Japanese ISPs Agree to Shut Down Illegal File-Sharers

Japan’s four major Internet service provider (ISP) organizations have agreed to cut off Internet access for users who repeatedly copy gaming software and music illegally online.

The organizations, which include the nation’s Telecom Service Association and the Telecommunications Carriers Association, represent about 1,000 large and small domestic providers, Daily Yomiuri Online reported on Saturday. Accordingly, the measure will be the first such industry-wide attack on copyright violators in the country, it said.

As soon as next month, the groups plan to form a panel including also copyright organizations such as the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers and the Association of Copyright for Computer Software, the Daily Yomiuri reported. Part of that panel’s agenda will be developing guidelines for disconnecting repeat copyright infringers from the Internet, it said.

E-Mail Warnings

Some 1.75 million people in Japan are estimated to use file-sharing software such as the popular “Winny” peer-to-peer program, and most of the files exchanged using the software are believed to be illegal copies, the newspaper said.

In 2006, one of Japan’s major ISPs attempted to introduce a measure to disconnect users from the Internet whenever it detected the use of Winny or other file-sharing software, but it abandoned the idea after the country’s Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry warned that it might result in privacy violations, the paper said.

Under the new agreement, copyright holders will use “special detection software” to identify people who repeatedly make copies illegally, and then notify the appropriate ISPs, the Daily Yomiuri reported. The ISPs will first send warning e-mails to the users in question; if the illegal copying doesn’t stop after that, the providers will either temporarily disconnect their Internet access or cancel their contracts altogether, it said.

‘Huge Importance’ Globally

It remains to be seen exactly how the agreement will play out in Japan, but the measure has made many wonder if similar efforts could be undertaken in the United States or elsewhere around the world, where content owners have also been struggling to find ways to enforce copyrights.

“Obviously, the issue of ISP responsibility in dealing with the piracy on their networks is one that’s of huge importance to us globally,” Neil Turkewitz, vice president of international affairs for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), told TechNewsWorld. “It’s great to see the parties involved reach an agreement, because that’s certainly the way we’d like to see things resolved.”

Increasingly around the globe, societies are beginning to realize that willful blindness to piracy can’t be accepted — “there has to be some kind of a response,” he said.

Government intervention is “complicated” in such a continuously changing environment, but what is useful is for government to be willing to engage in order to get the parties involved to reach an agreement, Turkewitz said. “It’s just not socially responsible to say ‘it’s not my problem,'” he added. “ISPs are not unaffected third parties.”

‘Land Mines Everywhere’

Whether the answer is termination of repeat infringers, such as what’s been embraced in Japan, or filtering traffic or other kinds of network management, “the jury is really still out on what’s the best way of addressing it,” Turkewitz said. “There are land mines everywhere, and it requires very careful and thoughtful discussion to figure out how to maneuver in this space.”

However, what’s most important now, he added, is that everyone agree that something must be done.

“We’re at a moment in time when the critical thing is that all of the parties start talking to find a resolution to this issue, and to understand that there has to be something,” he explained. Otherwise, “we’re on a course that’s not tenable — from a copyright standpoint or from a society standpoint. We can’t tolerate a medium that admits of no rules.”

‘Worrisome’ Effort

The Japanese effort is “worrisome,” but not as troubling as proposed efforts to undertake “deep packet filtering” to scan e-mailed content, Jim Burger, a partner and copyright attorney with Dow Lohnes, told TechNewsWorld.

“This does cause me some concern, because it’s sort of like saying ‘you did something wrong, so now you can’t get mail anymore,'” Burger noted. “The Internet is now such a part of our daily lives that cutting off access is not a minor thing to do.”

Piracy is clearly not tolerable, he added, but what makes efforts like this one tricky are that they do not involve judicial due process. “It’s hard, because you’re talking about the private actions of companies — it’s not a government action,” he explained.

“ISPs shouldn’t be put in the middle here — there’s a judicial process that can be followed,” he added. “The interesting thing is that this is going to make the ISPs look like the bad guys.”

In the United States, however, the content industry seems to be more focused on promoting filtering approaches, Burger said. “I’m more worried about filtering, but in some ways both approaches are symptoms of the same thing — pushing responsibility onto somebody else.”

‘Very Extreme’

Illegal file-sharing is a growing problem, and something must be done to stop it, telecom industry analyst Jeff Kagan told TechNewsWorld.

The effort by Japanese ISPs “takes it right down to the user level,” Kagan noted. “I think this is very extreme, but it may be an effective level of combat.”

Whether such an effort could work in the United States is not clear, Kagan added. “We are such a lawsuit-happy society, I am sure it would be a bumpy road in the beginning,” he said. “The question is what would the final verdict be. This will be an interesting one to watch.”

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