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Japanese studios fight back against pirates uploading 10-minute ‘fast movies’

Japanese film production companies have launched a civil lawsuit claiming copyright infringement against people who have condensed their feature films into 10-minute “fast movies” that are popular with younger viewers.

Thirteen leading companies including Toho, Toei Company and Shochiku filed a civil lawsuit with a Tokyo court on Thursday alleging that three people had created shorter versions of their films and uploaded them to YouTube without consent to generate advertisement fees.

The lawsuit, launched by the companies behind hits Shin Godzilla and zombie film I Am a Hero, highlights how Japanese studios are becoming more aggressive in making copyright claims.

“Most companies usually give up filing a lawsuit after considering the effort and cost of the action,” Koichi Oyama, one of the attorneys acting for the studios, told the Financial Times.

But studios were fearful that the fast movies were stealing the attention of viewers, he said. “The audience does not come back to original works and revenue is not returned to the copyright holders.”

The companies are seeking ¥500mn ($3.9mn) in damages. The three individuals have already been convicted in a criminal case last year in connection with violating copyright law. They pleaded guilty during the criminal trial. They could not be reached for comment.

In Japan, the number of “fast movie” videos — movies condensed into approximately 10-minute clips that often have narration and are popular with young viewers — has skyrocketed since the Covid-19 pandemic.

As of June 2021, fast movies were watched almost 480mn times on YouTube, with damages estimated to amount to ¥95.6bn, according to the Content Overseas Distribution Association, a Tokyo-based anti-piracy organisation.

Japanese movies have been popular fodder for fast movie creators because studios are less likely to claim damages in contrast with American companies.

The defendants said in the criminal trial that they had checked the number of lawsuits filed by film production companies when deciding which videos to create, according to CODA.

Masayuki Saito, a media content analyst at Mizuho Bank, said the latest lawsuit could deter pirates from uploading fast movies for Japanese consumers. “This case could be precedent-setting,” he said.

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