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Rift over blocking access to pirated content brings gov't panel to deadlock

A screen showing the homepage of Mangamura, a website named by the government as a target for anti-piracy site blocking, is seen in this June 20, 2018 file photo. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Kishi)

TOKYO -- A government panel of experts discussing measures against websites carrying pirated content including manga has been unable to compile an interim report due to a deep rift over whether users' access to such sites should be blocked.

The rare development emerged as some panel members stated legislation on blocking and other such measures was needed to protect copyright, while others argued that secrecy of communications guaranteed by the Constitution would be violated in the process.

Panel member Nobuo Kawakami, president of Kadokawa Dwango Corp. commented, "Actual damages are occurring from sites hosting pirated content, and we need countermeasures." However, Ryoji Mori, a lawyer on the panel, stated, "There are strong misgivings among many of the panel members who specialize in law that blocking is unconstitutional, and it's unacceptable."

Blocking such websites usually entails detecting attempts to access that site. Critics say this approach could run counter to Article 21 of the Constitution, which states that secrecy of communications must not be violated. On Oct. 15, nine panel members against blocking submitted a joint statement saying, "Legislation should be deferred and cooperation sought with the private sector to advance measures other than blocking."

Panel co-head Ichiya Nakamura, a professor in media policy at Keio University, tried to settle the matter by producing a report stating both sides of the argument. But opponents of blocking opposed the creation of a report itself, saying it could result in the practice being enshrined into law. While it is common for conflicting opinions to be heard at such government panels, it is unusual for a panel to be unable to compile a report due to such opposition.

The stiff opposition within the panel stems from suspicions the government has already reached a conclusion on the issue. The government is aiming to legislate blocking, and hopes to submit revisions to relevant laws at a regular session of the Diet next year.

Fellow panel co-head and Keio University professor Jun Murai, a computer communications expert, repeatedly stated that blocking was not a foregone conclusion of the meeting. Nakamura, meanwhile, tried to win opponents over, saying that if the report stated they had not been able to consolidate opinions, it would send a "political message." But opponents said they couldn't believe this, remaining distrustful of the government.

Nakamura then suggested amending a draft of the report, but there is little chance that such a proposal will win understanding from opponents. As such, there are no prospects of further meetings going ahead, and there is a high chance the panel will give up on compiling a report. This could affect government debate on submitting legislation to block in the future.

In spite of the rift, there were many points that panel members agreed on. They included self-reregulation of advertising on sites with pirated content and the need for preparations to curb such sites, through cooperation between the publishing industry and the communications industry.

"There are many things we should do to protect content," one panel member remarked, saying that countermeasures against such websites should first be quickly implemented.

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

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