National

Japan government panel reduces scope of draft law on downloading of copyrighted works

Kyodo

A government panel approved a plan Wednesday to limit the scope of what is considered illegal downloading of any copyrighted work — including manga, computer games and literary writings — reversing its initial plan to restrict such online activity more broadly.

The Cultural Affairs Agency panel said a future amendment to the copyright law would not apply to partial downloads of copyrighted works, such as a few frames from a comic book or a screenshot of a copyrighted image.

The government has called for the scope of material for which downloads can be considered illegal — which is currently restricted to videos and music — to be broadened to include all copyrighted materials. It wants to punish serious offenders because losses to copyright holders caused by piracy have been on the rise.

But the panel’s plan presented earlier this year stirred concerns, with critics saying that the actions set to be subject to tighter controls were too broad and that a harsh crackdown might lead to restraints on internet users that hinder their freedom of expression.

Some members of the panel also suggested that images, such as those containing text, are sometimes collected as part of intellectual activities. They noted that it is difficult to discern between legal and illegal content available online.

The panel had hoped to have a bill ready to submit to the Diet by March, but that was delayed following the backlash to the original proposal.

The cultural agency now aims to finalize the new plan by January, and submit a bill to amend the copyright law to the next ordinary Diet session that is set to be convened early next year.

In the new proposal, the panel said further discussions were needed to decide whether to narrow the scope of illegal acts to the downloading of complete original works, excluding parodies and derivative works, and downloads from piracy websites.

The Japanese piracy site Mangamura, which had over 100 million hits a month before being disabled in April last year, was estimated to have caused more than ¥300 billion ($2.75 billion) in losses to publishers between September 2017 and February 2018.

It hosted unauthorized copies of popular manga titles, including “Attack on Titan” and “One Piece.”

Some panel members pointed out that copyright holders have also suffered serious losses caused by downloads from websites other than piracy sites.