It used to be that fansubbers would drop a project when it became licensed. They were happy to share and were content to stop when they knew that the titles they cared about were getting the attention they felt they deserved. But then the licenses started to come faster, and faster, and then at breakneck speeds, with companies snatching them up long before the series was even finished airing in Japan. In those circumstances, many groups would continue their releases anyway, though sites like AnimeSuki would respectfully stop linking them. When Toriyama’s World stopped subbing Death Note in the light of Viz’s licensing announcement, three other groups stepped up to take its place. Still, if a cease and desist order came, many sub groups would comply.
So what happens when the cease and desist order comes from a proxy company that doesn’t actually own the license, but apparently has entered an agreement to try and enforce cease and desist orders? So far, it looks like there most groups are still respectful and complying with FUNimation and its proxy fight for d-rights and Enoki Films. When international copyright law is so hard to enforce, and when the production of fansubs enable pirates both domestically and abroad, what the Japanese companies are doing, or trying to do, is perfectly logical. Logical, but is it going to work? While it may seem so for now, I’m still skeptical. After all, if Death Note prevailed, I don’t see why Katekyou Hitman Reborn! won’t.
There are subs slipping through the cracks even for C&D’s sent out for series actually owned by the company, so why should it be any different for anything else? There are just too many people out there willing to take the places of sub groups that fall or give into legal demands, and the companies chasing them just don’t have the resources to come down on them all. The Otakon panel featuring a few fansubbers and industry professionals was definitely an interesting one (not that I was there), and it’s good to see that the two groups are talking and considering the other’s position, but I don’t really think anything new was gleaned from the panel. Will fansubbers stop if asked? Once again, the answer is a resounding “maybe.” The reasons fansubbers do what they do has never been a huge mystery.
Still, even while FUNi is sending out those C&D’s, the manga industry seems to be taking the lead in figuring out how to combat all this rampant pirating. Though the scanlation was up as soon as the chapter was available, the first chapter of Bakuman is now available online — officially — in four languages. They’ll be down by August 31st, but if they continue to do that with new chapters and put them on a site with a subscription service, scanlators, in large part, will be out of a job! Then again… whatever American company that had been planning to snatch the rights to Bakuman just might be as well. After all, once the Japanese finally figure out that they’re perfectly capable of releasing directly to an overseas audience online, Viz and TOKYOPOP may be in big trouble. Especially if consumer focus continues to shift online.
Crunchyroll’s already doing something similar with anime, but I think manga will be more successful because 1) it’s cheaper, and 2) quality is easier to retain. Additionally, a collection of online manga is easier to access from multiple locations because the sizes of files are smaller. A collection of online, streaming anime, is useless to you when you go on vacation to your grandmother’s house where they still have a 56k hamster on a wheel. All the same, Crunchyroll’s model, I think, is definitely more effective in the long run than getting FUNimation to send C&D’s to sub groups. It’s hard to stop something when you don’t provide an alternative, no matter what the law says.
Yoshitoshi ABe’s self-published doujinshi via iTunes in several different languages is absolutely ingenious and once again side-steps the need for an American in-between, which is the most time-consuming hurdle in getting a series to the North American audience. Right now, it’s still pretty limited as it’s only available via the Apps store and thus the iPhone and iPod Touch. Nevertheless, it’s a really encouraging step forward, and its current exclusiveness to the iPhone may be a moot point if the damned device ends up like the iPod. I don’t own an iPod (I’m the only person I know that doesn’t, lol), nor do I own an iPhone. I don’t plan to get either ever, really, but announcements like these make me happy all the same.
I guess we’ll see what happens.