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Editorial: Emergency move to block pirated content websites raises questions

The NTT group has announced that it will block access to websites that allow visitors to read pirated comics and other books for free. The measure applies to three sites: Manga-Mura, AniTube! and MioMio. The government had earlier asked internet providers to block access to these sites.

The actions of such sites deprive authors and publishers of profits and clearly violate copyrights. The sites started to appear last autumn, and it is estimated that they have caused profit losses of over 400 billion yen. The sites are operated through a complicated network that passes through servers overseas. Because of this, it is difficult to identify the operators, so there are no prospects of the damage being recovered.

Clearly the situation cannot be left unaddressed. But blocking access to particular websites means internet service providers will be checking which sites users are visiting. Secrecy of communications is a constitutional right preventing third parties from knowing the details of people's communications, and internet providers must not violate this right.

This raises the issue of what should take precedence -- protecting copyrights or protecting secrecy of communications.

Even if the need for measures is recognized, there remains a sense of uncertainty about the government's approach. First of all is the fact that its request to block the sites is not based on any law. The blocking of websites in Japan is limited to those carrying child pornography -- a measure carried out since 2011.This move was based on a clause in the Penal Code on averting danger, which states that an act unavoidably performed to avert a present danger to the life, body liberty or property of oneself or any other person is not punishable as long as it doesn't exceed the harm to be averted. The immensity of the violation of human rights was taken into consideration.

When discussing the issue, copyrights were also considered, but the clause on aversion of danger was not applied, due to the possibility that damages could be recovered. The government's decision that it can now apply the danger aversion clause does not match up with how it considered the issue in the past.

Next is that the government decided to block access to the websites on its own without going through expert third-party panels. Such a move raises fears that the government could arbitrarily block sites it finds inconvenient. This could come across as censorship.

Was there no other way than to block access to the sites -- an approach over which opinions are divided? Sites with pirated content receive revenue through advertising. Restrictions on advertising, for example, are surely an important point for discussion.

A total of 42 countries, including those in Europe, block access to sites with material violating copyrights, but such moves are based on legislation. Japan should probably move ahead and develop laws matching the current times.

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