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Downloading pirated still images to be punishable: Cultural Affairs Agency

TOKYO -- The Agency for Cultural Affairs intends to make punishable the downloading of still images of manga comics or pictures knowing they have been pirated, according to people knowledgeable about the plan.

Up to two years of imprisonment or a maximum 2 million yen fine would be slapped on violators, who would also face redress payment demands, they said.

Downloading of pirated still images is not covered by the current Copyright Act, which bans such action for movie and music clips, prompting calls to prevent piracy of photographs and other still images online.

The agency intends to submit revisions to the law in the ordinary session of the Diet next year.

The new prohibition has been incorporated in draft revisions to the act compiled by a panel of the copyright subcommittee of the Council for Cultural Affairs, an advisory body to the chief of the cultural agency. The agency intends to present the draft for public comments this month, and will determine the details of the changes for Diet deliberations.

The panel had received reports that manga still images were downloaded via a major leech site called "Haruka Yumeno Ato" that directed users to websites posting pirated materials. The website was cracked down on by authorities in October last year, but the damage caused by such sites is said to have amounted to 73.1 billion yen during the past year, and is growing.

Organizations of publishers complain that magazines, photo books and literary books are now being targeted by piracy.

Still images are smaller in size compared to movie or music clips and are easier to be reposted on blogs and social networking sites. The agency thus decided to add still images to movies and music as targets of Copyright Act protection and make their downloading illegal and punishable. But just watching those still images on piracy sites without downloading them would not be deemed illegal.

The Cultural Affairs Agency has also decided to make it illegal to set hyperlinks to leech sites, and incorporated this in the draft revisions.

Meanwhile, a government panel of experts considered blocking access to sites hosting pirated materials without the consent of the users, but opinions among panel members widely differed and the panel gave up compiling a report on the issue.

(Japanese original by Takuya Izawa, City News Department)

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