• Kyodo

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Police arrested nine people on suspicion of copyright law violations Tuesday in connection with a website containing links to other sites that give visitors access to pirated comics and books.

The nine, including men in their early 20s, are suspected of uploading pirated comics to a website without consent from the copyright holder and linking the materials to the site they operated in August last year.

The website did not host any pirated publications but the police believe it reduced profits for authors as it enabled visitors to read pirated works for free. The annual loss for the publishing industry was estimated at around ¥73 billion ($643 million).

The Haruka Yume no Ato website contained links to other sites hosting pirated popular comics such as “Dragon Ball” and “One Piece.” Launched in 2011, it once boasted around 30 million visitors per month but has been shut down.

One of the nine suspects, Makoto Wauke, 22, said before his arrest, “I didn’t intend to make money.” The former graduate student denied uploading pirated copies, saying, “I had been operating the website trying to avoid copyright infringement.”

Wauke and another suspect, 23-year-old Takaaki Nariai, both from Osaka, are believed to have been senior members of the group operating the website.

In cooperation with other suspects in different prefectures, the two allegedly instructed those who uploaded the pirated works.

There are at least 50 similar websites with links to pirated Japanese-language publications. Those who upload the pirated works are believed to receive payments depending on traffic volume, while link sites raise money through online advertising and membership fees.

Six major Japanese publishers, including Shueisha Inc. and Kodansha Ltd., welcomed the arrests in a joint statement, saying, “As publishers in charge of protecting content to which authors devoted their lives, we cannot overlook the fact that a number of works have been distributed without permission through such a malicious site.”

“We are relieved to hear of their arrest and strongly expect that the case will be fully uncovered,” the companies said. They added they will continue to take measures such as filing criminal complaints to counter copyright violations.

Legal experts are divided over whether operating such a link site violates copyright laws, with a government panel on cultural affairs discussing the topic since last year.

A legal scholar on the panel has called for legislation to regulate such link sites, arguing that they aid copyright infringement.

In contrast, the Japan Intellectual Property Association has called for regulating only “extremely malicious” link sites because an outright ban could hinder freedom of expression.

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