The Japanese parliament has passed an amendment to the existing Copyright Law that extends further protections to copyright holders and, for the first time, makes it illegal for private users to download copyrighted material that has been uploaded without the rights holders' permission.

The new statute will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2010 but contains several caveats that raise the question of how it will be enforced. The user must be aware that the files were illegally uploaded and the new law does not stipulate any fine or jail term for contravening it.

The music industry, however, welcomed the amendment, which does leave the door open for civil suits claiming damages. The Record Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ) had been lobbying for a law that addressed online copyright infringement by individual users. Until now the laws were aimed at those who illegally uploaded, or distributed files in other unauthorized ways.

Kei Ishizaka, the CEO of RIAJ commented, "We are thankful to those concerned who supported this statue. Our organization will continue its work to stop all copyright infringement and will make our best effort to inform the public of the changes to the law."

What actions RIAJ will take in light of the new statue remains to be seen. In general, Japanese society shies away from litigation and if that is the only course open to rights holders the music industry may push the government for penalties to be attached to the new statute.