A New Hope? Ideas for digitising manga legally

My last post suggested that if we are to fix to fix the current problems that piracy is creating for the manga industry and creators, we all need to be part of the solution – creators, publishers, distributors, pirates and pirate-users.

Jake T. Forbes and Erica Friedman have both blogged on the same topic with some useful ideas. The discussion on their blogs demonstrates that many sincerely engaged, intelligent fans are willing to get involved in the process of creating a new model for the business rather than simply stealing from it. (Erica also gives an overview of how the current situation arose from the American perspective, which is in itself a fascinating contribution to manga’s history outside Japan.) This model could also be used to scanlate books, articles and other material currently pirated, in multiple languages. It could work to everyone’s benefit in enabling a wide range of conventionally-published print items to make the transition to digital. And a legal way forward is now more important than ever to secure the future of fast and diverse manga translations online.

Apple dealt a serious blow to this process when the company decided that the iPad would not host manga that involve what it considers “excessive” blood and violence. Since this even involves medical situations, it seems absurdly restrictive. But it’s early days yet. As customer demand makes itself felt and new devices challenge the iPad, Apple may shift its stance.

Meanwhile the manga publishing industry has gone on the attack, with major Japanese and US companies uniting to fight the pirates. A Publishers’ Weekly article on 8 June announced the formation of the Japanese Digital Comic Association, a Japan/US publishers’ union aiming to pool their resources and use current legal means to get scanlations taken down.   In response, one of the major manga scanlation sites,  Mangahelpers,  announced that they will cease hosting scanlations and will instead try to develop a new operating model that recognises and respects creators’ rights and provides income for the creators, the people involved in the scanlation process, and for their own project.

Some die-hard freeloaders are already scoffing at these ideas , proclaiming that there will always be a way to steal and they’ll carry on taking what they want. But they’re not the ones who are likely to feel the full wrath of the law – a fact for which they should be profoundly grateful. The big pirates and their crew of techies, translators and editors are the ones at most risk.

Taking intellectual property infringement through the courts is time-consuming and expensive: that’s why most companies chose to regard the relatively low-level infringment of the pre-broadband age more indulgently. Now things are different. Demonstrable and serious damage is being done to profit margins and corporate viability. The industry is preparing to run out the big guns in the hope of dissuading the pirates. Of course, they can’t catch every single thief; but a few high-profile cases, ending in heavy fines and possibly imprisonment, would help to persuade the bigger fish that online piracy is a dangerous occupation.

Copyright and intellectual property theft is both a civil and a criminal offence, and whichever way the case proceeds, the penalties are serious. In civil cases, ignorance of the law is no defence. Penalties can include injunctions, confiscation and destruction of all related materials, including equipment that could be or has been used for infringement, and monetary compensation – statutory damages, or the actual losses incurred and all profits earned by the infringer. The judge decides on damages, which can be very high. The guilty party can also be ordered to pay all legal costs for both sides.

For criminal cases to be brought to court, copyright or intellectual property infringment must be wilful – that is, the accused must have been aware that his actions broke the law. It’s hard to argue that pirates, scanlators and hosts aren’t aware that their actions are illegal, so they could go to prison. Under the USA’s Digital Millenium Copyright Act, criminal conviction carries a fine of up to $500,000 and imprisonment of up to 5 years, or both,  for a first offence. Subsequent offences attract a fine up to $1 million or imprisonment for up to 10 years, or both.

Scanlators and scanlation distributors who ignore cease and desist requests face being hauled into court, having their property distrained and sold to pay damages and fines, and spending a substantial amount of time in prison. Aside from this, criminal conviction can seriously harm your future. Being Robin Hood only works while your true identity remains secret. Once your secret is out by way of a criminal conviction, not many people will employ you and not many banks will give you a loan to start a business or buy a house.

The  fair, sensible ideas set out by Friedman and Forbes and their readers offer a better way forward.

11 thoughts on “A New Hope? Ideas for digitising manga legally

  1. Helen –

    First of all, thank you for your comment a few weeks ago on my article about why I cannot support scanlation any longer! And secondly, thank you for this critical overview on my and Jake’s articles.

    I wanted to discuss the history of scanlation, because no one else was explaining why it worked, instead relying on the “free” aspect of it as proof of concept. It’s not true. It worked because people were willing to work at it for free. Not because the readers get stuff for free. If the circles did not scanlate, the readers would have nothing.

    I hope the fans are the one to come up with the new solution, because companies have to protect their bottom line and are not likely to come up with anything elegant or multi-platform. iPad will not be our new best friend. Proprietary platforms will kill comics, not help them.

    Thanks again….I look forward to seeing the future that fans create. 🙂



  2. Pingback: A New Hope? Ideas for digitising manga legally « A Face Made for … | All About Comics

  3. I’m still all for the idea of imbedded advertising as mentioned on the course. Most films do it now, so why not manga and anime? People using iPhones, drinking red bull, shopping at HMV, wearing nike. Then the more people who pirate you material, the more people see the imbedded adverts, it’s win win for the companies advertising. You could eventually almost run them for free if you made enough money from advertising, like the free London papers. Some people will think of it as selling out, but if it works to ensure that we continue to get high quality manga and anime who can complain?

  4. Pingback: Secret projects and nonexistent youth « MangaBlog

  5. Helen, just so you know, WordPress is generating links to your post….. and the one I saw was from a scanlation blog. I’ve sent the link to VIZ, so hopefully they can take care of it. But yeah, not good wordpress!

  6. Pingback: Secret projects and nonexistent youth | Anime Blog Online

    • That’s really optimistic – though I have to admit your comment about scanlators getting lawyers to read their contracts raised a wry smile. People who have built their reputations on the basis of screwing mangakas and publishers over shouldn’t really have issues about getting the same treatment!

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