Posted by achimrunnebaum on Wednesday, October 10th, 2012 (Japan Standard Time)

Not All Treasure is Silver and Gold

A look at the new anti-piracy law in Japan

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Ahoy me Mayteys and fellow Buccaneers, batten down 'yer hatches, for a storm is brewing. 

You might be wondering what's with the pirate talk here today.  Sorry to disappoint you - it's not talk like a pirate day at YokosoNews, but I'm gonna let you in on a little secret: there are still pirates in the world, and apparently many of them live in Japan.  Of course, I'm not referring to the loud-mouthed, fear-inducing enigmatic sea-loving, rebellious sailors of yore, but rather the modern-day technophiles who digitally loot all kinds of digitized goodies from various internet sites with reckless abandon.   
In an effort to thwart pirates in Japan, the government, using a leave no survivors approach, is planning on coming down hard on anyone who downloads any kind of "illegal" file off the internet.
Under the new law, which came into effect on October 1st of this year, downloading copyrighted movies, music, or programs is now a criminal offense in Japan.  Yup, you heard that correctly - not just a slap on the wrist with a note saying "we know what you did, so don't let it happen again", but a full-blown criminal offense.  

Shiver me timbers!

In plain English, that means you can now officially go to jail for "illegally" downloading any kind of copyrighted material from the internet in Japan.  Even if you're one of the lucky ones and don't end up in jail, you will still have to pay a significant amount of money if caught.  How exactly the government plans on monitoring 127,817,277 people's download habits is still a little unclear at the moment, but they've taken the first step towards seriously discouraging people from obtaining digital loot .   

While illegal downloading has been….. well…. illegal since 2010, up to now the authorities have kind of turned a blind eye towards pirates and only punished uploaders of illegal content severely.  So what brought about the sudden paradigm shift?  Apparently, music sales have fallen significantly in the world's second largest music market recently, and it is estimated that only one in 10 downloads are legally purchased.  Copying ideas straight from South Korea who saw its global market ranking jump to 11th in the world from spot number 23 after the country cracked down on piracy beginning in 2007, Japan hopes to achieve the same results, if not better.  The question though is are they going about it the right way?  Criminalization of downloads is a very serious step. 

Could it be that people are just getting tired of the same old rehashed samples, concepts and style?  Could it be that when it comes to music, people are just ready for something else that they wouldn't mind spending their money on, or is it just that the music industry as a whole is changing and record companies with their outdated modus of operandi are hanging on, grasping at every straw they can to stay afloat?  Whatever the true reason may be, this new law affects all of us in Japan. 

  • If caught, you could be charged with a minimum fine of 2,500,000 yen (about US$32,000) and/or up to 2 years in Jail

Using the same analogy as before, that's like getting slapped on the wrist …….. by a jackhammer.  Blimey!  

Here are some things you can and cannot do under the new law:

  • You can still download legal files that are either free or that you paid for (i.e. from iTunes, etc.)
  • Some people worried that checking out illegally uploaded files on YouTube would fall under this law, thus effectively outlawing YouTube in Japan.  However, that is not illegal (having it on your cache for playback doesn't count as downloading, it seems).
  • Watching Streaming Content (such as your favourite  TV show online) is apparently still OK. 

However, if you actually download said files onto your computer, then that would be illegal.

The information presented by authorities is a bit vague on certain things, but apparently charges can only be filed against alleged violators if copyright holders lodge a criminal complaint and if the person downloading was/is aware that the content is illegal.  One interesting exception to this law is that apparently, should you get questionable files through email it's Ok since you can't know if those files are legal or illegal.   

According to an old pirate saying: "The existence of the sea means the existence of pirates" and that's certainly true for the online world as well.  As long as there's the internet, there will be people who'll find a way to upload and download "illegal" materials.  Whether or not this new draconian law will have any effect on record sales in Japan remains to be seen.  I wouldn't bet on it though.  If anything, it will further hurt the already ailing industry's sales, I think.  For right now though, Japan is taking the most drastic stance in the fight against freedom pirates.  So batten down your hatches Mateys….   This storm won't blow over so quickly….

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Achim Runnebaum
Freelance Photographer, Writer, and Journalist. Achim was born in Germany, raised in the States, and is currently living in Japan.
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