Downloading Music in Japan Can Get You Jail Time

A new amendment to Japan’s copyright laws which was passed on June 22, 2012, imposes a prison sentence of up to 2 years and fines of up to 2 million yen (plus damages) for illegally downloading music, DVDs or Blu-ray. If you’re an outlaw uploader, you could face up to 10 years and 10 million yen.

The United States is tough on downloading but doesn’t impose prison sentences unless you’re distributing. Actually, in Japan downloading has been illegal since 2009 but it was a civil offense. As sales of overpriced plastic discs with data printed on them (CDs) slump because they’re essentially junk anyway, the recording industry is desperate. They’re going to throw you in the pen with rapists and murders for stealing their profits.

One provision of the law states that you have to know that the download is illegal before you can be thrown in jail for it. Along with the amendment, an education program to teach kids about copyrighting is going to be instituted.

Some have speculated that even watching a YouTube video will be illegal because when you view a video, it saves a copy of the video in your download cache. However, the law states that your browser’s cache isn’t your hard drive, and therefore you’re alright as long as you’re not using software to download the videos.

Meanwhile, you can still rent movies and CDs at Tsutaya and buy blank CDs right there at the counter. How convenient! Please allow me to assert my opinion here (as if I haven’t been doing that all along)…

It looks like the record industry Japan is getting desperate. A similar thing happened in the US. Their CDs, which have been such an unbelievable cash cow for more than two decades now, are going the way of the 8-track. The Compact Disc is a dream for the recording industry – extremely cheap to produce, small and light for shipping, and somehow they can get away with gouging consumers for them. Unfortunately, consumers aren’t lazy. They go out and get what they want. When music is offered at cheaper rates or free online, they’ll download it there.

In the early 00’s, content sharing sites like Napster began to flourish. Instead of realizing the market had spoken – it wants to chuck those cheap discs in the trash and download instead – the recording industry fought tooth and nail to shut down Napster. As soon as they did so, new Napsters popped up everywhere. It took the recording industry 2 years to get its rear in gear and start offering iTunes, by which time everybody had gotten used to downloading music for free. From a marketing point of view, they screwed the pooch big-time, missing untold opportunities to adapt, evolve, and profit.

CDs in Japan sell new for 3,000 yen or more (US$40). It’s a plastic disc with data imprinted on it. The packaging costs more than the disc itself. How about charging a bit less?

The amendment goes into effect on October 1, 2012, at which time the government will figure out some way or another to enforce it. Legal experts are predicting that the vaguely worded and impossible-to-enforce law will cause all kinds of problems for the legal system and consumers who get trapped in it.

And to any commenters who might tell me that downloading takes instant noodles right out of the mouths of musicians, let me remind you (as a musician myself) that no illegal downloaders can rip us off on the scale that the recording industry does. Those profits are wasted on marketing the handful of big bands the labels decide to break. Musicians get little of it.

Alright… getting off my soapbox now…