Tokyo: MPA Urges Japan to Adopt Site Blocking in Piracy Battle

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Charles Rivkin

The 8th MPA-Tokyo Film Fest seminar addressed digital IP protection, with a focus on blocking access to web sites hosting pirated content.

On Thursday at the Tokyo International Film Festival, the Motion Picture Association pushed for an anti-piracy site blocking policy in Japan, where concerns about the constitutionality of such measures have so far prevented its adoption.

Speaking at a seminar at the Tokyo festival market TIFFCOM, MPA head Charles Rivkin pointed out that the Asia-Pacific region's box office had grown 44 percent over the past five years to $16 billion, but insisted “online piracy is threatening this industry.”

“The best way to address this illegal activity … is to ask service providers not to allow access to these websites through a remedy known as site blocking,” he said. Rivkin also noted that “there have been some misconceptions about site blocking here and around the world, that it opens people up to having their personal information breached and shared. But I want to tell you today that that is not true. Site blocking simply does what the name suggests — it blocks illegal sites.” 

Rivkin also noted that 45 countries now use site blocking, “and it works,” he added, before citing a recent survey in Japan that showed 93 percent of people are “not opposed to the Japanese government taking actions against these websites.”

At the 8th MPA-TIFF seminar on Friday, the focus again was on site blocking, with speeches from academics and industry figures, as well as a panel discussion on the topic. 

"Attitudes against theft are historically very harsh in Japan, but piracy is not seen as really stealing. … We need to close that gap," said attorney Tomohiro Tohyama, moderator of the panel.

Brett Danaher, professor of economics and management science at California's Chapman University, presented academic research results on the effectiveness of site blocking in various countries around the world.

Tim Anderson, managing director of Australian anime distributor Madman Entertainment, talked about finding his own child watching pirated content online and having to explain the damage it does to creators and the industry. Site blocking was useful to people who unintentionally access websites hosting pirated content, suggested Anderson. 

Former Japanese trade and economy minister and current IP strategy committee chairman Akira Amari delivered the final speech, during which he noted the lack of stars at the festival's opening the previous evening, blaming it on the high cost of private jets for Hollywood guests, "like Tom Cruise."

Amari acknowledged the problem of digital piracy, but said there was opposition to a site-blocking policy in Japan due to questions about the constitutionality of restrictions on freedom. 

Asia-Pacific MPA head Michael C. Ellis closed the event with a final plea, saying: "I want you to have three takeaways on site blocking: It works, it works, it works."