Cases before laws regarding responsibility on the Internet were passed (1)

There are only a few cases in which 2ch was held responsible for a post on the website, before the law regarding the responsibility of service providers took place in 2002. One case took place between 2ch and a veterinary hospital. The judgment to this case was given on June 26, 2002 at the Tokyo District Court.

In this case, the owners of a vet found that their hospital was accused of being a “fraud” in the “thread for revealing immoral animal vets” on the “I love pets” board. The owners of the vet told 2ch to delete the posts that were defamatory, but because their method of requesting for the delete was not in line with the 2ch delete policy, the owner of 2ch could not find all of the relevant posts, and only deleted part of the defamatory posts. The owners thus proceeded to sue 2ch in request of having more than 50 blog posts deleted, and paying them compensation for damages.

              The court stated that, it is the website owner’s responsibility to judge whether a post is defamatory of not. In this case, the posts were clearly defamatory, and thus, the court stated that 2ch should have deleted the posts after being notified. Thus, 2ch was held guilty for defamation, and was ordered to pay 4,000,000 yen in compensation to the vet.

Because the decision was given out before the Provider Responsibility Restriction Act took place, the judgments was given on the basis of two criterions: whether 2ch was responsible for a crime of omission, and whether 2ch was responsible for a crime of aiding and abetting due to omission. Both of these crimes are defined on the Civil Law Act, and have existed for a long time. The effort of Japanese courts was shifted towards using conventional methods to judge a case that seems irrelevant to these old laws.

For the former, the court assumed that the internet forum is an “object,” in order to rule that the owner of 2ch did have the responsibility to delete defamatory posts from his website. The law states that a crime of omission could take place if the person is a owner of a location or an object. In this case, it is apparent that the law was stretched to fit the needs of the judges.

Furthermore, in order for the crime to apply, the act of omission had to have the same value as the actually doing the crime. Thus, in this case, the act of writing a defamatory post had to have the same value as the act of refusing to delete the post. It seems that intentionally writing a post on the website would be considered a much more heavy crime than just refusing to delete the post. In addition, in the past, one judge explicitly mentioned that “it is apparent that the owner of the website is not the main character in the crime” and did not punish the owner of the internet forum. However, the court ended up judging that the act of omission was of same significance as the crime of actually doing the crime. We can see that in this case, the court expanded the interpretation of the law, and made statements that directly conflict past cases.

The Delete Policy

The geeky culture of 2ch is also existent in how the website is administrated. Because the owner of the website is a single thirty year old man, it is far beyond his reach to make sure that the entire website is running properly. Instead, in 2ch, some people voluntarily play special roles within the community. There are people who solve technical problems, people who are responsible for the servers, and people who are responsible for deleting unlawful posts (“janitors”), just to name a few. There is even an administrative board which is built by members who have extreme responsibility for the website.

In the deletion policy, these “janitors” play an important role. These people receive the requests from users who feel their rights have been infringed, and decide whether a certain post should be deleted or not. The website had made it clear that janitors, who are just volunteers, are not responsible for their actions, and that the owner of 2ch is liable for all of their actions. In exchange, newer janitors usually do not enjoy all of the administrative powers that more experienced janitors can utilize, and 2ch reserves the right to dismiss any janitor at any time.

Because of these rules which are often not clear to people outside the 2ch community, beginners or people who are foreign to this culture often have trouble finding out the correct way to delete specific posts. If one wants a certain post to be deleted, he or she must follow the rules as specified on the delete board. When these rules are not followed, the delete requests are more than often disregarded by the 2ch community. It goes without saying that this gap between the 2ch community and the general public has been the reason for many problems (as we will see in later posts).

There is a difficult line to how the deletion policy should work. A 2ch user would assert that these rules are necessary in order to correctly identify the posts that infringe the right of others, and if the posts really do infringe any rights. He may go on to say that this sort of delete policy is required to protect the right of speech. Under the current Japanese law, because it already gives out some general idea of how a service provider should function (including specific details, such as “seven days”), each individual website looses its freedom to make a delete policy which meets its needs. The law was able to promote the awareness of delete policies (which is ideal because it would make website owners take more responsibility for the services it provides); however, because it specified some details, in effect it constraints the web owners as to how they should administer their website as well.

The 2ch delete policy has the potential to conflict with the law as well. Some one who feels his right has been infringed could notify 2ch using a wrong method. In this case, 2ch would not recognize those posts because the correct method to report unlawful posts has not been followed; but the person who requested the removal of a post would feel he did enough to notify the web administer. In essence, it would be a conflict between the inherent geeky culture of 2ch, and the law.

Because it is hard to imagine law makers and the owner of 2ch having a discussion over how to make new laws, the only way webmasters of websites like 2ch can keep infringing posts off from their websites is by making a delete policy that is clear and consistent with the law, and educating users about the policy. 

The 2ch community and its influence

“2ch” has several characteristics which separate it from other internet forums. The first major difference is the broadness of the topics that it covers. It has countless “categories” which covers a broad topic, and each category is consisted of numerous “boards.” On each board a user can make a “thread,” in which the actual discussion about a particular topic takes place. For example, a discussion about the recent decrease in Harvard’s endowment has its own “thread” on the “International News” board, which is categorized in the “World Affairs” category.

One characteristic that keeps 2ch constantly active is that each thread only allows up to 1000 posts. Because newer threads appear higher on the “board,” this limitation of the number of posts makes it possible to maintain new topics at the top of the board. Furthermore, it also helps 2ch restrict the amount of data stored on the severs, because older “thread” are put in a database that the public cannot access for free.

The second major characteristic of 2ch is its culture. “2ch” hosts a unique culture, which is different from that of the general Japanese population and other major internet forums in the US and in Japan. Such culture can be seen in the terminology used in 2ch, the special rules that as expected from a 2ch poster, and in how it has influenced popular culture in general.

There are many terms that coined in 2ch, and can only be seen in it. Some are terms are relevant to posting on a internet forum, such as “age” (pronounced uh-gay), which is used when one wants a particular thread to appear on top of the board. Others, seem bizarre, even in the eyes of non-2ch using Japanese users. For example, people who regularly post on 2ch are called “residents” of 2ch. Instead of writing suman (literally “sorry” in Japanese), a user may write sumaso, because the Japanese character for n () and so () look very similar. ROM may be used as short for “read-only member,” instead of the common used technological term, “read-only memory.” The video sharing site is referred to as Yoh-two-bay, because Romanizing the Japanese gives the same spelling as “Youtube.”

The culture of 2ch is so different from that of the general Internet that the users of 2ch are often considered to be “geeky computer freaks,” or a “otaku”. Such geeky students may spend long hours of their time on the internet, posting articles on 2ch. A typical otaku may have a lifestyle that is opposite to most people in society, actively making posts in the earlier hours of the day. The typical stereotype is that they often carry a large backpack and walk around in a seemingly “dorky” or “lame” outfit. Akihabara, a district in Japan formerly famous for the numerous of electronic stores, and more recently famous for its anime and otaku culture, is regarded as a “Mecca” to them.

              A widely know example of 2ch culture infiltrating that of the general public was when the movie “Densya-otoko” (Train Man) was release to the public. The movie, based on actual postings on 2ch (on the “Single Men’s” boards), is about a otaku boy who accidently meets a girl on the train. Because all his life, he had been obsessed with computers and animation, he does not have the social stills he needs to make the girl interested in him. However, in the end succeeds in getting a “real world” girlfriend. The movie, even though it emerged from 2ch and showcased the geeky culture of the internet forum nevertheless succeeded in getting more than 2 million viewers with in the first 40 days of its released, and latter even grew into a popular television drama series.

              The term “2ch” often comes up on the news as well. Because it has social influence, criminals have repeatedly used the website to harass or threat someone, prior to committing a crime, for example. A prominent example was when the 25 year old man wrote multiple posts on 2ch stating that he would kill people in the Akihabara district. Only minutes after the man posted similar statements on another internet forum from his cell phone, the man really did ram into a pedestrian-only part of Akihabara, using his truck. Because the man also killed people by running into people with his knife, his actions killed 7 people in total and injured 10 more. Especially after this incident, the police also started to take notice of the internet forum, and in several cases, people have been arrested for posting threats on 2ch.

It goes without saying that how the internet community should deal with contents on 2ch is crucial for protecting users from defamation, and copyright owners from infringement of their rights.

Introduction

2ch is the arguably the world’s largest internet discussion website. The website is the largest internet forum in Japan, which consists of a collection of more than 300 “boards” in which the visitor can read or post on, ranging from “’hacking’ to ‘tonight’s appetizers’” [1]. In this project, I hope to examine how the “delete policy” for this particular website functions, and what roles the law has played in the realm of internet forums in Japan.

Personally, this project is significant for me because after a semester of discussion regarding the situation of computers and law in the U.S., I feel urged to learn how similar situations are perceived in my home country, Japan. One of the issues that most interested me during the course of the semester was the discussion regarding deletion policy of internet forums. The discussion regarding two Yale law school students who were harassed on the internet, and later went to court, was surprising to me for two reasons. First, I was surprised by how much influence speech in the virtual world could affect the real life of an individual. I was foreign to the culture of “trolls,” people who make posts on internet forums intending to make other users feel harassed. Secondly, the extent to which section 230 of the Communication Decency Act could be applied contradicted my idea of right and wrong, because the speech on the forum was apparently harassing. Even though the speech was apparently harassing the Yale students, the owners of the internet forum “AutoAdmit” refused to delete the message, and they were never held guilty.

Apart from my personal motives, I believe my project will be thought provoking to many people, because it gives a chance for American internet users to compare the law system to the system of other countries. In regard to internet forums, there is no other country that is as significant as comparing to Japan, because in this particular country, the internet forum “2ch” or “2 channel” is widely spread, and has even influenced popular culture.

[1] 2ch website catch phrase.

In the beginning

This blog is devoted to learning more about the delete policy of 2ch, a Japanese internet forum, and how the law effects websites like 2ch in Japan. Here are some links that are useful as an introduction to 2ch: