New Japanese law means illegal downloads could send you to prison

As a new anti piracy law in Japan comes into effect today, October 1, you will no longer be able to illegally download without facing possible punishment, including a long jail sentence and fine.

That’s right, slightly confusingly for some, the downloading of music, movies and some game software which was not licensed and you didn’t pay for has actually been illegal since January 2010, but new penalties – announced in June – will only be enforced from today.

So infringing copyrights by illegally downloading through file sharing and torrent websites could mean up to two years in prison, or a fine of up to two million yen. Theoretically, just one download – just one song, one film, one episode of your favourite TV show – could trigger a conviction but in reality it may be hard for authorities to pursue those people. It is, however, worrying for those who are fans of the something-for-nothing practice which is the scourge of the music/movie industries.

Billions of yen are ‘lost’ through missed revenues every year and though it is perhaps the more up-and-coming in the music world or independent filmmakers who may feel the pinch, is is major players in the industry, including the Recording Industry Association of Japan, who were instrumental in forcing parliament to pass the bill with punishments. Changes, including the fines and jail sentences, were controversially added to the bill at a late stage.

There has been some criticism of (and many protests against) the new measures which punish the ‘end users’ for their actions rather than focusing on the up-loaders – some say authorities should focus their energy at the root of the issue and avoid unnecessarily criminalizing a relatively widespread activity. People making files available for download, though, can also expect heavier punishments.

Ripping DVDs and placing content in a format that others can access is quite an easy job for those with the right equipment, but a not so smart move which could mean they are jailed for 10 years, or ordered to pay up to 10 million yen in fines.

We don’t need to worry, as some people had feared, about sharing between our own devices and family and friends. The fairly common practice of copying CDs to your iTunes, for example, or even renting a CD and ripping it to your hard drive will not become illegal. And if you have downloaded illegally prior to October 1, while you have broken the law you will not be punished, even if those files remain on your devices.

Streaming, too, using sites such as YouTube will not be affected, as that content is not downloaded as a hard-copy so is not covered by the law; in fact the onus of responsibility for content illegally uploaded to streaming sites rests with sites themselves, according to this excellent roundup of the new anti-piracy laws.

The Recording Industry Association of Japan has suggested that illegal media downloads outnumbered legal ones by about a factor of 10 – a 2010 study found that 4.36 billion illegally pirated files were downloaded compared to the 440 million that were legitimately purchased.