Earlier this summer Japan approved a bill that revised their copyright law to add criminal penalties for people who download copyrighted materials or back up content from a DVD. These additional criminal penalties will go into effect this October.
This new piece of legislature gives the government the ability to jail those who violate their copyright laws for up to 2 years and opponents of the bill are worried that it gives the government overreaching power because of the way it's written. It's very possible and likely that unnecessary prosecutions will take place because anyone can be investigated when it comes to illegal downloads, even though the law clearly states that the violator must be aware the content is copyrighted when they download it.
Ensuring that the violator knew it was copyrighted material could make actual prosecution difficult as the law doesn't necessarily tackle how the government will determine if the violator was aware or not. An upper house member who was opposed to the legislation said that the new law risks putting youth and the general public at the center of unnecessary criminal investigations, which could tarnish their records even if no criminal activity is found.
While illegal uploading and downloading of copyrighted material has been subject to penalties in Japan for years, up until now it was only uploaders who faced criminal charges: up to 10 years in prison. The law is written in such a vague way that even watching a YouTube video that contains copyrighted content could put someone in the middle of a criminal investigation.
The possible cost of pursuing such criminal investigations would likely limit the Japanese government in the types of cases they pursue – likely only the most egregious offenders – however, the law is written in such a way that allows them to pursue very small infringements as well if they choose to do so.
It's unlikely that this type of legislation will make its way into the U.S. piracy laws anytime soon, but any time that a law is passed that further regulates online activity it squeezes further into the freedom of speech category. Most believe that people who maliciously or knowingly distribute copyrighted materials should be held accountable, it's becoming harder and harder to distinguish between those individuals and those who are simply unaware of what they are doing. This could present large problems for any government who chooses to enact and pursue piracy to these extreme levels.