Japan ISP Says it Will Voluntarily Block Pirate Sites as Major Portal Disappears

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A major ISP in Japan says it will begin blocking pirate sites voluntarily. There is no legal basis for site-blocking and the country's constitution forbids censorship. However, NTT says that it has adopted "emergency measures" until the necessary legislation can be put in place. Meanwhile, one of the sites targeted has mysteriously disappeared, abandoning 100m monthly visitors.

Speaking at a news conference during March, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the government was considering measures to prohibit access to pirate sites. The country’s manga and anime industries were treasures worth protecting, Suga said.

“The damage is getting worse. We are considering the possibilities of all measures including site blocking. I would like to take countermeasures as soon as possible under the cooperation of the relevant ministries and agencies,” he added.

But with no specific legislation that allows for site-blocking, particularly not on copyright infringement grounds, it appeared that Japan might face an uphill struggle. Indeed, the country’s constitution supports freedom of speech and expressly forbids censorship. Earlier this month, however, matters quickly began to progress.

On Friday April 13, the government said it would introduce an emergency measure to target websites hosting pirated manga, anime and other types of content. It would not force ISPs to comply with its blocking requests but would simply ask for their assistance instead.

The aim was to establish cooperation in advance of an expansion of legislation later this year which was originally introduced to tackle the menace of child pornography.

“Our country’s content industry could be denied a future if manga artists and other creators are robbed of proceeds that should go to them,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The government didn’t have to wait long for a response. The Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT) announced yesterday that it will begin blocking access to sites that provide unauthorized access to copyrighted content.

“We have taken short-term emergency measures until legal systems on site-blocking are implemented,” NTT in a statement.

NTT Communications Corp., NTT Docomo Inc. and NTT Plala Inc., will block access to three sites previously identified by the government – Mangamura, AniTube! and MioMio which have a particularly large following in Japan.

NTT said that it will also restrict access to other sites if requested to do so by the government. The company added that at least in the short-term, it will prevent access to the sites using DNS blocking.

While Anitube and MioMio will be blocked in due course, Mangamura has already disappeared from the Internet. The site was reportedly attracting 100 million visits per month but on April 17 went offline following an apparent voluntary shutdown by its administrators.

AnimeNewsNetwork notes that a news program on NHK dedicated to Mangamura focused on the site’s administrators with claims they can be traced back to the United States, Ukraine, and other regions. Whether this exposé played a part in the site’s closure is unclear but that kind of publicity is rarely welcome in the piracy scene.

To date, just three sites have been named by the government as particularly problematic but it’s now promising to set up a consultation on a further response. A bill will also be submitted to parliament to target sites that promote links to content hosted elsewhere, an activity which is not illegal under current law.

Two other major access providers in Japan, KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Corp., have told local media that their plans to block pirate sites have not yet been finalized.

“The fact that neglecting the situation of infringement of copyright etc. cannot be overlooked is recognized and it is recognized as an important problem to be addressed urgently,” Softbank said in a statement.

“However, since there is concern that blocking infringes secrecy of communications, we need careful discussion. We would like to collaborate with industry organizations involved in telecommunications and consider measures that can be taken from various viewpoints, such as laws, institutions, and operation methods.”

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