Japan Floats Extensive Web Regulations

New initiatives would target illegal downloads and regulate blogs for harmful content.

The Japanese government is considering new Internet and mobile phone regulations in 2008, including banning downloads of copyrighted files for personal use and requiring mobile operators to filter Web content for users under the age of 18.

According to the site Gyaku.jp, the government initiated a series of reports and recommendations throughout December aimed at regulating online content. By consolidating existing Japanese laws and regulations, the government hopes to extend control over a wide range of previously unregulated content, including blogs, bulletin boards and chat rooms.

"[The proposed rules] collectively touch on nearly every aspect of modern network communication in Japan and together indicate a significant shift in government policy vis-a-vis the Japanese cyberspace," Gyaku.jp reported.

All of the proposals are still subject to final approval by the Japanese parliament.

In the United States, Internet users are allowed to upload and download legal files. Although the Recording Industry Association of America has led a five-year campaign to crack down on illegal file sharing, a large portion of music downloads in the United States continue to involve copyrighted files.

Current Japanese law bans the uploading of copyrighted material to public Web sites, but permits users to download copyrighted files for personal use only. While the government and the Private Music and Video Recording Subcommittee of Japans Agency for Cultural Affairs support the new proposal, the majority of more than 7,500 comments received by the agency opposed the proposal.

Gyaku.jp reported that critics of the download proposal contend users already have difficulty in determining if a file is illegal even after the file is downloaded. In addition, the critics said, it is difficult for users to know if the site offering the download is itself legal. Japanese authorities, however, are proposing to issue watermarks or other digital signature techniques to identify legal sites.

"This approach brings with it many new problems; most critically, it would mean that every site not bearing the approved mark would be considered illegal, a blanket policy many consider extreme," Gyaku.jp reported.

Under the proposal, online content considered to be "harmful" will be subject to removal or correction by the Japanese government. The standards for what is harmful and the possible penalties for posting the material would be determined by an independent authority.

In response to complaints from parents, the Japanese government in December ordered mobile carriers NTT Docomo, KDDI, Softbank and Willcom to begin implementing mobile phone filtering for minors. Mobile phone online filtering already is available by the Japanese carriers, but according to Gyaku.jp, few use the option.

The proposed regulations would strengthen existing policy by requiring online filtering to be the default setting for phones intended for minors. The filtering could be turned off with the explicit request of the minors patent or guardian.


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