Actions taken against specific pirate platforms are shaped by policy, resources, and other practicalities, meaning that less significant sites may face no immediate threat. Others aren’t so lucky.
In Mangamura’s case, a site founded in 2016 targeting the Japanese market became extraordinarily successful in a very short space of time. That it did so by exploiting culturally-valuable manga content, in the backyard of the world’s largest manga publishers, pushed Mangamura to the top of the enforcement list.
Mangamura mysteriously shut itself down in April 2018 but after just two years online, the site had reportedly caused $2.91 billion in losses to publishers. A criminal investigation into Mangamura’s activities eventually led to the arrest of the site’s operator, Romi Hoshino, in Manilla.
Hoshino was later deported to Japan and arrested by the authorities. A guilty verdict in a subsequent criminal trial saw Hoshino sentenced to three years behind bars.
Publishers and Hoshino Have Unfinished Business
Released from prison last year, the 31-year-old is now facing a civil lawsuit for damages filed by several Japan-based manga publishers. They were at court in the U.S. recently seeking Mangamura traffic data held by Google and Cloudflare. While that information could be useful for progressing their civil lawsuit, it appears that over the next 48 hours, things will become rather more complicated.
On September 26, Hoshino will launch his new book, The Truth About Mangamura. The author says it will reveal how a “shut-in NEET” (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) somehow created a hugely successful website only to become an internationally wanted man.
One of the book’s promotional images shows Hoshino’s progression through life from childhood to arrest, including the now-infamous mugshot that appeared in media all around the world.
The book’s promotional material suggests that Hoshino’s technological successes may be presented alongside allegations of “digital defeat” in Japan, such as poor growth in IT and the failure of law to keep up with reality. It also promises to expose “behind-the-scenes judicial deals, fake trials, show punishments, and copyright issues.”
This is a “controversial book that indicts Japan’s judicial problems!” the description on Amazon reads.
Hoshino Will File an Application for Retrial
Whether Japan’s judicial system has any appetite or ability to revisit Mangamura-related problems is unclear, but this week Hoshino will attempt to find out. On Wednesday he is expected to file an application for a full retrial at the Fukuoka District Court, a rare moment for a case that ran its course without any appeal, by a defendant who has completed his sentence.
According to a report in Asahi, Hoshino was prohibited from using a computer in detention so was unable to collect any evidence to prove his innocence. While denying a prisoner access to the internet is hardly uncommon, Hoshino’s allegations make for interesting reading.
In very broad terms, the criminal case found that Hoshino was liable for uploaded copies of popular manga titles ‘Kingdom’ and ‘One Piece’ that were made available to the public via Mangamura. Hoshino doesn’t deny the manga titles were made available; he’s contesting the mechanism by which that took place.
Hoshino Claims He’s Innocent
From the limited details available, Hoshino appears to be arguing that the manga titles were uploaded to another site, not on Mangamura. He claims that a reverse proxy enabled the content on third-party sites to appear as if it was displayed on Mangamura, without any of the images actually being stored locally.
On the one hand, these claims could be dismissed as semantics intended to distract from a clear intent to profit from piracy. On the other, Hoshino may have some type of case, at least in theory.
In English-speaking countries, sites that utilize content hosted elsewhere through the provision of links to external platforms are often described as ‘indexing’ sites. They act as an index to content found elsewhere but host none of their own. In Japan, the terms ‘leech’ or ‘reach’ are used to describe the same type of site and at least functionally, they provide illegal access to copyrighted material just like any other.
However, operators of leech or reach sites were only rendered criminally liable by legal amendments that came into force on October 1, 2020. On that day, indexing site operators or those publishing apps with the same function faced the same punishments as their directly-infringing counterparts for the first time. Mangamura had been offline for two-and-a-half years at this point.
Reverse Proxy Defense Detailed in Original Judgment
The judgment handed down by the Fukuoka District Court in 2021 covers submissions by the prosecution and defense relating to the two manga works Hoshino alleges were made available via reverse proxy.
The judgment substitutes the names of defendants and or witnesses, plaintiffs, site names and third-party platforms with letters. The ‘defendant’ is Hoshino and A, B and C refer to individuals who uploaded content to servers that was later consumed by users of ‘G’, aka Mangamura. ‘P’ appears to be a reference to Cloudflare.
The judgment notes that Hoshino set Mangamura’s server “not to cache data, and on that basis, the manga and other image data posted on G by way of reverse proxy would exist on the recording device of the third-party server and not be stored on the recording device of G’s server.”
The judgment further notes that, “for a certain period of time, the defendant used a CDN server provided by P located in the U.S. as a reverse proxy between G’s server and the viewers, so that when ordinary users viewed G’s manga, they accessed the CDN server, not G’s server.”
The judgment also reveals statements by one or more of the uploaders (A,B,C) who recalled certain facts about the two works in question sufficient for the court to conclude the works were uploaded by them.
The judgment further notes “that the reverse proxy setting by the defendant constitutes an infringement of the right of public transmission under Article 23 (1) of the Copyright Act, as it makes a work available for transmission.”
Hoshino recently answered questions during a press conference, the video is embedded below. The original judgment handed down by the Fukuoka District Court can be found here (pdf)
Amazon’s listing for Hoshino’s new book, out tomorrow, can be found here.