Camcorder crackdown: Japan makes it criminal

Ban on theater recording has teeth

TOKYO -- The Japanese parliament on Thursday passed a law that makes it a criminal offense to make a video recording of a film in a theater, a decision that the movie industry here has long been seeking.

At present, anyone found using a camcorder in a cinema can only be asked to leave the premises. But, as of the end of August, the Bill to Prevent the Unauthorized Photographing of Cinematographic Works will mean that anyone caught making a pirate copy of a title will face up to 10 years in prison or a fine of ¥10 million ($85,000).

The legislation, which is an amendment to Japan's Copyright Law, has been welcomed by the industry and the Japan and International Motion Picture Copyright Assn. -- which represents the Motion Picture Assn. in Japan.

"JIMCA and our member companies feel that the implementation of specific anti-camcording legislation in Japan will make it significantly easier for the police to interdict pirate camcording," JIMCA executive director Yasutaka Iiyama said.

"(Camcording is) particularly damaging because it typically occurs at the very start of the movie distribution cycle, affecting the economic opportunities for films throughout their commercial life," he added.

Piracy is less of a problem in Japan than other Asian jurisdictions, but the government is still keen to close any legal loopholes in a country that is known around the world for its technological prowess.

"Industry research shows that piracy cost the film industry in Japan 15% of potential revenue in 2005 -- an estimated $742 million," Iiyama said. "The economic and social impact of intellectual property theft is enormous and will have even greater long-term implications if not brought under control."

Of the total losses suffered by the industry, an estimated $216 million was losses to MPA member companies.