Panel draws ire by asking ISPs to block pirated manga sites
The Asahi Shimbun April 13, 2018
A page shown when one tries to access websites featuring child pornography (Tatsuya Sudo)
The Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters on April 13 named Mangamura, Anitube and Miomio as the offending websites that are circulating pirated manga.
The panel is not forcing the ISPs to block access to the sites, but it hopes they will voluntarily abide by the governmental request.
Until now, such requests have been limited to websites that contain child pornography. A Cabinet Office official said it was unusual even abroad for such an emergency measure to be taken against a pirated manga site.
Criticism over the latest measure stems in part from a lack of legislation to implement the move.
Various groups said the panel’s move violates constitutional guarantees on communications confidentiality, freedom of expression and prohibition of censorship. They said that Internet users’ communications must be monitored for such a measure, and that the panel’s request could eventually lead to an expansion of the range of websites targeted by the government for blocking.
“There is the possibility of censorship if the central government rather than the courts is allowed to decide whether the contents of a website are pirated and declare that it is appropriate to block access to the named websites,” said Masahiro Sogabe, a constitutional law professor at Kyoto University.
A stipulation in the Constitution states that “no censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated.”
Some experts, however, welcomed the panel’s decision, given the surge in copyright infringement cases related to online manga since autumn last year.
According to the Content Overseas Distribution Association, the three named sites have caused around 400 billion yen ($3.7 billion) in damage to the publishing industry.
One of the sites opened in 2016. An estimate by website analyzer SimilarWeb showed the site receives 9.85 million views a month.
More than 200 similar websites feature pirated manga works. While viewers can read the cartoons for free, the operators earn profits from online advertisements.
Manga publishers have partially blamed online pirates for declining book sales.
“Pirate manga sites are making huge illicit gains,” said a statement released in February by the Japan Cartoonists Association, which is headed by manga artist Tetsuya Chiba.
According to the Research Institute for Publications, sales of paper and online versions of comics totaled 433 billion yen in 2017, down 2.8 percent from the previous year.
The growth of the online manga market has also slowed. Although sales of online editions of comics soared 27 percent year on year in 2016, the growth rate was 17 percent in 2017.
Pirated manga sites rarely delete the titles even when publishers asked them to do so.
But blocking access to those pages would make it impossible for Internet users to read the manga for free.
Under the current system, an association of ISPs and other parties can block access to child pornography sites as an “emergency measure” based on information provided by police and other sources.
ISPs can decide on their own whether to make certain sites inaccessible, but the blocking policy has no legal basis.
Kensaku Fukui, a lawyer involved in developing countermeasures against sites showing pirated books, said making those pages unavailable is an effective temporary measure.
“Blocking should be carried out after legislation is developed in principle, but introducing such laws will require much time,” Fukui said. “For the time being, it will be forgivable to block access only to sites that cause serious damage as an emergency measure.”
The government, however, has yet to present concrete steps, such as deciding which party will choose the target sites and who will ask for access blocking.
ISPs fear the government may expand the range of sites to block without debate.
“The scope of access blocking could be further widened in the name of emergency measures on the urging of the state,” said George Shishido, a constitutional law professor at the University of Tokyo.
ISPs also argue that the system used against child pornography should not be applied to manga sites.
Blocked access to child pornography sites was introduced after three years of discussions between the communications ministry, the National Police Agency and ISPs.
“We accepted the blocking of kiddie porn as an exceptional measure because it infringes upon the personal rights of children, exerting irreversible effects on their growth and future,” said the president of a medium-sized ISP. “Why can’t we have such careful discussions on other issues?”
On April 11, four groups--the Internet Content Safety Association, the Japan Institute of Law and Information Systems, the Content Evaluation and Monitoring Association and the Movements for Internet Active Users--objected to the government panel’s plan to make pirated manga sites unavailable.
Ryoji Mori, a lawyer who was involved in the debate over blocking child pornography sites, said authorities should consider ways other than blocking access to pirated manga.
“Under the latest plan, the state will virtually force providers to block access to certain sites,” he said. “Other means, such as making those sites stop operations, should be considered.”
(This article was compiled from reports by Hiroshi Kawamoto, Tomohiro Iwata, Mika Kuniyoshi and Senior Staff Writer Tatsuya Sudo.)