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Gov't set to request internet providers block access to pirated manga sites

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is now working out a proposal to request internet providers based in Japan block websites offering pirated manga, magazines and other copyrighted content for free.

The measure is expected to be formally approved at a Cabinet meeting on crime prevention policy later this month.

The government is set to demand providers cut off access from within Japan to three specific pirate content sites. Internet users in Japan continue to have access to two of the sites although their operators were either placed under criminal investigation or given administrative guidance in other countries including China.

However, there is currently no clear legal basis for the government to issue site-blocking requests, while there are also worries that the requests could be pointed out as an infringement on Article 21 of the Constitution, which states, "No censorship shall be maintained, nor an shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated." The government plans to ask for internet providers' understanding based on the thinking that, as the pirate content websites harm publishers and authors, the site-blocking requests are acceptable under the "averting present danger" principle of Japan's Penal Code.

Domestic internet providers are already working with authorities to cut access to child porn sites, and the government is hopeful of their cooperation over pirate content webpages as well.

The pirate sites' hit count has ballooned since they began to be better known in around August 2017. Sales of copyrighted digital comics, which had been rising steadily since 2012, began dropping rapidly in that same month. The Content Overseas Distribution Association (CODA) has informed the government that, between last September and February this year, piracy has inflicted an estimated 400 billion yen (about US 4 billion dollar)-plus in damage to copyright holders in Japan.

Manga and anime are an important element of the government's "Cool Japan" strategy to promote Japanese cultural products abroad. At a March 19 news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced that the government was "considering all measures including site blocking" to battle piracy. Participants at an April 3 meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s Research Commission on Intellectual Property Strategy warned that the damage from piracy "is growing," and could even begin putting publishers out of business this year if nothing was done.

Meanwhile, the government is also set to consider a new law to combat "leech sites," or websites that aggregate links to others that host pirated content. It is thought that many visitors to pirated content sites get there via leech sites. However, under present law, just posting a link is not considered a copyright violation.

Furthermore, even if internet providers cooperate with the government to block direct access to pirated content sites, it may be possible to reach them via the leech sites. A "leech site prevention law" would aim to close that route to pirated content, though there is a danger this could violate the constitutional right to freedom of expression. With that risk in mind, the government plans to carefully consider the content and applicability of any new legislation on the problem. (Japanese original by Katsuya Takahashi, Political News Department)

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