An amendment to the Copyright Act of Japan took effect from 1 January 2019. The amendment aims to improve and expand the exemptions where copyrighted works can be used without a license from copyright owners. There were expectations when the Bill for this amendment was published last year that the exemptions may work similarly to the "Fair Use" concept under US Copyright Law. However, the actual exemptions are still relatively limited, and do not have the same breadth as Fair Use in the US. The new exemptions basically cover the three types of activities summarized below.

1 Use of copyrighted works where their use is not perceivable

Under the amended Copyright Act, companies will be able to record (reproduce) copyrighted works on databases so that the data can be used for the purpose of developing artificial intelligence (AI). Here the use will be permitted only so long as the AI uses the data for its machine learning purposes and the copyrighted work will not be perceivable when used. Further, copyrighted works can be used for the purposes of data verification, such as document search services and plagiarism checking services.

2 Ancillary use of copyrighted work on computers

Companies may also reproduce copyrighted works for the purpose of caching on computers or for backup purposes.

3 Insignificant use of copyrighted works in relation to computer processing

Internet search services are intended to be covered by this exemption. It has also been left intentionally vague so that it may cover new computer processing services that have yet to come into existence. The exemption may be relied upon so long as the use does not unfairly harm the interest of the copyright holder. The amended Copyright Act also provides various other exemptions such as: allowing easier access of copyright materials to persons with disabilities;

  • museums and libraries will have slightly more flexibility on use of certain copyright materials; and
  • some changes to treatment of orphan works where national and local governments will have more freedom to use such works.