Computer Technology and Copyright- A Review of Legislative and Judicial Developments in Japan

This article discusses and evaluates the legislative and judicial developments after the enactment of the Copyright Law which apply to computer programs and other computer-related technology. It examines: (1) the 1985 amendment to the Copyright Law enacted to protect computer programs, including the history of discussions by government agencies and judicial determinations that led to the amendment; (2) the 1986 Program Registration Law which supplements the existing provisions of the Copyright Law concerning registration; (3) the protection of databases under a new amendment to the Copyright Law; (4) the regulation of software rental business by the establishment of a public lending right in the 1984 amendment to the Copyright Law; and (5) the possibility of broader protection for video game manufacturers through copyright as cinematographic works. Several court decisions demonstrate the ability of the pre-amendment copyright law to protect computer programs against unauthorized reproduction. In the face of fast-moving technology and hot debate, however, legislative action was appropriate to remove confusion. The recent amendment concerning databases also extends the protection of computer-related technology, but a gap in the law still exists since Japanese society lacks effective trade secret protection. The present Copyright Law is flexible enough to cope with various computer-related problems, but continuous efforts should be made, at the judicial or legislative level, to clarify the extent of copyright protection or control.