Amazon’s Tokyo Office Raided Over What Might Not Have Been Child Porn

News broke over the past few days that Amazon's offices in Japan were raided by police who sought evidence that the retailer was selling child porn, but the story is actually more complicated than that.

Due to the differing legal standards and social customs, this is a thorny issue which some might prefer to avoid.

So for the first and possibly the last time, I am adding a trigger warning to a blog post.

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Let's start with the obvious and possibly the most offensive detail: Until last year, possession or sale of child pornography was not illegal in Japan.

When the law changed, the way that pornography was defined in the laws created gray areas. This put some retailers, including Yahoo Japan, Rakuten, and Amazon in the difficult position of not knowing they had broken a law until after they are contacted by the police.

Bloomberg broke the news on the Amazon raid on Saturday with a report that was brief but reasonably accurate:

Aichi prefectural police conducted raids on the Internet retailer’s Tokyo headquarters and a distribution center in neighboring Chiba prefecture on Jan. 23, seeking evidence that Amazon Japan’s website may have been used by sellers to trade porn goods including photo books of underaged girls, Tokyo Shimbun reported, citing unnamed official involved in the probe.

Amazon’s usage rules “prohibit the sale of any illegal products through the company’s website,” Amazon Japan said in the statement.

 Photobooks and DVDs of scantily clad pre-pubescent girls -- part of an “idol” industry that generated $615 million from bands, models and starlets in 2013 -- were available in October at Japan’s three largest retail websites -- Amazon Japan K.K., Rakuten Inc. and Yahoo Japan Corp.

When Japan last year revised its laws to ban possession of child pornography, the wording left the so-called junior idol industry as a gray area. The probe of Amazon Japan may indicate police are now starting to crack down on mainstream retailers that have continued to carry the products.

Based on the several articles I have found, this is an accurate summary.  And that means that Amazon may or may not have been breaking the law.

While the content is offensive to an American reader, it was legal to sell in Japan until the laws changed last fall, and after that the content fell into a gray area.

“It’s extremely difficult to say whether these materials can be classified as child pornography,” said Ryoji Mori, an attorney at Cyber Law Japan Eichi Law Offices in Tokyo. “It’s obvious that the target audience is pedophiles, but the manufacturers have done it in such a way that it’s difficult to say if it’s illegal.”

The issue was sufficiently a gray area that retailers were checking with police in order to see if the content they were selling was illegal. For example, in November Yahoo Japan reportedly contacted the police about one of the questionable works and hadn’t been told that the DVDs violate anti-child pornography laws, according to Yoshinari Kaji, a spokesperson for Yahoo Japan.

That particular work (I decline to name it or describe it) had already been pulled from Amazon.co.jp at that time.

image  by OiMax

About Nate Hoffelder (11598 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

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