Category Archives: The Law

Anti-Immigration Is Anti-Eventer

In the USA, immigration is in the mind. The new President’s administration has all sorts of issues, but this one is a major killer as it affects, and very personally affects, not just those of us who travel overseas to events. I cannot count the number of students studying in the USA who came from abroad, and I love how they culturally enrich this country. More importantly, they make up a good number of the con population who travel for guests, so they are also my siblings-in-arms. It’s these people that make up the largest affected population segment, I think, which the changes to the US visa system affect.

Beyond that, the Trump Administration has hollowed out a lot of top positions in the DHS hierarchy and that will have a slowdown effect in terms of processing of visas and the like, as the new administration sort things out. This means if the Daisuki guys want to run that lovely Anison Matsuri this summer, they better get a jump on the roster so the paperwork can begin, if it hasn’t already started. Anyways it’s hard to speculate the impact on the rank and file process for applying for various vias at this time, let alone for another few months. I have to wonder how this impacts other cons?

When I landed in JFK terminal 7 this past Monday morning, it was below freezing. A handful of worried-looking people were at the international arrivals exit and there was a sign (in English) telling people where to find a lawyer. The newspaper-headlining protest crowds were absent, but it was also Monday morning, and not the weekends anymore. Still, it’s the kind of thing that may dissuade some folks from traveling to USA, even if it’s for an offer to come attend a con, just saying.

I think this sort of governance is so bad that it even hurts those anime-girl-headed turds that harass people on twitter, even if indirectly. It’s unbecoming and unfortunate.

Attitudes about Copyright


The preface here is that opinions are personal and I just happen to dislike the one kind of perpetrated here. I realize when you are dealing with concepts like Copyright and DMCA takedown notices it can seem mightily esoteric. But if I were to author (and I’m not qualified) a Dummy’s guide to best use copyright as an indie artist, this is not the tone I’d take. Of course.

That said, it is a pretty copyright-heavy approach to explain the tools of the trade. In fact if you understood what is infringement and what isn’t, all that’s left is the DMCA process which a lot of popular site has it automated or guided. If not all it takes is an email and maybe follow up. But that’s, in my opinion, heavy handed for an indie artist point of view.

Here’s the thing. Copyright is not a black and white deal. It’s different enough from stealing that I would avoid the comparison all together. It’s easier to think of it as correct or incorrect use and leave the value judgment out. Why? Because for indie artists using the internet as a way to make a living by using it to distribute their work, buying into the copyright framework that are crafted heavily in favor of the majors may ultimately be a policy negative for your livelihood. It’s the likes of Disney that wrote the rules that oversees the core framework that is part of the 1986 Copyright Act. If you don’t like how that company operates in terms of how they deal with artistic individuals, you might want to consider the rules these companies came up with to protect their intellectual property.

The leeway built into the typical Copyright regime allows each creator to do whatever they wish, ultimately. It’s not to say we should talk about Creative Commons or whatever in a piece aim to teach people what is left and what is right in the realm of Copyright law, but taking that perspective is a disservice. There has to be a more neutral one.

OK so my bones is basically the fair use part. Which the copyleft founders addressed over a decade ago. Which is ever the smaller slice today. Don’t even bother with unenumerated fair use. Just bullet out what uses are excepted and leave the four-factor test to lawyers. Because no matter how fair your fair use may be, if Disney’s high power lawyers targets you, they will probably win. If someone DMCAs your work, it will go down and you’re going to have a hell of a time trying to get it back online. Don’t even go into the “chilling” space.


  • DO NOT TAKE pictures words etc from other sites and say it’s yours, or use however you want because it looks good, etc. At the very least link back.
  • DO follow this Copyright stuff to the tee if you think it’s okay to hurt fellow indies for sake of the Man that’ll screw you over however they want whenever they want.
  • Good to learn DMCA takedowns but only use when you absolutely must.

One last thing: I wrote this reaction piece mainly as a data point in terms of how I have came to terms with the way copyright law has been shaped the past 10 years. In spirit, copyright legislation and jurisprudence have always been best viewed, IMO, as a way to regulate a subject, an industry. It’s not about rights (beyond the usual “ownership” BS, first sales stuff, and artists’ rights) as much as how to make a buck, and these giant companies that have made a fortune on top of it, versus the very things they were able to monetize–the creativity of individuals. I still firmly believe these things are not zero-sum; as in the copyright concept has a place. How it has played out just taxes my faith in how the alternative can ever be worse than this. I’m entirely open to other systems, but given the inertia we have in the present status, how any changes can go is beyond me.

Japanese Law and Fair Use: Com’on

Short answer is yes, fair uses exist in Japan’s copyright laws.

Long answer is: No, fair use is not a thing in Japan but–

now on ebay!

As a general guideline, US copyright law (I mean the totality: legislation, court rulings, common practices, etc) is a model for many WIPO signatories partly because US is the number one producer and exporter of copyright content, and by far more so once you count the dollars made on top of it. WIPO is the intellectual property organization that make sure laws defining things like copyright is compatible and fair among the countries so we can do commerce. How much they can actually do to enforce stuff is a good question not in the scope of this post. What is, is that Japanese copyright law (and I mean the whole system) is generally modeled after the US one.

Still, Japanese copyright law is different than US copyright law. The key thing is both are WIPO compliant. After signing the WIPO treaty member countries have a duty to make sure their countries’ copyright laws are compatible with WIPO guidelines. This means it generally follows certain guidelines when it comes to defining what is copyrighted, how to obtain copyright protection, and what the protection typically is. The exacts will vary but in general what works for USA will work for Japan in the basic sense, and vice versa. There are too many differences that are beyond the scope of what I want to explain so let’s ignore those for our purposes.

Second thing, we need a basic understanding of what defines “law.” Law comes from a bunch of different sources. In the US, that includes the federal and state constitutions, federal and state legislations, guidelines and rulings from regulatory bodies (like FCC and the SEC and your local state’s DMV for example), and other sources, but utmost important, the rulings from courts. In practice the US Supreme Court is the “highest” rule of the land because they have the power to reinterpret the US Constitution. In more practical terms, the US court system is a common law based one, which means there are a truck load of crap that are law but only defined by the courts. It’s the sign of a modern governance to codify common law into legislation (eg., turn what judge-made laws into actual laws on the books) but that only can go so far.

In our situation with copyright it’s about applying some rule of law and see what is or is not breaking the law. The tools (eg., rules, laws, past legal rulings, etc) available to a court to determine how to apply the rule to whichever situation is often not on the books, because they are just based on prior rulings on similar (but most of the time and ultimately different) fact patterns and non-exact situations.

So, thirdly, let’s define by what we mean when we say “fair use.” This is partly the confusion. There is a specific provision in the US Copyright Act that says as much. However, that (17 US §107) is not the totality of what is now well understood to be the US copyright’s fair use doctrine. The Wikipedia article is more than what you need to know here, but it’s important to realize we are talking about a legal concept rather than codified do’s and don’ts. It’s not just how it’s now codified but rather what has the courts been interpreting this common law concept and applying it. In the USA, fair use is just an affirmative defense against copyright infringement. It means you say “this is fair use” only when someone sues you. Just because you think something is fair use doesn’t prevent people from suing you, although if you get a judge to agree it might help you win the case. This means things like the average ero doujinshi is still copyright infringing works, and it’s up to a court to say that they aren’t before they truly aren’t. This much is true in both US and Japan.

In actual practice, fair use means we can do certain copyright-infringing things and it’s not an infringements. A good example of this is like making and selling those cheesy J-List t-shirts that are categorically ruled as parody, without paying any royalties to the copyright owners. (There’s also a trademark situation here but that is beyond the scope of this post.) Probably an even better one is making cosplay outfits.

The question is then, does Japan’s copyright laws allow these kind of behaviors? Kind of yes, kind of no. To rephrase what I said in other ways, Japan’s copyright law already baked some of these fair-use-y things into the legislation. The most relevant provision in the Japanese Copyright Act is the private use exception. Japan’s copyright act also codified some stuff not in the US one, such as the non-commercial exception or the press exception, but it would only make sense to include them as exceptions because of fair use reasons. So if the copyright act is going to allow specific exceptions that posits the same practical outcome, does “fair use” exist? As a legal concept, probably not. But as a general/practical concept, yes.

Here’s the difference. Fair use as a legal doctrine is not applicable in Japanese law (although it’s not far fetched to see a JP court or a particularly aggressive administration trying to push it. Sup. Mr. Aso?), and with that, they remove a huge ambigious aspect of US Copyright law that many countries also avoid–US is THE fair use state. It just means many of the well-established fair uses are codified in those countries with better legislatures (w) and it gives less power to the courts to rub one out to whichever way the wind blows at the time. The realistic view is that fair use as a matter of commercial predicator is shit. And I do not use this curse word lightly. The problem is until a court says it’s a fair use, and court rules usually on specific facts, how do you know if your use is close enough to the use presented in that court case? It’s such a major pain in the butt that it renders it largely moot for anyone who is actually trying to do something interesting.

So I guess there isn’t fair use as we American lawyers know it, but there are uses that are fair, based on the same reasons why it would be allowed in the US. In practice, yeah you can still do your parody or whatever with almost just as much legal protection in Japan as it you do in America. (Is parody legal in the USA? Yes and no, that’s several books of legal discussion in of itself. It’s certainly not codified. For those who think parody is legal, just go check out Penny Arcade’s “Strawberry Shortcake” situation for a practical example why it’s a lot more difficult to make money doing parodies than you think.) There are reasons why media companies employ huge teams of in-house lawyers on top of firms to do their heavy lifting.

And since I spilled my TL;DR let me go the next step and just say this is how I feel about “artist alley merch” that are basically a shade of grey from shameless copyright infringement. It’s one thing to do a limited print run, it’s another to make a living off it.  The whole “snarky t-shirt” industry can go die in a fire and I would not miss it… I mean, think about it, some poor kid goes to a con and buys some snarky shirts. S/he can spend a fair amount of money and none of it makes it back to Japan. What s/he ends up buying are visual signifier built on the IP, not because s/he wants to stick it to the Man, when s/he buys a shirt with a parody Che-face on it. Yaranaika?

In other words, just because the fair use factors are not codified, doesn’t mean they aren’t still at the heart of the determination of what is allowable, non-copyrightable use. And shouldn’t most what laypeople consider fair uses be non-copyrightable use in this day and age? It really shouldn’t be a defense against copyright infringement. It shouldn’t be copyright infringement to begin with.

Further reading:

  • Japanese government’s unofficial translation of Japan’s Copyright Act: 著作権法
  • Just googled up some paper pointing out how fair use rights vary between US, CAN, and JP in parody.
  • All those wikipedia links I put up there but mainly: US Fair Use, Japan Fair Use.

PS. All due respect to their quality work, ANN should get a lawyer on staff so they can cite an actual legal professional rather than just sounding like there’s some authority from someone who knows the law. That’s bush league and can even get you into legal trouble. It can’t be that hard to find a contractor this day and age, right?

PPS. This post has some inaccuracies. I tried to stay clear the details, because to get those right I need to do research and I just don’t have the time.

PPPS. It’s really about this and that. The one thing I omitted is how in Japan this is now criminal. Which in my opinion is serious bull-caca. At any rate, don’t say “there is no fair use in Japan” and then go talk parodies, because parodies are not even entirely legal under a fair use regime. Then again, don’t even say racist stuff?

Wizard Barristers: On Consent Searches

In the United States, the Fourth Amendment puts a limitation on what the government can or cannot do when it comes searching a private individual. TL;DR – what cops can or can’t do to take your stuff. And it’s actually not that hard to get a good grasp of what governs when can a cop take some evidence from you in order to use it against you in a government proceeding (read: trial/prosecution/hearing). The rule of thumb is probable cause. TL;DR #2 – is there a reason to be suspicious of you?

In Wizard Barristers, Cecil basically recites this in front of the two officers who wanted to look into her bag after learning that she’s a Wud. I’m glad Umetsu didn’t use “Wug” because HAHAHA. Aside from that, it kind of occurs to me that anyone who can spit back the general rule for consent searches in a spot like that is probably pretty cool. From a law nerd point of view. And she did it with just a couple sentences.

I mean I can’t do it.

Cecil & Familiar

That said, all I know about Japan’s laws in terms of consent searches is that they’ve modeled their constitution with part to the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution, which includes the Fourth Amendment. (See Article 35.) Which is probably why Cecil spit back the same legal rule (at least, in the Crunchyroll subtitles) as the American version of the issue.

You guys have your guns and tanks. I have my law stuff. Can I get a Penumbra-of-Rights-chan mascot? How about Ford v. Dodge-chan? But I guess since Cecil is just an average anime character, we have yet a long ways to go. By combining a crim-pro procedural plot and a magic sub-class of humans we are maybe half way there. Maybe the Butterfly partners (Chouno & Chouno?) have special powers regarding to law. That’s one level of meta that Umetsu can overcome for sure. It might be dumb, but I’m ready.

Episode one? It’s great, I like it, both jarring and unpleasant yet surprisingly fulfilling at the same time. This is the Umetsu that I know. It also takes the crown for the most “IT’S NOT FOR KIDS” anime this season in terms of the “ADVFilms” era of anime barometry. [Of course the most family unfriendly anime this season is Nourin.] So much for Watanabe’s new show.

PS. The site is kind of useful?

Wiley E. Importy, Or a Charitable Perspective

Kobayakawa Rinko

Rock, meet glass house.

Whenever people complain about dysfunctional Japanese DVD/Blu-ray prices, all you need to do is point to the myriad of American or European media goods that are sold for a fraction in other countries, and how publishers sue or threaten reverse-importers for those purposes. And sometimes it’s not even media goods…

The latest US Supreme Court decision basically affirms a first-sale right of legitimately produced foreign good for sale domestically:

In Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, the Court considered the “first sale” doctrine of copyright law.  This is a rule that means that when a publisher sells a copyrighted work once, it loses any right to complain about anything later done with that copy.  This is the rule that makes it okay to resell a used book to a used-book store, and for that store in turn to sell used books to its customers.

The issue in Kirtsaeng was whether the first-sale doctrine applies to copyrighted works manufactured overseas.  Kirtsaeng bought textbooks in Thailand, where they are cheap, brought them to the United States, and resold them at a large profit.  The lower courts said he couldn’t do this, and ordered him to pay damages to the publisher (John Wiley).  The Supreme Court disagreed.  The Justices said that the first-sale doctrine applies to all books, wherever made.  So even if you buy a book made in England, you can resell it without permission from the publisher.

Which is good! Because it would be sad if, I don’t know, J-List got shut down for something retarded. Oh wait, that doesn’t work. Actually, given this is a case on American copyright law, it doesn’t have anything to do with the situation where going to certain Akiba shops can score you FUNimation’s Spice & Wolf on Blu-ray, or anything like that, because that is solely the call of the Japanese government.

But that’s the internet armchair bandit version of the interpretation. The truth, as usual, is more like if companies can’t no longer forbid price discrimination along national/geographic boundaries, this is why we can’t have nice things. We’ve seen it happened once with Blu-ray when the US no longer sits in a different region than Japan, so dub-only BDs, hard-sub BDs, and in some cases, no-BDs, became the North American release. Does it suck? Kind of. What really sucks is that if a large company wants to sell cheaply to a poor and developing country, they will have to be wary of reverse-importers trying to make a shiny buck by undercutting and disrupting the home market. This may mean those guys won’t get to have a nice thing, too. And their nice things could be “college education” or “medicine so they don’t die.”

The narrative gets a lot worse once you consider that first sale doctrine applies to patents as well. This could mean cheap, patented drugs sold by big pharmas to poor countries at margin, could be reverse-imported for massive gain in the grey market, legally. And if you know anything about the grey market for drugs, well, you know how bad it can be. So does this kind of law actually serve society in a beneficial way? The irony is that Wiley (the loser/plaintiff) sold books cheaply in Thailand both because the cost of living just can’t justify the outrageous textbook prices here, but also it’s a humanitarian thing to do. It’s good to sell text book cheap to poor countries, to countries full of people who want to study but can’t afford to.

[It’s also kind of a head-turning moment when you realize why anime is cheap in America. I mean, Americans really are treated like third-worlders when it comes to this stuff…or are we? Anime does not cost significantly more here than most of East Asia, after all. Maybe there is something to paying more money for anime. Maybe there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way we value media, at least ones in print. Something to think about.]

The motives behind the decision, however, is sound. The idea is that the Justices simply interpret the law of copyright First-sale Doctrine this way to get the public (and more importantly, the rights holder) to think about changing the law via Congress. I think copyright is always something that should be revisited legislatively anyway; the overwhelming concept behind it is that this is a way for government to regulate the industry of intellectual properties, not some civil right or anything so sensitive. Given the climate of big tech getting their feet into the door of Capitol Hill, maybe now is better than ever before to hammer this copyright thing to fit the use for this millennium, because at least we’re slowly approaching parity of power, to not have the content-owner-tail wag the dog that is the rest of the world.

PS. More blogs should define its own self-citations…