Download 'pirates' face jail under new Japanese law

Japanese all-girl pop group AKB48. The music industry is clamping down on illegal downloads.

Story highlights

  • A new law in Japan threaten prison time and fines for illegal downloads
  • Aimed at stopping piracy in the world's second largest music market
  • Similar efforts worldwide have run afoul of online freedom and privacy advocates
  • Japan's legal online downloads is declining, while globally grew 8% last year

Those who possess illegally downloaded of music or films in Japan can face prison term of up to two years and fines of nearly 2 million yen (U.S. $25,679), according to a new law which takes effect Monday.

The move is aimed to stop falling music sales in the world's second largest music market, where industry officials estimate only one in 10 downloads are legally purchased.

The new law is a victory for the recording industry's global fight against online piracy, which has seen setbacks in the U.S. and European Union where the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), respectively, has run afoul of the public, which fears it will curb online freedom and privacy.

The Recording Industry Association of Japan says the download music market shrank 16% in 2011, the second consecutive year of decline. The slide comes despite global sales of digital music increasing 8% last year to $5.2 billion, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). Globally, one in four internet users "regularly access unlicensed services," according to an IFPI/Nielsen survey.

The Japanese music industry is hoping to replicate the success of South Korea, which has seen its global market ranking jump to 11th in the world from 23rd after the country cracked down on download piracy beginning in 2007, according the IFIP's 2012 "Digital Music Report."

South Korean laws require Internet providers to send notices to users who illegally download music, with 70% of infringers stopping after first notification, IFPI says.

The most challenging market for the industry is China, the world's largest internet market, where an estimated 99% of all downloaded music is illegal, according to the report.

"China has nearly twice as many internet users as the U.S., but digital music revenues per user are currently about 1% of that of the U.S. More than 70% of music sales in China are digital, but the market has achieved a tiny fraction of its potential," the report said.

"In 2010, China's overall music sales were worth only $67 million, making it a smaller market than Ireland."

Peer-to-peer piracy levels declined by 26% in France in 2011 after the implementation of strict new anti-piracy laws, IFPI said.