screen captures of a website or a Twitter user's profile image using an animation still can be construed as pirated content.
"Finding information that you care about on the Internet and saving it is what everyone does on a daily basis. If it becomes illegal, people will be hesitant to gather such information and eventually the 'right to know' may be restricted," says rights activist Koutarou Ogino in a statement to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. Ogino is the founder of Uguisu Ribbon
, a campaign designed to improve awareness regarding protecting freedom of speech.
The Movements for Internet Active Users
, an association of Internet user rights advocates, also expressed worry about encroaching restrictions by the government. "We are concerned that further cases which threaten the rights of general users will increase," the association said in a statement released on November 9.
Responding to these concerns, the earlier Kodansha official points out that, under current law, there have been no arrests where an individual only downloads video and music works and does not upload them. He asserts that arrests are made when an individual uploads pirated content using peer-to-peer software. The official says publishers would like to see lawmakers close the loophole in Internet users' view that "using pirate sites is not illegal."
According to the Asahi Shimbun, the Council for Cultural Affairs is still considering whether future legal restrictions are necessary in the first place and to what extent content that is clearly pirated is subject to regulations. Lawmakers will continue to deliberate on the appropriate wording on any eventual law.
Source: Asahi Shimbun Digital 1
, Asahi Shimbun Digital 2
, Nikkei xTech