unjapanologist: (fetchez la vache)
[personal profile] unjapanologist
Japan has passed a new law that criminalizes unauthorized downloading and copying, even for personal use, of copyrighted music and video. That means that by October, anyone who illegally downloads a song will be committing an offense worth maximum two years of jail time. The new law also mandates high fines for illegal downloading, up to two million yen.

Much of the Japanese- and English-language internet seems in agreement that this new law is not a good idea (here, there, everywhere). I'd just like to add that the new punishments for illegal downloading are so out of proportion with the severity of the offense that this law is completely counterintuitive, and therefore doomed. Nobody is going to understand these new rules, meaning that nobody will follow them. 

Making legislation that fits with the general public's sense of right and wrong is critical if you want to achieve the desired effect - discouraging people from engaging in whatever illegal behavior you're trying to legislate. Most people have never memorized their country's laws; they just assume that the law is what their intuition and common sense says it is. I think killing people is very bad, so surely killing people comes with severe punishment. I think stealing from a shop is also bad but less bad than killing people, so stealing from a shop surely comes with punishments less severe than those for killing people.

The new downloading law gets people's thinking process fantastically wrong. Have a look at Japan's maximum fines and maximum jail sentences for illegal downloading versus the penalties for other crimes.


 Maximum fine (yen)Maximum jail sentence
Illegal downloading of music and video2 000 0002 years
Unauthorized access (using someone else's login credentials without permission)500 0001 year
Theft500 00010 years
Home invasion100 0003 years
Public indecency300 0006 months*
Inflicting physical injury500 00015 years**


It's not clear how the new downloading law will be applied in practice. In theory, though, it seems to say that illegally downloading an mp3 is at least four times as bad as masturbating in front of strangers, and only marginally less bad than breaking into someone's house. Illegally downloading an mp3 is definitely far more horrific a crime than stealing someone's passwords and accessing their devices, programs, and services without their consent.

Does that make sense in anybody's world? No. Nobody is going to come to those conclusions intuitively. It's not surprising that people find copyright law baffling and hard to respect. And Japan is hardly alone in having criminal penalties for "piracy" that don't fit within any regular person's rough hierarchy of Bad Things.

ETA: Via BoingBoing and TorrentFreak, here is the monitoring software that Japanese media companies want ISPs to use to analyze their customers' net traffic for possibly infringing content. Installing a totalitarian spying regime on the internet just for the sake of a few companies' profits is a great idea. I'm sure nobody would ever think to abuse it.



*In more detail: the maximum punishments for public indecency are either 6 months of jail time or a fine of no more than 300 000 yen, or in the case of less serious offenses, either detention or a small fine.
**Many thanks to Kohei Chiba for introducing me to these data, which are from the book Why is Japanese Copyright so Strict? (日本の著作権はなぜこんなに厳しいか) by Shoji Yamada (2011).
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