My Point of View on Scanlation

May 19th, 2010

I’m getting a lot of angry comments from folks from Kotonoha these days, as a response to my post on my entry for Gunjo. The main accusation appears to be “how dare you, you’re friends with Lilicious and so you are playing favorites.”

I want to address this issue, mostly to provide a permanent link for the next 3,000,000 times it comes up.

I do not support scanlation of material that is currently in print or available for sale – in any language.

In general, I believe that you have no right to entertainment and if a book is licensable or licensed, scanning it does not “help build an audience.” Things might have been different a decade ago, but now, the justification for scanlation is primarily ego on the groups’ side and desire to get something for nothing on the leechers’ side.

The folks at Lililicous know my opinion on this. I have no influence or control over what they do. I am friends with them,  but we do not see eye to eye on the matter. I have made the point many times on their IRC channel in hopes of educating people who are not aware that they are violating copyright or hurting individual artists by doing this.

The reason for my post about Kotonoha was because they linked to my review of Gunjo and I suddenly got many new visitors to the site from there. It seemed sensible to let visitors from there know that I do not support scanlations of licensable material – which might be implied from the link. It’s not out of hate or retribution or favoritism and I’m sorry it seemed personal. I have no belief that any scanlation group is better than any other.

The fact that I have a notice up on this title and have never done that before is being misinterpreted by many of you. The issue is not what group is violating the copyright here – the issue is the work that is being scanlated. I am a little more vehement about this title, because I know how much blood, sweat and tears it took the artist to create and how important it is to her. And the thought that anyone is planning on scanlating it makes me ill when I know what she went through with it. The fact that Lili had it on their site is really quite irrelevant – for one thing, I don’t go to their site and have no idea what they have on it. I don’t follow their scanlations, to be honest. (In fact, I gave up reading scanlations some time ago when I realized that it was something with which I strongly disagreed. I also stopped providing out-of-print material for scanlations at that point.) If Lilicious had started to scanlate it, and I had received a lot of visitors from them for it, I very likely would have had the same or similar message. It was merely an issue of timing, not which group. I have removed Kotonoha’s name from the message, since so many thought I was harping on the group. That was not the intention and for that, I sincerely apologize.

If it were up to me, all scanlations groups would grok that they are not helping anyone worth helping. No mangaka is excited to be scanlated. You are not providing a service – you are complicit in copyright violation. You are not “building an audience,” you are devaluing something that many people have worked hard to create. And for every one person who *might* buy a work *if* it comes out and *if* it’s available at a local book store when they want it, you’re giving someone else’s work – something you have no right to in the first place – away to hundreds, maybe thousands of people who will take it and ask for more. The only audience you are building is one made up of people who have no intention of paying for the privilege – or worse, paying you to “support the group,” while the mangaka who did the actual work gets nothing from it.

To answer a specific, rather ingenuous argument in the comments – the chapters that were online for free at Ikki were published by the official publisher, with the artist’s approval. Legal online versions of a comic are clearly not the same as scans that do not have the artist’s permission.

This is exactly what licensing is. You want to publish this manga? Then license it. Then everyone gets what they need and want. You will get to translate, publish and distribute a title you love to people who want it and the mangaka gets paid for her work.

I’ll be glad to keep approving comments that disagree with me. I won’t be replying to them other than to point them to this post where it’s relevant. (My opinion on personal or offensive comments is very much “sticks and stones.” It’s tiresome, but you can’t do much damage, because I don’t know you, you don’t know me and you are not one of the dozen people or so on the planet whose anger can hurt me.)

This is my honest, heartfelt opinion as of today. It has changed in the past and will be subject to change in the future. Chances are if you rely on scanlations, I won’t change your mind. But to be honest,  I really can’t approve of people distributing work they have no permission to distribute. The more I get to know the mangaka, the less I find the justifications for scanlations make sense.

May 20, 2010 Update: In response to a totally reasonable question in the comments, I have pulled the full translations of the Maria-sama ga Miteru Novels from this blog and will not be posting any more. I am keeping synopses and reviews here, because,  when you talk about a cool pair of jeans you saw in a store to a friend, you are not implicitly encouraging them to steal those jeans.  I know that my reviews here stimulate sales – perhaps in only a small way, and perhaps more people rush out to find scans than are motivated to purchase the books, but I know that the large percentage of Okazu readers *do* buy what they want to read and watch and I thank them and tip my hat to them.


I also want to point out that it is not a sign of weakness or hypocrisy to have an opinion that changes over time, no matter what opposition politicos say. :-) As we change, the market changes, circumstances change, technology changes, it’s sensible to have one’s opinion change. Ten years ago, I was fully in support of scans. It was extremely unlikely that most of what fans read would ever get over here. Today, manga publishers are bringing over unheard of amounts of manga, which is good, and struggling with the market, which is bad. Go Comi!, CMX, Aurora, CPM, cutbacks at Viz…all of these are signs not that the publishers are losers, but that the growing audience for manga does not mean a growing market for manga.  As a result of this change, I’ve come to the opinion that while I still understand the desire for scanlations and subs…I can no longer support them. Does that make me a hypocrite because I translated stuff and provided raws for scanlations of out of print or obscure titles in the past? I’m sure many of you think it does. I can say only this – that was my position then and this is my position now. Things have changed. I have changed.


Perhaps one day publishers will find a way to create an online library that allows readers to read, and buyers to buy and all will be happy. I look forward to that day.

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54 Responses

  1. Amen, Erica. I’m tired of all the arguments folks make about the value of scanlations: “The quality of English translation sucks! I want the real thing!” “I want to sample before I buy!” (What about all the comics you try but don’t buy?) “It’s hard to find!” Or, worst of all, the librarian who defended her use of scans because she needs to know if there are naughty bits in the stuff she plans to buy. How about reading the School Library Journal to find out?

    Call me a stick in the mud, or suggest that I’m being judgmental if it makes you feel better, but intellectual property theft is no different than boosting someone’s radio or TV or jewelry — the consequences just aren’t as obvious for the person stealing. Glad to know I’m not the only one who feels so strongly.

  2. @Katherine Dacey – Because I am a fan, as well as a publisher, I get it, I really do. I want to have chapters of comics that come out weekly or monthly delivered to my computer at the same time they get to Japan, just like everyone else. The only difference is, I;m willing to empty my bank account to support the companies that try their best to build the industry to that point. (It took 40+ years in Japan. I’m willing to wait, here.)

    What I don’t understand is the lack of humility, the attitude, the sheer hubris involved in so many scan groups. In my dark heart, I hope Shogakukan reaches out like hand of god and squashes groups that scanlate their work. But they aren’t, so groups keep at it, knowing that the companies and law enforcement (which is so overwhelmed with crime online that they don’t have resources to even begin to start on multi-national copyright issues) can’t and won’t do anything. Not getting stopped means – in most people’s heads – that they must not be doing anything wrong. from “not doing wrong” to “doing a good thing” is a short jump. So, I get it, I do. I just wish everyone wasn’t such a raging asshole about it.

  3. Emma says:

    Hmm . . . if it wasn’t for exorbitant price of shipping, I’d be happy to buy in everything; my reading japanese is coming on, bit by bit. As it is, I only buy if I love a series, and I can only know I love a series if I come across scanlations. Realistically it is the only way series get advertised over here, and I don’t think this website would have much of a following if manga/anime viewing weren’t facilitated by the internet in that way.

    I have all the raw volumes of Aoi Hana and Sasameki koto, and otsu hiyori’s Clover, for example. From what I’ve seen of Gunjo, I’ll happily add it to my list; the idea being that when that list is long enough I’ll order in another batch. I can see your point of view, but I’m not sure that scanlation is the market drain you think it is.

    Obv, I get all the officially translated manga as well. Roll on friday, when my new HayateXblade vol 6 arrives!

  4. darkchibi07 says:

    I wonder if this will give someone an honest incentive to start a manga publishing company here in the U.S. that specifically does Yuri. That would be a dream to aim for.

  5. Hafl says:

    This question is mostly academical for me now, since I no longer have time to read more manga than I buy, but there’s one argument for scanlations I can make.

    Japanese publishers sometimes simply won’t allow licensing for countries like mine, since they consider the market too small. (By small I mean that a printing run of 1000 copies is considered a very big one. I guess that in the North American market, it is a standard for niche titles.) The potential readers here are not considered a viable market, so it is easy for them to justify reading scanlations as not hurting anyone.

    That doesn’t make scanlations right or good, but since the largest part of the audience here are high school or university students who usually don’t have the money to import books, the issue is at least understandable.

    But really, if someone lives in an English speaking country and downloads a scanlation instead of buying a legitimate release, there’s not much justification they can make. If there’s no legitimate English release to buy, justifying is easier, but learning Japanese to the degree that you’re able to understand most manga is not that hard, just time consuming, and learning another language, whatever the reason, is usually a time well-spent.

    For dead authors or out-of-print titles, I have no moral compunctions about possibly reading scanlations, but it is still illegal and yes, there may be consequences.

    Also, for out-of-print titles, the argument of creating an audience is actually viable, since in that case, the publishers may notice there is still interest in the title and re-release it.

  6. D says:

    Ahh it’s the money issue again. I have no money so it’s OK to rip others off.

    Let me give you an example, the Ikkitousen manga our local release is 12 euro per volume now the US release which you can get just as simple is 10,99. So much for I don’t have the money to import English manga.

    Hey but next time they wanna party and don’t have the money why not just steal the beer.

  7. BruceMcF says:

    It does take an ability to repeat talking points without looking around to make the claim that scanlations “build the market” … since scanlations have been booming, if they “helped the market”, then the market would be booming.

    It would be an odd boom that had, in the space of one week, people working out that one publisher had quietly shut its doors, one of the biggest names in the American industry announcing a massive downsizing, and DC comics announcing that they are closing down their manga imprint.

    I’d be tempted to say that we need a Crunchyroll of manga, where publishers could upload manga unlikely to be licensed for publication outside Japan, with quality manga reader applications for unlettered artwork with separate “black and clear” localization overlays … especially for aggregating a number of Hafl’s microniche markets in one place …

    … except for the fact that we don’t really have a Crunchyroll of anime yet, at least as far as CR’s ambition to simulcast 1/2 the anime broadcasting in the current Japanese season.

  8. Annette Bloomberg says:

    Despite your very clear stance on this, my honest opinion is that your reports on non-English Yuri media in this blog are a major factor in encouraging scanlators to scan and leechers to leech.

    I know you are not naive enough to think that your reviews on these kinds of releases are doing anything in the way of increasing overseas purchases. Rather, you’re only creating interest among scanlators and their followers toward titles that you describe in a positive light.

    So I have to say, if you really wanted to do your very best to strike a blow against scanlation, you would stop talking about unlicensed works altogether.

    (Lastly, your relationship with Lililicious and your shikata ga nai attitude about what your “friends” do still strikes me as hypocritical. I doubt you would continue to be friends with someone you knew was stealing car stereos, or whatever analogy you prefer.)

  9. Anonymous says:

    I’m posting this sitting next to a shelf with 700 manga, both in japanese and in my own language. I get Yuri hime and YHS delivered to me every quarter year.

    I am still reading scanlation, because I cannot read japanese, and will never be able to, my eyesight is not good enough to decipher the kanji even while using glasses.

    So, what am I supposed to do to understand the stories I bought, if not use scanlations?

    Buy American? None of the mangas I BOUGHT are available in english, and I would prefer not supporting the American companies, because that would be reducing the support for manga in my own country. I only buy in my native language, or in japanese.

    Scanlations are a godsent.

    You are also incorrect that scanlations don’t build a fandom. Without scanlation and fansubs, there would be no Yuri fandom. It would be dead. Anime fandom itself only exists because of fansubbing and scanlation. Even those translating officially often have a background in fansubbing/scanlating.

    Anyway, I’ll go back reading Chi-Ran manga in my own language, then some Yuri hime.

    Which I paid for.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’m confused. What is the difference between scanlations and the Marimite translations you helped to produce and then posted? The notes evolved to translations over time, but in the end, there were full translations published here without any kind of license I’m aware of, and I don’t recall the copyright being waived in any way. The Japanese versions are still being sold. It seems like exactly the same thing you are complaining about. Forgive me if you have addressed the difference somewhere.

  11. Emma says:

    The argument that the booming scanlation trade cannot be helping the overseas manga trade because that trade is not booming is completely specious. Two issues: as far as I am aware we are exclusively discussing manga that haven’t been released in english: no one is arguing for not buying from the companies that are actually releasing the titles. Secondly, the fact that those companies are slowly drying up has nothing to do with scanlations of Aoi Hana or Gunjo, and everything to do with the market right now. EVERYTHING is drying up.

    And I for one would never have gotten into Aoi Hana without the scanlations, would never purchase the DVDs, never have bought the raw manga, probably never have heard of it. So at least in my case, the scanlations groups have indeed helped sales overseas. And I don’t see how it could possibly be hurting sales in the country of origin, either.

    Were Aoi Hana released over here I would buy it instantly, all four volumes, based on the love I developed for it through lililicious. So . . . I don’t see how the release of unlicensed manga

  12. @Emma – I understand your perspective completely. I used to do the same thing. The problem is not that you use scanlations like a library, then buy the original, it’s the many thousands who treat scanlations like a bookstore. It’s a sad fact that the number of people reading scans far far outweighs the number of people who buy those books once they are available.

    Many people I know, am friends with, like, myself up to a few years ago, read scanlations then purchased the book. it comforts me to know that so many of the people I know and personally like are part of the market. it’s the many folks who say, “I have no money, so I would never buy it anyway, but I still want it and don’t care that I’m stealing,” that are the problem.

  13. @Anonymous – That’s a good question. I’ve been pondering it myself. I did the translations with the best of intentions to assist in a fandom that I knew would never get to see the novels otherwise and I am now very conflicted about them. It’s hypocritical of me, of course, to have those posted. I’m just not sure at the moment, what I want to do about them.

    If I wanted to make up a lame excuse, my choice would be that scanlations completely reproduce the series, so people have no motivation to buy the original and a text translation does not. I started my fan days back in the day when text translations were treasures that helped you get through a raw series. But, as I said, that would be me justifying lamely.

    I really do get the value of scanlations, especially to people who do buy what they can when it comes out. I translated doujinshi when I first started as a fan, too. I understand the community-building, the group effort, etc. it’s just at this point, there’s more ‘I want it, I don’t care” out there than “I want it, and I’ll pay for it, but it’s nice to have the translation.”

    @Annette – Interesting perspective, but unanswerable. I can’t “prove” my reviews do no harm, but I can prove that my reviews do get sales, because I can see what is being bought through the links. I’m not perfect, or flawless -I’m a human and subject to hypocrisy, inconsistency and exclusionary beliefs, just like everyone else. It’s not “shikata nai” – Lili are a dozen or so people who are not my children. I can agree with them in all but one thing – just as I like my not-in-laws, but disagree with them strongly about politics. Human relations are rarely simple.

    @darkchibi7 – I tried that. It’s hard to maintain in the face of low market size. Infinity licensed a “real” Yuri title and they too found the paying market to be smaller than they’d like. Seven Seas has a Yuri line and have had their own issues with that. Another niche publisher would not actually make it a better market. There just aren’t enough Yuri manga *buyers* to make it a viable market – yet. One day it may very well be. Right now, it’s just not.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Re: Marimite, I certainly enjoy reading each additional volume as it shows up in English, since I can’t read my Japanese copies which are just filed away like receipts more or less. I appreciate the work you all have put into the ones you’ve posted. There are a lot of different things to consider, maybe even between Nakamura Ching and Konno Oyuki etc., when you make decisions about this kind of thing and what’s going to rub you more the wrong way. I just saw the “I really can’t approve of people distributing work they have no permission to distribute” and thought it was kind of a head-scratcher.

    Whatever you end up doing is cool. I might buy your lame excuse if it were a text-only translation of something with more pictures :) If we are just talking about scanlation, then yeah, I doubt a script floating around would be as frustrating as a painstakingly reproduced volume.

  15. @Anonymous – see my update to this post. I agree with you and the other Anon and yes, it’s a icky-feeling moment for me, but I’ve made my decision. I am only human and therefore as fallible and inconsistent as the next person. But I do strive to not be more of a hypocrite than necessary, so as shitty as it feels, the translations are gone. I will also pull the translations from the Yuricon Mailing List.

  16. BruceMcF says:

    Emma said…
    The argument that the booming scanlation trade cannot be helping the overseas manga trade because that trade is not booming is completely specious.

    And who was the idjit who made that … oh, wait, that was me. Lessee why its specious.

    Second point first, since the second claim supports what I argued:

    Secondly, the fact that those companies are slowly drying up has nothing to do with scanlations of Aoi Hana or Gunjo, and everything to do with the market right now. EVERYTHING is drying up.

    The argument is about the common talking point that scanlations help the market. So, put the talking point that was critiqued side by side with the above argument. “Scanlations help the market for manga.” “Scanlations have nothing to do with the market for manga”.

    If that “secondly” is correct, then the claim that scanlations are a net benefit to the market is not true.

    It is of course important not to fall into the fallacy of the missing middle. The three possibilities are that scanlations net help the market, scanlations net hurt the market, and scanlations have no impact on the market. Its the first that is an obvious falsehood only used to excuse the consumption of illegal copies.

    The fact that scanlations net hurt the market rather than have no impact require more detailed evidence, such as publishers that see their sales drop by over a third when their manga hits a big scanlation viewing site, and see sales recover (though not to the previous level) when they are able to convince the site to take the material down.

    Two issues: as far as I am aware we are exclusively discussing manga that haven’t been released in english: no one is arguing for not buying from the companies that are actually releasing the titles.

    This is the disconnect I was pointing to. People are justifying behavior that supports the consumption of unlicensed copies of material that is licensed, but since there is no serious argument to be made in support of that behavior, they argue as if that scanlation of unlicensed material is some entirely different category of activity.

    First, part of the copyright prerogative is the right to say no. “Content creator, we will only respect your copyright if you license” boils down to, “Content creator, we do not respect your copyright”.

    Second, consider work that might be licensed or is in process of having a license negotiated … thanks to the glories of torrent fileshare, the scanlations cannot be “taken down” once the license is complete. Once done and released, its out there.

    Third, variety is an important factor in drawing traffic to a site, whether a torrent seed site or an online viewing site. In the real world, the illegally copied unlicensed material is sitting side by side with the illegally copied licensed material. There may be some groups that “won’t cross that line”, but the files that they release have no such scruples.

    And finally, the scruples of groups are often more pretense than reality. I am more familiar with the fansubbing, so I will take my example from there: when Maria-sama ga Miteru season 4 was broadcast, the first two broadcast seasons and OVA had already been licensed, and it was obvious that the same firm might well decide to license season 4. But “no license has been announced”, so the fansubbing commenced. Then the license was announced, and a “brand name” fansubbing group ceased its fansub, closing the announcement with a salutation familiar to viewers of the show, boldfaced to highlight it, “until them, xyz”.

    The next week, the show was being fansubbed by a new group, with identical OP and ED subtitle scripts, whose name was the same as the salutation used in “until then, xyz”. Well, duh, the “group” was not doing it anymore, but some of the participants in the group were.

  17. BruceMcF says:

    Annette Bloomberg said…
    Despite your very clear stance on this, my honest opinion is that your reports on non-English Yuri media in this blog are a major factor in encouraging scanlators to scan and leechers to leech.

    I know you are not naive enough to think that your reviews on these kinds of releases are doing anything in the way of increasing overseas purchases. Rather, you’re only creating interest among scanlators and their followers toward titles that you describe in a positive light.

    Consider why there is no legal line in the “fair use” status of reviews based on whether there is a legal translation available in the language of the review. In a functioning market for translated material, a review of the original work in its original language is obviously part of the process of building the buzz for the translation.

    Since the market in the US on the basis of the paper publishing model seems to be in the process of falling apart, while a replacement market on the basis of digital distribution has not yet been built, the critical question is whether the reviews are obstacles to the creation of a new digital publishing business model or resources.

    I was going to point out the difference between Okazu and a site that could be used as a resource in the coming decade of innovation in the field of publishing … but Erica beat me to the punch, and converted Okazu into a site that an innovative publisher could use as a resource.

    The fly in the ointment was, as Anon4:53am pointed out, the unauthorized translations at Okazu. Because of those, an innovative digital publisher could not have, for example, linked to a set of Okazu reviews with a poll on which manga subscribers wished to see translated and published. Now, though, it is available for use at a resource.

    And of course, while scanlation groups will read the reviews and produce bootleg copies – they are not going to get a link posted at Okazu. A legitimate digital publisher would, by contrast, have the opportunity to tap directly into the Okazu readership.

    There is no categorical difference between bootlegs of licensed work and bootlegs of unlicensed work. However, there is a categorical difference between bootlegs and reviews. Even though current US copyright terms, which are possibly unconstitutional in terms of how far they go … reviews remain as fair use. And even if duration of copyright was to return to its state before Disney Corporation got its greedy hands on it … bootleg copies of newly published works would still be illegal.

  18. Blahbleh says:

    Hi, I’m Sukoshi, you’re friendly, neighborhood Marimite translator. I’d like to weigh in on the situation a bit, and state where I want my translations to go in the future. The tone of this post is meant to be scathing, because I’m mad. Mad at the idiotic, adolescent tone of this discussion, and mad at the idiotic internet posturing that’s so endemic of troll culture online. Please, grow up!

    Rei and I have been slowly, but steadily translating the Maria-sama ga Miteru novels from where Erica left off. Our progress hasn’t been all that quick, and that’s because our real lives are hectic and involve things that have little to do with Manga, Japanese, or translation in general. When I started watching Marimite about 5 years ago, Haru had finished, and the Marimite fandom was dying. Interest in the series was tapering off, and there wasn’t really a prospetive 3rd season on the horizon any time soon. I fell in love with the series when I first watched it, and decided that I really, really wanted to learn Japanese and start reading the Marimite novels, maybe even, pray-tell, translate them. And through a lot of hard work, I did do all of that. Rei and I have spent the last 3 years of our lives involved in Marimite fandom, translating the Maria-sama ga Miteru novels, carrying the torch where others like Erica and Zigger had blazed a trail.

    I can’t speak for Rei, but I can speak for myself. I really believe the efforts of myself, Rei, Erica, Zigger, and the many other contributors to the English Marimite fandom kept a dying interest alive. We kept a flickering fandom flame alive. We updated Wikipedia pages, we made forum posts, we discussed hours on end about Marimite trivia, and we poured our free time into translating Marimite short novels. When the third season of Marimite game out, we evangelized it. When finally the unbelievable became reality and Marimite was licensed into English, we urged everyone to buy the boxed sets. Buy them, buy them. They’re great.

    Please don’t even begin to lecture me on whether I support the industry or not. I own every Marimite novel up to Kira Kira Mawaru (and I haven’t read the novels past that point anyway), and I own the first two boxed sets of Marimite’s English release. Oh man, those Japanese shipping costs suck? SUCK IT UP, that’s where I bought mine from! You’re an impoverished student? Well SO AM I, welcome to REAL LIFE.

    I hope all of you feel extremely happy with yourselves. Happy with your philosophical posturing. Happy with the hateful comments you posted. Happy with the reaction you forced Erica to give you. Happy for switch baiting Lililicious into the conversation. You sure received your brownie points. If this was Reddit, you’d probably have a bunch of upvotes by now.

    But you know, some of us have spent long hours in this fandom. We continue to spend money on the fandom, and to make things available for free in the fandom, because we aren’t selling Manga, we aren’t angry commenters on a blog, and we aren’t in a position to promote Manga sales. We’re people who love Marimite. No politics there. I hope all of you are very happy with yourselves for making life more difficult for us.

    I completely respect Erica and Okazu’s choice to not support any scanslations. I still count Erica as one of my best friends and an invaluable contributor to the Marimite fandom. I really urge people to grow up and start treating people with more respect. Rei and I will probably continue to translate the Marimite novels, until interest is shown in releasing them in English to an English-speaking public, at which point we’ll stop. I urge you to spend your money on Marimite, because without your money, there is no more Marimite. I urge you all to show respect for the legacy of hard work that has gone into building a top-notch fanbase.

    A very disgusted,
    Sukoshi

  19. @Blah Blah – Sukoshi, I’m sorry. I meant to talk to you and Rei privately about this, but I’ve been working extra long hours this week.

    I’m sorry you’re angry, but don’t get angry at people who are angry. I think you and Rei have done fabulous work and I hope that nothing I have said has made you feel that I don’t appreciate it.

    I know that you and many other people here have supported Marimite and many other series. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying this to all of you – thank you.

    If you want to talk to me about this privately, you know where to find me. :-)

  20. Anonymous says:

    I’d be tempted to say that we need a Crunchyroll of manga

    Mangafox or some other for-profit scanlation-hosting website will probably become the Crunchyroll of manga. A lot of people who glorify Crunchyroll as a breakthrough in legit anime viewing seem to not know/forgive/forget that Crunchyroll was built by breaking the one sacred commandment of fansubbing/scanlation – thou shalt not profit. Crunchyroll was originally a business that streamed fansubs without permission from the sub groups (or, of course, the Japanese studios) for profit. This is why so many fansubbers still view Crunchyroll as the antichrist.

    To paraphrase Machiavelli, if a legitimate western licensing/translation company is bad at making money, but can say “but we’re impeccable followers of copyright law,” the Japanese publishers are still going to view it as a loser company unworthy of business. The Japanese publishers reward profitability, not good behaviour. Which is why they’d rather do business with Crunchyroll – because they proved they could make money before even trying to obtain a license. English manga internet publishing will be brought into the realm of legitimacy the same way english anime streaming was – by someone who worships profit at the expense of respect for the authors and for copyright law. Fansubbers talked about how a Crunchyroll-like business model was the perfect business model for anime publishing in the west for years before Crunchyroll even existed. But none of them actually took the steps necessary to make it happen because it would mean committing the ultimate crime – making money from fansubbing. The “thou shalt not profit” rule of scanlators/fansubbers literally makes them too ethical to actually move the industry forward in a meaningful way.

  21. Dorota says:

    Why does internet discussion make everything seem so intense?
    One would think people are discussing merits of genocide, not whether copyright infringement is justifiable or not.
    I for one think it is, as I consider a free flow of information between cultures a great thing. I know this is a controversial topic, but I do think it does more good than it does bad.
    No way to prove it, ofc. Don’t trust anybody who tells you otherwise, clear cut causal relationship are scarce in a
    world as complicated as ours.

    At the same time I buy manga, though only from America (nothing worth my attention is published in my country). And that is already over my head (my entertainment budget for everything, counting in pubs, paint, galleries, theatre, books, etc. is about 30 euro a month).
    Also, I do not feel a need to own something I do not understand. I do not like pack ratting stuff in my living quarters.
    I would maybe import a book if I found, that the art stood on it’s own, but that would probably mean importing Suehiro Maruo, not some Yuri artist (although Gunjo does seem a plausible exception, as I found from the scans).
    This is a personal decision. If the was a way to access manga online for fees that are managable for me I would go into it, but that’s the music of future.
    With books I exploit libraries and bookmooch, but with manga in japanese – I just see no model (other than scanslation) that would be manageable for me, yet. Which is sad, really.

  22. Blah Blah says:

    I think the whole ruckus was caused by the fact that even though Lililicious has dozen of links on their website that lead to Erica’s reviews of the mangas they scanlated, she never felt the urge to include a scathing note in any of those reviews, going so far as to call the visitors pricks and thieves.

    It’s even more curious when you consider the fact that Lililicious is actually a much bigger and more visible group than Kotonoha who specializes in obscure and “barely licensable” stuff. I highly doubt that the traffic Okazu got from _one link_ on their blog is bigger than what the site got from all the Lili links combined.

  23. BruceMcF says:

    I’d be tempted to say that we need a Crunchyroll of manga

    Anonymous said…
    Mangafox or some other for-profit scanlation-hosting website will probably become the Crunchyroll of manga. A lot of people who glorify Crunchyroll as a breakthrough in legit anime viewing seem to not know/forgive/forget that Crunchyroll was built by breaking the one sacred commandment of fansubbing/scanlation – thou shalt not profit. Crunchyroll was originally a business that streamed fansubs without permission from the sub groups (or, of course, the Japanese studios) for profit. This is why so many fansubbers still view Crunchyroll as the antichrist.

    For me, its not a matter of not knowing, forgiving or forgetting, its a matter of not giving a damn. I look at it in terms of whether any revenues trickle back to feed the industry, rather than in grand moralizing, and so what Crunchyroll used to do is of no interest to me. When they were doing the wrong things, they were in the wrong. When they stopped doing the wrong things, they stopped being in the wrong.

    The flip side of why Crunchyroll broke through to the legit streaming side is that CR was established as a video hosting side, which put them under the pressure of actually having to pay for their streaming costs somehow …

    After all, most leech streaming sites not only leech their material, they also leech their streaming costs from the big free video sites like Megavideo and Rupert-the-Pirate’s MySpace. That is where they make pretend that they are only “aggregating” links to streams uploaded by other others.

    But as a streaming host, Crunchyroll had far more DMCA exposure, and that exposure was also part of the mix of things that led to the abandonment of The Dark Side.

    I kind of agree that I don’t see much prospect for a legal authorized-translation digital manga distribution site coming from the official publishers … because they each will be trying to use the Internet to commercialize their own product, and won’t be in a position to grow toward the diversity required to be the A-list leading internet site.

    An illegal viewer site making the same jump that Crunchyroll did would be one possibility.

    The other possibility would be for a site to grow from the fringes toward the middle, some crowdfinanced group that gets together to get something licensed that is too niche for the paper publishers to bother with … and grows from that base.

    As the Taijitu suggests, the seeds of the change in an order of things often makes an appearance in the middle of the old order, but normally grows from the edges in.

  24. @Sukoshi – Actually, I get very little traffic from Lililicious. The Kotonoha link was bringing in scads more traffic than the ones on Lili ever have.

    But you are correct, I was rude in my original note and I have apologized for that in my update and changed the comment. I do believe that at the moment, scans do more harm than good.

    I also want to clarify that most of this was not because of external pressure. As I said, the shift is primarily because the more I get to know the manga artists, the less I can tolerate the illegal distribution of their property.

  25. Jennifer says:

    You know as an artist I feel that it is my civic duty to try and support other artists that I love and adore. For one thing when I purchase their stuff whether it be a manga, comic, art book, etc they are sharing there art style, vision and dream with me.

    To me just by purchasing there work I am not only helping them to create more but I am also learning from them. People do not seem to realize like what Erica had mentioned previously that when artists put their blood, sweat, and tears into there work people forget that when someone DOESN’T buy or says, “Hey I’m poor and its free its okay,” they don’t THINK that that artist may become poor or won’t be able to finish or produce the rest of their work due to lack of funds for supplies to create said work. It has happened to a friend of mine. Hell its happened to plenty of people!

    Now I will admit I do read SOME scanlations but only because I KNOW I will purchase it later. I take them as samplers. And they perk my interest into purchasing said book later in English or Japanese. I honestly CAN’T STAND READING manga on the computer. Besides I’d rather have a full book in my paws. Reading reviews on blogs or summaries on important websites perk my interest even more. I don’t care how long it takes for a book to come out in the U.S. or where ever but I know I’ll eventually see it on the store shelves. Regardless of the price just by saving I’ll own it. And if your a devoted fan you should support what you love too.

  26. mystickeeper says:

    So how am I supposed to READ things like Chica Umino’s new series (March Comes in Like a Lion) if I don’t have the leisure time to learn a foreign language on my own?

  27. Helen says:

    Hi Erica,

    I’m aware I’m coming late to this discussion, but I’ve been having a similar discussion of my own over ‘Pirates of the Anime Encyclopedia’ (coming soon to a theatre near you, if we can just get Johnny Depp to sign for the Clements role… )

    I’ll try not to restate the obvious more than once, but it obviously needs restating: all piracy of material currently in copyright anywhere in the world is theft. You are taking something someone else has created, without their permission, and using it as you wish, to your personal gain.

    Before anyone repeats the argument that scanlators don’t evereverevereverEVER do anything as dirty as working for profit, please consider that there are more forms of profit than money. Kudos in one’s peer group, community status, connections, influence, a sense of righteousness, a Robin Hood complex – these are all solid gains.

    Scanlators are not Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. We – English-speaking fans – are not ‘poor’ by any objective global measure.

    Steal or don’t steal – it’s your decision. But please, scanlators and users, have enough respect for yourself and others to recognise that your theft is not a social service or a human right. Own your choices and don’t waste time trying to defend the indefensible.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I haven’t read the comments (sorry–too tired today!), but I rarely see my solution get mentioned: ask as many of your local libraries as you can to carry specific titles. For example, living in Seattle, I can ask the Seattle Public Library, the King County Library, and the local public and even some private university & community college libraries to carry titles. There are also school libraries.

    It’s unlikely a church or other religious library carries a wide variety of manga, but they might consider your request to carry certain ones such as the series that talks about raising a disabled child (I think the disability is autism) or the series on the life of Buddha.

    You’d be surprised where libraries can lurk. My neighborhood is near the Quest Bookshop which helps support, among other things, the Theosophical Lending Library (http://seattle-ts.org/library/lending_library.htm). Again, manga is not going to be prominent in their collection, but the point is you don’t know until you ask if they might be interested in certain titles.

    I’m not saying everyone or even I myself should ask at all such places, but it’s just a good idea to brainstorm on where and how you can support and promote your new favorite mangaka’s livelihood when all your money but your grocery fund is already gone. After all, if they can’t make a living publishing, sooner or later you won’t be able to read their work.

  29. @Anonymous – Libraries are a great solution that I advocate and support wholeheartedly! I donate almost all my English manga to the local library.

  30. Eugene says:

    Um, a library buys a book once–or gets it for free–and lends it out hundreds of times. For free.

    In fact, if your local library doesn’t have the book you want, they can often find it in their “network” and lend it to you. For free.

    The difference is?

    This isn’t a rhetorical question. I don’t know, except that the “first sale doctrine” needs some serious upgrading.

  31. @Anonymous – The difference is that it is a *legal* form of distribution.

  32. michiru42 says:

    @Anon: One big difference between scanlation and a library is that when you’re done with the library copy, you have to give it back. If you want it, you still have to buy it.

    When you download a scan, you have it permanently without buying it; you’re not just sampling, but permanently keeping something without paying the artist for it.

  33. Eugene says:

    Legality is a separate argument from “supporting the artist.” Donating a book to a library does nothing to “support the artist,” unless the intent is to “build audience” (i.e., for “licensable or licensed” material), an argument you rejected above.

    A while back, in a blog post about a book I wrote, a commenter noted that she read it through interlibrary loan. “There’s a lost sale,” I mused to myself. On the other hand, I doubt she would have read it otherwise, so I can’t get upset about it.

    And maybe the fact that she commented about it inspired somebody else to fork out the money. Which is why publishers hand out ARCs like candy.

    So I am inclined to side with Cory Doctorow (who practices what he preaches) when he writes, “[I]t’s very hard to monetise fame, but impossible to monetise obscurity. It doesn’t really matter how great your work is; if no one’s ever heard of it, you’ll never make any money from it. That’s not to say that if everyone’s heard of it, you’ll make a fortune, but it is a necessary precursor that your work be well-known to earn you a living.”

  34. BruceMcF says:

    Eugene said…
    Legality is a separate argument from “supporting the artist.” Donating a book to a library does nothing to “support the artist,” unless the intent is to “build audience” (i.e., for “licensable or licensed” material), an argument you rejected above.

    The reason that “building an audience” does not work for scanlations is that it builds an audience that does not net contribute to the market.

    A recent ANNcast, I believe by Vertical_Ed, talked about looking to see why a series that had been building sales suddenly saw a BIG drop … and on investigation, it had “picked up” a scanlation which had then hit a big scanlation viewer site.

    “Building the audience” for work by scanlation groups that direct observation suggests is a market destroyer … that is not building an audience that benefits the original artist.

    By contrast, if a contribution to a library is checked out, and patrons start asking for more like it, libraries will buy more like it.

    It may be lots of library readers in the library that leads to a few buyers down the track … but the lots of library readers are also a small addition to the market.

    By contrast, the scanlation starts with a big subtraction from the market, and a more than offsetting addition of later buyers does not appear to show up.

    “Build the market” is a lot more persuasive when it is founded on an initial small net plus than when it is founded on an initial big net minus.

  35. Anonymous says:

    “I haven’t read the comments (sorry–too tired today!), but I rarely see my solution get mentioned: ask as many of your local libraries as you can to carry specific titles.”

    Yes! I recommend comics written for adults *about adults* to my local library. They welcome and buy my suggestions, and one of them said she wants more tips on these comics because so much manga printed in English focuses on the high school and younger crowds.

  36. Anonymous says:

    “By contrast, if a contribution to a library is checked out, and patrons start asking for more like it, libraries will buy more like it.

    “It may be lots of library readers in the library that leads to a few buyers down the track … but the lots of library readers are also a small addition to the market.”

    More accurately, the libraries buying those copies are an addition to the market.

  37. Anonymous says:

    “@Annette – Interesting perspective, but unanswerable. I can’t “prove” my reviews do no harm, but I can prove that my reviews do get sales, because I can see what is being bought through the links.”

    What if, when you read something in Japanese and it’s only legally available in Japanese and you post a review of it…you wrote and posted the review *in Japanese*?

    That way the reviews would still get sales but nobody who can’t read Japanese would read your review and get all “that sounds cool, I want it in a language I *can* read, I’ll look for an English scanlation of it…” because they wouldn’t be able to read your review in the first place any more than they’d be able to read the legally-for-sale copies of the title.

  38. BruceMcF says:

    Quoth I: “It may be lots of library readers in the library that leads to a few buyers down the track … but the lots of library readers are also a small addition to the market.

    Quoth Anon0914hrs: “More accurately, the libraries buying those copies are an addition to the market.

    OK, if there are grammarians in the room, lots of library readers lead directly to a small addition to the market, rather than “are” a small addition to the market.

    By contrast, lots of scanlation readers mostly just encourages the ripping off of more manga.

    And of course, for those who are more space than income constrained, the contribution to the library can directly create more demand in the market by creating space on the shelf that may be filled. Not an issue in all households, but where the shelf space for the manga has been a negotiated agreement, an issue.

  39. Eugene says:

    Movie producers aggressively “window” when releasing movies in various formats, badly wanting to put rental outfits at the end of the line behind straight retail (i.e., the recent Redbox dustup). Because they believe it hurts their bottom line.

    Publishers in Japan criticize manga cafes for not paying royalties for the same reason. But neither does a used book store or a library or the friend you borrowed a book from.

    Actually, I think an ASCAP/BMI-type royalty modification to the first-sale doctrine is worth exploring. The whole IP regime needs a good working over. (For starters, screw “net neutrality” and let ISPs block file sharing ports.)

    To be sure, I’m of too many minds on the matter to come to a single conclusion with great conviction. And I buy all of my manga from Japan (BTW using BK1 and SAL saves a lot on shipping), which doesn’t help U.S. publishers either.

    The thing is, I wonder if a stand on principle, while admirable and honorable, will prove Pyrrhic. The damage from scanlations comes from the portion of the market that seeks them out, that doesn’t mind (in aesthetic terms) reading manga online.

    But does even the tiniest fraction of the general public have a clue what a “scanlation” is? A commenter on the post linked to below writes, “BT and IRC are unfathomable to 99% of the population.” I agree, and that includes me.

    The market is saturated in a very narrow demographic. But how do you grow a market when you can’t afford to market? Doujinshi is tolerated in Japan to an extent unimaginable in the U.S., but I think something like that is what’s called for here.

    Here’s a contrarian perspective from a successful mid-list author (interesting discussion too). As Konrath argues, the Kindle suggests one possible solution in terms of price and convenience.

  40. Anonymous says:

    aaand more about manga in libraries (open up your favorite multiple-language web translator from your bookmarks!):

    http://www.deslivrespourtous.org/objectifs.php#objectifs

    “…Comment mettre en oeuvre nos objectifs ?

    “Comment donner l’envie de lire aux enfants ?
    “Comment les sensibiliser à la lecture et aux livres ?
    “Comment les aider et les accompagner dans leur parcours scolaire ?

    “En créant des maisons de quartier-bibliothèques où des livres de toutes sortes seront à disposition des enfants (romans, nouvelles, bandes dessinées, mangas, contes, albums, poésies, dictionnaires, encyclopédies…).
    Des animateurs seront également présents pour les accueillir et les accompagner.
    Les bibliothèques seront aussi équipées d’ordinateurs connectés à Internet pour guider les enfants au cours de leurs travaux de recherche de documents.
    Des endroits d’écoute, de découverte, de soutien, de compréhension et surtout de plaisir .

    “Notre choix à nous, c’est simplement d’aider l’école et les parents à préparer ces enfants à l’entr ée dans le monde de l’écrit pour favoriser l’égalité des chances face au savoir…”

    and an intro to this project:
    http://www.deslivrespourtous.org/accueil.php

    “DES LIVRES POUR TOUS est une association loi 1901 créee dans le but de sensibiliser sur la nécessité de rendre le livre plus accessible aux enfants africains éloignés et/ou privés d’accès à la culture et à l’expression.

    “Le projet est de mettre en place des maisons de quartier-bibliothèques en Afrique. La première ouvrira à Yopougon à Abidjan, en Côte d’Ivoire.

    “« Prendre un livre dans ses mains, se plonger dans une histoire… », autant de richesses que l’Afrique ne peut pas offrir aujourd’hui à sa jeunesse !
    Mon envie, c’est de donner aux enfants des histoires qui leur permettront de s’épanouir.
    Le but de cette association est de provoquer en Afrique cette rencontre entre les jeunes et les livres en créant des bibliothèques de quartier. “

    – Marguerite Abouet

  41. Anonymous says:

    “The reason that “building an audience” does not work for scanlations is that it builds an audience that does not net contribute to the market.”

    Especially if that audience is downright *outside* the market.

    “By contrast, the scanlation starts with a big subtraction from the market, and a more than offsetting addition of later buyers does not appear to show up.”

    The scanlation does start with a big subtraction from the market if the title was already licensed in that language.

    The scanlation subtracts very little from the market for a title if the title was *not* already licensed or even about to be licensed in that language.

    Suppose a title was originally in language X, got licensed in language Y, and was never legally available at all in language Z. Z-language scanlations of this title do subtract readers literate in Z and X, subtract readers literate in Z and Y, and subtract a few readers who can’t read X or Y but don’t mind spending their money on books they can’t read. It’s nonsense to count the rest of this scanlation’s readers (literate in Z but not in X or Y and saving their disposable income for products they can actually use) as lost customers because they were never potential customers for this title to begin with (sure they would have been potential customers for licensed-in-Z copies of the title, but that product doesn’t exist so the publisher can’t claim to lose money from people not buying this ).

  42. BruceMcF says:

    Quoth Eugene: “The thing is, I wonder if a stand on principle, while admirable and honorable, will prove Pyrrhic. The damage from scanlations comes from the portion of the market that seeks them out, that doesn’t mind (in aesthetic terms) reading manga online.

    But does even the tiniest fraction of the general public have a clue what a “scanlation” is? A commenter on the post linked to below writes, “BT and IRC are unfathomable to 99% of the population.” I agree, and that includes me.

    I go back to the report from, I believe it was Vertical_Ed, about the greater than 40% drop in sales from one volume to the next when the title hit a big scanlation site.

    Bear in mind even in the anime market and even at its peak, the US anime market was in the neighborhood of $500m against an Entertainment GDP of over $350b, or under 0.15% of the entertainment market. Now its under $300m, so under 0.1%. I haven’t seen total US manga market figures, but I don’t imagine it could be greater than the anime market.

    For a small niche market, the wrong 1% of the population can be a killer.

  43. Anonymous says:

    “For a small niche market, the wrong 1% of the population can be a killer.”

    es verdad.

  44. Eugene says:

    “[T]he greater than 40% drop in sales from one volume to the next when the title hit a big scanlation site” is exactly the point. The buyers of manga and the downloaders of manga are largely the same.

    A market that is simultaneously self-reinforcing and self-destructive! Matching the right delivery system to the right audience really matters, and that 1 percent should not be seen as fixed.

    Consider Anne of Green Gables, long in the public domain. The best-selling title on Amazon is a free Kindle version. But next on the list is a $31 box set with a very respectable sales rank of 3200.

    Getting from the former to the latter is the key to everything. But in the meantime, I think small publishers should focus like a laser on the Kindle platform.

  45. Anonymous says:

    >”I have no money, so I would never buy it anyway, but I still want it and don’t care that I’m stealing”

    >You are taking something someone else has created, without their permission, and using it as you wish, to your personal gain.

    I find no logic in either of these statements, so I read (and produce) scanlations.

    Btw, Erica, I still remember that pathetic argument you had on /u/ during the fiasco with Lililicious’ edits being used, so I’m going to go ahead and call you a double hypocrite to boot.

  46. @Anonymous – I have never argued on /u/ about anything with anyone, but several times people have posted there pretending to be me, so probably that’s what you saw.

  47. BruceMcF says:

    Anon:
    >You are taking something someone else has created, without their permission, and using it as you wish, to your personal gain.

    I find no logic in either of these statements, so I read (and produce) scanlations.

    There is no logic to be found in the second because it is just a statement of fact.

    However we might judge it, someone who says, “I realize that I am taking something someone else has created, without their permission, and using it as I wish, for my personal gain, and I am OK with that” would be honest with themselves and others, at least, about what they are doing.

  48. @Anonymous – This is NOT okay. The creator has the right to distribute it how they want – no one else has the right to make that decision. If the creator gave explicit permission that it was okay, then there is no question.

    And, because you have the link to the scanlator’s site and not the original, I’ll be pulling your comment, because it makes no sense to my why you would promote a site that does that and not take the tens second it would take to find the original site (Google the title of the comic, for instance, it can’t be THAT hard) and provide the original artist with legit promotion.

  49. Anonymous says:

    “And, because you have the link to the scanlator’s site and not the original, I’ll be pulling your comment, because it makes no sense to my why you would promote a site that does that and not take the tens second it would take to find the original site (Google the title of the comic, for instance, it can’t be THAT hard) and provide the original artist with legit promotion.”

    In fact, I did *not* link to the scanlator’s site because I *don’t* want to promote it!

    The scanlators said the *original webcomic* was at the link I did give ( http://www.naver.com/ ). Naver appears to be an entirely Korean-language site and its format reminds me of Yahoo instead of any scanlation site. Who knows, maybe someone with a Naver blog does scanlate foreign comics into Korean, but that probably wouldn’t make Naver *itself* a scanlation site.

    I did copy and paste the original title ( “거상 김남덕” which I found in the same place as the link to the scanlation, and that place says the author is Sin Jisang and the visual artist is Oh Eunji but doesn’t give the Hangul spelling of their names) in order to search for the original in what appears to be the search function there. I got nothing when I put the title in “”s and got a bunch of non-webcomic links instead when I left the “”s out.

    Off to Google now. I searched for “거상 김남덕” and limiting by site:naver.com which got me 3 links – one that’s about a live-action historical drama (possibly based on the same story but nothing in webcomic format), one that has no pictures whatsoever (a web translator translated the Korean text as some sort of error message), and a tag cloud that seems to link to nothing but lots of photos.

  50. Anonymous says:

    I just realized that scanlation can be argued about in another way orthogonal to the theft angle (“it’s stealing!”/”when someone steals my car I don’t have my car anymore, if someone copies my car I do!”/”it’s stealing the money from the lost sale!”/”those sales aren’t lost, the readers can’t read the for-sale version!”/”bla bla bla!”).

    See, there’s also the privacy angle, especially for webcomics, free-online issue #1s, etc.: “by posting online they’re shouting it from the rooftops!”/”they don’t want you people reading it, if they did they’d have posted it in your languages too!”/”posting in a language isn’t like wrapping up email in PGP!”/”languages are forms of encoding too, you’re eavesdropping if you crack the code without permission!”/”bla bla bla!”

  51. @Anonymous – I apologize then. I misunderstood your comment.

  52. Anonymous says:

    “@Anonymous – I apologize then. I misunderstood your comment.”

    Thanks, and no hard feelings! :)

  53. Anonymous says:

    Some more messing around, this time searching for only part of what the scanlators said was the whole title, got me the link to the original 거상 김만덕 webcomic!

    http://comic.naver.com/webtoon/detail.nhn?titleId=147175&no=1&weekday=tue

  54. I’m painstakingly translating my way through Haafu ando Haafu – it’s my first time reading Japanese. I’m absolutely loving it, and wanting to help others enjoy it, thus thinking about making a scanlation – but I don’t want to cheat the mangaka.

    I was thinking of making a scanlation with all the artwork blanked out, except for maybe the first panel of each page. Anybody who wanted to buy the Japanese could then use my scanlation alongside it to read the dialogue. Also, people could see enough of the artwork to decide if they’d want to buy the manga.

    Also, I’d do a very literal, word-for-word translation (confusing though that is), leave the Japanese in place, with the translation directly below it – it would be good for helping study Japanese.

    All this still doesn’t conquer the problem of brutal shipping costs, though. I got mine shipped on the actual ocean through BK1, which was reasonably priced but extremely slow, and since the site is pure Japanese, I wasn’t quite sure I wasn’t also ordering a herd of live pigs at 3 million yen.

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