Jailhouse Rock! New Japanese law doles out prison time for illegal downloads

Photo: Reuters
Japan passed a new amendment to its copyright laws on Friday, making illegal downloads punishable with serious jail terms for the first time. The new law comes into effect in October.

For those caught with pirated material such as music or pirated DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, fines could run as high as $25,000 and carry a sentence of two years in prison, according to CNET Japan.

US punishments on the other hand are higher. Criminal penalties can run up to 5 years in prison and include a $250,000 fine, ten times more than Japan.

The topic of illegal downloads has been hotly debated in Japan. Warner Music Japan’s Keiichi Ishizaka has been quoted as saying that he wants to “exterminate” illegal downloads.

The downloading of copyrighted material without permission was deemed illegal in 2009, but without any real penalties, the law was essentially unenforceable. Punishment was restricted to the uploaders facing penalties of up to 10 years in prison or fines of as much as 10 million yen ($125,000) for an infraction, according to the Japan Times.

The new amendment makes downloading truly punishable for the first time. The Recording Industry of Japan (RIAJ) reported that in 2010 the country saw nearly 440 million legal music downloads, and ten times that amount of illegal ones.

The bill passed the Lower House with little opposition, and passed the Upper House overwhelmingly by a vote of 221-12.

One of the few opponents of the bill, Takeshi Miyamoto, expressed his dissent saying that although illegal downloading was a problem, a more effective approach would be the swift removal of illegal uploaded content, rather than focusing on punishment. 

Other opponents of the bill fear that the law’s unclear wording will lead to unfair and unnecessary prosecutions. The bill means that a person must be aware that the material is illegal and download it anyway in order to face charges. In this sense, even watching a YouTube video could be illegal if the viewer is aware that downloading the material is illegal.

Upper House member Yuko Mori, another opponent of the amendment, told the Japan Times “We shouldn’t risk making the general public — including youths — the subject of criminal investigations.”