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Japan police arrest two for file sharing
( 2003-12-09 09:21) (Agencies)

In a rare police crackdown on Internet file-sharing, two Japanese men were arrested for allegedly disseminating movies and games with software that claimed to protect users' identities.

The arrests -- only the second such case in Japan -- could signal a shift toward harsh penalties for anyone caught trading copyright material online. The entertainment industry had encouraged the crackdown.

Software that allows anonymous file sharing gained attention this year as the U.S. recording industry shifted from trying to shut down the creators and promoters of file-sharing software to suits against the users.

The Japanese case demonstrates how difficult it can be to stay anonymous on the Internet.

The two suspects, a 41-year-old man who runs a business and an unemployed 19-year-old, were detained November 27 for alleged copyright violations using a "peer-to-peer" program called Winny that is available on the Internet for free. The program allows users to trade files without revealing their Internet Protocol address, the Internet's equivalent of a phone number.

Kyoto police spokesman Yukinori Kumamoto didn't say how police identified the suspects.

Winny is partly based on Freenet, a freely distributed program intended to bypass Internet censorship by making users anonymous.

Freenet's creator, Ian Clarke, said the two Japanese men were apparently caught because they used a messaging function in Winny that was not anonymous.

"In general, nobody should trust any (file-sharing) system which claims to protect anonymity unless its design has been independently reviewed," Clarke said.

The Japanese police investigation coincided with a criminal complaint filed by video game maker Nintendo Co., game developer Hudson Soft and the Japanese and International Motion Picture Copyright Association, he said.

The 41-year-old man posted two movies -- including the Academy Award-winner "A Beautiful Mind" -- on the Net, while the 19-year-old released Nintendo's "Super Mario Advance" and other video games, Kumamoto said.

Both confessed but neither has been charged with a crime, he added.

Police also searched the home of a Japanese software developer suspected of creating Winny, but refused to provide details.

A recent survey by Japan's Association of Copyright for Computer Software estimates there were about a quarter of a million Winny users in this country as of September.

The software industry group began lobbying police to rein in copyright infringers two years ago, when Winny surfaced after the first-ever arrests of suspected file-swappers here.

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