Oct. 1, 2012 at 9:14 PM ET
A new law has been passed in Japan that could result in jail time for people pirating music. Downloaders could face up to two years under the new definition of piracy as a criminal, instead of civil, violation.
Japan was already home to some of the more draconian laws concerning copyright violations; someone caught illegally uploading music or video can face up to 10 years in prison and a ¥10,000,000 fine (around $128,000). But the penalties for downloading were comparatively mild: a heavy fine but no threat of incarceration. The updated law makes the offense criminal and now downloaders of copyrighted material can potentially be sent to prison in addition to being fined.
The BBC notes that the changes were pushed for by the Recording Industry Association of Japan. The organization has lobbied heavily for stricter file-sharing laws following a widely publicized 2010 study which found that there were almost 10 times as many illegal downloads in the country as legal ones.
Critics point out that the laws misunderstand the actual process of piracy; by using a BitTorrent service to download music, for instance, users will frequently also be uploading it at the same time, exposing them to a potential 12-year stay in prison. Such a sentence would be immensely disproportionate to one for a similar crime like shoplifting a CD.
Some also worry that the wording of the law might include such minor acts as watching a YouTube video that turns out to be violating copyright. Since the user technically downloaded a copy of the video to their computer, that could constitute an offense.
Copyright law in the US also prohibits illegal downloads, of course, but punishments for users who have pirated music and movies have always been limited to fines (although these can be quite high). Only extremely prolific distributors of illegal media and people selling it have been subjected to criminal charges and jail time.
Catching an offender in the act, whether in the US or Japan, however, is not an easy task: Privacy laws and well-known technical workarounds make avoiding detection easy for dedicated pirates.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.