YouTubers Who Uploaded Movie Edits Receive Suspended Prison Sentences

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After being arrested earlier this year, three people have been handed suspended prison sentences and fines for uploading so-called "fast movies" to YouTube. Their trial, which took place in Japan, heard that the defendants uploaded minutes-long movie summary edits to YouTube with accompanying commentary. All three pleaded to criminal breaches of Japan's copyright law.

Sad YouTubeIn the summer we reported on an unusual situation in Japan where copyright holders felt that the rise of so-called ‘fast movies’ represented a threat to their business.

‘Fast movies’ are essentially heavily edited copies of feature-length films that tell the entire story in just a few minutes. However, unlike most official trailers they also tend to come with commentary, in addition to an abundance of spoilers. Available on dedicated YouTube channels they became a roaring success but in Japan, this is a risky business.

With no broad ‘fair use’ style exceptions to lean on in a crisis, channels generating millions of views were seen as a major threat to the movie business. In response, rights holders vowed to do something about them and soon after, three suspects were arrested under suspicion of uploading ‘fast movies’ to YouTube.

“Fast movies are clear copyright infringement and serious crime that goes beyond the scope of legally permitted citation, however minor each act may seem,” anti-piracy group CODA told TorrentFreak at the time.

“Fast movies including spoilers would discourage viewers from watching the original films and thus have a serious adverse effect on the right holders.”

First Hearing: Suspects Go On Trial

Early this month the suspects went on trial in Japan. The investigation by the Police and the Prosecutors office found that the defendants had systematically uploaded local films in ‘fast movie’ format to YouTube for monetary gain.

“The three defendants had been accused of violating the Copyright Act by editing ‘I Am a Hero’ and two other works copyrighted by Toho Co., Ltd. as well as ‘Cold Fish’ and another work copyrighted by Nikkatsu Co., Ltd., cutting the films down to 10 minutes without permission, adding narration and then uploading to YouTube from June to July 2020,” CODA informs TorrentFreak.

All three pleaded guilty to the charges in the indictment with potentially serious consequences, including immediate prison sentences and fines. The prosecution requested the following:

– Defendant A: 2 years in prison + fine of 2,000,000 yen (US$17,472)

– Defendant B: 18 months in prison + fine of 1,000,000 yen (US$8,736)

– Defendant C: 18 months in prison + fine of 500,000 yen (US$4,368)

Citing the “remorseful attitude” of their clients, the defendants’ lawyers argued that suspended sentences would be appropriate in this case, not the immediate custodial sentences sought by the prosecution.

Second Hearing: Sentencing

During the second hearing which took place this week at the Sendai District Court in Miyagi Prefecture, the judgment against the defendants was handed down. CODA says that due to the earlier guilty pleas and the existence of “lots of hard evidence”, the matter was relatively straightforward.

The lawyers’ request for relative leniency was taken into consideration and the sentences were as follows:

– Defendant A: 2 years in prison (suspended for 4 years) + 2,000,000 yen fine

– Defendant B: 18 months in prison (suspended for 3 years) + 1,000,000 yen fine

– Defendant C: 18 months in prison (suspended for 3 years) + 500,000 yen fine

CODA Welcomes the Decision

In a statement, CODA says that it finds the judgment a fair one and trusts it will act as a deterrent message to others thinking of uploading ‘fast movies’ to platforms such as YouTube.

“It is never permissible to use works that were created by many creative talents who devoted their time, labor and resources into their works without permission and earn enormous amount of advertising revenues,” the anti-piracy group says.

“CODA shall continue to eliminate illegal use of Japanese content, including but not limited to, ‘fast movies’ and to protect copyright.”

The fines issued to the defendants are payable to the state so if the rightsholders wish to recover damages for themselves, a civil case will have to be filed.


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