Just last month, the Anime and Manga Industry have started to crack down piracy of Anime and Manga. While I believe that these creators should get the credit they deserve and the industry made some progress in doing so with legal streaming sites, there are still some shortcomings, especially in regards to Manga. I think there are ways to fix it that would benefit the industry rather than fighting an endless battle on piracy.
Overall, I feel that Japan is taking the wrong approach to combatting piracy. They are doing the same tactics that MPAA/RIAA used for years, which has been fruitless thus far while exaggerating the piracy impact. On the other hand, putting an end to all fansubs is a bad idea since not all shows are available on legal stream and/or only available for stream in certain countries. As a result, people who are unable to access these streams will just move on to a different hobby, which in turn will hurt the industry.
First off, the industry needs to stop taking MPAA’s and RIAA’s idea that piracy is stealing as a physical copy of the work is not actually stolen, but copied (the correct term is copyright infringement). While I do not support piracy since I believe that creators deserves credit for their work, it’s a double-edged sword since Anime in general can be viewed as an advertisement for a work or overall franchise. If a viewer enjoys/like a particular show, he/she might buy DVDs/Blu-rays, video games, source material or related merchandise. This is especially true when I shared my thoughts on Anime being a driving force for CD, DVD, Blu-ray, video game, source material and merchandise sales. In fact, I think the industry makes more money from CD, merchandise, source material and sometimes video games since they are more affordable than DVD/Blu-ray sets which are mainly treated as collector items in Japan (licensed releases are a different story) and used to break even with the production costs. From this, I feel that fansubs and legal streaming sites is what giving people exposure to shows that they wouldn’t watch otherwise if they cracked down while contributing to Anime’s popularity around the world.
On the other hand, is fansubbing considered ethical since a group is essentially translating the creator’s works? To me, it’s a gray area. Unlike scanlations sites, they are basically translating a particular series because they are fans of it. In some cases, fansubs have better translations and typesetting than the legal ones. While there is less of a need to rely on them since there are many legal streaming options, there may be shows that are not simulated or available for streaming at all and wouldn’t receive any attention otherwise if a fansub group did not decide to translate it. A recent example of shows that I watch that was never became available for streaming is Atelier Escha and Logy. Therefore, I think it’s in the best interest for the Anime Industry to leverage fansub groups (especially the well-known groups that have a good reputation) by contracting them to translate series for legal streaming sites so that fans can stream shows with the same sub quality and perhaps make niche series more accessible.
Lastly, the industry needs to stop putting geographical restrictions when negotiating streaming rights (except Asia). It make little sense that some parts of Europe or other English-speaking countries like New Zealand can’t stream 90% of the shows while North America and other countries in Europe like France and United Kingdom are able to see it. I feel that these geographical restrictions are a major roadblock and if the industry is serious about combatting piracy, they shouldn’t have them. If they make the shows available to other countries and keep the home release and streaming rights separate, people wouldn’t have to resort to other sources. As a result, they would be able to make more money from advertisements and licensing fees on these streaming sites.
As for Manga, I feel that there is no solid legal alternative for it yet that can compare to the options Anime has. While sites like JManga aimed to combat scanlation websites, it had major problems ranging from content availability, pricing, technical problems, DRM and lack of applications for iOS. Eventually, the company went belly up in early 2013 because of these issues, causing people to lose access to their titles they bought. While other alternatives such as Crunchyroll Manga has sprung up since then that addresses the shortcomings of JManga through a subscription, it still has short comings such as region restrictions and no option to buy a digital copy.
To me, if the industry wants more people resort to reading Manga legally instead of using scanlation sites, they should make a service that has wider selection of popular and niche series. In addition, they need to make their sites accessible and well-organized, make subscription/download prices affordable, make digital purchases DRM-free and most importantly, have apps on various platforms so that people can read without using the website. Basically, they need to create a service like Steam or iTunes Store that provides a good experience so that a person wouldn’t need to resort to piracy to read their favorite series.
In the end, the Japanese Manga and Anime industry needs to know that they can’t stop piracy completely and that the only way they can combat it is to create a better offering. The industry need to take advantage of digital distribution and streaming technologies while stopping all the region restrictions that prevent them from reaching their goal. They have the right idea with Crunchyroll, but they need to do more to reach their objective as stated earlier. While illegal streaming and scanlation sites are unethical and should be shut down, blocking access to fansubs is probably the wrong way to do it and will eventually harm them as the medium will decline in popularity, thus resulting in fewer merchandise/DVD/etc. sales.
What are your thoughts about Japan taking the same approach like the MPAA/RIAA? Should they focus on making legal alternatives available instead of trying to end piracy? If so, what steps would you take to make these alternatives attractive?
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