National

Japan shelves bill on stricter copyright control after academics, manga artists and fans air concerns

Kyodo

The government on Wednesday decided to forgo submitting to the Diet a bill that would make it illegal to download literary materials without the permission of copyright holders, as concerns grew that it would impose excessive restraints on internet use.

With Japan seeing a rise in the number of piracy websites, some of which are estimated to have caused damage worth hundreds of billions of yen, the government had sought to broaden the criminalization of downloads of copyrighted materials from videos and music to cover all types of content.

But academics, manga artist groups and others have said the envisioned expansion to also cover materials including manga, computer games and literary pieces could affect freedom of expression by fans and hinder legitimate activities, such as research.

In a meeting held last month in the Diet by manga artist groups and researchers, cartoonist Ken Akamatsu said he collects work online as part of his research and said that the bill that bans downloads of all kinds of copyrighted materials “goes too far.”

Keiko Takemiya, head of the Japan Society for Studies in Cartoons and Comics, said at the same meeting that the bill could have an adverse impact on the creation of fan fiction, in which people create stories based on existing works that they like. “Fan fiction represents a love for manga,” Takemiya said. “We don’t want the close relationship between artists and fans to collapse.”

Their concerns have prompted some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to voice the need to hear further opinions from such copyright holders.

“We have yet to eliminate the worries of both copyright holders and (internet) users,” said House of Councilors lawmaker Masaaki Akaike, who heads the LDP culture panel, after its executives failed to approve the bill. “We should work on it anew.”

The bill, which the government had sought to put into effect on Jan. 1 next year, targeted not just piracy websites but also downloads and screenshots of individual blogs and posts on social networks.

It called for punishing serious offenses, such as repeating illegal downloads of pirated content, with a prison term of up to two years or a fine of up to ¥2 million, or both.

The envisioned legislation also targeted “leech sites” and “leech apps” that list hyperlinks to piracy websites and criminally punishes the operators of such services.

Damage caused to publishers by a Japanese piracy site called Mangamura, which became inaccessible last April, was estimated at about ¥300 billion. The website, which once had over 100 million hits a month, hosted unauthorized copies of popular manga titles, including “Attack on Titan” and “One Piece.”