Legal protection from generative AI in Japan

May 11, 2023

In the April 29, 2023 article, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that a group of creative artists met with government official to discuss legal protections from generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT, as Japanese regulations are considered to be the loosest among advanced nations.[1] Particularly, artistic works can be used to “train” AI models with almost no conditions in Japan, which raises concerns among illustrators including manga artists, musicians, and other creatives. In the meeting, the group told the official that using copyrighted material to train AI without permission was “having a negative impact” on their activities.

Additionally, the group raised other issues that Article 30-4 of the Copyright Law, which permits the use of a copyrighted work for machine learning, does not include procedures for gaining permission in advance from copyright holders. The article permits the use of copyrighted material such as text and images to train AI, regardless of whether the model is for commercial use. Under the current law, it is legal to train AI with copyrighted material even if the data was obtained illegally. The article contains a provision stating that such material cannot be used if it would “unreasonably prejudice the interests of the copyright owner,” but there are only limited examples provided to describe the “unreasonable prejudice.”

Other developed countries have different rules.

In 2019, the European Union made it possible for copyrighted works to be used for academic research purposes. The EU also issued a directive that ordered member nations to take steps including establishing a system to give right holders the ability to opt out of having their works used for purposes other than academic research. France, Germany, and other nations have introduced provisions based on this directive in a bid to protect copyright holders.

In the United States, fair use doctrine of copyright law allows copyright-protected works to be used in some circumstances. In January 2023, artists filed a lawsuit against developers that allegedly used hundreds of millions of artworks to train their AI models. 

According to copyright expert, Prof. Makoto Nagatsuka of Hitotsubashi University, Article 30-4 of the Copyright Law (in Japan) is peculiar among the laws of advanced nations because, among other things, it does not differentiate between commercial and noncommercial use.

It is likely that there will be more people who “train” AI to produce “new” works based on the copyrighted works. It will be suggested that the current Japanese Copyright Law will be reviewed based on the upcoming technologies and be revised to adjust to correctly protect the right holders and navigate future users of the AI and new technologies like AI.

[1]Copyrighted Works Get Flimsy Protection from AI Under Japanese Law,” The Yomiuri Shimbun, published on April 29, 2023, PDF retrieved on May 8, 2023.