Japanese court throws the book at YouTuber who uploaded copyrighted game clips and spoilers: Two years in the slammer and ¥1m fine

(Image credit: YouTube)

In May this year we reported on the case of 52-year-old Shinobu Yoshida, from Nagoya, Japan, who in what may be a world first was arrested and charged for violating copyright laws, after uploading gameplay clips and other content. The prosecution was led by the Content Overseas Distribution Agency (CODA), which focuses on copyright protection, and Yoshida has now been found guilty.

Yoshida admitted to the charges at a hearing on August 2, and was sentenced on September 7 at the Sendai District Court in Miyagi Prefecture. That he pled guilty is not surprising given the facts of the case (he said to police "I knew it was illegal as I was doing it"), but the sentence may raise some eyebrows. Yoshida received two years in jail, with a five-year suspended sentence on top, and was fined one million Japanese yen ($6,785 / £5,450). It is the first time someone has been found guilty of copyright violations involving distributing game videos.

That sentence seems extraordinary, but CODA is shedding no tears. "Although he knew he was infringing copyright, he continued to post for financial gain," booms the copyright protection agency in a machine-translated press release, before going on to list the titles infringed upon: Steins;Gate: Hiyoku Renri no Darin, an animation of Steins;Gate, and the animation SPY x FAMILY.

CODA can barely disguise its disdain: "So-called 'fast content' with videos and narration was uploaded to YouTube. All of these are malicious cases of posting videos containing content and endings (spoilers) without permission from the rights holders, gaining a lot of access and unfairly gaining advertising revenue through copyright infringement."

"Fast content" in this context describes a popular video genre in Japan that condenses down a given work, anything from games to TV shows to movies, most often with captions and / or narration that explains things for the viewer. Yoshida's videos would also be considered netabare, its own niche within this genre of videos that show, detail, and explain endings or plot twists.

Coda calls the ruling "a major achievement" and says it's continuing to push this issue with the Japanese government. It really hates spoilers, returning to them at the end of its press release to say spoilers "expose the important core of a work with a narrative nature", and won't someone think of the rights holders?

Don't get me wrong: this guy clearly knew what he was doing was illegal, and he's copped to it. If you break a law, you should be punished. But this sentence puts me in mind of an Alexander Pope line: "who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?" Two years in prison is a hell of a stretch and, for an offense like this, feels extraordinarily excessive, and on the verge of cruelty.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."