Japan is yet another of many countries where Big Content is working closely with policymakers to enact expansive copyright laws in the name of fighting off threats to their profit bottom lines. In terms of copyright policy, it has been an especially big year for Japan.

In June, the Japanese government passed a new copyright bill that enacted criminal penalties for downloading, uploading, and simply viewing copyrighted materials. The bill also placed brand new restrictions on digital content, such as the criminalization of circumventing DRM on DVDs.

Anti-ACTA protesters in Japan, 2012. (Source: Wikicommons user Yves Tennevin / CC 2.5)

Prior to that, after years of supporting backroom negotiations for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), Japan hosted the signing ceremony in Tokyo in December 2011. Despite its defeat in Europe, we have no reason to assume it has died. This is supported by the fact that it continues to inch its way through the Japanese legislature towards ratification. The coming threat is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, the international trade agreement that carries an intellectual property chapter that goes even farther than ACTA to restrict and criminalize sharing and accessing content.

Japan’s copyright laws have been growing more restrictive in and of themselves. Until recently, what was only illegal was the upload of unauthorized copyrighted content, enacted in a legal revision in 2009. In 2010, due to heavy lobbying from the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC), the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology passed an amendment—despite huge opposition from the public—making unauthorized downloads illegal as well. These amendments, however, didn’t outline specific legal consequences for violations.

So in June of this year, again following pressure from the JASRAC and other Big Content interests, the Japanese government passed heavy penalties for infringement. Effective in October, a charge of copyright infringement could land a person prison for two years or fine them for up two million yen (about $25,400). In addition, the new law enacted an entirely new provision banning circumventing DRM on DVDs, even if it’s only for making a back-up copy of the disc. Already it seems that Japanese authorities are prematurely enforcing the latter provision: In mid-July, four employees of a publishing company, including its executive, were arrested for selling a guidebook explaining how to copy DVDs that included software to enable stripping DRM off of the discs. This is the first time in Japan arrests have ever been made of this kind. The Recording Industry Association of Japan went on to pressure ISPs to install spying technologies that will automatically block unauthorized uploads of copyrighted content.

In the same vein, the Japanese government has always been an avid supporter of ACTA, being the first to get on board with the US during negotiations and being further demonstrated by the fact that they had hosted the ACTA-signing ceremony last October. While they haven’t yet fully ratified the agreement, the Upper House of the Japanese legislature passed it almost unanimously [JP], and it is unclear when the vote in the Lower House will occur.

Despite wide governmental support for ACTA, the Japanese public is going on the defensive. Riding on public resentment towards the government’s nuclear energy policies, Japanese opposition against ACTA is growing quickly and substantially. Activists are also calling attention towards the TPP as a threat to their digital freedoms in light of increasing indication that Japan will join those negotiations.

Sites such as No TPP for Japan nor the World, Stop TPP!!, and a TPP resource page roughly translated as “Even a Monkey Could Understand TPP” are just a few examples of Japanese language sites that have recently popped up advocating for opposition to these agreements. To a great extent, the language and awareness around their impact on digital freedoms draw inspiration from the successful anti-ACTA campaign in Europe.  There are weekly anti-TPP rallies held every Tuesday in front of the Prime Minister’s office, and Anonymous Japan has called for a massive rally to take place at a large public park in Tokyo on September 9. As of this week, if one were to do a quick search of the hash tags #ACTA, #TPP, or #StopTPP, nearly half of the results yielded would be in Japanese. Here are a few translated tweets from activists from the last couple days:

@JapanAnon: ACTA. TPP. They will ban downloading. Japan will restrict its freedoms. Freedom of information is crucial to empowering the citizens. But Internet censorship only empowers multinational corporations and corrupt politicians. The mainstream media will not inform you about ACTA. That’s why you have to join us in standing against this!

@t_kawakami: It is a naïve pretext to say ACTA is made to further fair trade. It is created for copyright enforcement, imposed on us by a gang of American lobbyists in the name of copyright enforcement. If we legitimize this global Internet policing system even once, then there will be nothing that can be done.

Lastly, this is a Twitter bio of a satirical account, in which the tweets are written by ACTA personified as an evil little girl:

@ACTA_chan: I pretend to crack down on counterfeit goods, but I’m secretly out to crush Internet freedom. If you don’t let the House of Representatives know soon, I promise to wreak havoc.

Possibly due to such growing opposition or to the recent party shift in the executive regime, Japan’s entry into TPP negotiations has become extremely politically charged. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan has been facing substantial domestic pressure not to sign on to the agreement, while also facing heavy pressure from the US to join. Members of the Democratic Party have defected over Japan joining TPP, and more threaten to do the same.

TPP Protest in Tokyo, October 2011.(Source: Bionic Bong)

What underlie the politics are the powerful Japanese agricultural and industrial organizations who fear that joining TPP would undermine their jobs and access to markets. Such lobbyist groups even paid for a wrap ad in the Washington Post in April publicizing their opposition to the agreement in the United States. It is currently unclear whether Japan will in fact join TPP negotiations, but it is obvious that the US—and certain Japanese entertainment industries with strong ties with their US counterparts—are putting great pressure on the country to get on board with this disastrous agreement.

Restrictive copyright policies are not new to Japan. It’s clear however, that ACTA and TPP would further thrust them towards the dark path of copyright policymaking that will function to empower private corporate interests, intimidate Internet users, and freeze innovation—all to the detriment to social and economic progress. Fortunately, the Japanese people are taking notice and are quickly moving to action.


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Additional resources:

Copyright Law in Japan (Wikipedia)

Copyright law of Japan (translated) from the Copyright Research and Infomation Center (CRIC) September, 2011

Creative Commons Japan

Follow these Twitter hashtags for news and updates on Japanese activism and dialogue around ACTA and TPP: #ACTAjp, #StopTPP, #二次創作 (derivative work), #著作権 (copyright)