Monday, October 22, 2007

I Cannot Disagree with Teresa (Also, Anime Legality!)

Teresa Nielsen Hayden is absolutely right when she uses the phrase "The Greatest Blog Post In the History of the Universe" to describe this post over at Salon.

Featuring, not in this order, anime opening and closing credits; the 1963 pop hit “Sukiyaki”; new business models for pop music; “piracy” on YouTube; Fullmetal Alchemist; fansubbing then and now; the author’s first SLIP account, obtained in the course of reporting on otaku in San Francisco in 1993; the Japanese band Asian Kung-Fu Generation; young Japanese women in bikinis throwing cream pies at one another while riding rocking horses; and, in Singapore, a public protest, in defiance of local law, featuring Ultraman figurines bearing signs reading “The Freedom To Download Fan Subbed Anime Is The Right of All Sentient Beings.”

Only connect!
Oddly enough, this last bit is a real political/legal issue in Singapore. Andrew Leonard touched on it, but I'll fill it out a bit.

Anime has a huge audience outside of Japan, and a lot of Japanese anime companies still seem a little surprised and bemused by this; especially because Anime plays a tiny second fiddle to Manga in Japan, whereas outside Japan the reverse is true. They've never been sure how to handle these markets, so they generally haven't bothered.

The practical upshot is that a lot of series are either never subtitled and/or dubbed for release outside of Japan, or are so terrible as to be worthless. Enter fansubbers, who record the shows, subtitle them, and distribute them themselves as well. These people were vital back when the only anime on television was Sailor Moon, and considered what they were doing legal, because there was no license for the anime; and anyway nobody ever got sued over anime. They still don't, not really. Fansubbing is controversial, but a lot of the big anime companies got started with fansubbing, and the community that buys anime as a genre is still small enough that you don't want to alienate them. Everybody recognizes that without these people, anime would not really exist as a medium outside of Japan.

In Singapore, though, things have changed. One company, Odex, has scooped up the rights for pretty much everything under the sun, releases absolutely terrible subtitles and dubs, and cracked down on subtitlers. This has driven them bananas, not only because fans subtitling is pretty much responsible for the current state of the form, but because Odex is being given pretty much carte blanche to go through ISP's data records to track people down and sue them. They're pretty gleeful about it, too, despite the distinct possibility that without these hardcore fans, you'll end up seeing anime decline as yet another trend whose bubble bursts.

So, you end up with a rather nasty ethical situation. On the one hand, you have the legal owner of the license, who paid for it and has the rights to it, releasing crap and suing fans. On the other hand, you have people who are breaking the law, who didn't pay for anything, who are nonetheless the backbone of the industry, who practically built it, getting sued through privacy violations that a lot of westerners would find odious. Oh, and the government isn't exactly democratic, either, so there's not a lot of recourse for these guys.

What side would YOU be on?

Well, somebody definitely made up their mind.

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