In January, a popular Japanese media outlet published an article concerning cosplay and copyright, which brought huge speculations among domestic and international cosplay communities. We had the opportunity to interview with a staff of the Secretariat of Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters, Cabinet Office, a Japanese government body responsible for intellectual property (IP) rights.
Could you tell us the series of events that led to the publication of the controversial article?
We appointed one of the most influential Japanese cosplayers, Enako, as a Cool Japan Ambassador at the end of the last year. Mr. Shinji Inoue, Minister of the State for the “Cool Japan” Strategy, had an opportunity to talk about it at a press conference. A journalist asked him about his thoughts on copyright issues around the cosplay culture. He responded that the government was not aware of any serious troubles yet, but he had heard that there might be some issues in the future as the cosplay population grows.
On 23rd January, an online Japanese publication service published an article on this question and answer. It connoted that the government would build new rule on copyright laws for cosplay and might restrict some cosplay activities. Many media outlets and influencers shared this sensational news along with their thoughts, and various speculations spread out.
What did you think about it?
Honestly, we were perplexed/puzzled. Since the Government of Japan is pleased that the Japanese cosplay culture has gotten popular across the globe, it is our position to encourage cosplay to expand more to the world as one of the most interesting aspects of Japanese pop culture. Minister Inoue would love to support the cosplay culture and encourage cosplayers. The government’s aim is not to restrict any cosplay activities.
What could be an actual issue between cosplay and copyright?
Generally, most cosplayers enjoy cosplay without worrying about any copyright issues but some experts have pointed out that cosplayers might violate copyright laws under certain circumstances. For instance, while our law requires cosplayers to obtain permissions in certain cases, our laws and regulations can be so complicated that cosplayers find it hard to decide whether they should apply for permissions or to whom or how. It is also worth noting that some of the popular cosplayers are often asked whether they hold official permissions to cosplay or not by third parties, which might make the cosplayers feel insecure that they are doing something wrong and start feeling scared, losing the fun in cosplaying.
What have you been doing about it?
We are currently conducting hearings and trying to understand potential issues. We have already connected with some anime production companies, publication houses, cosplayers, and lawyers until now. One of the facts we know is it is a complicated issue for content holding companies too. They do understand the passion of those cosplayers toward specific characters. However, some content holders are in a position to refuse the permissions as representative of content creators. On the other hand, some have official guidelines for secondary creation, including cosplay.
At the end of the day, whether or not to permit the cosplay characters depends on an individual company’s decision. Therefore, we keep considering what the government can and should do to help create a better environment for all stakeholders.
Various media predicted multiple activities to be restricted, such as sharing cosplay photos on social media or paid appearances at an event. Do you have any plans to make a guideline for these activities?
We know there are many ways to enjoy cosplaying. We believe that online sharing and social media have played vital roles for cosplay as a culture to spread out globally. At the same time, we recognize several unclear points from the copyright infringement perspective. Trying to mitigate such an uncomfortable environment for all stakeholders including cosplayers is what we are aiming at.
Due to various speculations and anxiety spread among cosplay communities, some cosplayers started considering not choosing Japanese characters for their cosplay. What do you think of this?
We believe this is an overreaction to a piece of misleading news. We hope that all cosplayers continue enjoying Japanese characters’ cosplay and share it with the world.
What do you expect from overseas cosplayers?
We hope that many people enjoy cosplay as a culture globally following the laws/rules of each country or the individual event they are a part of.
In general, it is ideal to establish an environment where all parties (content creators, contents holders, cosplayers and funs) cooperate to make cosplay culture flourish. Respects, ethics and manners are the vital components of such an environment. . When you think about the love the content creators put into their work, is it right for you alone to make profit out of a piece that someone else has worked hard on? The answer to the question could show you where you should stand. Hopefully, overseas cosplayers could also keep in mind that the content creators and holders should not deserve unpleasant feelings due to cosplay activities.
All in all, it’s great that many people over the world enjoy Japanese cosplay culture. We hope the global expansion will keep in the future. We hope everyone continues enjoying the art of cosplay, ethically and positively, without any worry.
You can find the official statement by the Government (Japanese) here.
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