Close loopholes on websites’ illegal distribution of copyrighted material

There is no end to the proliferation of illegal websites that post copies of manga and other pirated material on the internet without permission and make them available for free. It is necessary to deal with the increasing sophistication of the methods and close the loopholes in anti-piracy countermeasures.

According to an estimate by an organization of publishers and other entities that tackles anti-pirate websites, over ¥1 trillion worth of manga was read for free on major pirate sites in Japan in 2021, nearly five times as much as in 2020, and far exceeding the legitimate market size of about ¥610 billion in 2020.

This is an extremely serious situation that could not only undermine the financial situation of publishers, but also damage the value of Japan’s proud manga culture.

The revision of the Copyright Law in 2020 made it illegal in principle to operate so-called leech websites, which direct internet users to pirate sites, and to knowingly download pirated material.

The operators of “spoiler sites,” who upload dialogue and other content from manga without permission, and leech sites, among others, have been punished, but there is no end to the number of new sites that appear.

Many pirate sites are based in foreign countries and use the internet systems of foreign companies to keep the origin of their transmissions from being identified, making it difficult to crack down on them.

In autumn last year, a Japanese publisher filed an application with a U.S. court based on a U.S. law to request information disclosure on Manga Bank, a major pirate site, which ultimately led to the site being shut down. However, overseas procedures are said to be time-consuming and costly, and in some cases, valid information is not disclosed.

Even if pirate sites are shut down, the same operators often launch new sites under different names, resulting in a continuous game of cat and mouse.

To enhance the effectiveness of countermeasures, international cooperation must be strengthened.

An international organization of copyright protection groups from more than 10 countries, including Japan and the United States, will be established soon. Some of the participating countries understand the need for anti-piracy measures but have not yet been able to take sufficient action.

It is hoped that the international organization will share information on pirate sites and legal procedures among member countries and effective measures will be implemented.

Pirate sites thrive because people who want to read manga for free access the sites, with the operators receiving advertising revenue based on the number of people who access their sites.

It must be remembered that using pirate sites deprives creators and publishers of profits, and users are complicit in the crime. The risk of viruses that can affect computers and smartphones via pirate sites has also been pointed out. It is vital to remind people that they should strictly refrain from using such sites.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 9, 2022.