Cosplay in Japan Faces New Copyright Law
Japan shocked a large population of their country this year by announcing that the popular hobby of cosplay would now be subject to Japanese copyright law. As Japan is seen as the Mecca for cosplayers and has been known to use “cosplay ambassadors” in the past, this new announcement seemed ominous for cosplayers across the globe.
What Exactly is Cosplay?
“Cosplay” is a popular hobby and a portmanteau for the words “costume play.” In order to cosplay, one generally dresses up identically to a character in popular culture, mimicking their entire costume and accompanying accessories. The goal of being able to pull off a “successful” cosplay predominantly hinges on how well a cosplayer is able to recreate that iconic outfit or “look” of that particular hero. And for more serious cosplayers, attitude, demeanor, and affect also figure into how well a cosplayer embodies that character.
As a subculture, cosplayers run the gamut from young children wearing Halloween costumes to more serious cosplayers that may spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on recreating their costumes. The more dedicated and successful the cosplayer, the more they are able to become recognized and well-known in cosplay circles, leading to possibly securing endorsements or appearance fees for representing certain characters.
Cosplay in Japan and New Copyright Law
And this might be exactly why Japan decided that cosplay has crossed from being a harmless hobby to being potentially infringing behavior. And to the small subsection of people who know both the law and understand the subculture, the idea that cosplay could collide with copyright law is actually not that farfetched. Because cosplay undoubtedly relies on protected source material derived from popular cartoons, comic books, video games, and movies, it then follows that the characters that make the most popular subjects for cosplay are generally the most well-known (and lucrative) intellectual property of others. Thus, for example, if a cosplayer wanted to “successfully” cosplay as popular X-Men hero, “Wolverine,” the cosplayer would have to recreate and wear an iconic (i.e., immediately identifiable) outfit of Wolverine’s to allow others to immediately identify as to who they are cosplaying. So, ironically, for a cosplayer to be successful, they would have to, arguably, infringe on their favorite protected work.
Add to this predicament that many owners of the “infringed-upon” work often actively encourage cosplay, one can see why cosplayers would be so taken aback by Japan’s new proposal to police this new intersection of law. For instance, at popular and high-profile events and conventions such as “BlizzCon” or “Comic-Con,” attendees are often actively encouraged to cosplay because these conventions hold competitions for the “Best Cosplay,” which would arguably appear, in BlizzCon’s case, to be an explicit invitation, by the owners of the protected works, to infringe.
Luckily for cosplayers in Japan, however, the Japanese government clarified that the new copyright law would only affect cosplayers that are being paid to make appearances at events in cosplay attire. Further, the Japanese government clarified that they will be reviewing Japan’s fair use laws and would be embarking on an educational campaign to ensure that cosplayers feel safe to continue participating in the hobby and subculture they so love.
Key Takeaways for Cosplay in Japan and New Copyright Law
Popular hobby and subculture, cosplay, seemed to come under attack by the Japanese government this year after the Japanese government announced that cosplay would now be subject to Japanese law. While cosplay has generally been encouraged and not seen as infringing, this shift in Japanese copyright law makes some sense because:
cosplayers must rely on third-party protected works to provide the inspiration for the characters they dress up as; and
because cosplay has now evolved to the point that popular cosplayers can earn money through appearance fees and endorsements, which is arguably profiting off of the protected work of others.
For more information on copyright infringement defense, see our Copyright Litigation Services and Industry Focused Legal Solutions pages.
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