Japan: Mixi in hot water over terms of use revision

Japan's hugely popular social networking site Mixi is in hot water this week after news [ja] that a proposed revision to its Terms of Use (ToU), to become effective as of April 1st, will force its users to agree to grant Mixi no-royalty, non-exclusive rights over all content published on the site, retroactively applicable to all content uploaded before the changes to the ToU. This means that Mixi can potentially use any content on its servers (including messages sent through its messaging service), ignoring access controls on such content, and potentially profit from it.

Mixi (photo by Flickr user purprin)

Blogger fukamimi translates the most controversial part of revisions to the ToU, Article 18:

By agreeing to the ToU (which all users implicitly do by continuing to using the service):

1. Users grant Mixi a no-royalty, non-exclusive rights (of replication, broadcasting, public transmission, display, distribution, translation, alteration, etc) to any content uploaded onto Mixi servers.

2. Users agree not to assert their moral rights against Mixi. [Moral rights include the right of attribution, the right to have a work published anonymously or pseudonymously, and the right to the integrity of the work. source:Wikipedia]

(Or as Matt Alt at AltJapan put it: all your content are belong to us.)

Response to revision was swift and decisive, with forums [ja] and blogs [ja] expressing everything from confusion to outrage. While Mixi has since posted a note (viewable only to Mixi users) stating that it has received many comments and is currently investigating possible changes to the above clause, this may not be enough to stem the flow of users leaving its service. Blogger tek_koc writes:


What the above says in plain words is that mixi may use any text or photos published on mixi as it pleases, for example to make books, etc. And on top of that there is no compensation, and the work can be changed.


Taking a look at people's online diaries through the community, you can see there are really a lot of people who write passionately.


Original work by [people] aiming to become novelists, one's own illustrations, private affairs, interesting long articles like those on text sites, there are a great many of these.


While looking at these kinds of things, I always thought to myself that it would be better to do this in a blog or a website, but it's none of my business so I shut my mouth and didn't say anything. But now that mixi has again made these kinds of rules, I will say it loud and clear. Writing serious things in a mixi diary is a terrible waste.

Many bloggers speculated on possible profit-driven motives for the revision to the ToU, some questioning the wisdom of a money-making strategy based on selling “crowdsurfed crowdsourced content”. Blogger k-ino picked out three main reasons for the move:


Why has mixi suddenly taken this action? Here are some possible thoughts:
  1. 広告ビジネスの次を目指して、人気のあるコミュニティの内容などで儲ける。
  2. 未成年の飲酒喫煙など、問題が生じる日記の削除が目的
  3. コンテンツを抱え込みたい
  1. Aiming at the next stage after the advertising business, they hope to earn money from the contents of popular communities.
  2. They aim to eliminate [online] diaries that create problems such as those of underage drinking and smoking.
  3. They want to hold and dominate [online] content.

Well-known lawyer and blogger Ogura Hideo (小倉 秀夫) [ja], meanwhile, blogging at benli, cites various parts of Japan's Copyright Law in tackling legal aspects of the controversial revised agreement:


One of the things that worries me in all the noise about mixi is that there is a common misunderstanding about “kōhyōken” (“Right of making the work public”).


The kōhyōken states that: “The author shall have the rights to offer to and to make available to the public his work which has not yet been made public (including a work which has been made public without his consent; the same shall apply in this Article).” (Copyright Law Article 18, Clause 1.) In other words, the author cannot exercise their kōhyōken with respect to works that have been made public with the consent of the author.


Therefore, with respect to the potential to exercise kōhyōken for contents contributed within mixi, the issue is whether or not the action of contributing [work] falls under the “making public” (kōhyō) of (Japanese) Copyright Law. So let us have a look at the regulation of “making public” in Copyright Law.

He then cites Clause 2, Article 4 of Japan's Copyright Law (translation courtesy of the Copyright Research and Information Center), which defines the phrase “made public” (公表された) as:


A work shall be considered as having been “made public” when it has been put, by a person having the rights mentioned in Article 23, paragraph(1) or with the authorization of such person, in such a state that it can be made transmittable.

The expression “made transmittable” is explained in Article 2, Clause 1(ix-5) of Copyright Law as “putting in such a state that the interactive transmission can be made by either of the following acts:” (1) “to record information on public transmission memory of an interactive transmission server already connected with telecommunication networks for public use”, and (2) “to connect with telecommunication networks for public use an interactive transmission server which records information on its public transmission memory or which inputs information to itself.” (For full descriptions see the relevant passage of the translated Copyright Law.)

Ogura notes that “interactive transmission” is defined in article 2, Clause 1(ix-4) of same law as:

自動公衆送信 公衆送信のうち、公衆からの求めに応じ自動的に行うもの(放送又は有線放送に該当するものを除く。)をいう。

“interactive transmission” means the public transmission made automatically in response to a request from the public, excluding the public transmission falling within the term “broadcasting” or “wire-diffusion”;

And that “public transmission” is defined as:

公衆送信 公衆によつて直接受信されることを目的として無線通信又は有線電気通信の送信(電気通信設備で、その一の部分の設置の場所が他の部分の設置の場所と同一の構内(その構内が二以上の者の占有に属している場合には、同一の者の占有に属する区域内)にあるものによる送信(プログラムの著作物の送信を除く。)を除く。)を行うことをいう。

“public transmission” means the transmission of radio communication or wire-telecommunication intended for direct reception by the public, excluding the transmission (other than that of program works) by telecommunication installations one part of which is located on the same premises where the other part is located or, if the premises are occupied by two or more persons, both parts of which are located within the area therein occupied by one person;

From all these legal definitions, he concludes:

従って、mixiが「閉じた空間」であろうとも、そのコンテンツにアクセスしうる人が「多数人」といえる程のものであった場合には、mixiへの投 稿により送信可能化がなされ、著作権法上の「公表」がなされたということになります。

Therefore, even if mixi is a “closed space”, if the people who can potentially access the contents is on the order of a “great number of people”, then as a result of being contributions to mixi, works are taken to be “made transmittable” and are “made public” according to Copyright Law.



However it is still difficult to say, just because the number of people on “my mixi” is small, that things are okay. That is to say, the view with respect to “unspecified number of people” that even a small number of people (one person in the extreme case) constitutes “public” has broad support, and among the many people who support this view, there are more than a few with the view that “specific” persons requires a bond as highly personal as those at the level of family (I personally object to this kind of idea). Based on this view, even if there are only a small number of people who access contents, as long as the relations between the content creator and those who access the contents are not on the level of the personal bonds within families, the logic that “contribution” = “making transmittable” = “public” applies, and at that point the “kōhyōken” (“Right of making the work public”) is forfeited.


Therefore, regarding contributions within mixi, from the start one cannot say that kōhyōken can necessarily be exercised by authors.


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