We spend a lot of time talking about piracy in the aniblogging world—why it’s bad, why it’s justified, why people do it in the first place. But if you ask me, it’s really not that complicated.
My theory has two prongs:
1) Fans generally want to support creators,
2) But we don’t want to work too hard to do it.
So: the first part. Anime fans seem to care a lot about supporting creators. Fan-run anime conventions go to great lengths to welcome Japanese anime voice actors, directors, and producers to America. And every time I’ve been to an autograph signing event, an opening or closing ceremony, these creators seemed overwhelmed by western fans’ love.
I didn’t realize that this was a western thing until Tony from Manga Therapy and I started going back and forth in an email about eastern vs. western anime fandom.
“What’s interesting is that Japanese directors/producers don’t even get hyped in Japan as they do in America,” Tony told me. “My Japanese friend told an otaku in Japan about this and her friend went, ‘America is weird.’ Isn’t it amazing how we tend to worship the makers/behind-the-scenes folks more?”
Because the creators are important to us, fans like to feel that they are participating legitimately. Sites like Crunchyroll and Nico Nico have become increasingly popular, because part of their selling point is that they publish anime with creators’ permission (and in the case of Crunchyroll, compensate creators proportionally to what you watch the most).
I think there’s a second reason Crunchy and Nico are doing well. They’re free.
I think pirating happens when piracy is the path of least resistance by a significant margin. Supporting creators is a hefty incentive, but not if a ton of time and energy needs to go into the process.
My whole life as a fan, I’ve gone for the path of least resistance. At first, that was piracy over Kazaa. Yes, watching a loading bar for two weeks was the easier way back then, when English subbed copies of Gravitation didn’t exist yet. (I am happy to say I have since bought this series legitimately.)
Today the easiest way to get anime is legally, through simulcasts and DVDs. But not manga, which is still operating on a delay. The fact that we need fan scanlations at all is an indication of a broken system that doesn’t meet readers’ demands.
Manga translations are slow, if they come at all, and when they do it’s costly. Meanwhile, fans have become accustomed to anime simulcasts, where we get to watch shows at the same time that Japanese fans are watching them. We’ve become entitled. “If we can watch anime as soon as it comes out, why can’t we do the same with manga?”
And honestly? There isn’t a reason we shouldn’t except that the business side is not in place. If anyone is going to figure it out though, it’s going to be Crunchyroll. They have their own translators—all they need is the source material. Right now they have Kodansha’s source materials, but maybe later they’ll go after other manga publishers’, too.
Some of you saw my Twitter tirade about wanting to buy a song from Gundam, but not being able to do so without an iTunes Japan gift card or Japanese physical address.
Why won’t iTunes just let me give them money and buy this Japanese song? I hate this arbitrary wall. https://t.co/04ElTCjYH1
— Lauren Orsini (@laureninspace) April 2, 2014
The song was only $1.29; it would have been easy to support the industry. But do you think I ended up doing that? Nope. Whenever I want to listen to it, I just go to YouTube. I’m a fan, and I want to be supportive. But it feels downright restrictive to jump through hoops like this one.
I obviously can’t justify illegally downloading anime, reading scanlations, or watching YouTube videos whose creators don’t own the rights to the song. But I do believe the people who do these things are otherwise supportive fans who have just gotten fed up with the system.
Previous thoughts on piracy: Anime piracy and how the anime industry is like the journalism industry
Screenshot via Captain Harlock