Music giant drops libel claim against freelancer

A Japanese music giant has abandoned a defamation action it began 33 months ago against a freelance journalist who cast doubt on the validity of its chart rankings.

Announcing its decision earlier this month, the company, Oricon, said it would drop its libel suit against the freelance, Hiro Ugaya, which it launched in November 2006.

Under Japanese law, the rare act of withdrawing a civil law suit is the legal equivalent of a “declaration of defeat without courts’ rulings,” a relieved Ugaya said on his blog.

The suit was filed against him after he said Oricon inflated some of its sales figures for Japanese bands and used occasionally questionable methods to compile its charts.

The freelance, who has written about Oricon in the past, aired his views responding to questions posed by the magazine Cyzo, which transcribed his comments into a 20-line report.

Oricon claimed its image had been tarnished by his comments and said it was a filing a law suit with the aim of getting the freelance to publicly apologise or publish a retraction.

Had Ugaya taken these steps, Oricon said it would have called off its lawyers, and saved the journalist from 7million yen (£44,000) in legal costs and 50million yen (£318,000) in damages.

At the time Oricon filed the suit, press rights and freedom of speech lobbyists said the compensation sought was “out of all proportion” with the journalist’s actions, and would lead to his financial “ruin.”

But a Tokyo District Court ordered the freelance to pay 1million yen to the firm, and dismissed claims that the suit was a violation of free expression, as argued by Ugaya’s defence team.

Yet with support from NGOs, including media freedom group Reporters Without Borders, Ugaya took the opportunity of appealing to Tokyo’s High Court.

Oricon withdrew, an act the Paris-based group said was extremely unusual in Japan, as official figures show only 0.1 per cent of the cases closed in 2007 were a result of the plaintiff’s decision to abandon their claim.

 

12th August 2009

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