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Japan enacts two-year jail terms for illegal downloading

Draconian laws mean 10 years for uploaders

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Downloading pirated material in Japan can now earn you two years in prison and a fine of two million yen ($25,600) for each purloined file, with uploaders facing 10 years in the Big House and a fine five times as large.

The laws – some of the toughest ever enacted against illegal downloaders – were passed in June after strong lobbying from the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ). Downloading has been illegal in Japan for the last two years, but as a civil offense with no sanctions, not a criminal matter with jail time.

"Treating personal activities with criminal punishments must be done very cautiously, and the property damage caused by individual illegal downloads by private individuals is highly insignificant," the Japan Federation of Bar Associations told the BBC.

In addition to the new penalties, the RIAJ is lobbying ISPs to install software to identify and block illegal uploads at the source. However, such software is buggy in the extreme and has been blamed for numerous outages, including interrupting some of the coverage from NASA when the Curiosity rover was landing, and a recent streaming of the Hugo awards.

Japan is the world's second biggest market for online music, after the US, but according to the RIAJ around 90 per cent of all downloads are illegal. Nevertheless, according to the association's data, legitimate music downloads have seen triple-digit growth over the last six months, thanks in part to Japan having some of the fastest, cheapest broadband in the world.

Japan and the US were the two main drivers behind the ill-fated Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which is largely dead in the water after the European Parliament refused to vote for ratification in July. Weeks after that decision, Japanese legislators signed off on the draconian new laws for its own population, and continue to lobby for progress on ACTA.

While downloading music is illegal in most countries, it's unusual for such a heavy sanction to be applied, since typically it is uploaders who are targeted by copyright holders. How well the Japanese system works in practice will also be closely watched, given the failures in other countries.

France, for example, instituted a "three strikes" copyright anti-infringement rule intended to counter downloading, but is already looking for ways to get out of the system. So far its system is burning through €12m a year and has yet to prove a case against a single user. ®

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