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Japan Edges Slowly Towards Pirate Site Blocking

Hollywood’s Motion Picture Association may be finding an increasingly sympathetic ear in Japanese government circles in its call for Tokyo to enable blocking of pirate websites.

MPA chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin kicked off proceedings Friday at an annual presentation by the organization. As is normal at the gathering, he began emphasizing the economic impact on Japanese companies, of copyright infringing activity. But he quickly set the tone for the rest of the afternoon with his emphasis on site-blocking.

He said that 45 countries now operate site blocking legislation or regulations and that 93% of consumers in a survey are not opposed to the Japanese government going after infringing websites.

“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 that is not true. Site blocking simply does what the name suggests – it blocks illegal sites,” he said.“Give people the same protection (online) that they enjoy in the physical world.”

Japan’s Takayuki Sumita, secretary general, intellectual property strategy headquarters, part of Japan’s Cabinet Office, explained the current predicament in Japan. He explained how partial action against three infringing websites (Mangamura, AniTube!, and MioMio) from April this year had been effective, causing Mangamura to shut itself down.

But he also said that within his taskforce, discussion has been evenly split between those in favor and those against site-blocking. “Some see it as intrusion on privacy,” he said. But, he left the impression that the tide in Japan may have turned in favor of legislation.

What followed were two powerful presentations: by Brett Danaher, a professor at Chapman University; and by Tim Anderson, MD of Australia’s leading anime distributor Madman Entertainment.

An bubbly “professor of piracy,” Danaher supplied the afternoon’s technical robustness. He distinguished between “demand side action” such as asking Google to promote or demote certain search results, and supply side action such as shutting down the Megaupload.com in 2012, and suggested that supply side operations have more political and public support.

His analysis of Internet traffic showed how site-blocking can lead to increased legitimate content consumption—if the operation is against multiple sites. Using data from the U.K. he said that when Pirate Bay was blocked in May 2012, Netflix saw no benefit, because many users simply transferred their activity to other illegal sites. But a year later, in November 2013, when the U.K. ordered the blocking of multiple sites there was a 30% decrease in illegal access and a 12% increase in legal consumption. Further blocking in 2014 led to a 10% increase of usage of legal subscription and free sites.
Danaher said that site-blocking of multiple sites is also cheaper to achieve than attempted shutdown of even single sites.

Anderson – a major client of Japanese content producers – spoke from 20 years of personal experience. He said that global interest in manga and anime has never been higher. That can be witnessed from growing attendance at anime conventions and cosplay representstions of characters which have not yet been commercially exploited.

“Madman’s strategy is reduce or prevent access to pirate sites, and to provide legal opportunities (such as Madman’s own VoD platform Animelab), and to positively encourage fans to use legal sites,” he said.

Anderson said that Madman had joined with the MPA to block 77 piracy sites and that “in each case critics have been proved wrong.” “The checks and balances of a healthy legal system have ensured that (privacy is not infringed),” and that while VPNs still work, “site blocking has deterred a high proportion of casual users.” His most potent example was description of when Kissanime went offline for two weeks in 2015 for technical reasons. “Visits to our site went up by 250%,” he said. “Then we lost a lot of users when it returned. We retained some, leaving us with a meaningful increase.”

“Site blocking is essential and valuable, especially when combined with legal alternatives, and it needs to be continuous. It creates substantial additional revenue that is of benefit to distributors, and for Japanese content owners,” Anderson concluded.

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