Japan rolls out stiff fines and jail times for illegal downloads

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order

Japanese Yen, courtesy of ShutterstockJapan has changed its copyright law, instituting stiff penalties for illegal downloads that could entail prosecution for simply viewing a pirated music video on YouTube.

The new penalties are up to two years in jail or fines of up to 2 million yen ($25,700; £15,900).

As TorrentFreak pointed out, this draconian approach to piracy differs from other countries in that it focuses on punishing downloaders, rather than on the uploaders who made the material available in the first place.

Japan already has laws to punish uploaders with up to 10 years in prison and a 10 million yen ($128,300) fine, whereas this new legislation for the first time criminalizes downloading.

Up until now, downloading had merely been punishable as a civil infraction.

But after intense lobbying from the Japanese music industry, the country in June amended its Copyright Law to punish unauthorized downloaders.

How much money is at stake? Japan is cited as being second only to the US as the world's biggest music market, and a site devoted to music marketing in Japan claims that the country is the largest market when you focus on digital music.

Japanese flag, courtesy of ShutterstockAccording to TorrentFreak, the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ) claims that piracy is bleeding them of money.

The industry associations claim that the market for legal downloads shrank 16% last year, with unauthorized downloads eclipsing legal sources by 10 to 1.

The BBC reports that the figure is based on a 2010 study which suggested that people in Japan downloaded about 4.36 billion illegally pirated music and video files and only 440 million purchased ones that year.

They're not stopping with criminalizing downloading, either.

Music rights groups including the RIAJ report that they've developed a way to automatically detect unauthorized uploads before they even reach the internet.

The only step left to completely block illegal uploads is to talk ISPs into integrating the systems into their networks.

The system works by monitoring uploaded content and comparing its digital fingerprint to an external database full of copyrighted material.

According to coverage from a Japanese entertainment media journal, when a match is made between uploaded content and copyrighted material in the database, warning letters might be sent to the alleged infringers.

The rightholders' first choice, however, would be to block uploads automatically.

But as TorrentFreak noted, the ISPs could find themselves in hot water over this type of move, which was deemed to amount to spying by the European Court of Justice in a 2011 case involving a Belgian music rights group.

Downloaders aren't taking it lying down.

In July, protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks went out to pick up garbage in Tokyo's busiest business districts, as a way to publicise the copyright law changes.

I somehow doubt that even-cleaner already-clean Japanese streets will prevail against draconian anti-piracy measures.

Piracy key on keyboard, courtesy of ShutterstockHopefully the ISPs simply won't go along.

Back in 2009, the UK was on a similar track to disconnect internet users suspected of illegal downloads.

As Naked Security's Graham Cluley noted then, it was ridiculous.

It's still ridiculous.

People who download illegally are going to keep downloading illegally. They'll just use somebody else's IP address to do it.

Piracy key, Japanese yen and Japanese flag images courtesy of Shutterstock.

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7 Responses to Japan rolls out stiff fines and jail times for illegal downloads

  1. futuredespair · 1095 days ago

    Quite right too. Governments around the world should copy the Japanese. Even if it proves hard in practice to prosecute an individual, I think these sanctions should be there. Why should anyone get for free what other people work to produce?

    • illegal_alien · 1094 days ago

      Yeah. We need more police states where everything you do is scrutinized by some underpaid bureaucrat on a power trip.

    • JRD · 1094 days ago

      The problem isn't punishing the guilty; the problem is punishing someone who is merely presumed to be guilty based on something as simple as an IP address.
      Consider WiFi hotspots. Would the Japanese government fine or imprison business owners providing WiFi? Or would they just blanket arrest everybody at the location at the time of an infraction? Or maybe the business should be expected to pay additional moneys and licensing to sign up for some proxy service that will deny access to copyrighted material... until that service is too slow rolling out updates or misses a site or two and is also targeted by the government.
      It is a hole we don't need to go down.
      Pirates are a cost of doing business. Eat the cost. Produce something worthwhile; people will buy it anyway.

  2. Mark · 1094 days ago

    I guess one could point to politicians for an answer to that question! As long as there are suckers willing to shell out for an over priced product .. GOOD. Many albums released today are a joke, with a few new tracks. The rest of the album contains "fillers", meaning titles previously released in earlier albums. That practice has been going on for years. Do you know anyone that slept on the sidewalk waiting to purchase the IPhone 5? Ha ha.

  3. Andrew · 1094 days ago

    long live Piracy!

    • illegal_alien · 1094 days ago

      Yarr! I often wonder why vendors don't offer their wares at lower prices so more people simply BUY the stuff rather than go through the hassle of pirating it. Take Adobe, for example. If they offered their products at a quarter of the ridiculous price they currently charge, more people would be inclined to buy it and use it. But because they are in a position of power, meaning they have no competition worthy of mention, they feel it's their right to gouge users. So instead of 1000 users paying $1500 for a product ($1,500,000), they could have 10,000 users paying $250 for their product ($2,500,000).

  4. roy jones jr · 1090 days ago

    What other option do they have? Piracy is a problem. They are starting with raising the fines.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.