Yesterday, the announcement of the long-overdue anti-piracy coalition within the manga industry got a lot of people riled up, both here at Japanator and across the 'net. Of course, the press release wasn't the most specific thing in the world, which left a lot of questions on my mind.
So, I decided to go straight to the source and tap a number of publishers for more information about this coalition.
After the jump, I'll go into a bit more detail as to just what this coalition is made up of, how it attempts to shape the industry, and if it will really be all that effective. There's quite a bit, because I want to let the publishers have their say.
"To protect the intellectual property rights of our creators and the overall health of our industry, we are left with no other alternative but to take aggressive action."
More or less, this was a declaration of war against online hosting sites such as OneManga and MangaFox. Collecting scanlations from all across the Internet, these sites host the items with advertising displayed or some even charge premium memberships to people in order to get material, making a profit off these already gray-area goods.
Smaller scanlation groups that can just disband and reform, or impossible to target areas like IRC aren't really the main focus of this group. They're trying to be a bit more realistic. The coalition itself will be made up of representatives from all the leading publishers on both sides of the Pacific.
I got a chance to talk with Ed Chavez, the Marketing Director for Vertical, Inc., about the whole issue. Ed brought up that scanlation is no longer about translating the obscure titles or the ones that would take years to come out here in the US:
Pirates go to such lengths as to scan our translations and covers because the source material (Japanese editions) are hard to find....Scanlation behavior, which used to be communal and self-regulating, has now becoming completely corrupt. From a legal perspective, this new trend is cannot be easily defended giving us an interesting position if we as a group pursue legal action.
Vertical hasn't been the only company to have their English versions scanned and uploaded -- Yen Press was one of the victims as well. If you listened to Kurt Hassler's, head of Yen Press, appearance on the ANNCast, he talked about the issue and how it was affecting them greatly. His talk there fits with word that I heard Yen was originally planning on going at this alone, with the help of their Japanese partner Square Enix, before stumbling across other publishers who were planning the same. Soon after, a coalition was formed.
We've seen rumblings from both sides of the Pacific on this issue, so it's hard to pinpoint where the whole plan started, but there seems to be a serious passion on the US side to getting this done, so I'm leaning a bit more that way. Presentations have been made to committees on the Japanese Diet, and according to Chavez, the group is in the final stages of obtaining legal representation for the group as a whole.
So, more on Yen Press specifically. I got a chance to talk to Hassler about the whole issue, and got an interesting response from him in regards to what the group plans to do after the cease-and-desist letters are sent out. Quoth Hassler:
Really, that’s going to be dictated by the sites themselves. In recent weeks, the industry has seen the consequences to the proprietor of a site not unlike the ones we are targeting. Intellectual property theft is a crime, and there are significant civil and criminal penalties involved — particularly for sites operating on this scale. We hope the operators have the good sense to shut down on their own before there’s no going back. As to the coalition’s plans, I think the press release pretty much laid it out: injunctions, statutory damages, and reports to authorities at both local and federal levels. The potential fallout is dire. My personal take on it? You know that Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler? Take a lesson from the lyrics. It’s time to run...
One of the comments I've seen popping up again and again is that this sounds a bit like the RIAA. The difference here, though, is that they're not looking to target individual readers -- that would be suicide. Instead, they're looking to cut down some of the worst offenders and replace those online offerings with their own. Yen Plus is moving to an online format, Viz's SigIKKI offerings and I believe even Vertical is planning to get some online distribution here and there.
For sites that exist outside the US? Both the US and Japanese publishers will be tapping into their networks of contacts, says Viz rep Jane Lui. That might not sound like much, but remember: we're not talking about just Viz or Vertical or Del Rey. This brings in Shogakukan, Square Enix, Random House, Hachette and many others -- companies with massive international reach that can easily work with their foreign distributors to seek legal aciton.
Because, really, things need to change.
Publishers won't take risks with new titles if they know they can't sell them. There is certainly a demand there when you look at the downloads for scanlations, but that isn't translating into dollars. This might not affect the core titles like Bleach, Naruto or Black Butler, but it will affect more experimental titles for publishers -- the Kingyo Used Books, Twin Spica and Sundomes of tomorrow might never make it over to our shores.