Thursday, December 14, 2006

Winny Developer Convicted

Isamu Kaneko, the guy who wrote Winny, one of the most popular peer-to-peer file sharing programs here in Japan, has been convicted of enabling users to violate the Copyright Law act. The Kyoto District Court fined him 1.5 million yen (about $13K). He plans to appeal.

Winny was released in May 2002, while Kaneko was a research assistant at Todai (University of Tokyo), and Kaneko was arrested and indicted in May 2004. Two men who used his software to distribute copyrighted movies have already been convicted and given suspended jail sentences of a year.

Apparently the case hinged on some comments Kaneko made indicating that he knew his software was being used for illegal purposes.

One estimate is that Winny users still violate copyright at a rate that represents 10 billion yen (almost $100M) every six hours. There are also malware programs out there that leak information from PCs onto Winny, which has been the source of some of the serious data privacy breaches in the last few years.

One thing that seems remarkable about this case to me is that Japan has often seemed to have a rather laissez faire attitude toward copyright violation. American music afficianados know that imported Japanese CDs often sell for $30, and assume that someone is making a killing doing the importing, but in fact, that's the common sale price here. In response, sales are actually low; CD rental shops are more common than sales. Sales of blank minidiscs are correspondingly high -- guess what happens when that rented CD goes to someone's home? Copy-protected CDs are becoming more common here as a result.

Trademarks, especially of foreign companies, likewise are erratically protected. Fake goods are common, and near-imitations of trademarks that probably wouldn't past muster in the U.S. abound. Recently a very popular series of "one coin" 500 yen DVDs has appeared, containing bad transfers of bad prints of old movies (I admit, I watch them). The movies are all 50 years old or older, which is the copyright limit here, so they're technically not illegal, but I suspect in the U.S. the original studio would still attempt to make the DVD producers' lives difficult.

Until they pull them down, the Daily Yomiuri's articles on this are here, here, and here. (the editorial is titled, "Winny ruling spotlights engineers' moral duties").

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