Ripping Yarns: Piracy Cuts Close To Home

I was writing a blog entry on The Borrower Arrietty, but two of today’s tweets have dragged me back to the topic of artistic piracy, or, as I prefer to call it, stealing from people one professes to admire.

For a while now I’ve been tweeting various exhortations to help Japan. One of my suggestions is to buy Japanese stuff, rather than stealing it. At a time when North-east Honshu lies devastated, people have lost their lives, and the economy of a nation we supposedly love is struggling, it seems perfectly rational to suggest that paying for everything we get from Japan will help the country to recover far more effectively than taking its commercial products for free. Or at least, it does to me.

But not everybody thinks this way. I had a reply from someone who sounds like an intelligent and reasonable person, registered as living in a liberal Scandinavian country with a good education system, widespread Internet availability and a high per capita income. This person asked me how to buy Japanese rather than steal it.

When I suggested going to Japanese stores, or ordering online if that wasn’t possible, he responded that his country’s import duties are very high and local licensors non-existent. He subscribes to  Crunchyroll (a former pirate that now supports anime by paying producers and creators for the material its users download) but “they lack many shows.” I infer from this that he feels compelled to steal the shows that are too expensive or difficult for him to acquire by legal means. In what universe of the fortunate and over-entitled does one categorise having exactly what you want when you want it as more important than helping a nation recover from disaster by paying for its goods instead of stealing them?

This morning, in Comica’s news digest Manga Planetarium, two artists active on deviantART talk about having their work ripped off by a commercial company.

Qinni, whose work was on sale  at Japan Expo in Paris, laments “I know some say that “it’s kind of an honour in a way that people steal your stuff” but it’s really not”, and goes on “I don’t even know if a lawyer would help in this situation, because the original work is a fanart.” So he made a picture of a character he loved, but didn’t own, offers his own prints for sale, and is upset that someone else has stolen his work so as to make money from it without his permission. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

Kaoru-chan also had work ripped off, not simply at Japan Expo but also at a convention in  Memphis, Tennessee. A friend in Memphis got the convention organisers to ban sales of the ripped-off art. Kaoru-chan’s journal says “I would like to ask everyone who might notice this artwork of mine (or any other for that matter…) sold as a poster at their local convention, please contact your convention staff, show them my journal and ask them to ban the seller from selling those posters.

Again: I didn’t give permission to anyone to sell my artwork as posters anywhere. If I ever consigned anyone to do such a thing for me, I’d definitely make a public announcement about it so people would know.”

Coincidentally Kaoru-chan pirated the same character as QinniBlack Rock Shooter is obviously a fan favourite at the moment, but I don’t suppose that the creator and owner of the character gave permission for Kaoru-chan, Qinni or anyone else to steal their character and make money out of selling it. With a blissful ignorance of irony, these young artists protest when their work is stolen but consider it perfectly reasonable to steal someone else’s work.

Of course, Qinni and Kaoru-chan are just two of hundreds of thousands of artists who use other people’s characters as a basis for their own work. Fan art, like fanfic, has been around for decades. But now that the Internet makes it easy to circulate fan art widely and get money for it over rapid, seemingly anonymous online links, fan art is a business. And, as all professional artists know to their cost, when you’re in business nothing eats your profits like getting ripped off.

Moral? There isn’t much of that in this story. People who steal stuff from Japanese artists complain when others steal their stuff. People who can’t afford all the Japanese stuff they want, or can’t be bothered to learn the language, or don’t like the translation, or whatever other excuse is flavour of the month, steal it.

But those who sail under pirate flags shouldn’t complain when other pirates rip them off. You reap what you sow. If you support a universe where anything you want is yours for the taking, don’t whine when someone takes from you. And if you really want to help the Japanese economy, don’t steal from Japanese creators.

6 thoughts on “Ripping Yarns: Piracy Cuts Close To Home

  1. Pingback: Pieniä hieman ilkeitäkin listoja | Futoi yatsu

  2. It’s a very thin line, I do buy all my Anime, I will admit I do have some anime soundtracks that I have downloaded because they are out of print, but that’s it. It was great meeting you at Anime North, Helen

  3. I apologise in advance for asking what is either an incredibly banal or thoroughly tiresome (or perhaps both) question, especially as it will be attached to a rather more interesting post on piracy. Feel free to disregard this comment when you see that it’s heading a rather boringly well-trodden direction.

    How did you define (you can see where this is going!) “anime” when you put together ‘The Anime Encyclopaedia’ with Jonathan Clements? In the introduction you mention that it is Japanese animation, which would seem perfectly fine except someone could claim “well, this series was actually animated in Korea, so perhaps it isn’t anime at all!”.

    Do you perhaps think of it as a work wholly or primarily produced in Japan? I only ask because the original ‘Thundercats’ TV series is listed as a Cartoon, rather than an anime, in the Encyclopaedia even though it was produced in part by people in Japan.

    Clearly it’s all “animation” and so we only use other labels for the purpose of convenience but I was just curious as to what label you used when creating your book. Once again, I apologise for even raising this point as the whole “anime or cartoons” question is one that even I find tedious in most cases.

    • No serious question is tiresome. We took the approach that the point of labels is to show what’s in the tin. Using different terms to differentiate between the animation of different nations is a legitimate and useful approach, and “anime” takes less space than “Japanese animation” – an important consideration in what we knew from the beginning would be a very long text.

      For purposes of inclusion in the book, we defined anime as animation of any kind originated in Japan for the Japanese market (though not excluding foreign co-productions,) with a majority of Japanese production companies and senior creative staff. In other words, the creative control had to be sited in Japan for the show to qualify as “anime” in our book. This sites ‘Thundercats’ and other work-for-hire outside the specific Japanese category of “anime”, and within the broad global category of cartoons or animation. It also takes account of the fact that for over three decades rising costs forced Japanese companies to outsource the basic tasks of trace and paint to nations where labour was cheaper, like Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. However these foreign studios were working for hire, and did not have creative control or originate the shows.

      • Thank you for taking the time to post a response. That’s very interesting, it certainly sounds like the best way to go about it.

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