New copyright protections, risks

As digital technology and its use made rapid progress in recent years, Japan’s Copyright Law has become obsolete. A revision of the law meant to address the new situation took effect at the beginning of this year.

It is hoped that the revision will help bring healthy development of digital publication.

Under the revision, not only publishers of printed books but also publishers of digital books will be able to obtain the right to publish works from writers who have the copyright and the right to prevent illegitimate copying of their works. This will greatly contribute to protecting the rights of publishers of electronic books.

Before the revision, the law only covered printed media. This caused difficulties for e-book publishers. Even if these publishers found that digital copies of works whose digitalized distribution had not been authorized by copyright holders such as authors were on the market, they were unable to file a complaint with a court against such illegal publication.

Only the copyright holders were able to go to court. This made it difficult for e-book publishers to properly deal with unauthorized digital publication, which led to the proliferation of pirate digitalized editions.

According to a fiscal 2013 survey by the Patent Office on imitations, which covered some 8,000 businesses and other organizations, the financial damage suffered in relation to intellectual property amounted to ¥100 billion. Among the damage were losses caused to copyrighted products.

Related industries and other parties have been calling for a revision of the law to provide for the rights of publishers in connection with the publication of digital books and distribution of digital content.

The call eventually led to the enactment of a revised Copyright Law last April. Under the revised law, publishers can obtain the right to distribute copies of copyrighted products in the form of CD-ROMs and other digital media as well as through the Internet.

These publishers will thus be able to directly take legal action to stop the sale of pirated CD-ROMs and other digital media or digital books, or to seek compensation from pirate publishers.

This arrangement will help not only authorized publishers but also the copyright holders such as writers, composers, musicians and actors.

Publishers and other parties should make efforts to enhance public awareness of the need to protect the rights of copyright holders and publishers.

It will also be important for parties concerned to become familiar with the new system so that they will not get into legal trouble.

Authors must be aware that if they award publishers the right to publish their works, the publishers will be able to publish both printed and digital books.

Because of customary practices in the past, authors might think that awarding publishing rights only means allowing publication of printed books.

If authors want to publish e-books with other publishers, they need to make their intent clear to publishers of printed books to prevent future legal troubles.

The Japan Patent Attorneys Association, which handles matters related to publishing rights, recommends that when authors and publishers sign contracts, they specify in writing whether the publishing right covers only printed books, digital books or both.

E-books, digital content on CD-ROMs and other forms, and the distribution through the Internet, are expected to spread rapidly into a growing market. It is hoped that the revised law will help promote cultural activities that find their way into digital media and the Internet.