Cosplayers breathe sigh of relief over copyright rules
MARIKO TAI, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO -- Negotiators from the 12 nations participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership were surely relieved to finally seal a deal. The arrangement also took a load off the minds of Japanese otaku, as the nation's legions of anime and comic fans are known.
The free trade pact, hashed out over more than five years, is to strengthen the protection of intellectual property -- to a degree that drawing or dressing up as a character from, say, "Dragon Ball" could lead to criminal charges. The original copyright holder would not even have to file a complaint; a third party could do so.
A summary of the pact released by the Japanese government on Monday confirms that copyright violations will be prosecutable even if the owner does not press charges. To the relief of otaku, though, the paragraph does not end there. It goes on to say that cases that do not affect the profitability of rights holders will be considered exceptions.
The summary sparked a flurry of celebratory Internet comments by the otaku-inclined. "The Japanese government cares about our culture," one individual wrote. "They gave us full consideration."
Another post expressed relief that Comic Market -- an event where about half a million manga fans sell doujinshi self-published comics and dress up as their favorite characters -- can continue.
Japan's otaku culture has flourished within a legal gray zone. According to current Japanese law, copyright violations can only be punished if the owner files a claim. Cosplay and fan fiction -- parodies of professional works that technically amount to infringement -- have rarely resulted in charges.
The big worry was that the TPP, in removing the need for a rights holder to get involved, would endanger otaku traditions. Many were afraid that they could be targeted by malicious third parties. When infringement charges are pursued in Japan, the consequences can be very serious: up to 10 years in prison or fines of up to 10 million yen ($83,142).
Not out of the woods?
Still, while the summary was an encouraging initial sign for cosplayers, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the TPP's ramifications. "I don't understand what, exactly, we can and cannot do," one person wrote online.
Concerns about Comic Market, or Comiket, persist. The event, held twice a year, is the world's largest manga and anime festival. It draws more than 550,000 people. Some self-publishers rake in 10 million yen in a single day.
"Selling small volumes of doujinshi or doing cosplay should be safe," said Ken Akamatsu, author of the "Love Hina" and "Negima! Magister Negi Magi" manga series. But the legality of "massively profitable doujinshi and posting edited anime videos remains unclear."
Otaku will have to wait to see how domestic laws take shape after the TPP comes into effect. In some countries, such as the U.S and South Korea, copyright violations are already punishable without a complaint from an owner. But the law books also allow for "fair use" -- limited exceptions for copying protected materials. This doctrine provides a shield for fan-driven events like Comic Con in San Diego and Anime Expo in Los Angeles.
"With the process of ratification and passing domestic laws in the Diet, it will take at least until next year for more details to come out," said Kensaku Fukui, who practices law in Tokyo and New York.