New Japanese Copyright Law Doesn't Seem To Make Any Sense

Beginning this October Japan will experience a totally new copyright regime. Piracy in Japan has always been especially dangerous. The police monitor file sharing networks, and pirates will occasionally be raided by cops and have their computers displayed on the evening news. From 2012 on, though, violators can face two years in prison for criminal downloading.

But what exactly makes a download criminal? The Agency for Cultural Affairs, which oversees the law, is having a hard time defining what, exactly, constitutes criminal piracy under the new law.

First, let’s address the definition of the word “download”. With this new law, you have a blanket permission to stream any and all pirated YouTube videos, but saving permanent copies of these videos will be a big no-no. However, saving comic strips from websites will be fine, and you can copy and paste all the text you like, because the Agency for Cultural Affairs has interpreted the word “download” as implying an audiovisual recording and not any other type of binary data. There is no stated logic behind this, and there has not yet been any ruling on, say, converting a video into a picture of a film strip.

Next, the Agency for Cultural Affairs gives us a rather inspired ruling of “illegal download”: it claims that TV shows which have been broadcast and are not yet available on DVD or Blu-Ray may be downloaded freely, because they were broadcast for free! However, you can still be sued for piracy as a civil offense. Furthermore, there are existing criminal charges for people who upload such videos.

Let’s move along to recordings of unknown provenance, which curious readers often find on the Internet. Most of the law requires that you have an intent to acquire works illegally when you download, which does not appear to be easily provable. In fact, there does not appear to be anyone in Japan who believes that intent can be proven if there is some doubt at work. One lawyer guesses that “it’s hard to imagine that songs have been officially allowed to go on peer-to-peer networks,” so making Gnutella your tool of choice for finding those great Jonathan Coulton songs will apparently make you a suspicious character.

How does an artist make it clear that his material is safe to download? The Agency for Cultural Affairs asks Internet users to look for a recording industry trademark called the L Mark, but this trademark can’t be used by just anyone; artists must join the Recording Industry Association of Japan and pay money to use the mark, which is currently employed by no more than 300 websites. There is no word on whether a Creative Commons mark or public domain declaration can serve as a defense against inappropriate claims of criminal copyright violation.

Once you have your legally acquired music and movies, you mustn’t pirate them, but feel free to e-mail them to others. E-mailing MP3s or videos to a specific friend remains legal in Japan, assuming you are not offering them as a service to pirates. You can even e-mail entire CDs that you ripped, within some reasonable limit. However, you are not allowed to circumvent the copyright protection on the few CDs that have it, so keep your hands off that Shift key.

This is not legal advice, but the law is so vague that it would be surprising if it had a large impact on the number of prosecutions. Most legal cases in Japan are dropped before trial if guilt cannot be established, and plea bargained by the Kensatsu before they go to court, which is why there is an almost 100% conviction rate. Past cases suggest that only the most serious violators, like people who upload TV shows to file-sharing networks, will face prosecution.

Source: Agency for Cultural Affairs (Japanese)


  1. mijj

    > “The Agency for Cultural Affairs, which oversees the law, is having a hard time defining what, exactly, constitutes criminal piracy under the new law.”

    i guess the benefit of ill defined laws is that they can be anything they want them to be.

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  3. LennStar

    ” that TV shows which have been broadcast and are not yet available on DVD or Blu-Ray may be downloaded freely,”

    I’ll make a big guess here: That propably comes from the manga/anime Fangroup sector. The export esp. of anime before they get released outside Japan is an not small money bringer, and the promotion lies nearly entirely on the fansub-groups.
    Likewise the Comicet is the biggest Comic market in the world (and propaply print medium market) is its most important part are the doujinshis – which are in many cases BIG copyright infringements. A number of important mangake have started there (CLAMP anyone ^^).
    So even if half of the market is illegal, strictly speaking, legal activities are not the norm there.

  4. Calandrella

    Interesting – I had no idea of the IP situation in Japan. So thanks for your post! 🙂 As it seems, the japanese legislation is partly better, partly worse than the one of Sweden.

  5. blatz89

    It’s interesting the way that they handled the law, because, theoretically, if you were to download a program/video/song as binary data/code and then run it through a compiler/converter, then TECHNICALLY that would be 100% legal.

    It’s barely into effect and I don’t even live there and I’ve already thought of a workaround.

    1. Diasuke

      I live in Japan, and while this law seems draconian to me, I have every intention of abiding by it, as the possibility of a two year jail sentence, however unlikely, I find a tad troublesome, as the prisons in the Japanese prison system ARE the worst among the developed nations. While I do consider myself to be a man’s man, and would likely establish a name for myself quick by finding the biggest mother fucker in the jail, and using my slightly better than average boxing and jiu-jitsu to make a name for myself as the guy who you should think twice before accosting in the shower because you’ve always thought that it would be “intriguing” to see if buggering a foreigner felt any different than it did with the local folk because, well, it must cuz they are so “kakui” (dreamy) in the movies . However, once my bruises heal, and once I realize that, as a foreigner, I have no power in a place like this,and the only currency with which I may use to ensure my survival is to have my salad tossed, and share a different bunk every night wearing the dress of choice of my new Japanese admirer who tells me that he will take sole ownership and protection of me as long as I’m not squeemish about bukake which is the perverse trend in depraved porn that is so popular here, even amongst some of the sweetest and unsuspecting Japanese. Youd be shocked. Of course,I would resist and fight tooth-and-nail until the last possible moment, the moment when all who are faced with the choice between enduring humiliation and psychological trauma that knows no boundaries or getting shanked by a ginzu knife and never being able to see their ones I love again. They choose a path they never before thought they were capable of taking. That of the pursuit of the highest level of excellence in tossed salads, facials when possible, big black men from nigeria who often frequent japanese prisons, and who refuse to go slow with me, and when I say I’m new at this thinking it might make them awa re of the irrepressable social anxieties I will face in the years to come if this is as traumatic as I think it could be if they went to town, insist on making an example out of me so they can brag to their homeboys about the white-boy who bled like the virgin boys back home they raped as the ritual they routinely practice to rid them of aids virus and who actually think that buggering the new white guy is about as cool as listheening to a ghetto boys album in their six fo. After these events I will shed the self-image thatI have worked my whole life to create, in favor of the mightly muck gargler who swallows it all, cuz doing that is much more awesome that having their cronnie guards observe in horror as I actually fall down two flights of stairs three times in one day. So, after much deliberation, Tyrone, Hakeem, and Jamal would consider it a great honor to be the third group of the day to toss my salad, an act clearly above my station, but as long as my new guardian and caregiver, who promised to protect me through every adversity that could possibly ever pop up, is getting his fair share of the proceeds from my daily rounds,(roughly 95%) with the other 5% going to me to buy cigarettes that I can use as another form of currency to calm those who may think it fun to bash the skull in of someone whose dress did not please their greater fashion sensibilities,”I said a mini-skirt and a thong bitch, and yall better put on some more make-up cuz you is about about as ugly as that cracked-up hooker from down the lane, Shiniqua, that hood-rat even liked to hoe in the alley behind the garbage bin when she was pregnant too. Third mutha-fuckin trimester too. I hit that shit anyways, but I kept it on the downlow, cuz thinkin about it kinda fucked me up for a while, like you know, I could feel the baby moven and shit, like it was enjoying it or something. I hope I dumped my load on that sucker, cuz no way he should be enjoyen his mother getten banged for her……..oh wait, he knew after the pounding the crack was comen, and so he was kinda all hyped up like, yea, “I is about to get a hit! Fuck that formula shit, this is the real deal” Never again, man. Fuck that shit” Or, id get beat if my tossed salad did not live up to the hype it had in the prison, as I should have known that whores know better than to spill a drop of fluid, as the gargling of muck requires precision, meticulous attention to detail, and the absence of sloppines. I would accept my punishment of muck garglings for all the guards and inmates in the 5th ward with great humility, as even though I have been assigned the status that sound worse than it is really: “meat” that doesn’t mean that I don’t have certain expectations placed upon me that I must abide by, even though they are quite likely to elevate my status above meat, or to those that wish to instill in me a greater sense of self-worth: “a fluid-socket”. Come to think of it, it kind of has a nice ring to it, and I could think of their fleeting moment of compassion towards me as a form of camaraderie like when friends joke and tease, like “hey, you, sweet cheeks, or forgive my lack of decorum, his royal excellency of ingesting diseased nut-filth, how about a donkey punch to show my gratitude for not holding any grudges against me about that silly H.I.V. thing I passed on to you. Which, I might add, is highly treatable with modern technological advances in medicine, if it weren’t for our lack of accesss to that sort of revolutionary new medicine. Here, have some crack to hold you over. Well,theres no point in fretting about it as its too late and I gave it to you already, so I’ll talk to your handler to see if I can acquire your services for the remainder of your stay, here, which, without meds, could be about a year or two.
      This new life-style change as the whore who will do anything for anyone for pretty much next to nothing, except a week-by-week-extention of my life, for me will be my way of gaining acceptance among the inmates, and will make my peers accept me as one of them, until the time(about 10 minutes if my concentration does not lapse from the blade being pressed against my throat, ever since my distinquished cell mate(who is quite well spoken and speaks of his wife and child often with sincere fondness) saw it as the most appropriate conflict resolution strategy to teach me just how imperative it is that I don’t use my teath, even as he is bashing my head against his nightstand.”no fucking teeth, I told you, I’d knock them out, actually, that was a mutual agreement that Tyrone and I came to after much deliberation” Your appointment to extract all your teeth is tomorrow at the bathroom sink, your pick, they all hurt just the same. The next time you bite me, will be me watching you bleeding out, and later, describing your suicide as a tragic event, but one that I saw coming, as you were becomng more reclusive and cognicent of the fact that the life of a prison whore is not as glamourous as you originally thought, and despite my desperate pleadings, you refused to accept that your grand destiny could be anything other than meat, which is useless, but for its capacity to entertain rapist, pedofiles, and by-curious inmates prison guards to discharge their fluid into. So, you decided to take your own life, by removing each and every one of your extremeties, starting with your penis, then, your head, then your arms, legs. How you were able to stay composed while your head was missing, was I think a testament to your inner resolve to get the job done. I guess you do have one redeeming quality after all.
      This i would have to resort to to shed the stigma I could have earned through unspeakable transgressions in the outside world, sins that would make my caregiver sick to his stomach as he was considering what kind of discount would be fair to offer Big Tyrone for sloppy eigths, if I ever told him i did them. These heinous and deplorable acts only sociopathic criminals who are unable to find remourse in enacting the suffering of others and who are able to find pleasure in acts that other people couldn’t put into words if they were to do the same: This horrible act carries with it a type of shame that will never allow me to look another person in the eye again, or masturbate while looking in the mirror without smashing the mirror, and saying: why do you have to do this 10 times a day, and why do you have to tell all the girls you fail who mock you that this is the first time, but really, you know it wasn’t that difficult in prison. You were actually quite the stud, but now, “yes Cindy, I am completely useless, this is the 6th time this has happened, and yes, I must be sick and depraved if I cant perform with a girl like you. There is a direct correlation between my sexual inadequacies and the rough prison sex, yes!” I completely agree. You should find a real man with a working penis, and who doesn’t always frequent biker bars coming home on a harly with handfulls of cash, smelling of beer and and biker semen on my breath. But he told me that he would tell me he loved me after he skulled me, but all he did was remind me how ashamed I should be of sinking this low, and that alone, not because of some mean spirited sense ofego-driven superiority , was why he felt the best course of action was to, at this time, urinate on my face.

      This is the life that could happen to me, the life of those who commit the grievous crimes of:
      downloading season 1 and 2 of Dexter. Like prison sex? Then go ahead and watch the season premiere of dexter, and see how much you like it.

      By the way, what is your solution to the internet stuff?

      1. Friedrich Q. Liquor

        Dude, you have some serious issues.

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  9. Ano Nymous

    Japan also seems to be especially active when it comes to taking down Youtube videos. If you see an embedded YT video from Japan somewhere, and the page was created more than a few months ago, you can be almost 100% sure that the video won’t play because it has been removed for copyright reasons.

    It doesn’t matter what it is – anime, music, tv shows, EVERYTHING. It’s just gone.

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  16. eric

    How can we legally download tv shows from the States? I have lived in Japan for more than 20 years and I want to download tV shows legally. However when, I try to download them off iTunes, it says that I have to be switched to the Japanese store which, of course does not have the show. I dont want to do it illegally so I am looking for a legal site. Any ideas?

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