Movie makers say 10-minute summaries hurt their bottom line.

On 23 June Miyagi Prefectural Police announced the arrest of two men and one woman for uploading a fast movie to YouTube in July of last year. “Fast movie” is the Japanese term for those movie summary videos with titles like “Such-and-such In 5 Minutes”, where heavily edited clips or still images of an entire film are put together and narrated with a voice-over or subtitles.

▼ Normally, here I’d put an example of one of the hundreds of fast movies up on YouTube now, but I’m too pretty to go to jail, so here’s a Cup Noodle commercial I really like instead

This is the latest incident that demonstrates how copyright infringement in Japan is a criminal offense that could result in prison time. Back in the days of widespread P2P file sharing, scores of people were arrested for uploading and sharing copyrighted material as was the creator of Japan’s largest P2P software Winny.

The advent of YouTube made tracking down uploaders a little more straightforward. In this case, the Japanese trade group Content Overseas Distribution Association (CODA) sought a court order in the United States to get the identities of the fast movie uploaders from YouTube. CODA then handed over the information to the Miyagi Prefectural Police, who oversaw the arrests.

▼ A news report showing two of the suspects getting arrested

Most comments online seemed to feel that those who infringe on copyrights need to be taken to task, but some raised the question of whether a fast movie was a serious enough case of infringement.

“That was a fast arrest.”
“YouTube is full of these things.”
“If they are using the movies to get ad revenue then it’s wrong.”
“I’ve seen some of these videos and get why the movie companies are upset. After watching them I don’t really see a need to watch the actual full movie.”
“There is a case that it damages the movies, but in another way it promotes them too. It’s not so clear-cut.”
“I watched a fast movie yesterday. I’m ashamed to say that I’m not going to bother watching the movie now.”
“After watching fast movies, don’t people feel like they want to see the whole thing?”
“Wow, did those people even get a warning first?”

Like in other countries, Japan has “fair use” laws that – while somewhat vague – try to balance the protection of intellectual property with the importance of creative expression and cultural growth.

For example, using copyrighted material for non-profit educational purposes would most likely be fair use but posting a full copyrighted movie on YouTube while collecting ad revenue for it will almost certainly lead to handcuffs if caught.

Most cases tend to fall somewhere in between those two extreme examples though, such as fast movies. The criteria for fair use are usually: size, purpose, creativity, and harm.

▼ For example, Mr. Sato‘s cosplay is so bad and hard to look at that it does no harm to the copyright holder of… Uh…

According to NHK, the video in question was 10 minutes in length, which is a little longer than a lot of video movie recaps and roughly 10 percent of a feature film’s length. And considering the purpose of the fast movie is to explain the entire plot from beginning to end, CODA could make a strong case that it causes significant harm to filmmaker’s profits.

According to one film and anime trade group survey, there were 2,100 fast movies posted by 55 accounts in the past year. They estimate that this resulted in damages of 95.6 billion yen (US$862M) at a time when the film industry was struggling with the pandemic.

Without seeing the actual video, it’s impossible to judge if it demonstrates enough unique creativity to be considered fair use, but considering it appears to fall short on the other three factors, it would be an awfully high bar to clear.

In the end, it all boils down to the opinion of the copyright holder and whether they feel use of their property crosses a line. So when in doubt, do what top cosplayer Enako does and ask them, otherwise use it at your own risk, especially in Japan where penalties can go as high as 10 years in prison.

Source: NHK, Itai News, Agency for Cultural Affairs, CRIC
Top image: Pakutaso
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