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Japan Ups Penalties for Illegal Downloaders: Jail Time, Big Fines

Illegal uploads already carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence and 10-million yen fine

With the second-largest music market after the United States, Japan seems to have taken a page out of our country’s recent Megaupload and SOPA/PIPA debacles to crack down on music piracy. According to the BBC, the Japanese government will now levy fines of up to two years in prison or two million yen (about $26,000) on Japan-based Internet users caught illegally downloading music files. Illegal uploads already carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence and 10-million yen fine.

Though piracy was outlawed in 2010, the Recording Industry Association of Japan has lobbied for the penalties since a study that same year suggested that Japanese residents downloaded 4.36 billion illegal music and video files and 440 million purchased files. “The revision will reduce the spread of copyright infringement activities on the internet,” said Naoki Kitagawa, the RIAJ’s chair and, coincidentally or not, the Chief Executive of Sony Music Entertainment Japan.

As in the U.S., retaliation was swift. Hackers defaced the government’s finance ministry website and IRL demonstrators wearing Guy Fawkes masks associated with hacktivist group Anonymous — who has previously been accused of attacking websites owned by the film and music industry — staged a protest in Tokyo. (Unlike in good ol’ America, however, “the efforts did not sway the politicians.”) Officially, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a statement that music piracy should have remained a civil, and not a criminal, issue.

With the new law, Japan joins countries like the Ukraine, which recently shut down BitTorrent site Demonoid; the United Kingdom, which incarcerated the owner of video link provider Surfthechannel; and France, which recently fined one of its illegally downloading citizens who ignored the country’s fairly self-explanatory “three strikes” rule.