The Tokyo District Court on Monday ruled that writings posted on the Internet under fictitious names are literary property, and ordered a Tokyo publisher and a Web site operator to suspend publication of a paperback that reprinted comments posted by 11 people on the site without their consent.

The court also ordered the publisher, Kobunsha Publishing Co., and the Web site operator to pay roughly 1.2 million yen in royalties for copies already sold.

According to legal experts, it is the first time Japanese courts have ruled on whether opinions placed on the Internet carry copyrights. Monday’s ruling could affect the secondary use of information from the Internet in the future, they said.

In handing down the ruling, Judge Toshiaki Iimura said a great number of the opinions expressed on Web pages are “creative descriptions” of an individual’s thoughts and emotions.

“As such, we do not reject the concept that even opinions written on the Internet anonymously have a copyright,” the judge said.

Iiimura added that Kobunsha could have asked for approval to reprint the comments through the operator of the Web site in question and that its failure to do so infringed on the writers’ copyrights.

According to the ruling, the 11 plaintiffs placed comments regarding overseas hotels, including their standard of service, on roughly 50 occasions between June 2000 and April last year on the “Hotel Junkies” Internet site, which offers information on hotels all over the world. The comments were posted under fictitious names.

Chifumi Murase, a journalist who covers the hotel industry and operates the Web site, wrote and published a paperback based on the plaintiffs’ comments through Kobunsha in June last year. Over 10,000 copies of the book have been sold.

However, the 11 plaintiffs filed a suit demanding 2.5 million yen and a suspension of publication, saying their copyrights were violated. The Tokyo District Court issued a temporary order to suspend further publication of the book in September last year.

Kobunsha said it would decide on further action after studying Monday’s ruling.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.