Five people have been arrested on suspicion of violating the Copyright Law by leaking the popular manga "One Piece" online ahead of its official publication date, police announced Sept. 6.
The suspects are believed to have earned at least 379 million yen ($3.47 million) in advertising revenue among themselves by illegally publishing manga content over several years.
The five suspects, who live in Akita, Okinawa and other prefectures, were arrested by police in Kumamoto and Tottori prefectures and other areas.
Ryoji Hottai, 31, along with another person, were arrested in July on suspicion of posting images from the pirate-themed “One Piece” manga series on a website run by the pair from July 21-22, 2016.
The publication constitutes a violation of Shueisha Inc.’s publishing rights and copyright belonging to author Eiichiro Oda.
The manga runs in Shueisha's "Shonen Jump" weekly manga anthology.
Yo Uehara, 30, and his two associates were arrested on Sept. 6 on suspicion of posting images, text and other content revealing entire "One Piece" stories on their website between July 22, 2016, and July 25, 2017.
The Uehara group scanned the images from a printed copy of “Shonen Jump” that they obtained from a store that sells it before their official release dates, police sources said.
Hottai and Uehara have admitted to the offenses, according to police.
The prefectural police departments involved believe that the Hottai group has earned advertising revenue of at least 305 million yen since September 2014.
Uehara and his associates are suspected of earning around 74 million yen since May 2012.
Shueisha issued a statement in response to the arrests, saying: “The manga was created by the author who devoted his heart and soul to it. We feel strong anger that the suspects published it in an inappropriate manner and earned revenue from it.
“We hope that these arrests act as a warning against the continuing piracy epidemic and wrongful use of publications,” the statement added.