Final Blow to File Sharing? Japan's Gov't to Revise Copyright Law

Dec 19, 2007
Takeyoshi Yamada, Nikkei Electronics

The 15th meeting of the Private Music and Video Recording Subcommittee was held Dec 18, 2007. The subcommittee is affiliated with the Copyright Committee of the Cultural Council, an advisory organization to Japan's minister of education and science.

The agenda of the meeting was the reexamination of the coverage of Article 30 of the copyright law, which has been discussed for some time. Despite the strong opposition from some committee members, it was nearly decided to exclude "private music and video recording from illegally recorded works and illegal Websites" from "private copying" regulated by Article 30 of the copyright law.

Also, as for computer softwares, copies made from illegally copied products and downloaded from illegal Websites will be excluded from the coverage of Article 30.

This reexamination has been drawing people's attention as a "download outlawing issue." The purpose of the reexamination is to regulate downloads from Websites. The reexamination process itself started in accordance with a strong request by the right holders who regard P2P file-sharing softwares, video-sharing Websites and illegal sites for call signals with melodies as serious threats.

On the other hand, if the coverage of Article 30 is reexamined, it is highly possible that viewing the contents by browsers, in itself, will become illegal; therefore, some users are strongly opposed to the reexamination, claiming that it will hinder the sound development of the Internet.

As a result of that, about 7,500 comments were sent in response to the invitation of public opinions for the interim report of the Private Music and Video Recording Subcommittee that indicated the policy of "outlawing downloads." And most of those comments are against the reexamination (See related article).

In the meeting, Hidetoshi Haeno, senior director of the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ), and Naotaka Katyou, a member of the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan Inc, strongly supported the reexamination by saying the following comments.

"The business of record companies is stuck in a dead end. It's spine-chilling." "When a movie is uploaded to a video-sharing Website, they applaud it. They look like the people who acclaim Nezumi Kozou (a heroic thief like Robin Hood), but filmmakers are not evil governors or unscrupulous merchants."

Also, Reijirou Koroku, the chairperson of the Japan Federation of Authors and Composers Associations (FCA), said, "In view of all the copyrights, they do not have enough protection yet. Right holders has been too silent until now."

On the contrary, Daisuke Tsuda, IT and music journalist, said, "In the first place, I do not feel the need to revise the law at all. Users are feeling that 'the right holders are seeking to strengthen the protection without doing what they really should do (for example, providing users with legal options).'"

"Is it OK with you if users fall away from movies, musics and TVs due to the revision to promote the protection of rights?" he continued. "People of Japan are serious compared with people in other countries and faithfully spend money on contents. I think we could overlook some copies."

Also, Makiko Kawamura, a member of Shufuren, said, "We should not ignore the vast majority of opinions. You are saying that you will not decide by a majority vote and that the number does not matter. But we should take it seriously that this many people sent in their objections.

Responding to these arguments, Makoto Kawase, general manager of the Copyrighted Work Circulation Promotion Department, the Copyright Division of the Office of the Secretary of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, said, "We take seriously the fact that many opinions are opposed to the revision. But it is inevitable to reexamine Article 30 because of various reasons."

"It is debatable whether these activities actually cause financial damages. But the amount of illegal distribution of contents is more than that of legal distribution," he added, showing his intention to move forward with the reexamination.

Kawase said that most of the opposing opinions are based on the anxiety of unknowingly infringing the law and that he will pay enough attention to the protection of the users.

He also said violators will not face a criminal charge; the laws will be enforced only if the users know the contents are illegally copied; the government and the right holders try hard to keep everyone informed of the details of the revision, the Websites that the right holders approved, the procedures of warning and punishment, in addition to providing consultation services and promoting the logos that indicates legality.

"We will uncompromisingly protect users with the help of right holders," Kawase said.

He added that "the users will not be at a severe disadvantage" because there is no criminal penalty and the burden of proof is on the right holders in the case of civil lawsuits. He also commented about the effectiveness of the revision, saying, "The second primary reason why the number of P2P users decreased is 'because it is illegal.' So I think most of the casual violations can be prevented by this."