Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Shooting Culture" Project - Ethics of Visual Anthropology in Japan

It's been a while since I have posted on the ethics project, but rest assured it is ongoing. I have received many positive comments about previous posts and I hope to get more feedback when I present this project at the upcoming Anthropology of Japan in Japan Spring Workshop on April 25-26. For the purposes of this presentation I have named this named this project "Shooting Culture."

Presentation title and abstract:

Shooting Culture: Proposed Guidelines for Students of the Visual Anthropology of Japan

As part of the Visual Anthropology of Japan course I teach, I send my students out to photograph "Japanese culture." Students are to take their own original photographs to illustrate a weekly theme and post photos along with text on an internet blog. While there has never been a problem with the assignment, students have expressed concern about taking photographs in public. Aren't all shots taken in public fair game? Do we need to ask permission? Do we need a written consent form? Can we snipe photos from afar with our telephoto lens? Can we blur out the faces of individuals we shoot to protect their privacy? In this paper I propose a set of guidelines for students of visual anthropology engaged in photographing Japan, not as a prime directive but rather as a starting point for dialogue and development. Issues of concern brought up in this project include privacy and portrait rights; academic codes of ethics and conduct and photo posting guidelines; regulations pertaining to terms of service of internet blogging and photo/video posting services; information about Fair Use and Creative Commons; and laws in Japan pertaining to photographing in public, privacy and defamation. In this AJJ presentation I wish to solicit the advice and comments of anthropologists who have experience with visual projects in Japan. For more information on this project, see

In addition there have been some interesting developments relating to this project in both legal and research areas. First the good news:

"Japan may adopt so-called 'fair use' in secondary use of copyrighted work"

Story from, 3/24/09.

The Cultural Affairs Agency on Wednesday asked its advisory body to study a proposal for Japan to adopt the so-called "fair use" principle, which allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring the right holder's permission for the promotion of secondary use of such material, agency officials said.

The Cultural Council, an advisory body to the agency director general, plans to work out views on the proposal by the end of fiscal 2009, which the agency wants to lead to the revision of the copyright law, the officials said.

The government is also expected to propose an early introduction of the principle in an intellectual property strategy it plans to formulate around June.

At present, the copyright law bans in principle the reproduction of copyrighted material without the right owner's permission. This means that even posting a picture of an anime character taken at an amusement park on an Internet blog, for example, is technically prohibited.

The latest move is in response to a call from the government's intellectual property strategy headquarters for relaxing such regulations in line with the spread of the Internet.

The "fair use" principle, which originated in the United States, would allow reproduction of copyrighted material such as photos and writing work without seeking the author's permission as long as the secondary use does not harm the author's interests.

Under the principle, people can judge on their own whether a secondary use of certain copyrighted material is illegal or not based on a set of standards being introduced to measure possible negative effects of such use on the right-holder's market.

Among these standards will be whether secondary use is for commercial purposes and whether such use will lead to the spread of pirated versions of the original work, the officials said.

For every one step forward there is at least one step backward.

"TBS ordered to pay Y1.2 million for invading man's privacy"

Story from Japan Today, 4/15/09.

The Tokyo District Court on Tuesday ordered Tokyo Broadcasting System to pay a man 1.2 million yen in compensation for invading his privacy by airing images of him during live TV coverage of a homicide scene in Tokyo two years ago. The court ruled that broadcasting images of the plaintiff, who drives a garbage collection truck, without his permission constituted an invasion of privacy and violated his portrait rights.

Presiding Judge Noriaki Sudo said in holding TBS liable for compensation, ‘‘The production staff who gave orders to the camera crew and edited the footage were negligent.’’ The court said that children teased the plaintiff’s son at school, saying his father had carried the victim’s body, and the boy was forced to change schools.

According to the ruling, in January 2007 TBS broadcast the face of the plaintiff who was collecting garbage at the murder site in Shibuya Ward where a man was murdered and dismembered by his wife, as well as the plaintiff’s exchange with a reporter, in its morning program hosted by popular MC Monta Mino.

The plaintiff had sought a total of 11 million yen in compensation from the TV station, Mino and other concerned parties. But the court ruled Mino was not responsible because he had no authority over the news gathering activities at the scene.

As if anticipating the ruling above in the current culture of extreme paranoid privacy, the Nihon Shinbun Kyokai (Japan Newspapers Publishers and Editors Association) recently met with government officials to encourage changes in the current Personal Information Protection Law.

"NSK Seeks Prompt Revision of Personal Information Protection Law"

Story from NSK News Bulletin Online, Number 90, April 2009.

The NSK Editorial Affairs Committee, in a hearing held by the Cabinet Office on March 27, demanded that the Personal Information Protection Law be promptly revised to eliminate abuse of the law and the deliberate concealment of information under the cloak of its terms.

The controversial law took effect in April 2005, setting rules on the use of personal information possessed by private businesses. In fear of excessive secrecy due to the law and the deliberate concealment of information by public institutions, NSK has publicly called several times for the law to be changed.

On March 27, Toyokazu Kondo, of the NSK Editorial Affairs Committee study group on human rights and personal information, attended a hearing held by the personal information protection committee of the Cabinet Office’s Social Policy Council. The committee is in the process of studying the implementation of the law.

In a verbal presentation and written submission made at the hearing, Kondo warned that there is now a conspicuous tendency at all levels of society toward refusing to release information on the pretext of the personal information protection law. Specifically, he referred to (1) a tendency of public institutions to use the law to justify concealing information; (2) growing refusals to grant media access to information on the grounds of personal information protection; and (3) a steadily declining awareness of the importance of the common sharing of personal information by society.

Kondo submitted to the hearing a brief report on a fact-finding survey conducted by the NSK Editorial Affairs Committee. The report said a survey of 58 NSK member media companies looked into adverse repercussions from the law’s application. The report cited numerous cases in which hospitals refused to release the identities and/or profiles of persons harmed as a result of criminal offenses or accidents, as well as cases in which university authorities refused to respond to media inquiries regarding the educational backgrounds of candidates running for public offices. Kondo told the hearing that these are typical cases of the law’s negative effects in which information that should be shared by society is not being made available.

Kondo emphasized NSK’s stand that a full-fledged review of the existing law is needed to implement fundamental solutions to the problems. “We should specifically limit the sphere of the law’s application and incorporate into the law specific calls to respect the social usefulness of personal information, in particular, to respect the use of personal information for the public good of serving the people’s right to know,” he stated.

Specifically, he proposed that a clause be added to Article 1 (the purpose of the law) and to Article 3 (the law’s basic objectives) calling for particular consideration to be made with respect to the usefulness of personal information in activities such as news reporting, which serves the public good and public interest. In addition, he proposed that the transfer to media organizations of personal information by businesses possessing such information be established as an approved exception to regulations under the law’s Article 16 (regulations on the provision of personal data to a third party) and Article 23 (exceptions).

Kondo also called for the inclusion of such a clause in a related law covering the protection of personal information by administrative organizations. He said that the Information Disclosure Law, enacted in 2001 to regulate public disclosure of information held by administrative organizations, and local government rules on information disclosure should be reviewed to take into account NSK’s insistence on these issues as well. He ended his presentation with a call for the committee to open full-scale deliberations toward a prompt and fundamental revision of Japan’s entire system for personal information protection.

In the midst of all this confusion regarding privacy and portrait rights, the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources (NCC) Image Use Protocol Task Force has published an extremely valuable web page.

IMAGE USE PROTOCOL GUIDE. Using Images from Japan for your publication. You can find out what to do here.


From their Introduction:

This web site is designed to give basic guidance to North American Japanese studies scholars who seek permissions for the use of Japanese images particularly in scholarly publications. By clicking the links below, you will access information that may smooth the process of obtaining the necessary permission to use images from those who hold image rights. We have included links to Japanese and American web sites that provide guidelines to American copyright practices governing the use of Japanese images in a range of circumstances from publications to presentations. Sometimes figuring out exactly which person or organization holds the rights to an image is tricky. We have provided suggestions for who might be the likely rights holder in a range of image types and uses. We also offer templates of request letters and permission applications modeled after those used by a number of Japanese institutions. They are bilingual (Japanese and English) in order to meet the needs of North American publishers and Japanese right holders. You may freely adapt these to your own needs when requesting permission for image use. We also offer a few suggestions about how you might speed the movement of your permission request through a Japanese organization.

The Right's Holders section
discusses copyright holders, owners of objects, image owners and subjects in photographs. For the latter they state:

If a person is in the photograph, it is necessary for you to obtain the permission of the photographed person, or the successor or assignee of such rights, to avoid an infringement of the right of likeness or privacy under the privacy laws and/or right of likeness.

The Permission Request Templates (in English and Japanese) are especially valuable.

There are lots of useful links; of special interest for this project is the link to Japanese Copyright Laws (in English).

Link to Copyright Law of Japan:

NCC is mostly interested in publishing images in books and journals; I am not sure if they are considering internet blog projects like this one. I will be checking out NCC and the Japanese copyright laws in greater detail before my presentation. Stay tuned for more updates.

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