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When is a Book Not a Book?

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The following is a guest post by Sayuri Umeda, a foreign law specialist covering Japan and several other Asian jurisdictions at the Law Library of Congress. Sayuri has previously written blog posts about testing of older drivers in Japan, sentencing of parents who kill children, English translations of post-World War II South Korean laws, laws and regulations passed in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, and highlighted our collections related to Japanese family law and Cambodian law.

Japan book
Kobikicho arayashiki koiseya ochie (Utamaro Kitagawa, 1753?-1806, artist). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,

There have recently been reports that Japan’s national legal deposit system may have been abused for profit. Quite a few people were impressed by the cleverness of what critics have called a scheme to obtain taxpayer money.

Japan’s National Diet Library (NDL) is the sole national library in Japan, similar to the Library of Congress. It is the only legal depository library in the country. Under article 25 of the National Diet Library Law, a private publisher of a book is generally obligated to “deposit a complete copy of its best edition to the National Diet Library within thirty days of its issue.” The NDL pays compensation to the person who deposits a publication. The compensation is usually calculated as 50% of the price of the book plus the lowest possible mailing fees. Failure to deposit a publication may be punishable by a fine up to five times the retail price of the publication.

According to a news article published on October 27, 2015, users of Twitter and other online forums had started to discuss the fact that strange books had shown up on the Amazon Japan website on around October 20, 2015. There were many volumes in the series of books and and they were very expensive. A single volume cost 64,800 yen [approximately US$550]. By this time, 96 volumes had been published. Only one copy of each volume was up for sale on Amazon Japan. There was no author information, other than their name. It was not clear from the Amazon Japan page exactly what the books were about. Curious Internet-users started to investigate the books and the publisher.

It turned out that there is a barber shop at the address provided by the publisher, the Risu no Shobo company. One of the online sleuths reported that he/she had contacted the publisher and obtained sample pages of the publication. There were foreign language characters on the pages, but it appeared that they did not make any sense. Commenters in the online forums strongly suspected that someone had created expensive books with little or no real content by using the names of several publishers, and had received compensation from the NDL for depositing the books.

On November 1, 2015, one of Japan’s major national newspapers published an interview with the president of the publishing company. The president, apparently a 26-year-old man who was not named in the article, stated that he made the books himself by randomly typing Greek characters. The books do not contain any stories or messages. The name of the author is a pseudonym. He also stated that the books are actually 3D art rather than actual books. The publisher denied that the purpose of his project was to obtain compensation money from the NDL.

The NDL’s standards for accepting private publications for deposit are:

  • The material is published for distribution; and
  • A considerable number of copies are published.

The NDL does not examine the content of any material before accepting it for deposit and paying compensation to the publisher. This is because the purpose of the deposit system is to preserve records of intellectual activities for the future. Therefore, no screening is undertaken by the NDL.

On February 2, 2016, the NDL released a statement regarding the books on its website. It stated that Risu no Shobo had deposited a total of 78 books with the NDL since March 2015. The NDL stated that the books met the standards required for deposit because they looked professionally bound and it appeared they were published for the purpose of distribution because they were available for purchase in an online store. The NDL paid 1.36 million yen (about US$11,500) to Risu no Shobo as compensation for 42 books. After the books attracted attention online in October 2015, the NDL itself started an investigation. After an interview with the publisher, the NDL concluded that the books did not qualify for deposit because the number of publications is very small and they were not published for distribution because they contain no understandable content. Therefore, the NDL sent the books back to Risu no Shobo and requested that the 1.36 million yen it had paid for them be returned.

Risu no Shobo returned the money to the NDL on February 4, 2016. There are no reports that the publisher will be charged with any offense.

A Japanese library and information science professor commented on the case, stating that “[t]he National Diet Library should not screen publications to judge whether they are appropriate for inclusion since that could lead to censorship. But as far as compensation money is concerned, libraries in the United States and Europe do not have such an arrangement. The recent case was something unexpected and proved that if people seek to abuse the current system, they almost certainly can.”

Indeed, this kind of suspicious deposit for compensation would not happen in the United States. Here, as the Copyright Office states on its website, “all works under copyright protection that are published in the United States are subject to the mandatory deposit provision of the copyright law.” Two copies of all copyrightable works published in the United States must be sent to the Copyright Office within three months of publication. Then, they may be added to the collection of the Library of Congress. No compensation is provided for the deposited material.

Putting the Risu no Shobo case aside, there may be further discussions about changing the system of compensation for deposits. At a meeting of the Legal Deposit System Council in March 2015, held prior to the discovery of the Risu no Shobo case, it was reported that 60 to 70% of total compensation paid by the NDL was for publications that were not widely distributed. Some of these publications had very limited circulation and were quite expensive. One Council member expressed concern that too much money is spent on compensation for such special publications.


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