“Internet Atrophy” Fears Put Japan’s Downloading Bill On Hold

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Proposals to massively tighten up Japan's copyright law have been put on hold over fears the restrictions could reduce use of the Internet. The plans, which would make downloading any copyrighted material punishable as a crime, are seen by opponents as a step too far. As things stand, even screenshots for personal use could be a criminal offense.

Downloading movies and music is currently prohibited under Japan’s Copyright Act, meaning that anyone who does so is liable to criminal prosecution or civil suits.

Over the past several months, rightsholders and authorities have been seeking to make the downloading of any copyrighted content a crime, something that has raised alarm bells in the country of 127 million citizens.

While many can see the benefits of preventing people from unlawfully duplicating or sharing full copyright works (if that deprives creators of their income), the proposals currently on the table go way beyond what many citizens see as reasonable.

As the wording currently stands, even those making screenshots of copyrighted content would be criminalized, as would those reproducing song lyrics or snapshots of manga publications, for example. With penalties of two years in prison and fines of two million yen (US$18,000) on the table, it’s no wonder that people are concerned.

Last month more than 80 academics, researchers, lawyers, and other experts issued an ‘emergency statement‘ urging the government to reconsider the scope of new proposals. It’s not clear whether this alone prompted a review but it seems that the rush to criminalize large numbers of Internet users is causing those in power to pause for thought.

The planned copyright amendments were set to be submitted to the Diet on March 8, 2019 but according to local sources, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP or Jimintō) put the brakes on the proposals the day before they were due to be submitted.

Reports suggest that the party had such serious concerns over the scope of the law that its implementation might mean that “use of the Internet would be atrophied.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly held a telephone call with Keisya Furuya, the former National Public Safety Commissioner and chairman of the bipartisan MANGA (Manga-Animation-Game) parliamentary group on March 6, 2019. According to AnimeNewsNetwork, this led to the decision to remove the proposals from the agenda.

The bill will now be presented for further discussion during the Diet’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s next meeting. However, there are no clear indications whether there will be any amendments, ones that might calm the fears of those who feel these overzealous proposals are not only several steps too far but potentially unenforceable.

Scholars and other experts are suggesting that the best route is to only criminalize actions that cause real financial damage to content owners.

The general consensus among the academics is that making infringement criminally punishable may be acceptable, but only when full copyright works – such as movies, music, manga publications, and books – are exploited in their entirety.

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