The controversy over the government's aborted plan to revise the copyright law to make it illegal to download all types of content illegally placed online — as long as the downloader knew the material was pirated — once again highlights the complex issues involved in the effort to crack down on piracy websites that violate the interests of copyright holders. The government cannot evade criticism that it acted too hastily — with only three months of discussions by a Cultural Affairs Agency panel — after its earlier plan to legalize blocking of access to piracy websites went nowhere due to the risk that such a move could infringe on the right to secrecy of communication. Those responsible for combating the piracy problem should heed the concerns raised over the planned amendment as they explore effective measures that can obtain the broad support of the parties involved.
The government reportedly gave up submitting the proposed copyright law amendment during the current Diet session as it failed to win the endorsement of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party — after experts as well as organizations representing copyright holders voiced concern that excessive regulations could unduly deter the activities of internet users and hinder the free exchange of information on the web. It is the second time in only a year that the government's efforts to crack down on piracy websites have been put on hold.
A sharp increase in the number of piracy websites, which provide viewers with free manga and anime content without obtaining the consent of or paying royalties to the copyright holders, is a growing problem that is estimated to cause damage worth tens to hundreds of billions of yen to copyright holders and their publishers. In April last year, the government took action against three particularly malicious piracy websites, urging internet service providers to voluntarily block access to them in an "emergency" measure. It then sought legislative steps to back up such a measure, setting up a panel including representatives from the publishing and communications industries as well as legal experts to discuss the matter.