Japan Plans Assault on Fansubbing


In their “Intellectual Property Strategic Program 2008”, the Japanese government proposes measures for curbing the unauthorised online sharing and distribution of anime and manga, in what could very well turn out to be an assault on fansubbing and the sharing of anime and other Japanese cultural products.

The most relevant item the Secretariat of Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters proposes:

Going Forward on the Elimination of Infringing Contents from Overseas Movie Sharing Sites

So as to remove the infringing contents which pose an impediment to our nation’s content businesses, in 2008 we plan to implement measures to enhance online distribution of contents and facilitate the elimination of infringing contents. In 2008 we aim for the introduction of a framework in which Japanese IP holders can more easily make demands for the removal of infringing content, as well as the introduction of technical measures facilitating such, aimed against certain countries.

There are also some other items which do not mention online distribution specifically, but do mention unspecified Asian countries, so these can be assumed to be polite plans to dissuade China from pirating everything.

The plan also has several other elements; most notably for the planners, they are looking to implement an EU style protected designation of origin system, where Japanese products will gain exclusive legal rights to use the name of their place of origin. This follows on from plenty of liberal Chinese use of place Japanese names in purely Chinese products, as well as complaints over the use of various foodstuff names in the US and elsewhere.

More interestingly, they also call for action against P2P file sharing, though I doubt a year has gone by in which they have not, so this may be unimportant.

The full “Intellectual Property Strategic Program 2008” can be read in Japanese here, and English translations of earlier reports are also available. The plan came to my attention here, though that source lacks much in the way of details.

The plan proposes activity which seems somewhat ambiguous; usually I would tend to assume that moves against anime piracy are targeted more against Chinese pirate DVDs and the like (several of the measure specifically mention “Asia”), but the explicit mention of file sharing and unauthorised online movie distribution overseas, along with plenty of acknowledgement of how anime is Japan’s leading cultural export, doesn’t support that interpretation.

They also do not make any mention of P2P versus YouTube style sharing, so it is hard to know if they are looking at both or not.

It should also be noted that the 2007 report barely mentions piracy and doesn’t mention online distribution at all, concentrating on protecting plant varieties and other interesting topics, so it does appear this is not just a yearly repetition of a call for action against piracy, but a potentially concerted effort.

It does appear Japan (or at least a mishmash of ministries) is looking to put in place the international legal infrastructure to facilitate a crackdown, so the issue really becomes one of implementation – can we expect a tacit acknowledgement of the enormously positive influence fansubs and other unauthorised distribution has on anime’s popularity, and so only very limited action against it as has been the case in the past? Or will they push for an indiscriminate crackdown?

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  • I agree there. While the large anime companies think they have a “illegal rival” to compete with in distribution, I see LOTS and LOTS of opportunities… First, anime gets distributed DIGITALLY through the FANSUBBERS (contract). They charge $1-2 per episode (seems fair, considering they don’t use DVD’s = less possible expense in distribution). The Subbers get a share of the profit, the companies get an advertisement “probabbly during the eyecatch/break” (no f-ing DRM, please). The anime itself gets distributed to many more people = more profit. And, everyone benefits. What I don’t get is why they (Japanese execs) haven’t thought of this earlier. And, from what I can see so far, FANSUBBING WILL NEVER DIE (for the forseeable future, anyways)

    • No, that’s a stupid idea. No one would buy those fansubbed episodes. Maybe if they were true 720p and $0.50. I could spend 50 cent on an episode of anime but I’ll just get it elesewhere for free rather than $2.

      You can watch all episodes of many series’ on Crunchyroll and it’s only $7/mo.

  • Last I heard, from places like ANN and ICv2; Japan’s anime industry makes anywhere between 22% to 66% in licensing fees for releases outside of Japan (and Asia).

    And so far, everything is pretty much “hand-me-downs” with no nod towards the non-Japanese anime fandom outside the otaku fanbase. Sure we have works like Batman, Afro Samurai, and Ghost N Da Shell. But that’s about it.

    I can understand “the shows must be left unedited.” Lest a company becomes hated like 4Kids. But the Japanese anime industry still has this stigma against “being different” and catering to people who hadn’t been spoken for. Everyone’s been stepping all over GONZO despite striking gold with Strike Witches.

    I can still sense a lot of xenophobia, “anti-achiever disdain,” and flat-out refusal to “get from behind the walls.” And it’s been shown via Bandai Visual USA and their failed attempt to Japanize outer-Asia animu distribution. ($50 for single-audio-language 2-episode DVDs and Blu-Rays. Fabulous!)

    So as long as the anime industry’s xenophobia exists; fansubs are not going away anytime soon.

  • Whether they like it or not, fansubbing and scanlating will not die off until 100% of the fans have access to their daily/weekly/monthly dosage of anime/manga/visual novels/light novels at a speed equivalent or better than the internet. All I can offer is, ‘QQ moar?’

  • Yeah…You have to wonder how they had the initiative to make a campaign like this. This couldn’t possibly hurt dvd sales as much as the anime/otaku industry is profiting. Especially when the market is steadily growing, and I can only imagine how much influence the western has where otaku culture can be called a hobby. The only reason fansubs or scanlations exist is because the material isn’t available as it is in Japan. Clearly this was made on a whim, with no knowledge of anything outside of the coziness of Japan.

  • The whole situation is stupid. The solution is staring these idiots right in the face. You can’t beat them, so join them..

    Get in touch with fansubbing groups and get them under contract. Offer them a very small slice of the profit pie if they place an advertisement in the middle of the video. Then stream it for free at a decent resolution. Offer it for a buck if they want high resolution. Heck, I’d pay that.

    The only complicated part is how to handle distribution and advertising using Bit Torrent. Maybe the answer there is to only offer videos in a particular format like RealPlayer (yes I hate real player too but thats a format that can supporting advertising)

    Right now, the Fan subbing community pretty much handles all advertising for new shows for free. So there goes your savings from a marketing prospective. Using bit torrent and streaming drastically cuts your distribution costs. Relying on Fan Subbing instead of licensing through US or other international distributors GREATLY increases your margins. All you need to do is sell advertising in multiple countries. Heck, they could also market figures and other toys more thoroughly.

    There are so many ways to make coin off the fan subbing community it is stupidly simple. The problem is that these Japanese execs have their blinders on and can’t see outside their narrow view. There is a ton of money sitting on the table but they are focused on the pennies on the floor…

    • I completely agree. The foreign anime viewers significantly outweigh the Japanese viewing population. The answer to this: like mentioned above, get the groups under contract and stream it, or better yet, broadcast it in a different country. Fansub groups have way better quality than even DVD, and we(Yes, I’m a fansubber) don’t get paid for it. The DVD subs are paid for, and sometimes the quality downright sucks, and they don’t translate signs or add in notes.

    • Another note for the subbers is karaoke the OP and ED like fan subbers do. I may seem wierd for it but if the OP is good and catchy by ep 3 i will be singing and boogying on my chair. Its a feature with obvious benefits but this would require the publishers to take note.

      • Actually most of the companies seem to be doing that nowadays but the level of quality is pretty inconsistent.
        Have a look at how Bandai Entertainment USA took up karaoke subs in the DVD releases of “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”, screenshots taken of my original DVD boxset.


        Not to worry though, Funimation does seem to do a decent job on the karaoke subs. However they are all still looking pretty bland while fansubs use visually more appealing with their animated fonts and colours.
        In the mortifying case of bandai USA they don’t even use anti-aliasing/de-interlacing, common-sense-placement-filtering and quality check on their subs.

        Are these companies technologically impaired?

        • It’s not a case of companies being technologicially impaired, it’s the limitations of the DVD standards.

          DVD subs can’t be anti-aliased, at least not completely.

          DVD subs can’t do karaoke effects, unless they’re hardsubbed.

          What exactly is “common sense placement”? Fansubs don’t use common sense placement either, as their subs often hug the borders of the image and drag viewers’ eyes away from the main action.

          Most fansub karaoke coloring only serves to make the subtitles as background-blending and unreadable as possible — this makes them *more* distracting, since you have to strain your eyes to parse them out against the art work.

          And ultimately, we’re supposed to be entertained by the content of the songs and dialogues themselves, not by the colors, fonts, and effects on the subtitles.

          Although from a writing/enjoyability perspective, the Bandai Haruhi subs are truly worse than the a.f.k. fansubs.

    • I certainly agree that they are overlooking a potentially huge market opportunity, they still seem fixed in the old territorial paradigm of content delivery, when they could be allowing fans to produce localisations on top of their own streams, rather than using regional companies; the whole thing could then be distributed through the efforts of the anime loving community (eg. blogs and forums, etc).
      I also feel the same way with respect to manga – I’d really rather read it digitally on a 27 inch monitor than squint at a tiny little book, but so far they can’t see past festooning any such effort with so much DRM that it cannot compete with unauthorised downloads.
      But looking at what happened to the music industry, it may be that these kind of uncertain plans are too much for such unwieldy enterprises to take.

    • Yeah. This won’t kill the industry, however it will have a reversed effect…

      Just like the late 90s/early 2000s mp3 boom. People will find a way to get around it somehow.

      The fans hold the most power, of all.

  • Failage is evident. I doubt they can pull through with something consistent except against Chinese pirated stuff. For online stuff it is going to be difficult for them, but it may be because of the recent file sharing virus cases that were caught that may have finally shaken them.

  • kuromitsu says:

    “can we expect a tacit acknowledgement of the enormously positive influence fansubs and other unauthorised distribution has on anime’s popularity, and so only very limited action against it as has been the case in the past?” – Maybe when Hell freezes over… I think the limited actions in the past were due to the fact that the Japanese didn’t quite understand the whole phenomenon of fansubs, and had no tactics to follow. I really doubt they understand, let alone acknowledge that fansubs may have a positive influence, especially now that the industry is in a pinch in the US and everyone and their dog is blaming fansubs. (Clinging to outdated business models, both in Japan and in the US, is of course never the cause.)

    • Oh dear, Oh dear, Oh dear.

      How quick they are to forget. I’ve been involved in the fan subbing culture for many years ( almost 20 years) due to the fact that here in the UK Anime titles were unavailable. That’s because everybody here at the time thought they were just cartoons for kids, until people like myself set out to “educate” people about this form of art. In the past Hollywood had gotten hold of a few of these titles and in their travesty of translation completely destroyed the whole meaning of the piece. Early on before the widespread availability of Anime the US & UK were able to do this as many of japan’s media was never exported (I think they let them get away with it cause they were just grateful of the extra sales) whereas some of us were able to, at enormous expense get hold of the originals either from Japan herself or via bulletin boards, the WWW had only just been implemented back then, you were lucky to get a picture on a web site let alone video. We setup Newsgroups and got hold of translators etc… etc.. well you know how it works without me going into detail. The gist of it being without the fan-subbing Anime would still be widely misunderstood and unavailable.

      Where would their sales be without us. Also I might add that we were encouraged in the past to do this and were only asked to stop when they released the video themselves so we would not impinge on the said sales. I rather think it’s to do with the modern CODECs we use now, as in the past it took a day to download a small video file about the size of a large postage stamp and cost a fortune in telephone charges (no broadband back then) but now with the CODECs we have now most are in broadcast quality and can be downloaded in a few minutes.

      I do understand the position of the Anime companies wanting to maximize their profits in a recession, but we are all going through this as well, so if we can’t keep the interest level peaked with the new releases the said companies will lose sales simply because its still not mainstream entertainment. OK once in a while a Studio Ghibli film will peak interest from the movie sites but the majority of the Anime series will gain no mainstream publicity at all. It’s still quite difficult to go out and rent an Anime series at all. Most Anime is still purchased via the internet.

      Maybe the producers misunderstand what we are trying to do. We have at great expense and with an enormous amount of time been able to show off these beautiful works to the rest of the world and have at the same time educated hollywood, though limited success, in treating these works seriously and not as kids toons. We have also added to the producers of these works a much greater market, increased profits, better recognition and a better understanding of this outstanding form of art work, and what did we charge? NOTHING. All we wanted to do was to be able to watch these titles ourselves.

      Although much has been achieved I still can’t go out into the high street and buy the latest series released. Please allow us to continue our work… We are tying to help you.

      Kind regards