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Politics

Public backlash forces Japan to shelve bill on illegal downloads

Abe's party bows to young internet users ahead of elections

Illegal downloading of copyrighted content is hurting writers and publishing houses.

TOKYO -- The Japanese government and ruling party have decided not to submit to the current Diet session a bill cracking down on illegal downloads of copyrighted content as various organizations voice concerns about excessive restrictions.

Misgivings were strong among internet users and even copyright holders, worried that the bill would hinder internet freedoms. With upper house elections slated for this summer, LDP leaders concluded that passing an unpopular bill without adequate deliberations would spark a revolt at the ballot box.

The LDP's intellectual property strategy council and education, culture, sports, science and technology division urged the Agency of Cultural Affairs to rework the bill.

"The concerns of copyright holders and internet users have yet to be dispelled," Masaaki Akaike, head of the party's culture and science division, told reporters. "Anxiety is fueling more anxiety," he added.

The bill would greatly expand the scope of restricted content -- currently focused on music and videos -- to encompass manga, magazines, essays, animated works, and photographs and other still images. Routinely downloading such content, even for private viewing, could result in criminal charges.

The damage from piracy to Japan's publishing industry has been estimated at around 400 billion yen ($3.6 billion), and income for creators and publishers alike continues to dwindle.

Proponents of the measure in the government and the LDP have argued that copyright infringement would become even more rampant without tighter restrictions.

There are far more still images than videos on the internet, and downloading and saving online content is a routine practice for many users. Many professional organizations voiced concern that the legislation would restrict such mundane activities.

The Japan Cartoonists Association urged "careful and thorough deliberation" in order to make sure that the bill would not "lead to limitations on human rights," nor restrict research or artistic expression.

The Architectural Institute of Japan also objected, saying the bill would have a "considerable negative impact on information-gathering and communication for architectural surveys and research." Consumer groups, as well as groups of creators working on fan magazines and other self-published works, protested as well.

The pervasive reach of social networking platforms means that opinions on the internet could sway elections. Young people, who often determine the outcome of elections, in particular, are susceptible to online discourse.

Naturally, Akira Amari, who is in charge of the party's election strategy, was the one who spearheaded efforts to delay the submission.

"Trying to convert opponents would backfire, with misunderstanding creating more misunderstanding," Amari told fellow LDP heavyweights. "It's better to spend more time to make our case."

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