Japanese Government Plants Anti-Piracy Warnings Inside Fake Downloads

Last year saw a major upgrade in Japan's anti-piracy legislation in an attempt to shift Internet users away from file-sharing sites and networks and towards the country's legitimate outlets. But while the change in the law was significant, getting the legal-downloading message to users proved problematic. In response the government and rightsholders are now seeding fake files with anti-piracy messages hidden inside.

Ever since the dawn of online file-sharing fake files have proven some of the most annoying pieces of digital data ever to disgrace the Internet.

These miserable specimens of unwanted code nearly always find their way onto users’ machines through deception, masquerading as something desirable but turning out to be something utterly unwanted. Only last week TorrentFreak was exposed to blatant spam disguised as documentary subtitles.

Malware and virus creators rely on similar techniques in order to deliver their payloads but fortunately we have software for dealing with these kinds of attacker. The same cannot be said about those who pollute file-sharing networks with fakes.

In addition to the straight idiots who think that renaming porn videos as kids’ cartoons is still somehow amusing, for years anti-piracy companies have dabbled with the concept of fake files. Nearly all were deliberately marked up as something they’re not in order lure people in one end with excitement and spit them out the other with disappointment.

However, the Japanese government thinks it can do better with a similar scheme, but with one that replaces the end result with enlightenment, the rage with a sense of fear, and those file-sharing urges with those that involve spending money.

Hot on the heels of the 2012 introduction of new tough legislation aimed at reducing unauthorized online file-sharing, local authorities have launched a campaign to draw attention to the perils faced by online pirates. But instead of targeting TV, radio or even social media, the government has gone straight to the source by advertising directly on P2P networks.

At the end of last month, Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in conjunction with movie and music studios announced “Operation Decoy File”, a copyright awareness campaign stuffed inside – you guessed it – fake files.

“To deter illegal distribution of content using P2P file sharing software the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications [and various rightsholder companies and organizations] will until mid-February 2013 conduct experiments to contribute to the enlightenment of users who attempt to download illegal content using the same software,” the Ministry announced.

A translation of the notice (original here, Japanese pdf) is shown below:

A Warning from the Organization to Raise Awareness of Copyright

Files with the same name as this contain content which is in violation of copyright when distributed over P2P networks such as Winny or Share.

Knowingly downloading and of course uploading files over the Internet that are protected by copyright law without the consent of the owner is illegal copyright infringement. Please stop immediately.

Also, from 1 October 2012, downloading content which is known to be available for sale is punishable by a maximum 2-year prison sentence and/or 2,000,000 yen [US$21,000] fine.

Our copyright organization is working to eliminate copyright infringement by file sharing software. In addition to consulting with the police to obtain the disclosure of users’ identities, we want to focus on user education.

Although it’s probably going to prove unpopular with most file-sharers, the experiment does raise some interesting points.

While fake files can be an enormous annoyance – including ones containing anti-piracy warnings – this method does reach the target audience directly. Knowing that a just-downloaded file could’ve have come directly from the authorities could serve as a reasonably powerful deterrent, without the need for user privacy to be compromised in any way.

However, it is also likely that such a scheme will only gain traction with the low hanging fruit, such as users who have difficulty telling the difference between a 360KB pdf and a playable MP3, even if they are zipped up or compressed in some way. Perhaps directing users creatively to an official download could’ve yielded even better results, although including a 25% iTunes discount voucher might be going a little far.

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