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Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Japan begins anti-piracy crackdown


In a rare crackdown on electronic file-sharing, two Japanese men have been arrested for allegedly disseminating copyrighted movies and games over the Internet using freely available software, police said yesterday.

The arrests -- only the second such case in Japan -- could signal a shift here toward harsh penalties for anyone who uses peer-to-peer computer programs to trade copyrighted material.

The two suspects -- a 41-year-old man who runs a business and an unemployed 19-year-old -- were accused of violating copyright laws, Kyoto prefectural police spokesman Yukinori Kuma-moto said.

They were detained Nov. 27 for allegedly using Winny software obtained over the Internet for free.

The program works by allowing users to send search queries and receive file transfers across a network without revealing anyone's Internet Protocol address, or online identity.

Kumamoto didn't say how police identified the suspects. But the police investigation coincided with a criminal complaint filed by video game maker Nintendo Co, game developer Hudson Soft and the Japanese and International Motion Picture Copyright Association, he said.

The 41-year-old man posted two movies -- including the Academy Award-winner A Beautiful Mind -- on the Net, while the 19-year-old released Nintendo's Super Mario Advance and other video games, the spokesman said.

Both confessed but neither has been charged with a crime, he added.

Police also searched the home of a Japanese software developer suspected of creating Winny, but refused to provide details.

A recent survey by Japan's Association of Copyright for Computer Software estimates there were about a quarter of a million Winny users in this country, as of September.

The software industry group began lobbying police to rein in copyright infringers two years ago, when Winny surfaced following the first-ever arrests of suspected file-swappers here.

"To us, there's a difference between swapping material within a circle of friends and going beyond that to distribute it to an indefinite number of people," said association spokesman Shu-nsuke Sakata.

He said there was no way to estimate the damages to Nintendo and Hudson Soft. The companies declined to comment.

However, the Japanese and International Motion Picture Copyright Association alleged that the suspect arrested had distributed more than 174 movie titles, amounting to losses of about ?230 billion (US$2.11 million) for US movie studios.

Sakata said the industry is also considering launching lawsuits against individuals suspected of engaging in illegal file-swapping, as the US Recording Industry Association of America has done since September.

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