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Japan shelves bill on stricter copyright control

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government on Wednesday decided to forgo submitting to the Diet a bill that would make it illegal to download any works without the permission of copyright holders, as concerns grew that it would impose excessive restraints on internet use.

With Japan seeing a rising number of piracy websites, some of which are estimated to have caused damage worth hundreds of billions of yen, the government had sought to broaden the criminalization of downloads, including saving screenshots, of copyrighted materials from videos and music to all types of content.

But academics, manga study groups and others have said the envisioned expansion to also cover such works as manga, computer games and literary works could affect freedom of expression and hinder legitimate activities such as research.

The amount of still images available online far exceeds that of videos and music content, and some experts have said it would be difficult to determine how images were obtained originally.

Their concerns have prompted some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to voice the need to hear further opinions from such copyright holders.

"We have yet to eliminate the worries of both copyright holders and (internet) users," said House of Councillors lawmaker Masaaki Akaike, who heads the LDP culture panel, after its executives failed to approve the bill. "We should work on it anew."

The bill, which the government had sought to put into effect on Jan. 1 next year, fanned worries particularly as it targeted not just piracy websites but also downloads and screenshots of individual blogs and posts on social networks.

Some experts have said people may refrain from downloading content altogether, unsure of whether it is legitimate or not. Others have pointed out the envisioned legislation has loopholes as it would allow people to view pirated content without the need to download it.

The legislation called for punishing serious offenses, such as repeating illegal downloads of pirated content, with a prison term of up to two years or a fine of up to 2 million yen ($18,000) or both.

It also targeted "leech sites" and "leech apps" that list hyperlinks to piracy websites and criminally punishes the operators of such services.

The government initially tried to curb piracy by making internet service providers block people's access to websites hosting pirated manga, digital magazines and other content.

But it similarly gave up submitting a bill on site-blocking in January with legal scholars and internet industry bodies opposed to the measure, saying it could infringe upon the constitutional ban on censorship and also violate the privacy of communication as it requires subscribers' access data.

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