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In 2020, Japan passed amendments to copyright law to combat so-called “leeching” sites – platforms that do not themselves contain any content but provide links to pirated content hosted on external servers. According to local anti-piracy sources, a man has now been arrested for offering links to thousands of movies and TV shows, including content owned by production companies Toei and Toho.
In 2012, Japan passed a law prohibiting the downloading of unlicensed movies and music from the Internet.
Eight years later, the Japanese parliament passed new copyright amendments prohibiting the unlicensed downloading of manga, magazines, and academic texts from the Internet, consistent with previously prohibited media categories.
At the same time, it introduced provisions to deal with so-called “leech sites”, platforms that index or link to copyrighted content hosted elsewhere.
Operating such a site without the proper license is now an arrestable offence.
Notable criminal cases since the changes
In November 2020, Kyoto Prefectural Police arrested two men for copyright infringement by operating a linking site and providing access to three adult videos.
Last month, the Metropolitan Police Department’s Ayase station filed a complaint against a man who operated a linking site that provided links to a pirate site with approximately 30,000 pieces of unauthorized content, including adult animation. The 37-year-old freelancer reportedly earned the equivalent of around US$4,000 in the past two months.
“I thought Japanese animation and CG were popular overseas, so I could earn money by accessing it. I wanted to earn some pocket money,” he reportedly confessed.
New criminal action in Japan
According to a report by local anti-hacking group CODA, the Cybercrime Division of Gunma Prefecture Police Headquarters and Maebashi Police Station arrested a man suspected of also operating a leech site/ link that provided access to infringing content.
The unnamed platform reportedly offers links to around 6,000 movies and dramas, including around 2,500 Japanese films and 3,500 foreign titles. The linked infringing content was uploaded to an overseas online storage site and was available for streaming. Several links to illegal downloads were placed for each job so that if one link was removed, another would still work.
For the purposes of the case, two specific works are highlighted as being infringed by the defendant. From local production company Toei, the 2020 film “Inunakimura” (English: “Howling Village”) is cited and from Toho, the 2019 film “Tenki no Ko” (English: “Weathering with You”).
Harsh penalties available
In common with the 37-year-old link site suspect, the man in the case is said to have made money from his platform, including through advertising revenue. Under local law, generation of income is not a requirement for criminal prosecution but may be considered an aggravating factor. Either way, the penalties are potentially severe.
Offenses related to linking sites are punishable by up to five years in prison, a maximum fine of five million yen ($43,600) or, in some cases, both. Additionally, Toei and Toho may sue for damages through a civil lawsuit.
Earlier this year, the creation of the International Anti-Piracy Organization (IAPO) was announced by CODA. The new coalition’s goal is to combat the illegal online distribution of anime, manga, and similar copyrighted content around the world. Along with dozens of other companies, Toei is expected to be part of the coalition.