Be aware that unauthorized editing of copyrighted work is illegal

Using another person’s copyrighted work without permission to gain profit is an illegal act that destroys the original producer’s revenue base. People who engage in this act should be aware of the seriousness of the situation and the huge amount of damages they are required to pay as a consequence.

Thirteen companies, including major film studio Toho Co., have filed a lawsuit seeking damages against three people who posted online without permission “fast movies,” or films that have been edited down to 10 minutes. The companies claim that their copyrights have been infringed and are demanding ¥500 million in damages.

In 2020, the three posted fast movies of 54 films produced by the 13 companies, including “Shin Godzilla” and “Okuribito” (“Departures”), on the YouTube online video-sharing platform. The three were arrested last year on suspicion of violating the Copyright Law, and the rulings against them have been finalized.

The video clips were accessible for free and were viewed more than 10 million times, generating about ¥7 million in advertising revenue. The 13 companies calculated the amount of damage at about ¥2 billion and demanded payment for a part of that amount.

The move to pursue liability in a civil trial could be a warning to those who post such materials.

While the internet is filled with a wide range of content, the demand for fast movies has grown rapidly due to the increase in the number of people who want to consume information quickly and simply, as well as the novel coronavirus pandemic. An industry organization calculates that as of June last year, approximately 2,100 fast movies had been posted on the internet, causing an estimated ¥95 billion in damage.

The damage caused by pirate sites showing manga for free is estimated to exceed ¥1 trillion. To contain the damage, it is important for copyright holders to take a firm stand, as they are doing in this latest case, and make people think that illegal acts are not worth the cost.

There is reportedly a belief overseas that creating fast movies based on Japanese films carries little risk of being caught and is an easy way to earn revenue through advertising.

Many makers of illegal content have their bases in foreign countries to avoid being identified as the source of such content. This is because information disclosure procedures overseas are time-consuming and costly, making it difficult to identify the operator. The current case, involving criminal prosecution, is exceptional.

Japanese copyright holders and industry associations should promote information-sharing on judicial procedures with countries concerned. Domestically, awareness-raising activities and copyright education at schools should be enhanced.

Operators of online video-sharing platforms also bear a great deal of responsibility. They must respond promptly to requests for deletion or information disclosure by copyright holders. It is also important to strengthen efforts to stop advertising tied to illegal content, to cut off the income source.

Some people think they don’t want to spend time watching movies all the way through, but watching fast movies is an act that encourages crime. It must not be forgotten that creators put their hearts and souls into their films on the premise that people will actually watch the entire movie.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 31, 2022)