Student Voices: Illegal Downloading in Japan – Law Stating Criminal Charges Met with Little Public Reaction

There was a time when people shared their favorite mix tapes using cassettes and movies using VHS tapes. Keeping track of duplication and spread of such media was a very difficult task since all the distribution was done physically.

With huge developments in technology, giving away copyrighted material is easier than ever. Whether illegal downloads can be attributed to theft is a very intriguing question. The 5th amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “No (person shall) be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights supports this; “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” If we base our theory on assuming that intellectual property is granted similar protections as tangible property, then taking intellectual property from its rightful owner is against the law.

Illegal downloading and piracy are huge problems and are against the law, but they cannot be attributed to theft. Illegally downloading content from the Internet is not like stealing goods. For example, if a person is to steal bread from a bakery then the bakery has been robbed of the bread and the thief has the bread exclusively. This does not work the same on the Internet. If a user downloads a song, (s) he is downloading a copy of the song and the original file of the song is still intact with it is owner. The actual crime pirates commit is violating the right of private property to the owner by making it public property.

Even though I am forbidden from downloading free music and videos in Japan, I have to agree that illegal downloads should be criminalized. Though I agree with the fact that illegal downloading is an offense, I do not agree with the intention behind criminalizing it. Thinking from an artist’s point of view who is working hard to catch a break and finally making it big time only to realize that his hard work is being spread for free would obviously hurt him. Even though he might feel proud that their work is being enjoyed, he cannot survive on this feeling of satisfaction. In my opinion Japan introduced very strict laws, which are not justified. The prison terms and fines are too hefty. According to The Japan Federation of Bar Associations, a group representing legal professionals, the offense should have remained civil instead of criminal.

All this does not matter if no one questions the decisions made which is exactly what has happened in Japan.

The introduction of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) were met with strong rejection in the US. The introduction and debate surrounding these laws were referred to as “Hollywood vs Silicon Valley”. While, these laws aim to protect intellectual property they end up discouraging innovation and freedom of speech. Internet activist groups took to the streets and organized heavy “black out protests” in various parts of the country.

In Japan, other than the anger expressed by the hacktivist group Anonymous, there were no efforts made by the general public to protest and fight the extreme laws. The interesting point to notice here is that even after a year these laws had been imposed no arrests have been made in Japan.