Japanese Police Arrest Three People for Uploading ‘Fast Movies’ on YouTube

Japanese Police Arrest Three People for Uploading ‘Fast Movies’ on YouTube
Pedestrians walking in Tokyo's famous Akihabara district, the epicentre of its retail anime and manga industry, in April 2020. In Japan, illegally downloading movies, music, manga, magazines, or academic publications can result in criminal penalties of up to two years in prison and a two million yen fine. (Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP, Getty Images)

Police in Japan have arrested three individuals for posting “fast movies” — entire films edited down to summaries of around 10 minutes or less, which anti-piracy groups claim goes far beyond fair use — in a first-of-its-kind crackdown, according to the Japan Times.

Miyagi Prefectural Police arrested three individuals (25-year-olds Kenya Takase and Nana Shimoda, and 42-year-old Takayuki Suga) on accusations they created fast edits of at least five films and uploaded them to YouTube. Police told the Japan Times this is the first time such arrests have occurred in Japan and that they had identified the suspects during a “cyber patrol” with the assistance of the Tokyo-based Content Overseas Distribution Association (CODA), an industry association that represents rightsholders.

Copyright law in Japan has historically been similar to the U.S. in that infringement was treated as a civil matter outside of extreme cases. But in 2012 amendments to the Copyright Act criminalised illegally downloading music and movies with up to two years in prison and fines of two million yen ($24,000), resulting in scores of arrests, and in 2020, it extended those penalties to unlicensed manga, magazines, and academic publications (largely at the behest of the country’s titanic anime/manga industry). Further amendments to copyright laws banned so-called “leech” websites which link to pirated content, with even harsher penalties for operators.

This is one of the strictest anti-piracy regimes in the world, though as TorrentFreak has explained, the law requires prosecutors to demonstrate factors such as repetitive, intentional, and malicious conduct that generally wouldn’t apply to casual downloaders. While Japan has fair use laws, CODA insists that the 10-minute recaps, which reveal a movie’s entire plot including spoilers, fall well outside those exceptions.

CODA told TorrentFreak that entire YouTube channels now consist of fast movies, often uploading hundreds of movies that gain millions of views and collecting ad revenue in the process. The group informed the site that the arrests were carried out under the amended Copyright Act and claimed the uploads were a “serious crime.”

“From June to July 2020, the suspects edited I Am a Hero and two other motion pictures owned by Toho Co., Ltd. as well as Cold Fish and one other motion picture owned by Nikkatsu Corporation down to about 10 minutes without the permission of the right holders,” CODA told TorrentFreak. “Further, the suspects added narration and uploaded the videos to YouTube to earn advertising revenue.”

CODA has previously told Japanese broadcaster NHK that total damages cited by the loss-holders amount to around $US857 ($1,099) million in the last 12 months, although industry associations have a long history of inflated estimates of how much they believe they’re being robbed of, and studies have generated mixed findings as to how much piracy actually affects sales. As TechDirt argued in 2020, criminalising copyright infringement can generate chaos and confusion, as content creators won’t necessarily know where the line is crossed and Japan’s law, in particular, is vague on the matter.

CODA further told TorrentFreak that it “shall co-operate with international enforcement partners to identify malicious account operators and consult with the police for successful criminal prosecution to wipe out ‘fast movies’.” It added it has not yet filed subpoena claims under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to identify uploaders in the U.S., but it will assist rightsholders planning to do that in the future. In the meantime, TorrentFreak noted the operators of a number of fast movie channels on YouTube appear to have mass-deleted videos.