Criminalization of Illegal Downloading in Japan

There has been surprisingly little fanfare to welcome the new “criminalization of illegal downloading” laws that came into effect in Japan today (October 1, 2012). I thought I would share some of what I have learned about this law.

First of all, what is being criminalized is illegal downloading of copyrighted material (regardless of whether it is for personal use or not) that is obtained through public transmission. Offenders face up to two years in prison or fines of up to two million yen.

Merely watching or streaming illegally uploaded copyrighted material does not come under this law.

The illegal downloading of copyrighted material is considered an “offense prosecutable upon a complaint” (親告罪), which means that people cannot be prosecuted unless the copyright holder lodges a complaint.

The law is very clear that there has to be copying of sound or video involved, so merely watching YouTube content (even if it has been illegally uploaded) is not prosecutable. [Note from Shaney: However, I believe downloading the illegally uploaded YouTube content would fall under this law, and therefore be a criminal offense, as long as it could be proven that the person who downloaded it knew that it was copyrighted work.]

If your friend sends you an illegal copy of a file by email and you download the file, this is not a criminal offense or illegal. Downloading a file from your email is not considered “public transmission”, so it is not within the range of this law. However, if you send an email with (copyrighted) music or video to anyone other than another person in your household [not sure how this is defined], then that is “illegal in principle”.

Copying and pasting image and text files for personal use is not punishable. This law is concerned with illegal downloading of sound and video files, not image and text files.

In order to prevent this law from unnecessarily restricting people’s use of the internet, the following conditions apply.

  1. The act must have been “on purpose”. If the person does not realize that (1) it is a copyrighted work and (2) it came from a public transmission that infringes on the copyright, then the person cannot be prosecuted. [Note from Shaney: I think this just means that they can inform you of this fact the first time you are caught and if you do it again, you will be considered to have done it knowingly and on purpose.]
  2. A person cannot be sued unless there has been a specific complaint lodged against his/her acts.
  3. The government and claimants must consider ways to ensure that the application of this law doesn’t unnecessarily restrict people’s use of the internet.
  4. Claimants must issue warnings first before they attempt to sue an infringer.

Please note that my above interpretations are based on my reading of the source files below. Please “read at your own risk” and double check before you base any legal decision on them, as I could very well have made a mistake or misinterpreted meanings!




More info: