Movie pirate gets jail term for distributing movie via internet in Japan

Mumbai: The Kyoto District Court sentenced 33-year-old Sendai resident Kazushi Hirata to two years in prison for violation of Japan’s Copyright Law. Hirata, also known as ‘Tikal’, is one of the most prolific pirate movie subtitlers in Japan. The prosecution was Japan’s first for copyright violations involving the illegal distribution of a not-yet-released motion picture through the Internet. Hirata’s sentence was suspended for three years.

At the beginning of July, the Japan and International Motion Picture Copyright Association (JIMCA) identified the illegal distribution of the movie file and submitted a criminal complaint to the Kyoto Prefectural Police Headquarters. On September 18, officers from the High-Tech Crime Control Center of Kyoto Prefectural Police Headquarters arrested Hirata and charged him with infringement of the rights of public transmission.

In a hearing on November 11 in the Kyoto District Court, Hirata pleaded guilty to uploading a subtitled copy of the movie Wanted, via the Internet using ‘Winny’ file-sharing software. At the time of arrest, Wanted had yet to be released in Japan and was released only on September 20.

"The conviction of one of the most prolific subtitlers in Japan sends an important message about the illegality of movie piracy," said JIMCA executive director Yasutaka Iiyama. "Respect for intellectual property rights is critical to Japan’s economy and cultural identity, and individuals should appreciate the relationship between the unlawful reproduction of legal products and the loss of honest jobs, income and tax revenues that are critical to building a better society."

"We welcome this decision as the Court has clearly shown that there are strong penalties that can be imposed on those who seek to steal our members’ films," said Motion Picture Association president and managing director Asia-Pacific Mike Ellis. "Kudos also to the Japanese authorities for their swift action in apprehending and prosecuting this criminal. That he has been sentenced within three months of being arrested sends a clear message that such criminal activity will not be tolerated."

The ‘Winny’ peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing system came to prominence in Japan in November 2003 when police arrested two users for illegally distributing game software and a movie. Both suspects pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for three years.

In May 2004, police arrested the developer of the ‘Winny’ system, Isamu Kaneko, and charged him with abetting the infringement of Japan’s Copyright Law. On December 13, 2006, Kaneko was found guilty of aiding and abetting the infringement of Japan’s Copyright Law by the Kyoto District Court and fined US$16,596 (1.5 million yen).

Rather than serving files from a single location, the system distributes cached copies of user-provided files around the ‘Winny’ network to other users’ computers, facilitating faster downloads of popular titles. Thus, all users of the ‘Winny’ system open their computers up to others’ files, possibly contributing to copyright infringement.

Over the past few years, Japan has seen a number of high-profile leaks from government and corporate computer networks due to inadvertent uploading of confidential data by P2P network users. JIMCA and the Japanese government have been active in warning computer users about the dangers of illegal peer-to-peer file sharing.