The government has passed a new amendment to its copyright laws, making illegal downloading punishable with jail terms for the first time.
The new law applies to those found in possession of pirated material such as music, DVDs or Blu-ray discs, and could result in fines of up to 2 million yen and sentences of up to two years in prison, according to CNET Japan.
The changes to the law bring Japan in line with the U.S., where downloading is already a criminal offense and punishments are even more severe. U.S. criminal penalties can run up to 5 years in prison or a $250,000 fine, 10 times higher than Japan.
The move has been welcomed by music industry figures, but has caused some concern among legal experts, NTV reported. The government claims the move has been introduced to protect people making music. Warner Music Japan CEO Keiichi Ishizaka has been quoted in the press as saying that he would like to see all illegal downloading eradicated.
The new amendment makes illegal downloading truly punishable for the first time.
The downloading of copyrighted material without permission has been illegal in Japan since 2009, but as a civil matter, rather than a criminal one. As a result, punishments were restricted to those who uploaded pirated content. Uploaders were liable to face penalties of up to 10 years in prison or fines of as much as 10 million yen.
The bill passed the Lower House last Wednesday with little opposition, and passed the Upper House by a vote of 221 to 12, NTV reported. One of the few opponents of the bill, Takeshi Miyamoto, suggested although illegal downloading was a problem, a more effective approach to eradicating the practice would be to establish systems to efficiently remove illegal content, rather than to focus on punishment.
Meanwhile, NHK reports that some legal experts have expressed concern that the bill’s unclear wording could lead to unfair and unnecessary prosecutions.
The bill says that a person who is aware that the the download or stream results in a copyright infringement can face charges. As a result, even watching a YouTube video could result in prosecution if the viewer is aware that streaming the media is illegal.
Some groups, including the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, have suggested that this may be an excessive measure in a country that still relies on the sales and rentals of physical media and has seen a relatively slow uptake of legal download services.
Upper House member Yuko Mori, another opponent of the amendment, was widely quoted in the Japanese press as saying,
“We shouldn’t risk making the general public, including young people, the subject of criminal investigations.”
The Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ) said it believes the amendments are good for the industry, and that it will strive to make the public aware of the new rules and penalties, the Nikkei reported. RIAJ chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment Japan Naoki Kitagawa claimed the changes would “reduce the spread of copyright infringement activities on the Internet.”
The new law will come into effect in October.