News travels fast in the manga-world and this is definitely news worth spreading – a press release circulated by Viz Media today outlines the creation of a publisher coalition teaming up to target illegal distribution of their work.
“Working together, the membership of the coalition will actively seek legal remedies to this intellectual property theft against those sites that fail to voluntarily cease their illegal appropriation of this material.”
Along with a list of Japanese license-holders, North American manga publishers Viz Media, Yen Press, Vertical and Tokyopop are also all on the list showing a crackdown on piracy that many had hoped (and some expected) was coming.
So what does this mean for the manga scanlation world? In some ways a lot, and in others probably not so much. While the specifics of this coalition isn’t addressed in much detail in the press release, it seems safe to say that Viz, Yen Press and Tokyopop aren’t likely to call out the big guns over things like individual scanlation groups unless they’re outright violating licenses they hold. The large aggregator sites that make money off of posting full series (many of which fully available in English) on the other hand, are something that’s been a huge eyesore in the entire industry and medium for ages, offending companies, fans and scanlators alike as they dropkick any percieved notion of nobility square in the proverbial balls.
Firstly and foremost, scanlations are illegal – flat out, no exceptions. Whether you do it “out of love” or not, scanlations are theft and they directly and negatively impact the creators and the companies. Unfortunately, it remains a moot point to argue that companies don’t rely on them when it comes to deciding on what to license and the resulting fanfare. While even scanlations of series not yet licensed in English is still harmful, it’s long been overlooked as a necessary evil of sorts, one that accepts a language limitation of readers wishing to read a manga in their own language. When this barrier no longer exists however, then you’ve officially tossed all kind-given reasoning to the wind.
This is thus where the biggest issue lies – people who read manga for free that’s fully available to them in their own language (for sake of this article, English will be the predominant example). If the majority of people who thought ‘hey that series was neat’ went to Amazon (or other such online retail site or physical store) first instead of the thousands who go to Google and type in a generic ‘such-and-such-a-series-volume-1-for-free’, then we’d be looking at a whole different manga industry. Most of this falls to a morale stand on the reader’s part, an unfortunate cycle of habit many have gotten themselves into for whatever their reason. Lots of alternative means out there but it’s high time those legal means stopped being the alternatives.
Aggregrators, in the manga sense, are large websites that offer up hundreds of series to read via their site. This regardless of creator permission (which is never), scanlator permission (which is half-never) and regardless of if the series has been published in English (in fact often intentionally so they can thrive off the official publicity and interest). They then slater their websites with ads to rake in the money from visitors and send out Google ads to look more legit and draw in more hopefully-unsuspecting readers. These are the sites need to be taken down so badly that it’s rather sickening to know they’ve thrived this long.
Will the tear-down of these sites be the result of this coalition? It looks like the companies are planning to be civil about it, this despite the fact these sites have been giving them the finger for so many years. Admirably patient perhaps but a polite ‘please stop’ seems like it’ll definitely fall on deaf ears. While promising in itself to see such big manga giants working together for a common goal in this big pool of common interest, where they go from here is the real thing to keep an eye on – it’ll be a huge victory if they can take down these sites but perhaps a little naive to think it’ll happen overnight.
Personally, I say “amazing!” to this – it’s a promising start. If companies want manga readers to stick up for their work (you know, beyond the obvious that you should already be supporting what you care about without being prodded) then they need to show they’re willing to stand up for themselves.
As for the ‘little guys’, the scanlation groups who offer scans and translations of series not yet licensed and don’t charge money for them and don’t feed them like greed-soaked fillets to aggregator sites – keep on truckin’. I don’t personally agree with what you do, but I know what you do is needed with the way things are now and most of you do do it out of love and wanting to share a fun story and read what people think of it. But be nice, follow your own code of yester-year – if a company licenses something, don’t cuss and kick up a fuss. They’re in the right – it’s good news. Politely take down your scans and direct your readers to the legal editions and give yourself a pat on the back for likely helping see it happen.
This is a big manga playground and if everyone plays nice, we’ll have happy recesses forever – everyone just needs to learn how to share the space. Getting there one less bully at a time for now at least!