Copyright laws in Japan

Copyright laws in Japan is not a single concept. Japanese copyright laws consist of two parts: "Author's Rights", and "Neighboring Rights". Japanese copyright laws are similar to those of other countries. Japanese copyright law protects all works "in which thoughts or sentiments are expressed in a creative way, and which falls within the literary, scientific, artistic or musical domain". The laws automatically provide the following rights, without the need for formal declaration or registration.

Though moral rights themselves cannot be waived, the exercise of moral rights is often waived by contract in certain situations, such as when an employee or contractor creates a derivative work of her/his employer's or principal's product. Here, the moral rights would technically remain with the creator, but the creator would be potentially liable for breach of contract if he attempts to exercise those rights. The economic rights can be freely transferred or relinquished. If the author transfers his economic rights to another, the holder of the economic rights becomes the "copyright holder", but the author retains authorship.

Neighboring rights

"Neighboring rights" refer to the rights of performers, broadcasters, and other individuals who do not author works, but play an important role in communicating them to the public.


Artistic works: Artistic works located in public places can be reproduced freely by photograph, film, etc. However, the author's permission must be obtained before publicly exhibiting their work, and commercial reproductions of artistic works are not permitted without the author's permission.

Educational use: Teachers at non-profit educational institutions are permitted to reproduce copyrighted works for the purpose of teaching, as long as such reproduction does not infringe on the interests of the author.

News: Unless a newspaper or wire service article specifically states that it cannot be reproduced, free reproduction is permitted. Normally, copyrighted materials can also be reproduced to the extent necessary for reporting of current events (this extends to printed matter, film, and photographs).

Non-profit performance: Works can be performed or exhibited freely if the performer is not remunerated, and the audience is not charged an admission fee.

Political speeches: Political speeches and government proceedings can be freely reproduced, except when the intent of the reproduction is to create an anthology of the author's works.

Publication for the blind: Braille and audio versions of printed materials may be reproduced freely for the purpose of lending, but not for commercial use.

Quotation: Works may be quoted freely, as long as the quotation does not exceed what is justified for its purpose.

Software: Software can be reproduced for personal use.

As in many other countries, the term "public domain" is not mentioned in Japanese copyright laws, and thus, even though some materials are claimed to be "public domain", there can be some restrictions. Sometimes the term copyright-free is used instead.

Duration of protection

Works authored by an individual, under his own name or a known pseudonym, are protected for fifty years following the individual's death. Works authored anonymously or under an unknown pseudonym, as well as works authored by corporations, where the individual author or authors are unknown, are protected for fifty years following publication.

Copyright of Japanese films

Cinematographic works are protected for seventy years following publication (or seventy years following creation, if the work is not published). The law not applied retroactively. All cinematographic works published (or created, if not published) before 1953 are now public domain.

Neighboring rights apply for fifty years after the work is performed, transmitted, or put on sale.

Compensation system for digital private recording

According to the "Compensation System for Digital Private Recording" those who make digital sound or visual recordings for personal use should pay compensation to the copyright owners. This compensation is added in advance to the prices of specified digital recording equipment. The compensation is collected and distributed by Society for the Administration of
Remuneration for Audio Home Recording and Society for the Administration of Remuneration for Video Home Recording.

The users of this equipment and media has to pay a fee, or "compensation", so that they can use the described materials for copying the copyright-protected works.

Downloadable tunes for mobile phones

Tunes can be downloaded only by creating a user account on a provider's website, and agreeing with a click-wrap contract that allows a user to download a certain number of tunes for a fixed payment.

Right of communication to the public

The objects of the right of communication to the public are the activities of connecting a server to a network, and the activities of transmission (Fujiwara 1999, 98).

The Copyright Law defines the concepts, "public transmission" (Copyright Law, Article 2, paragraph 1 (7-2)), and "interactive transmission" (Copyright Law, Article 2, paragraph 1 (9-4)):

"Public transmission" means "the transmission of radio communication or wire-telecommunication intended for direct reception by the public". In order to deal with the new context of the Internet, the (already existing) concept of interactive transmission
(websites, video-on-demand, etc.) made a theoretical move, and is now considered as residing under public transmission (besides wire diffusion and broadcasting) (Japan Copyright Office 2001, 30).

Interactive transmission stands for "the public transmission made automatically in response to a request from the public" (read: in response to a click with the mouse on a hyperlink).

Article 23 (1) of the Copyright Law provides that "(t)he author shall have the exclusive right to make the public transmission of his or her work (including the making transmittable of his or her work in the case of the interactive transmission)". This can be considered an expansion of the right of public transmission of authors to the preceding stage of making transmittable, available
(Fujiwara 1999, 98-99; Japan Copyright Office 2001, 31), and even of a right of making transmittable that goes further than the WIPO Copyright Treaty (Ficsor 2002, 506).

In order to comply with the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty, a right of making transmittable was also granted to performers and phonogram producers. The scope here is especially to regulate the internet broadcasting of live performances (Fujiwara 1999, 98; Japan Copyright Office 2001, 31).

Copyright management business law

In November 2000, the "Copyright Management Business Law" ( was enacted. Its main purpose is to facilitate the establishment of new copyright management businesses, in order to "respond to the development of digital technologies and communication networks" (Japan Copyright Office 2001, 27).

Right of transfer of ownership

The "right of transfer of ownership" was established in 1999, in order to enrich the rights of authors. This means that authors, performers and phonogram producers can exercise their right concerning the transfer of the ownership of the original, or copies of the work, at the first legal transfer. After this, the right will be extinguished (Japan Copyright Office 2001, 32).

Right of presentation

Previously, this right was only granted to cinematographic work (Japan Copyright Office 2001, 32). It was extended to all kind of works, reaffirming at the same time, exactly as in the right of transfer of ownership, the importance of the notion of the author.