The Trend of Anti-Piracy Measures in Japan
Takaaki Hayashi, Cita-Cita IP Firm (Japan)
With the rapid progress of digitalization and networking in recent years, pirated versions of music, anime, movies, comics, videogames, etc. on the Internet are distributed worldwide, and the damage is rapidly increasing. Even in Japan, the damage caused by copyright infringement on the Internet is enormous. In recent years, a prison sentence for the principals of the large-scale illegal leech site “Haruka Yume no Ato” was confirmed in 2019, and a prison sentence for the operator of the pirated site “Manga-mura” was confirmed in 2021. In light of these cases, the Copyright Law of Japan was amended in June 2020.
Below, the two core pillars of the amendment of the Copyright Law of Japan, “Leech site measures” and “Expanding scope of illegal downloading” are explained, and the judgment of a civil case related to the pirated site “Manga-mura” is introduced.
Leech Site Measures
Even before the amendment of the law, the acts of uploading and distributing infringing content on the Internet without permission of the copyright holder, were illegal (infringement of reproduction rights, public transmission rights, etc.). Under the amended law that took effect on October 1, 2020, a website that aggregates links to infringing contents is defined as a “Leech site”, the acts of Leech site management and providing Leech App is subject to criminal punishment, and the act of providing link information for the infringing content is subject to criminal punishment and civil measures. Note that platform service providers (e.g., Google) who do not directly manage a leech site are not subject to the regulation in principle.
Expanding Scope of Illegal Downloading
Prior to the amendment of the law, it was a prohibition to download the illegally uploaded “video” or “music”, even for private use, knowing the illegally uploading. Additionally, the act of downloading illegally uploaded video or music is subject to criminal punishment, if the work is paid content that is officially provided for a fee. Under the amended law that took effect on January 1, 2021, the scope of copyrighted works subject to this regulation is expanded to cover not only video and music, but also “copyrighted works in general” such as manga, books, treatises and computer programs.
Pirated Site “Manga-mura” Advertisement Case of Tokyo District Court Decision, December 21, 2021
The plaintiff is Mr. Akamatsu, a manga artist. The defendants are two advertising agencies. While the plaintiff’s manga, which are the copyrighted works of the plaintiff, were published on the manga browsing site “Manga-mura” on the Internet without permission of the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s public transmission rights was infringed, the defendants collected advertisers for the infringing website and provided the site manager with operating funds as advertising fees. The plaintiff alleged the defendants aided and abetted the infringement of the public transmission rights, and claimed damages of 11 million yen from the defendants based on their liability as joint tortfeasors.
The court judged that the act of placing the advertisements on the infringing website and paying the advertisement fees to the site manager is an act of assisting or facilitating the infringement of the public transmission rights of the plaintiff’s manga, and granted the plaintiff’s request.
The point of this judgment is the basis for finding aiding and abetting of copyright infringement. Past judgments had considered whether the acts of leasing a karaoke device and providing file exchange software fall under aiding and abetting of copyright infringement. Compared to the acts disputed in these past judgments, the act of paying advertising fees (funding) in this case is a monetary exchange with unlimited uses, so it seems less closely linked to the act of legally using copyright. The court found that the defendant’s act to be aiding and abetting of the copyright infringement, based on the fact that its advertising revenue was almost the only source of funding for the infringing website.
It can be said that this judgment is based on the past Supreme Court ruling that it is necessary to recognize and tolerate a specific infringement usage situation that exceeds the general possibility, in order to find aiding and abetting in copyright infringement.
Even after the above-mentioned amendment of the Copyright Law, new illegal websites have continued to come about, and the current situation is that cat-and-mouse games continue. In order to increase the effectiveness of anti-piracy measures, it will be necessary to strengthen international cooperation.