CG image at heart of pornography case

12:53 am, November 06, 2014
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Should images created using computer graphics be regarded as child pornography?

In the trial of a man accused of creating and selling CG images of a naked girl in violation of the law banning child pornography, his defense attorneys argue he is innocent on the grounds that CG images are original creations and are not illegal.

Since the law took effect in 1999, defining child pornography has been a contest between tightening regulations and protecting freedom of expression. Bitter exchanges are likely to continue between the defense and prosecution until the case is decided.

Akashi Takahashi of Gifu Prefecture was arrested and indicted in July last year for violating the law. It was the first case in which CG images were considered child pornography for the purpose of criminal charges.

According to the indictment, the 53-year-old graphic designer allegedly created CG images based on pictures of a naked girl and sold the images on the Internet from 2008 to 2013. The prosecutors insist that the defendant referred to a book of photographs of a naked girl, published in the 1980s, saying, “The images, elaborately created based on pictures of a girl who really exists, constitute child pornography.”

Meanwhile, the defense insisted in a trial that started in December last year at the Tokyo District Court that Takahashi had created the CG images by referring to images or drawings of various women. “The images were pieces of art depicting a person who doesn’t exist, so it is not subject to criminal punishment,” the defense said.

Concerning a model in the photo book, the defense pointed out that the prosecutors failed to prove that the model was aged under 18 — the threshold below which regulations apply. In response, a pediatrician who appeared in court as a prosecution witness gave testimony that the model could be judged to be under 18 from her physical appearance.

Hearings in the trial had been held four times by June this year, but since then sessions concerning the disclosure of evidence and other issues have been closed to the public. In future hearings, the defense said they plan to reveal the process of how the CG images were created to demonstrate that the image is an original creation by the defendant. “It should not be allowed for freedom of expression to be threatened by stretching the definition of child pornography in an arbitrary manner,” the defendant’s lawyer Takashi Yamaguchi said.

Graphics fall into legal gray zone

Although restrictions on child pornography have repeatedly been strengthened, the materials that are controlled are limited out of consideration for freedom of expression.

After the law banning child prostitution and child pornography came into force in 1999, goods such as a photo collections of naked young girls disappeared from the market, and browsing such books at the National Diet Library was banned in 2006.

However, because the law aims to protect children from sexual exploi-tation and abuse, the restrictions only target items portraying actual children. Comics and animation have remained uncontrolled.

Subsequently, elaborate computer graphic (CG) images went into circulation among collectors of such pornography instead of photos, causing concern that this exploits a legal loophole.

The Metropolitan Police Department decided to arrest a Gifu Prefecture man apparently because the CG images he created were purportedly so lifelike that people could recognize the real girl they were modeled on.

“If we can successfully prove they were modeled on actual children, we will continue to arrest [those who produce such images],” a senior MPD official said.

In some developed countries, restrictions on child pornography are more strict.

According to the Foreign Ministry, realistic CG images are subject to control in the United States and Italy even if they are not based on actual models.

In Japan, the law revision in June additionally prohibits personal possession of child pornography. But the revision does not target manga, anime or CG images out of consideration for freedom of expression, although the ruling parties initially considered such media to be problematic.

Takayuki Oguchi, a journalist familiar with CG technology, said: “It is reality that the technology enabling the creation of elaborate CG images, very much like photography, has been established. Such technology should be used to contribute to the development of culture and art. Creators of CG images need to be aware of that and they should not let police intervene.

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