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Gov't says blocking access to pirated content an option to protect right holders

TOKYO -- The Cabinet Office presented a draft report on Sept. 13 stating that blocking access to websites illicitly showing pirated manga and other copyrighted materials free of charge could be a policy option in countering such practices.

The government proposal, presented at a meeting of experts, faced criticism from attendants who see legalizing the blocking of access to specific websites without the user's consent as a violation of the constitutional right to secrecy of communications. The panel will continue to discuss the matter in its next session on Sept. 19, according to officials.

In April, the government asked internet service providers to shut off access to three sites posting copyrighted comic materials, including one called "Manga-mura" (manga village) saying they were committing serious copyright infringements. The government also indicated its intention to seek the introduction of a law allowing access denial during an ordinary session of the Diet next year, and set up the expert panel in June to discuss comprehensive countermeasures against online piracy.

The government's draft proposal presented on Sept. 13 pointed out that a mechanism was necessary to remove piracy sites from the results of internet searches or curb advertisements on those sites so that their operators will not be able make money out of their activities. It also called for the introduction of a system in which users accessing those sites will be shown warnings automatically.

The draft report explained that the effectiveness of such countermeasures has been in question because, for example, some advertisers are foreign companies and may not be deterred by measures taken by Japan. It proposed that legalizing the blocking of access to those sites "could be a policy option." To avoid criticism that blocking access is a form of censorship by the government, copyright holders would be encouraged to seek court orders allowing access to be cut, the document said, adding that such an arrangement would clear constitutional questions.

The draft touched on the presence of critical views about legalizing denial of access, due to concerns over possible violations of the secrecy of communication. Similar opinions critical of such legalization were expressed one after another by experts in the latest meeting. Allowing denial of access "will enable internet service providers to collect information about users unrelated to the piracy issue," said lawyer Ryoji Mori.

In contrast, authors and publishers suffering from copyright infringement are supportive of access denial. "Piracy is illegal. There is no way to stop the operators (of websites posting pirated contents) if they are based overseas," said Nobuo Kawakami, president of Kadokawa Dwango Corp. publishing house.

(Japanese original by Kenji Wada and Arimasa Mori, Business News Department)

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