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FOCUS: Japan Starts Discussing Measures against Pirate Websites

July 16, 2018

Tokyo- With the aim of protecting the copyright of manga and anime, the Japanese government has taken the measure of encouraging Internet service providers to block access to pirate websites that publish such works for free.

The government believes that the step will help protect Japan's content industry, yet some experts say it may violate freedom of expression and privacy of communications. In June, the government invited experts to an open discussion on effective solutions to combat pirate websites.

"Pirate websites could threaten the future of the content industry," said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a ministerial meeting in April to discuss emergency measures to prevent further damage.

The government said it is appropriate for Internet service providers to block access to pirate websites that publish manga and anime without the permission of the copyright holders. The government even pointed to three actual websites--"Mangamura," "AniTube!" and "MioMio"--as examples.

Other steps decided at the meeting include providing copyright education at schools and among communities and cutting off funds for copyright violators.

The government has taken such action because "the estimated damage is enormous," said an official involved in promoting intellectual property strategies at the Cabinet Office.

The official repeatedly emphasized that "the measures are an emergency response," adding that the government "plans to submit a related bill to next year's regular session of parliament."

The Content Overseas Distribution Association, or CODA, calculated the damage on the basis of the number of page views of the three pirate websites named by the government. From September 2017 to February 2018, the estimated damage was more than 432.4 billion yen.

In the case of AniTube! and MioMio, the websites' operators are located overseas. CODA has demanded that these websites be deleted, but its power is limited.

A public relations official at CODA welcomes the decision by the government, saying, "There is nothing we can do when browsing is still possible in Japan even if it's impossible overseas."

Only 10 days after the government adopted the measures, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. published a press release stating that it has decided to block access to the three websites that the government sees as inappropriate.

Lawyer Yuichi Nakazawa filed a civil lawsuit against NTT Communications Corp., one of NTT's group companies, saying blocking websites goes against the Internet service provider contract he has with the company.

"It's very dangerous to block access without presenting any evidence. It's also problematic that the government has singled out three particular websites," Nakazawa said.

An official at NTT Communications said, "This is an in-process legal matter and there is nothing for us to comment on."

Masahiro Sogabe, professor of Kyoto University Graduate School of Law, is critical of the government's approach to tackling the pirate website issue.

"To begin with, the amount of damage caused by pirate websites is unclear. Also, we are not completely sure if there is any effective measure" other than those devised by the government, Sogabe said.

"For a law-abiding state, the attitude of imposing regulations without making clear these issues is questionable. There should be reasonable, open and full discussions," he added.

On June 22, the government launched a task force consisting of experts in various fields, including publishing, the Internet and law. They will examine the effectiveness of the current measures to address pirate websites and discuss other possible actions that both the public and private sectors can take.

The task force plans to publish a midterm report on the progress of its discussions in mid-September. Jiji Press