Japan's leading copyright administration is facing increasing public hostility--including attacks from international hackers' group Anonymous--following the Diet's passage of tough new penalties for copyright violators.
The Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers (JASRAC) supported controversial revisions to Japan's Copyright Law to impose fines and imprisonment for those who download pirated copies of music and movie files. Such downloads had already been illegal for two years, but there had been no fines or imprisonments in place until the revisions were passed June 20.
Sentiment on the Internet was especially strong against the organization, and on June 27, a member of Anonymous said on Twitter, "Everybody says, 'Why don't you attack JASRAC?' It's a good idea."
Soon after that, it became impossible to access the JASRAC website.
Those responsible for the attacks are suspected of violating the illegal access prohibition law, but praise for the attacks sprang up quickly on the Internet.
In defending its actions, Anonymous said that innocent citizens could suffer unfair imprisonment under the revisions, and declared its intention to attack organizations related to the revised law.
Anonymous also criticized JASRAC for asking Internet service providers to introduce a program to automatically detect pirated versions of music files, saying the program was a type of monitoring technology that would infringe on personal privacy.
Nobuya Kitada, a senior official of JASRAC, countered those criticisms, saying, "There are many misunderstandings."
"The punishment introduced this time (under the revised law) will be imposed only on those who are fully aware that they are downloading pirated versions. If they download files which make it difficult to know that they are pirated versions, they will not be punished out of hand," he said.
As for the automatic detection program, Kitada said that it only detects uploaded files and does not "peep" on general users' personal computers.
Asako Miura, a professor of psychology at Kwansei Gakuin University, gave some insight into people's hostility to the new laws.
"It has become possible for anyone to process and deliver songs on the Internet, and because of that, people might be afraid that that ability could be crushed by the revised law,” she said.
"Organizations that seem to be in advantageous positions easily become the target of condemnation on the Internet," added Miura, who is familiar with Internet culture.
Eradication of pirated music and movie files is a long-cherished wish of the music and movie industries, and JASRAC has been an especially large magnet for criticism in that area because of its high profile, large size and close ties to the government.
JASRAC's predecessor was the Dainippon Ongaku Chosakuken Kyokai (Dainippon music copyright association), established under the government's initiative. Until several years ago, JASRAC accepted retired government officials for its highest positions.
The organization monopolized the copyright administration business until 2001, when revisions to the law allowed the establishment of new copyright administration organizations. Even now, however, JASRAC still collects about 90 percent of music royalties.
In 2002, JASRAC began to collect the royalties from restaurants and hotels that use background music, and in 2011, it started making collections from fitness clubs as well.
In order to collect royalties as thoroughly as possible, JASRAC sometimes implemented secret investigations and brought cases to court, earning the organization a reputation for being "hard-hearted."
JASRAC's sudden surge in enforcement caught many businesses by surprise. Under copyright law, companies or organizations have to pay royalties when they use music for profit. However, many of them had escaped payment until now.
"Until now, we haven't had to pay royalties, so why do we suddenly have to start paying them now?" a person in a related industry said.
JASRAC also has a contract with broadcasting stations that allows them to use songs under its management repeatedly if they pay a certain amount of royalties. However, companies that have recently entered the copyright administration business have voiced complaints over this policy.
"Under the contract, use of songs other than those under JASRAC’s management incurs extra costs for broadcasting stations. Because of that, stations refrain from using those songs," the companies said.
In response to the criticism, the Fair Trade Commission ordered JASRAC to eliminate the contract in 2009.
In June this year, however, the FTC withdrew the order, saying, "It cannot be said that broadcasting stations refrained from using songs not under JASRAC’s management due to the contract."
According to Kaoru Okamoto, a professor of management at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, the root of the complaints against JASRAC can be found in people's lack of understanding regarding intellectual property. Okamoto said that the Japanese people aren't accustomed to the idea of paying money for the intangible, such as copyrights and information.
"The Copyright Law on which JASRAC's activities are based was decided in the Diet under a democracy. If people have complaints against the law, they should urge the Diet to revise the law," he said.
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