Do you download music and movies off the Internet?

By on July 1, 2012
Take heed. Downloading unauthorized content is now a criminal offense in Japan that can possibly land you in jail.

The Internet is filled with an endless array of information. With how fast technology has evolved, obtaining entertaining videos and music today is just a click away. Anybody can go online and download the latest blockbuster or the newest albums without realizing what law applies for every action. Although some countries are more relaxed when it comes to online piracy, Japan is not. People downloading materials such as movies or music off of the Internet are bound to respect the copyright laws enforced in Japan.

There are of course legal ways to obtain copyrighted material: by purchasing them through online services like the iTunes store or Amazon, two of the most prominent online stores – a process very much the same as going to a music store and buying a CD or DVD, with its creators and producers earning their fair share. By downloading music and movies off websites made free and accessible by many unauthorized parties, people are actually committing an offense. The person downloading can enjoy the products without paying; this is essentially stealing. The artists and producers who own the rights to the material for sale end up losing money. A survey by the Recording Industry of Japan reported that illegal downloads in 2010 alone were over ten times the number of legitimate downloads, leaving holes in the pockets of those in the entertainment industry. Conventional wisdom tells us partaking in or condoning this activity is not fair, and that is why there are copyright and anti-piracy laws in place to protect the interests of music and movie makers.

While it is common knowledge that illegal sharing and downloading of movies and songs from the Internet is a violation of its creators’ and producers’ rights, copyright laws in Japan previously left many areas grey that necessitated a closer review. It has also become the subject of much debate by law experts in Japan.

Two years ago, Japan’s copyright law was revised. The law defined copyright infringement as "the act of downloading music and video despite knowing that it is ‘illegal’." However, no legal action was taken out on offenders. Therefore, more downloaders emerged (many using peer-to-peer file sharing protocols) as the number of Internet users went up over the years. The resulting damage? Plummeting CD and DVD sales since 1998 severely damaging the industry. This is too much, especially for a country that is struggling to get out of an economic crisis and the devastation caused by the recent tsunami and earthquake.

On December 1, 2011, an amendment to the Unfair Competition Prevention Act was adopted, making the import, sales, and use of ripping softwares (which are used to copy DVDs and protected CDs) a criminal offense.

A new law will take effect on October 1, 2012 that will further change things drastically, reports the Nihon Keizai Shinmbun newspaper. Under this amendment to the Copyright Law, those who engage in the unauthorized sharing and downloading of copyrighted videos and music – even for personal use – can face either a two-year jail term or a fine of no less than two million yen.

Before the amendment, the law defined the violation as the willful act of avoiding detection by anti-piracy technology (called "technological protection measures") in copying contents even for personal use. The "technological protection measures" however referred only to cracking copy-disabling software on DVDs, CDs, and broadcast programs such as "macrovision" and "dubbing 10". CSS encryption technology – which prevents the viewing but not the replication of DVDs – was however left out. One of the key changes in the new amendment now rectifies the vague wording to include CSS encryption.

Please remind your household to be vigilant in their Internet activities. Forewarned is forearmed!

The use of the following downloading methods and file-sharing protocols may constitute violation of the new amendment:

– Torrent websites and programs
– Peer-to-peer file sharing programs
– Online storage services such as Yousendit and RapidShare

Note: It is currently being debated whether streaming media online (such as on YouTube) will be considered copyright infringement.

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