FUKUOKA – Japanese police arrested a 27-year-old man aboard a plane Tuesday as he was being deported by Philippines immigration authorities, for allegedly operating an illegal manga-viewing website that hosted copies of popular comics such as “One Piece.”
Romi Hoshino, who had been wanted over copyright infringement for running the now-closed pirate site Manga-Mura, was being sent back from the Philippines, where he was detained in July while on his way to Hong Kong, at the request of Japanese authorities.
Hoshino allegedly headed the operation of the website, which is believed to have caused damage valued at over ¥300 billion ($2.8 billion) to the manga industry by distributing unauthorized image files of popular series.
Hoshino was arrested on suspicion of uploading image files of “One Piece” without permission around May 29, 2017, in conspiracy with others, the police said.
“As for whether to admit to the crime, I will decide after I talk to a lawyer,” the police quoted him as saying.
Three people other than Hoshino have already been indicted over the operation of Manga-Mura, which was shut down in April 2018, and the police are trying to clarify their roles in the operation as well as advertising schemes.
Hoshino said in an interview Monday at an immigration facility in Manila that he had left Japan because he was offered a business opportunity, among other reasons, and had no intention of fleeing.
He declined to reveal details of the case as he is facing trial.
Hoshino entered the Philippines in May 2018 after being questioned by Japanese police on a voluntary basis. Since then, he has traveled back and forth between places such as Hong Kong and Thailand, according to investigative sources.
Hoshino denied involvement in the operation of Manga-Mura during the initial investigation around the spring of last year, the sources said.
Earlier this month, four major Japanese publishers filed a damages lawsuit with a U.S. district court in New York against operators of three similar pirated manga-viewing websites that had uploaded unauthorized copies of popular manga titles, such as “Attack on Titan.”
Although those websites were not accessible as of Tuesday, the Content Overseas Distribution Association, an anti-piracy organization in Tokyo, pointed out that it is extremely difficult to eradicate content piracy as there are numerous similar websites.