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Voluntary web-blocks in Japan lead to litigation

By | Published on Monday 30 April 2018


A Japanese internet service provider last week announced that it would voluntarily block its customers from accessing a number of piracy websites. This came after the country’s government urged such action while it considers how to formally instigate web-blocking as an anti-piracy measure. However, now said ISP is being sued over allegations that those very web-blocks breach Japanese privacy laws.

Web-blocking, of course, has become an anti-piracy tactic of choice for the entertainment industry in many countries, with ISPs being ordered to block access to sites deemed to undertake or facilitate copyright infringement. In some countries specific web-blocking systems have been put in place, whereas in other jurisdictions – like the UK – the courts just started issuing web-block injunctions under existing copyright rules.

Earlier this month the Japanese government said it also favoured web-blocking as an anti-piracy measure. While ministers work out what legal framework might enable such a thing, internet firms were encouraged to act voluntarily against certain piracy sites, in particular platforms that facilitate the illegal sharing of manga and anime.

Responding to that, ISP NTT last week announced “short-term emergency measures until legal systems on site-blocking are implemented”. Those measures have seen sites highlighted by the government blocked.

When the Japanese government announced its web-blocking plans earlier in the month, some questioned whether blockades of that kind might breach privacy and free speech rights contained in the country’s constitution.

Now lawyer Yuichi Nakazawa, also an NTT customer, has gone legal accusing the net firm’s measures of being in breach of privacy law. In legal papers filed with the Tokyo District Court, Nakazawa says that the blockades in essence require the net firm to spy on their customers’ internet activity, which is not allowed under privacy rules.

The lawyer is quoted by Torrentfreak as saying: “NTT’s decision was made arbitrarily… without any legal basis. No matter how legitimate the objective of [stopping] copyright infringement is, it is very dangerous”. He adds that the “freedom” being threatened is “an important value of the internet”, and therefore legal action was appropriate to protect it.

In addition to potentially breaching constitutional rights and the country’s telecommunication laws, Nakazawa reckons the web-blocks may also put the ISP in breach of his contract with the company.

The lawyer goes on: “There is an internet connection agreement between me and NTT. There is no provision in the contract between me and NTT to allow arbitrary interruption of communications”.

It remains to be seen how NTT responds to the litigation, but it will surely put other ISPs off the idea of acting voluntarily on this, while piling pressure onto lawmakers to provide a clear legal framework regarding web-blocking in the country. Though they too will have to find a way of making such measures compliant with the constitution.