Mr. Isamu Kaneko, a then Tokyo University researcher, developed the peer-to-peer file-sharing software Winny, and was arrested in May 2004 on suspicion of assisting with copyright violations.
In December 2006, the Kyoto District Court fined him ¥1.5 million for enabling two computer users to illegally make movies and other files available for downloading. The court said he continued to offer Winny via his website even though he was aware that it was being used for illegally copying copyrighted materials.
But in October 2009, the Osaka High Court acquitted him, stating it was hard to say that he posted the file-sharing software on his website for the express purpose of helping computer users violate copyrights. On Dec. 19, the Supreme Court’s No. 3 Petit Bench, in a 4-1 ruling, upheld the high court ruling.
The police and public prosecutors should realize the negative psychological effect that their actions must have had on people trying to develop new computer technology. They also should not forget the absurd situation created by the arrest and indictment of Mr. Kaneko. It became impossible for him to correct Winny’s defect. If Winny users download a virus-infected file, other files on their computers not designated for sharing can be instantly leaked to the Internet. This defect led to leaks of classified information from public organizations including the Self-Defense Forces.
The majority opinion in the Supreme Court ruling first pointed out that Winny can be used for both legal and illegal purposes, but that the purpose for which it is used is up to each user.
It then said that a person can be charged with the crime of assisting with copyright violations if two conditions are met: (1) He or she develops and posts file-sharing software on a personal website while aware of the high possibility that many people will use the software explicitly to commit copyright violations, and (2) copyright violations are actually committed.
The opinion pointed out that it is clear that Mr. Kaneko did not develop Winny to undermine the copyright system by spreading illegally copied files on the Internet and that he always warned Winny users not to violate copyrights.
Most technologies carry the danger that they will be used for illegal or unethical purposes. The government should write new rules that will help promote new computer technology as well as improve copyright protection.