Japan to US: Plz dont be stealn all our animez

October 23, 2007

An article on ANN points out that Japan has made a request to the US government to help stop online distribution of anime. Though probably not mentioned by name, this is in direct regards to the ever more commonplace and open distribution of fansubs.

Now, I do understand their concern. A huge amount of their intellectual property is flying across the net. However, I think that stamping out fansubs would be doing them a huge disservice. Nobody likes to admit it, but fansubs serve a big indirect role in the promotion of anime in the West. Not everyone watches fansubs of course, but some do. Those who do are usually the more “hard core” anime fans who exert influence on the more casual ones. These fans will watch the fansubs, then go out and discuss them on forums, cosplay their characters at conventions, and otherwise raise awareness of the property. Then, when (if) the series comes out in the US or wherever, it already has a base of guaranteed sales and all important name recognition. I don’t think The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya would be the hit it is without the buzz fansubs generated. In fact, Bandai wisely acknowledged this in its ASOS Brigade promotional videos.

This has always been the case with fansubs though, so why is Japan only lately getting its panties in such a bunch about it? Part of it is that Japan is noticing the commercial viability of anime abroad (a market built on the backs of… you guessed it… fansubs). Their bigger problem is that people in Japan have noticed how easy we in the West have made it to download anime. In fact, people in Japan are downloading our fansubs rather than buy the Japanese DVD. This is now hitting the Japanese companies at home, where it really hurts. However, I’m inclined to think Japan wouldn’t have such a problem with out of control piracy if they would stop ripping off their consumers. We may fuss over the prices of DVDs and CDs, but anime in Japan often costs 7000–8000 yen per disc. That’s about $60–$70 US, and often for a lower episode count than the R1 versions. That’s just completely ridiculous, and if I lived in Japan I’d probably be pirating everything too.

Bottom line, and this goes for media companies in all countries: if you want to combat casual piracy, stop ripping off your customers. Simple as that.

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