Copyright and Comics in Japan: Does Law Explain Why All the Cartoons My Kid Watches are Japanese Imports?

Copyright and Comics in Japan: Does Law Explain Why All the Cartoons My Kid Watches are Japanese Imports?

Mehra, Salil, "Copyright and Comics in Japan: Does Law Explain Why All the Cartoons My Kid Watches are Japanese Imports?" . Rutgers Law Review, Forthcoming

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    The growth and development of a major Japanese export - comics and related products, including animated cartoons and so-called "character goods" such as trading cards, lunchboxes, etc. - has occurred simultaneously with the development of very large, openly-held markets for what would appear to be books and products that infringe copyrightholders' interest in these well-known characters. While many infringers are judgment-proof small timers, those who operate the markets and bookstores that trade these wares are often for-profit and even publicly-traded corporations. Although actions for both infringement and contributory infringement are clearly winnable under existing Japanese law, up until now they have been rare. It appears that for a variety of reasons - such as reputational consequences and relatively low (reasonable royalty) damage awards - it is not economically rational to bring these suits. Interestingly, many observers believe that the vibrancy of these markets for infringement has created numerous innovations and fostered the emergence of talented artists who have benefitted the industry as a whole. The relatively weak legal regime in Japan, noted widely elsewhere, appears to have by chance solved a collective action problem and prevented the interests of a few copyrightholders from inhibiting the growth and development of the industry as a whole.

    Keywords: Japan, copyright, comics, manga, dojinshi, damages, infringement, collective action

Facts on copyright

  • Copyright concepts are perceived to be under challenge in the modern technological era, from the increasing use of peer to peer filesharing, to the downward trend in profits for major record labels and the movie industry. Public interest groups and industry and alike are entering the public education system to teach the curriculum from their perspectives.
  • Copyright subsists for a variety of lengths in different jurisdictions, with different categories of works and the length it subsists for also depends on whether a work is published or unpublished. In most of the world the default length of copyright for many works is either life of the author plus 50 years, or plus 70 years. Copyright in general always expires at the end of the year concerned, rather than on the exact date of the death of the author.
  • In the United States the AHRA (Audio Home Recording Act Codified in Section 10, 1992) prohibits action against consumers making noncommercial recordings of music, in return for royalties on both media and devices plus mandatory copy-control mechanisms on recorders.

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