We often bemoan the sheer volume of copyright infringement lawsuits that occur here in America. With an overly protectionist mentality coupled with a culture of ownership, the civil courts are frankly bursting with these lawsuits when there are so, so many more efficient ways we could do things. But we can at least take some comfort in the fact that in America copyright infringement is largely a civil matter, with criminal copyright infractions being relegated to true commercial uses of infringing activities, or those over a certain dollar amount. This saves an insane amount of undue headache for our criminal justice system.
But not every country does it this way. In Japan, for instance, copyright law has long been such that any copyright infringement having to do with music and movies has been the subject to potential criminal prosecution. This has already resulted in citizens being hauled into court by the government under potential sentences of two years in prison for the downloading of a single movie or music file. That outlandish disparity in crime and punishment has resulted in call outs from groups like the EFF. And, yet, despite such clapback, the Japanese government is currently recommending that this exact same criminalization and punishment regime be rolled out to every instance of copyright infringement, rather than relating only to music and movies.
Last year it was reported that an advisory panel for the Cultural Affairs Agency was considering the possibility of rendering the downloading of a broader range of content as a criminal offense, roughly in line with laws passed in 2012 outlawing various forms of file-sharing. This week, those plans took a significant step forward.
According to local sources, a government panel adopted the new policy on Wednesday, recommending to the Cultural Affairs Agency that current anti-downloading legislation should be expanded to cover all copyrighted content. The Agency is now expected to submit a bill to amend the Copyright Act.
While the exact punishment guidelines are currently being debated as I write this, that two-year sentence guideline from the 2012 law is very much being looked at as the standard. To roll this out to copyright infringement writ large is flatly crazy. As we and many others have stated over and over again, many people casually engage in copyright infringement in their daily lives without even realizing it. To subject such behavior to multi-year prison sentences is both pernicious and misguided. If criminal cases are pursued uniformly for copyright infringement, it’s going to put nothing short of a stranglehold on the Japanese courts.
It’s also worth noting that all of this is being done in a way vague enough that it’s almost certain to cause confusion and chaos.
Additionally, these sentences would only be handed down in the event that victims of infringement file criminal complaints. However, the threshold for a criminal complaint is unclear and could cause issues for the legal system if there are large numbers of referrals.
Now, Japanese copyright law has steadily become more restrictive over time. But this move, if enacted, would represent a giant leap forward into a real age of restriction and undue punishment for the Japanese public. So, good luck to my Japanese friends. I can’t wait to see the fallout.