Copyright law with teeth leaves download masses puzzled

The bill to revise the copyright law that cleared the Diet on June 20 has confused many Internet users, especially over two major changes that take effect Oct. 1.

Face look: Apparent fans of Anonymous pick up litter Saturday in a Tokyo park as part of a cleanup mission organized by the hacker collective, which is protesting Japan’s recently revised copyright law and the penalties it imposes for downloading illegal music and video files on the Internet. AFP-JIJI
The law penalizes people who knowingly download illegally uploaded music or movie files.

It also bans the ripping, or copying, of DVDs or Blu-ray Discs, which are encrypted to curb access, regardless of whether the discs have been purchased or rented by the user.

Many people remain unclear about what is exactly banned under the law.

Following are basic questions, some submitted by readers of The Japan Times, and answers about the revised copyright law:

Will it be illegal to download pirated music or video files from a website?

Actually it has been illegal since January 2010 to knowingly download illegally uploaded, or pirated, content.

Before the law was revised, violators faced no penalties. Now they can face a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of up to ¥2 million.

This criminal penalty will not apply to downloading content that was shown for free on the Internet or other media, such as a television program that is not pay-per-view, but illegally downloading such content can still be grounds for a civil lawsuit.

The revised law will apply mainly to music and movie files. It is also likely to apply to video games that include moving images, since past court rulings have held such games to be copyrighted cinematographic works.

Will copying DVD content be illegal?

The new law makes it illegal but prescribes no penalty.

But copying the content of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs that are protected with encrypted technologies, most notably the Content Scrambling System, will be illegal if the perpetrator is aware of the illegality.

In general, movies on DVDs and Blu-ray Discs sold at stores are protected with technology that makes it difficult to copy and distribute.

But there are tools to disable the protection and enable users to copy and store content on their computers. Use of the tools would thus be illegal.

What about CDs?

Ripping CD tunes will not violate the law if it is done for personal use or for sharing with family or close friends. Thus it is OK to rent CDs from stores and rip and store the content on one’s computer for that purpose.

The L Mark, which is issued by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ), authenticates music or movie content that has been approved by content holders for online distribution. COURTESY OF RIAJ
There are some copyright-protected music CDs, but nearly all recent discs are not protected against copying, and thus they can be ripped.

How can one tell out of the millions of titles on the Internet whether something has been illegally uploaded?

This is a difficult question.

Takeshi Ikkanda, an official at the Cultural Affairs Agency, which oversees the copyright law, admits it is hard to tell whether a digital file has been illegally uploaded.

The Recording Industry Association of Japan has an approval mark for websites that only offer legal content. The association authorizes website operators to post the “L Mark” so Internet users can see for themselves that these sites are legitimate places for downloading files.

But the authorization mark has not been widely publicized, so many Internet users are unaware of its existence.

Kensaku Fukui, a lawyer and expert on copyright issues, said in some cases it is quite easy to tell if digital files ready for download have been pirated.

If people search songs of famous artists on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks like LimeWire and get a bunch of hits, they are most likely illegally uploaded, and users also should know that, according to Fukui.

“It’s hard to imagine that the songs have been officially allowed to go on peer-to-peer networks,” he said.

Ikkanda also noted that the file of a movie currently playing in theaters that is available for free download clearly must have been uploaded illegally.

But in general it is hard to tell if content has been pirated, Ikkanda and Fukui agree.

Thus, how can police determine that someone “knowingly” downloaded an illegal file and press for prosecution?

Fukui said the police will have a hard time proving whether people knowingly downloaded illegally obtained content, so they probably will only go after blatant cases.

Someone who downloads massive amounts of pirated files on a regular basis would be easier to target as having intentionally copied illegally uploaded content, he said, adding the police would probably be hesitant to go after cases in which guilt would be hard to prove.

Is it illegal to view online content that has been illegally uploaded onto YouTube or other video-streaming websites?

No, because it is considered “streaming viewing,” not downloading.

It is true that viewing content on YouTube or other video-sharing websites generally requires computers to store the content in a cache, and this can be considered downloading. But Ikkanda said the law does not interpret such viewing as downloading.

But people who use special tools to deliberately download content from YouTube or other video-sharing websites run the risk of violating YouTube’s rules and of violating the copyright law, Fukui said.

Would it be legal to download an MP3 file emailed from a friend who presumably owns the music file?

Yes, it is legal to download the file in that case. The law only applies to the downloading of files that have been uploaded to publicly open cyberspace. The email exchange is not considered publicly open because the file is sent to a specific person.

If I download a British TV program that has not aired in Japan and is not even released on DVD in the U.K., purely for personal viewing, will that be illegal?

That can be illegal if the user knows the content has been uploaded without permission from the copyright holder.

I downloaded a couple of albums a while back. Will the police come after me?

No, because the revised law takes effect Oct. 1.

Overall, what should Internet users watch out for?

Fukui said refrain from downloading content that appears to have obviously been uploaded illegally.

Why and how was the copyright law revised?

When the government submitted the original bill to the Diet, it did not include criminal penalties for illegal downloading. But the music industry, desperately trying to minimize the revenue loss caused by the distribution of illegal files, lobbied lawmakers and succeeded in getting the penalties attached.

The Recording Industry Association of Japan estimates that 4.36 billion pirated music files were downloaded in 2010, amounting to ¥668.3 billion in lost revenue for the industry.

Some, however, question whether the impact is really that big.

Usually when a revision like this takes place, it is discussed for quite a while by a panel set up by the government and public opinions are solicited. But this time, the inclusion of the penalties was only discussed for a brief time in the Diet. This has drawn criticism that lawmakers were only catering to the music industry and ignoring other voices, namely Internet users who are opposed to the change.

Fukui admitted the process was not commendable and deepened the conflict between copyright holders and Internet users.

Why do some people oppose the revision?

Critics have said the revision will lead to stricter government controls on cyberspace and not truly help resolve the problems the music industry is facing.

Daisuke Tsuda, a well-known journalist who has been watching the copyright issue, told a Diet session last month that the only way to protect the music industry is to increase the government budget for culture. It is currently about ¥100 billion — considerably smaller than in other countries, particularly South Korea.

Tsuda said he is also concerned that if the current revision is deemed unsuccessful, the law may only get tighter and stymie Internet openness.

Japan has also been targeted by the hacker collective Anonymous, which opposes the copyright law revision.

“We at Anonymous strongly believe that this will result in scores of unnecessary prison sentences to numerous innocent citizens, while doing little to solve the underlying problem of legitimate copyright infringement,” Anonymous said in a statement released June 25.

Are there any other changes with the revision?

Yes. The revision allows the National Diet Library to electronically distribute out-of-print books to public libraries nationwide.

Fukui said this change should be praised and given more widespread publicity. But the public discourse has been focusing too much on the downloading and ripping of DVDs.

“It’s really nice that people can view out-of-print books and can even print some parts of them at libraries in their neighborhood,” he said.

The Japan Times, July 11, 2012
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