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Two Book Scanning Services Lose Copyright Lawsuit in Japan

Interlock MCLS Digitization TourI have some bad news today for ebook lovers in Japan. The Tokyo District Court has handed down a ruling that says that a couple paid book scanning services (like 1DollarScan here in the US) violated Japanese copyright law.

Presiding Judge Shigeru Osuga has ordered 2 companies to pay a total of $14,000 in fines and stop scanning books. The companies, Sundream Co. and Doraibareggi Japan, have vowed to appeal the ruling and maintain that their actions were legal under Japanese law.

Today’s decision is yet one more step in a year’s long court battle. This lawsuit was filed by seven writers, including Jiro Asada, Keigo Higashino, and Kenshi Hirokane, but it is just one of a number of lawsuits that have been filed since 2011.

Seven major publishing companies and 122 writers publicly demanded in Spetember 2011 that a whole host of book scanning companies, more than 100 in total, stop scanning books. This service is known in Japan as jisui, which loosely translates as “cooking for oneself”, and it was rapidly growing to be a popular option for readers who wanted ebooks which weren’t available in the Japanese ebook market.

The companies typically charge a few hundred yen for each book and use commercial equipment similar to the one pictured below.

Interlock MCLS Digitization Tour

There are 4 other similar lawsuits going on at the moment in the Tokyo courts, and this ruling does not bode well for the jisui companies involved.

I have to say that I am puzzled by this decision. I had thought that the arguments made by the jisui companies made a lot of sense. They said they were working under the direction of their customers, and since the owner of a book has a legal right in Japan to scan that book the jisui service was covered under that right.

Unfortunately, the judge disagreed, saying in part that: "It is difficult for general readers to set up the equipment necessary to digitize their books. We do not view the situation as one in which the operators were carrying out reproduction under the management of their customers."

I’m not sure that I see what  the technical challenges of a scanning a book has to do with a book owner exercising their right to scan a book. It’s like saying that you can’t work on someone’s car because the average person lacks the experience and technical skills of a mechanic.

I would also dispute the idea that book scanning is beyond the abilities of the average reader. It is probably more work than they are interested in performing but that doesn’t mean they cannot do it.

Manichi Shimbun , The Japan Daily Press

image by bert_m_b

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Bob Bridge October 5, 2013 um 4:41 am

Keep in mind the significant differences in Japanese culture. For instance, your analogy to doing car repairs: in Japan there is no such thing as "DIY"…no Japanese male would ever deign to assume he could work on his car at home. This is a "technology" reserved for the professionals who are trained to do such things. (As a side note, there is virtually no "used car" business in Japan, no "second hand stores" and no "used goods buy and sell" — between people, a la ebay or Kijiji — as Japanese must have "new" everything or be somewhat shamed). No Japanese would ever do home repairs or install his own plumbing, or build a garage. There is little or none of this kind of thing AT ALL in most cultures around the world. It’s why we North Americans have established such a vibrant technical environment: we are all tinkerers, handymen, hobbyists, inventors, and amateur mechanics. Japanese are definitely not — only in the workplace does the average Japanese express his abilities. This differing point of view on who does what, why, and how, bears on the topic of book scanning. BB.

Hiroshi October 8, 2013 um 5:20 am


> As a side note, there is virtually no “used car” business in Japan, no “second hand stores” and no “used goods buy and sell” — between people, a la ebay or Kijiji — as Japanese must have “new” everything or be somewhat shamed

If you have ever lived in Japan, you would know that this is patently incorrect. There is indeed a very large market for used goods. Relevant here, used books is a great example. There are nearly countless used bookstores; so many that they are easier to find than a supermarket. Also, sites such as Yahoo and Rakuten are extremely popular for auctioning off used goods.

The average Japanese citizen may typically go to a used bookstore at least once a month, if not more. People under 40 who are familiar with the Internet often frequent web-based auction sites looking for a good deal on used items.

john levens January 6, 2014 um 10:14 am

I prefer to use book scanning services like since they offer to recycle the book afterwards. It doesn’t infringe on copyright since one medium is being traded for another.

Paul May 2, 2016 um 7:53 am

I scanned my own books for years. I simply wasn’t aware of how affordable scanning services were. If you invest in a scanner with an automatic document feeder then the labor isn’t too bad. I had a good paper cutter to remove the binding of the books. I did not have anything as fancy as the scanner in the photo above – I destroyed the books in the process. Before I got the automatic feeder scanner, I scanned by hand using a flat bed scanner but that is really a lot of work and gets old in a hurry.

Anyway – the point is that the basis of the judge’s decision makes no sense to me. I was in fact doing it myself for years and I’m not even that nerdy.

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