In 2012, Japan passed legislation that made it illegal to download unlicensed movies and music from the Internet.
Eight years later, Japan’s parliament passed new copyright amendments that banned the unlicensed downloading of manga, magazines and academic texts from the Internet, in line with the previously outlawed media categories.
At the same time, it introduced provisions for dealing with so-called ‘leech’ sites, platforms that index or link to copyrighted content hosted elsewhere.
Operating such a site without appropriate licensing is now an arrestable offense.
Notable Criminal Cases Since the Changes
In November 2020, the Kyoto Prefectural Police arrested two men for copyright infringement by operating a linking site and providing access to three adult videos.
Last month, the Metropolitan Police Department Ayase Station filed charges against a man who operated a linking site that provided links to a pirate site that offered around 30,000 pieces of unauthorized content, including adult animations. The self-employed 37-year-old is said to have earned the equivalent of around US$4,000 in a recent two-month period.
“I thought that Japanese animation and CG are popular overseas, so I could make money by accessing them. I wanted to make some pocket money,” he reportedly confessed.
New Criminal Action in Japan
According to a report from local anti-piracy group CODA, the Cyber Crime Division of the Gunma Prefectural Police Headquarters and the Maebashi Police Station have arrested a man on suspicion that he too operated a leech/linking site that provided access to infringing content.
The platform, which has not been named, reportedly offered links to around 6,000 movies and dramas, including around 2,500 Japanese movies and 3,500 foreign titles. The linked infringing content was uploaded to an overseas online storage site and was available for streaming. Multiple links to illegal uploads were placed for each work so that if one link was removed, another would still work.
For the purposes of the case, two specific works are highlighted as being infringed by the defendant. From local production company Toei, the 2020 movie “Inunakimura” (English: “Howling Village”) is cited and from Toho, the 2019 movie “Tenki no Ko” (English: “Weathering with You”).
Severe Sentences Available
In common with the 37-year-old linking site suspect, it’s said that the man in this matter earned money from his platform, specifically via advertising revenue. Under local law, the generation of revenue is not a requirement for criminal prosecution but may be considered an aggravating factor. Either way, the punishments are potentially severe.
Linking site offenses carry a sentence of up to five years in prison, a maximum fine of five million yen (US$43,600), or in some cases, both. In addition, Toei and Toho can pursue a damages claim through a civil lawsuit.
Earlier this year the formation of the International Anti-Piracy Organisation (IAPO) was announced by CODA. The aim of the new coalition is to tackle the illegal online distribution of anime, manga and similar copyrighted content around the world. Along with dozens of other companies, Toei is expected to be part of the coalition.