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Japanese police launch probe into 'Mangamura' comic piracy site

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TOKYO/FUKUOKA -- The Fukuoka Prefectural Police force and other authorities are investigating the Mangamura website on suspicion of carrying pirated manga and violating the Copyright Act, sources close to the investigation have disclosed.

Fukuoka Prefectural Police and other law enforcers embarked on the investigation after receiving criminal complaints from major publishers. The estimated damage from the piracy on the Mangamura site, which was shut down this past April, and other websites is said to total hundreds of billions of yen, prompting the government to take countermeasures.

According to the investigative sources and those linked to the publishers, Kodansha Ltd. and three other publishers filed criminal complaints with Fukuoka Prefectural Police, Oita Prefectural Police and other law enforcers last year, claiming that the Mangamura site violated their copyrights. The complaints, which were lodged against an unknown suspect or suspects, were filed on behalf of manga artists who are copyright holders to the pirated works, including Hajime Isayama and Eiichiro Oda, known for their wildly popular "Shingeki no Kyojin" ("Attack on Titan," published by Kodansha) and "One Piece" (Shueisha Inc.), respectively.

According to an expert versed in internet issues, the domain of the Mangamura website is owned by a website production company based in the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. A closer look at the domain of a separate website created by the same company has led investigators to a U.S. company apparently set up by a Japanese man, who was possibly involved in the Mangamura website. Fukuoka and Oita prefectural police are also aware of the situation and are stepping up their investigations to identify the developer of the Mangamura site.

Following its launch in January 2016, Mangamura became enormously popular by word of mouth mainly among young readers. Since the website collected no fees from its readers, it is suspected to have been operated using ad revenue. The website became inaccessible in April, though it is unclear whether the operator voluntarily shut it down.

According to the Content Overseas Distribution Association (CODA), the Mangamura site was accessed approximately 620 million times between September 2017 and February 2018, leading the CODA to estimate that the copyright violation damage during that period amounted to 319.2 billion yen.

In April, the government asked internet service providers to block access to Mangamura and two other websites hosting pirated manga works. While some criticized the move, saying it could infringe upon secrecy of communication guaranteed under the Constitution, the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. group of companies announced its intention to comply.

The publishers concerned have been busy taking countermeasures against the online piracy, repeatedly asking the site operators to remove pirated comics. When reached by the Mainichi Shimbun, a Kodansha representative admitted that the publisher filed a criminal complaint, but declined to reveal who is its subject. Shueisha and other publishers also acknowledged that they have consulted with investigative organizations, but declined to disclose the details.

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