updated 5/10/2004 6:56:32 PM ET 2004-05-10T22:56:32

A Japanese professor who advocates free file sharing on the Internet was arrested Monday on copyright-related charges for developing and offering software that lets people swap movies and video games, police said.

Isamu Kaneko, a 33-year-old assistant professor at the prestigious University of Tokyo, was arrested on suspicion of developing and offering free downloads through his file-sharing software called Winny, Kyoto Prefectural (state) police said on customary condition of anonymity.

Kaneko’s arrest is believed to be the first in Japan of a suspected developer of file-sharing software. The charge of violating copyright laws carries up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 3 million yen ($27,000).

Kaneko is also accused of helping two Japanese men who were arrested in November on charges of using Winny to disseminate movies and games on the Internet.

Winny, which Kaneko developed in 2002, has become a headache for digital content providers here, as users have been drawn by its reputation in protecting users’ anonymity.

Winny users in Japan are estimated to total about a quarter of a million, according to a recent survey by the Japan’s Association of Copyright for Computer Software. The industry has been lobbying police to rein in suspected copyright infringement for months.

The rise of free file-sharing networks on the Internet over the past several years has made it easy for millions of individuals to distribute songs, movies and software worldwide. The recording industry last year began an ongoing wave of lawsuits against file-sharers in the United States.

Kaneko wasn’t immediately available for comment. It was unclear whether he had an attorney.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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