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A few hours ago and after years of preparation, amendments to Japan’s copyright law came into effect, aiming to criminalize those who download unlicensed manga, magazines, and academic texts from the Internet. So how will the new law work, who will it affect, and what kind of penalties should people expect?

Japan flagIn 2012, Japan passed legislation that made it illegal to download unlicensed movies and music from the Internet.

The move, to criminalize these activities with a prison sentence of up to two years, was widely welcomed by copyright holders. However, for many others operating in less protected niches, the law didn’t go far enough.

Wildly popular manga (local comics), magazines and other literary works (such as academic texts) were not covered by the law. It would take another eight years for legislation to catch up.

In the summer and after years of work, Japan’s parliament passed new copyright amendments that bridged the gap. Punishments for the unlicensed downloading of manga, magazines and academic texts from the Internet were brought into line with the previously outlawed media categories, with violators facing a theoretical sentence of two years in prison or a fine of up to two million yen (US$19,366).

New Law in Effect Today: Who Will Be Tracked Down and How?

The new law came into effect today, January 1, 2021, so in preparation for the event, TorrentFreak caught up with Masaharu Ina from Japan-based anti-piracy group CODA to find out who will be affected by the new law, and what kind of penalties infringers could potentially face.

While uploading pirated content has always been illegal, the new law is quite specific in that it criminalizes the downloading of unlicensed content. While that could take place in a simultaneous upload environment such as BitTorrent, it seems most likely that people will obtain content from websites instead.

That presents some roadblocks to enforcement so we asked Ina how, from a technical perspective, will the authorities track, obtain evidence, and prosecute people who simply download content (comics, movies, music etc) to their machines but don’t distribute?

“The authorities shall use digital forensic technologies to track suspects’ activities and collect evidence. The details of such technologies have not been publicly available,” he explained.

“There are certain special units specialized in cyber crimes in each prefecture. For example, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police has its own Cyber Crime Control Unit. But the police do not investigate unless the person commits the crime repeatedly, intentionally and maliciously, i.e. innocent light downloaders shall not be prosecuted.”

Similar Laws Already in Place for Other Entertainment Content

Given that simply downloading movies and music has been illegal in Japan since 2012 and this new law, to cover manga and other content, has been aggressively pursued since then, one might assume movie and music downloaders have been widely prosecuted.

According to Ina, however, that hasn’t been the case because certain criteria need to be fulfilled for prosecution, including proof of malicious intent such as repetitive and continuous downloading. In fact, to date, no one has been prosecuted for simply downloading movies or music.

Despite Harsh Penalties, Common Sense Should Prevail

Given that Japan’s authorities have already proven that casual downloaders will not be prosecuted over small-scale downloading of movies and music, there seem few reasons for regular Internet users to unnecessarily panic over the new law covering manga, magazines, and other texts.

Ina says that safeguards have been built into the legislation, precisely so that the serious penalties available won’t apply to casual downloaders such as those who grab a few frames of a comic or when their downloading doesn’t negatively affect copyright holders.

“Of note is the criteria for prosecution, i.e. there are certain exemptions to avoid prosecution of innocent light users who happen to download works without the intention of committing a crime. And the police shall not investigate unless the right holder requests the police to do so,” he says.

“All in all, the law (and its amendment to include still images) is intended to deter crime,” Ina concludes.

A New ‘Hello Kitty’ Educational Video

As reported last August, Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, a body of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, hired Hello Kitty as its Copyright Ambassador.

To mark the introduction of the new law, Kitty (with script and production help from Masaharu Ina) has released a new video. It’s a far cry from some of the anti-piracy videos released in the West and it’s hoped its cuteness will strike the right tone with content consumers.


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