Japan gets tough on illegal downloads

In a recent change in the law Japan has introduced fines and even imprisonment as punishments for illegal downloads. Though it has been illegal to download copyright-infringing files since 2010, this recent change means that the penalties are far more severe than they were two years ago. In theory, an internet user found to have even just one pirated file can now face a fine of up to ¥2,000,000 (£15,900) and up to two years in prison.

This crackdown on internet piracy with tougher penalties for downloaders follows lobbying of the government by the Japanese music industry. The Japanese government voted in the revisions to the law  three months ago, and it is now being implemented. The Recording Industry Association of Japan was one of the organisations pushing the change in the law, arguing that the country’s music industry has been significantly damaged by illegal piracy. It claimed that the legal download music market shrank 16% last year; the second consecutive year of decline. Japan is the world’s second-largest music market after the US, but illegal downloads are said to account for ninety percent of the total. This figure is based on a 2010 study in which it was found that in that year Japanese people downloaded about 4.36 billion illegally pirated music and video files, compared to just 440 million purchased ones.

Despite the figures, the change has not, in general, been welcomed. Critics have argued that the new law places too much responsibility on the downloaders, instead of those who are uploading the illegal material. Although there are already laws in place in Japan which mean that uploaders could be punished with a ¥10,000,000 (£79,340) fine and up to ten years in prison, this will be the first time that the act of downloading has been criminalised. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations, a group representing legal professionals, recently came out against the new legislation, and maintained that the offence should have remained a civil, rather than a criminal, matter. The change has also seen protests in Japan from masked demonstrators, thought to be from the group Anonymous, which is part of the hacktivist movement. Fears that the new law could potentially criminalise YouTube (which has a large amount of illegal content) have however been allayed, as Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs assured internet users that viewing videos without downloading them will not be illegal.

Japan’s decision to bring in tougher penalties for internet piracy is part of a world-wide crackdown on copyright infringement. In the UK for example, the owner of the video link provider Surfchannel was recently imprisoned for uploading illegal content. Yet these moves are not without strong opposition, as shown most notably by the US postponement of votes on SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) earlier this year after Wikipedia and thousands of other sites staged blackouts in protest. And in China for example, an estimated 99% of all music downloaded in the country is illegal. Will the new legislation in Japan override opposition to the world clamp-down and deter downloaders? Only time will tell…

Sources include: TG Daily, BBC News, CNN News

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