Blocking of YouTube Videos in Japan

The blocking of YouTube content in Japan is part of an ongoing dispute between YouTube and many major Japanese media companies. As of early 2022, if a copyright holder makes a copyright claim for any anime-related content or footage being used, and the video complies with the Fair Use or Fair Dealing provisions in the US, the video can get geoblocked in Japan. Simply put, TotallyNotMark’s videos that contain anime content are no longer playable in Japan. This came after Toei Animation accused YouTube of allowing its users to host Toei’s audiovisual content.

According to the Japanese Copyright Act, it is unlawful under Article 119 to reproduce and/or distribute copyrighted material or create videos containing copyrighted content without the copyright holder’s permission, unless it falls under any of the exceptions and limitations listed in the Copyright Act. Fair Use in Japan is referred to as “Private Use” according to the Japanese Copyright Act and is a very narrow exception. Users can be held liable for damages when said law is breached, with it being punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $100,000.

Background

When YouTube first launched in 2005, its aim was to allow users to share their vision of the world, publish home videos online, or in some cases create their own independent films. Originally, the maximum allowed time for a video was 10 minutes. This was an effort to keep old computers normal, as well as to prevent spam and/or copyright issues. Unfortunately, mass piracy ensued after users realized they could break full feature films and/or TV episodes up into parts and upload them as separate individual videos in order to get around that time limit.

In the wake of all that piracy, YouTube began working with Audible Magic to develop a system intended to keep unauthorized uploads of copyrighted material off the site. Content ID was the result. While this started in the US, other companies globally including Japan began signing onto the Content ID program to do the same.

Effects

The internet is a blessing for the entertainment industry. Nevertheless, there are a number of problems that must be overcome, including restrictive copyright enforcement by JASRAC, as well as major record labels, animation studios, and even video game companies based in Japan.

When those companies realized YouTube’s popularity in the wake of all that piracy, a number of companies, including Toei Animation, Nihon Ad Systems, Nintendo, and many others were furious. They demanded laws that would protect their content. The Japanese government realized that YouTube was being used by a majority of the Japanese population, and this led to legislation and lawsuits.

In 2012, the Japanese government made illegal downloading a criminal offense. Since then, various people have been arrested for piracy-related offenses from uploading illegal content to YouTube.

Notable Incidents

  • In May 2019, YouTube received a subpoena from Kadokawa and Shogakukan after a number of channels illegally uploaded content from their published works on the site.
  • In 2021, three people were arrested for uploading 10-minute movie edits to YouTube in an effort to summarize feature films, causing over $3 million in damages.
  • In 2022, Shopro sued a New Zealand YouTuber over his anime parodies, demanding $800 in damages.

Reception and Criticism

Japan’s stance against this has seen considerable criticism from Google and other companies in and outside of Japan. This criticism has also led to protests, calling on Japan to legalize a better Fair Use doctrine in the country.

This has been a big issue for creators whose primary target demographics are the Japanese. Nonetheless, users have flocked to alternative sites including Dailymotion or Vimeo, as well as using VPNs to bypass these regional restrictions.

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