Ethics and the Internet, or the Issue with Fan-Subtitled Anime Programs
-more after the jump-
Fan-subtitled Anime can trace its roots back to the VHS tape era of the 1980s and 1990s. Fansubs, as they are commonly known, is an ongoing legal problem within the fans of Japanese Animation and both the American and Japanese Anime Industry. It seems that, while fansubbing is technically illegal in many countries, regardless of licensing or distribution rights in countries outside of Japan, Fansub groups will continue to produce fansubs due to the percieved benefits of such actions.
Seen by many within the Anime Industry as piraters, many fansub groups do not see themselves as such and hold themselves in a high ethical code of conduct. Every show contains notices that informs viewers not to sell, rent, or auction the episode or show, as well as complying with cease and desist letters from companies who own the rights to a particular show. Many only work on shows that normally have not been distributed and/or licensed in their home country, and shows that go on for awhile and the official release in their home country is behind the official releases in Japan.
Many though, still see this as a breech of copywrite laws, since copywrite laws are internationally recognized. The issue has been gaining recognition recently due to the advancement of technology. Before, a small fee that includes a new VHS or CD-R as well as shipping was the only cost of the fansubs. This was in the days before easier distribution and high-speed internet, but as these become more common in the last few years, fansub groups have practically exploded online. And not only fan-subtitling anime into English. French, Italian, German, and Chinese groups are also prevalent, and due to the large fanbase that devote their talents into a particular group, it isn’t common to find a fan-translated episode of a particular anime to be released within 24 hours of the official air date.
This though presents problems, as I’ve already said, the creators of the program still hold control of the show’s rights, and such rights are internationally respected. While fansubbers consider their actions for the common good, many of those within the industry believe their actions are hurting the industry, taking away from the company’s profits and in effect, letting people download fansubtitled anime in lieu of buying the official releases of a show.
Supporters though, cite the fact that in the case of some American distributers, content has been heavily altered from their original, and refuse to release an uncut version of their show. There are also shows that would not be distributed in America due to little to no market in it regardless of a large fanbase. Another reason would be that, popularity of a show in markets outside of Japan has spurred distributers to license a show and hope people will buy the official releases. There has actually been the case with the show ‘The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘, where the American distributors of the show acknowledged the fansub base for promoting the popularity of the show, while adding that people who still have fan-subtitled downloads go and buy the official releases.
Companies have not taking this problem lying down of course. Legal action have been taken against groups and fansub distributers, often being as lenient as a cease and desist letter or invoking the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but in the case of Singapore, a local company has taken matters to court, and with the court ordering ISPs to release records resulted in people as young as 9 years old to be targetted with legal action. Other producers have taken to contracting with once formally illegal online streaming sites, and releasing a officially subtitled version of the episode online in websites such as crunchyroll and veoh as well as their company’s website, often at little to no cost and the episodes being taken down after a set time limit.
But regardless of what the anime industry attempts to do to answer this growing threat, there will still be those who are willing to fansub anime, especially anime that have yet to be licensed or released in their native country, and provide what can be deemed a service to the local anime community. The anime industry would need to weather this storm, as well as adopt to new technologies and new techniques in order to create a profit, yet allow anime to be readily available and cheap to fans.