Updated: Copyright Law amendment

Did you know that running a search engine index server in Japan is illegal in Japan right now (as of June 2009)?

On 6/12 the amendment bill for the Japanese copyright law passed the Diet and in January 2010, the amendments will be put into effect. You can read the whole amendment documents here [ja].

There are several clauses, but the 2 big issues are "illegal download" and "search engine cache issue".

1) DOWNLOADING illegal contents will be ILLEGAL

UPLOADING illegal contents to the internet is illegal even now (and many people including Mr. Kaneko the creator of P2P software Winny had been arrested), but the new amendment will outlaw individuals who DOWNLOAD contents if they knew it is illegal contents.

There had been lots of debate on this topic- as this issue inherently has various problems such as "How do you prove you actually knew it was illegal?" "The way internet works is that if you are viewing some website, you are actually downloading it even if you are not pressing a download button or anything." There were strong oppositions against this bill, and I wrote last year about a Japanese Internet activist group MIAU and their activities against this bill. After a long debate, the way this ended up is that although downloading illegal contents is going to be illegal, there is no punishment clause on this (and that is why the efficacy of this law is questioned). Streaming is not covered in this bill, and just looking at illegal videos on YouTube and Nico Nico Douga will not be illegal either.

Chris Salzberg had been covering this issue at Global Voices blog in the past:
Japan: Economics of the “Illegal” Download
Japan: The Illegal Download Explained, on 2-Channel

2) Search engine cache (and data backup cache, streaming cache) will be LEGAL after the bill is put into effect.

Search engine caches were considered illegal in the Japanese copyright law, as "copying copyrighted contents without permission from the copyright holder is illegal" and "search engine caches are copying copyrighted materials" (and there is no way search engine companies can get permission of each and every content they index, moreover there is no fair use in Japan). Therefore search engines in Japan such as Google and Yahoo inevitably kept their servers outside of Japan.

After next January, Japanese search engines can legally build their cache servers in Japan.

Other clauses include: selling pirated DVDs in the internet auctions knowing it is illegal product will be punished (5 years in prison or penalty under 5 million yen), electronic archives of books in the National Diet Library, a system to reuse contents whose authors are unclear, etc.


UPDATE October, 2012

3 years have passed since I wrote this article and there are a bunch of updates, but I'm sure you are interested in the copyright law amendment that took place on October 1st, 2012.

The law penalizes people who knowingly download illegally uploaded music or movie files. When music or video is sold or is getting paid-distribution online, and if you knew those contents are distributed illegally, and you downloaded those illegal contents from the internet, you are subject to punishment.

High level summary:

Uploading illegal contents online had been illegal from before, and the punishment was maximum of 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to 10 million yen.

- From 2010/1/1, downloading illegal contents online became illegal without punishment. Despite this law, many people download illegal contents, and the copyright amendment bill passed in June 2012.

- From 2012/10/1, even if it is for your personal use, 1) if the contents is sold or is getting paid-distribution online 2) you knew those contents are distributed illegally 3) you downloaded those illegal contents from the internet, you are subject to punishment- maximum of 2 years in prison and/or a fine of up to 2 million yen.

- From 2012/10/1, ripping DVD contents with copy protect functions will be illegal without punishment, even if it is ripped for your personal use. Creating or giving programs that enables to break those copy protection function will be illegal and is subject to punishment- maximum of 3 years in prison and/or a fine of up to 3 million yen. (Most music CDs do not have copy protect function, so as long as it is personal use, copying music from CD to your personal computers or personal music player are generally not illegal.

- In the past, when famous characters happened to be in the background of photos uploaded to blogs etc, it was illegal. The new amendment will make this legal from 2013/1/1.

- From 2013/1/1, the National Diet Library will be able to electronically distribute out-of-print books to public libraries nationwide.

Resources and links:

Government's PR site [ja]
Website of Agency for Cultural Affairs on this copyright amendment [ja]
Amendment bill (summary) [ja]
Amendment bill [ja]
Amendment bill (comparison of the old and new bill) [ja]
Japan Times: Copyright law with teeth leaves download masses puzzled

Q&A from website of Agency for Cultural Affairs:

Q – Is it illegal to view illegal contents online?
A – Viewing illegal video or listening to illegal music is not online, unless you record the contents.

Q – Is it illegal to view contents on video sharing sites like YouTube since it creates cache?
A – No, caching made from viewing videos of video sharing sites are not illegal.

Q – Is it illegal to download online photos or copy and paste test for my private use?
A – No, downloading online photos or copy and pasting text is not illegal as long as it is for private use. Downloading music and video is illegal.

Q – Is it illegal to download online illegal TV dramas that are broadcasted on TVs for free?
A – Even if TV programs were broadcasted for free, it is illegal download the contents if you knew it was illegal distribution. Moreover, if that TV program is sold (either as DVD or online), if you download knowing both the fact that it is sold product as well as illegal, you are subject to punishment.  

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not reflect those of my employer. -Fumi Yamazaki