Japan Passes New Copyright Law to Criminalize Manga Piracy & Linking Sites

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Japan's parliament has passed amendments to copyright law that aim to prevent illegal downloading of manga, magazines and other texts. Set to be implemented in two phases, the new framework also outlaws so-called 'leech sites' that provide links to copyrighted content hosted elsewhere.

Japan flagEight years ago, Japan passed legislation that made it illegal to download unlicensed movies and music from the Internet.

The move to criminalize this activity with a prison sentence of up to two years received a general welcome from copyright holders. However, rightsholders offering other types of content felt left out. Ever since they’ve called for the law to be expanded to include manga (local comics) and other literary works.

Fines and Prison Sentences For Downloaders

This week and after years of work, their goals were achieved. Japan’s parliament passed new copyright amendments Friday that ban the unlicensed downloading of manga, magazines and academic texts from the Internet, in line with the previously outlawed media categories.

In common with the penalties already available for movies and music, those illegally downloading publications from the Internet now face a theoretical sentence of two years in prison or a fine of up to two million yen (US$18,300).

The new downloading law will come into effect on January 1, 2021, but there will be some exceptions.

Those who download a small section of a manga publication or a handful of pages from a larger book, for example, will not face prosecution. After protests over the strict nature of an early draft of the law, people who accidentally include copyrighted works in screenshots will also avoid breaking the law.

New Criminal Penalties For ‘Leech Site’ Operators

Other amendments passed Friday including the outlawing of so-called “leech” sites. Outside Japan, these are often called indexing or linking sites since they host no copyrighted content themselves but link to external platforms or users that do. These have previously proven a thorn in the side of local copyright holders who previously claimed that around 200 were operating with impunity in the country.

As of October 1, 2020, however, site operators or those publishing apps that have the same function will face the harshest sentences available under the law. Such offenses will carry a sentence of up to five years in prison, a maximum fine of five million yen (US$45,760), or in some cases, both.

New Legislation Overcame Significant Hurdles to Become Law

In early 2019, the Cultural Affairs Agency proposed an expansion of the law to cover all copyrighted content but things didn’t go smoothly. Opponents argued that the proposed legislation was too tight and could even meet the private copying of images with a prison sentence.

Due to these and similar fears, the amendments were eventually shelved. This led to the production of an amended bill that received approval in March.

Passed by parliament this week, the government says that the amendments represent a fair yet effective compromise.

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