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Japanese publishing giant Kadokawa is known for aggressively responding to copyright violators. The company is currently conducting a massive lawsuit against Cloudflare, and court documents filed in the US show that Kadokawa is also willing to take action against smaller gamers, in this case seven people who uploaded manga to YouTube.
Every week, millions of online copyright infringement cases are discovered by copyright owners and their anti-piracy partners. In the vast majority of cases, the aim is to remove content or links to content.
YouTube and Google are usually quick to respond to such complaints by removing videos and search engine results respectively. In most cases, that settles the matter, but some rightsholders may have other things on their minds, including further punishing suspected pirates.
Manga piracy on YouTube
Last week, a Tokyo-based law firm wrote to YouTube demanding action against seven videos uploaded to the platform by seven YouTube users. The correspondence, sent on behalf of Japanese publishing giant Kadokawa, appears to be a standard DMCA takedown request for the videos listed below.
“We require that you immediately terminate access to the infringing work and cease all use, reproduction and distribution of the original work. Specifically, we urge you to remove or disable the infringing work from www.youtube.com and/or any of your systems or services,” the letter reads.
As far as we can tell, YouTube was quick to respond to the takedown notice. The YouTube links for the works cited (which appear to be videos of manga comics) return a page stating that Kadokawa filed a copyright claim and the content is no longer available.
This would normally suffice for most copyright holders, but there are clear signs that the manga publisher doesn’t want to stop there and may have more in store for the seven YouTube users.
Kadokawa goes to court to expose users
A day after the complaints were filed with YouTube, an attorney acting on Kadokawa’s behalf filed several documents in a California court. Citing takedown notices sent to YouTube regarding Kadokawa’s copyright infringement in manga publications, the company requested a DMCA subpoena requesting YouTube to release the identities of the seven alleged infringers.
“Kadokawa Corporation is seeking a subpoena pursuant to 17 USC § 512(h) to obtain information sufficient to identify the individuals who are infringing its copyrighted works. The purpose of this subpoena is to determine the identity of the alleged infringers. This information will only be used to protect rights under copyright law.
While DMCA subpoena requests are not uncommon, most aim to identify the pirate site operators involved in massive copyright infringement, rather than random YouTube users uploading content without necessarily understanding the risks.
Still, Kadokawa seems determined to uncover the identities of the seven, which should ring alarm bells given recent moves by Japanese content companies.
Civil and criminal cases are possible
As reported last summer, several YouTubers have been arrested in Japan for uploading short edited footage to YouTube. These so-called “quick movies” are regular movies cut to around 10 minutes in length, aimed at those who aren’t willing to invest a couple of hours trying to figure out what a movie is about.
Although this may sound relatively harmless, Japanese rights holders have filed criminal charges and several people have been arrested. Three people were later given suspended sentences ranging from 18 months to two years.
There easy Downloading Pirated manga copies are now a criminal offense in Japan, which can be punished with up to two years in prison. It cannot be ruled out that Kadokawa has some kind of criminal prosecution in mind if Google/YouTube releases the user data.
Kadokawa wants a lot of information
The subpoena request states that YouTube should release the names and addresses of the seven users, as well as their email addresses and phone numbers. The publisher also demands all of its access logs, including IP addresses, date and time, as well as credit card numbers and bank account details going back six months.
Kadokawa also wants to track how much money users have made from their uploads. It wants access to AdSense accounts and information related to monetization through YouTube’s affiliate program. From the information available, it does not appear that any of the users did anything with their uploads.
One account had its content wiped entirely, and another was terminated by YouTube for violating its repeat infringer policy. Others have view counts from around 72,500 up to 208,000, but that’s true for all content, not necessarily Kadokawa’s handful of manga comics.
Importantly, even charitable violations are considered criminal offenses in Japan, whether users upload content themselves or simply link to it.
In 2019, three former graduates linked to pirated copies of manga works owned by Kadokawa were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two years and four months to three years and six months.
The DMCA subpoena documents can be found here (1,2,3 pdf)