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updated 1/25/2008 1:45:29 PM ET 2008-01-25T18:45:29

Police investigating a man for allegedly spreading a computer virus had to arrest him on a copyright infringement charge because Japan lacks laws against malicious computer programs, a police officer said Friday.

Masato Nakatsuji, 24, a graduate student at Osaka Electro-Communication University, is suspected of illegally copying and distributing over the Internet an image from the Japanese animation film "Clannad" showing a woman walking amid falling cherry blossoms.

But Nakatsuji also allegedly embedded the image in the "Harada virus," one of Japan's "Big Three" viruses, a Kyoto police officer said on the customary condition of anonymity.

Police said it was the first arrest in Japan involving making or spreading viruses.

Although computer viruses have wreaked havoc around the world for more than two decades, Japan has been slow to pass legislation to crack down on people who make and spread the potentially destructive programs.

In the latest case, police considered other charges, including damage to property and obstructing business, before deciding that copyright violation charges would hold up best in court, the officer said.

Nakatsuji, who is not suspected of creating the virus, was in police custody and not immediately available for comment. Police said he isn't contesting the charges.

Downloading the Harada virus with the animated image destroyed data and spread on the Internet information stored in computers hit by the virus, according to police.

The virus was also spread through an illegal Japanese file-sharing software program called Winny. The extent of the damage has not yet been disclosed, the Kyoto officer said.

Koji Namikoshi, spokesman for the university where Nakatsuji was researching laser technology, said the university is strengthening instruction on ethical uses of the Internet.

"But the only illegality is copyright," he said. "Something is wrong."

The maximum punishment for copyright infringement is 10 years in prison and fines of 10 million yen, or $93,000.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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