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Scanlations and Piracy: Cry for Justification

March 4th, 2010 by | Tags: , , ,

Hey, let’s talk piracy!

AnimeVice published a pretty poorly written defense of scanlations, tying into a larger discussion of Nick Simmons jacking art from Bleach. It has some fairly huge issues, including some outright factual inaccuracies, but boiled down? It’s crap.

I don’t want to spend this point by point rebutting Remmell’s essay, but I will say that hinging a pro-scans piece on Viz’s “butchery” of Gosho Ayama’s Case Closed is an incredibly bad decision when the changes were requested by Gosho Ayama and the Japanese licensors. It is the real story, since the author wanted the changes. Your mom’s pound cake is your mom’s pound cake, no matter the recipe she chooses to use.

The biggest problem with the essay is the idea of justifying scanlations, and through that, piracy. That’s stupid. Here’s the truth: you can’t justify scanlations. Justifying an act requires proof that the act is necessary. You can justify a war, you can justify violence, you can justify sleeping in and missing some school. The thing is, you can’t justify scanlations. The original creator that you’re such a fan of gets no recompense from you reading scans online. No money, nothing. In exchange for that nothing, you get to read that creator’s book for free. In the end of things, that’s what happens. You aren’t supporting, you aren’t helping, you’re just leeching.

Let’s keep it all the way real. I have a Demonoid account, just like everybody else. Sometimes I hear about a movie and I want to watch it, but Netflix has nothing. Well, look at that: Fatal Fury the Anime is on Youtube. When an album I’m looking forward to leaks a week early, I download it, listen to it, and then decide whether or not I’m buying it off Amazon’s MP3 store. I follow several mp3 blogs to keep up on new singles, freestyles, and mixtapes.

In fact, real life example: I wanted to listen to A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders the other day. It’s one of my favorite albums, I was having a crap day, I figured it’d be a pick-me-up. I found out my mp3s were screwed up. They were skipping, some didn’t play, blah blah blah. This morning I remember that the songs were broken, delete the ones I had, and downloaded the album. I threw them into iTunes, synced my iPod, and got on my bike to go to work.

Now, I’ve owned a copy of Midnight Marauders for years. Several- from cassette to CD to CD after that other CD broke. I could justify it by saying that I’ve paid for the album before, so why should I pay for it again? But- no. It’s on Amazon for ten dollars. I’ve got ten bucks, I love the group, it’s one of my top five favorite albums, and there’s nothing stopping me from downloading the album from a legal venue, except for the fact that I valued my own convenience over the rights of the dudes who made the music.

Make no mistake: this is, legally speaking, piracy. I can’t defend it, I can’t justify it– under the letter of the law, I’m a music pirate. If I got my card pulled over it, what am I gonna say? “I did it because I want to purchase content, not format?”

(The content vs format debate is a valid one, but completely secondary to what happened and why it happened. I downloaded that album because I wanted to not pay for it.)

I did it because I wanted it and it was convenient. This morning, I prized myself over someone else. Nothing more, nothing less. Trying to justify that kind of thing is dumb. If you did it, you did it. At least be real enough to say, “Yeah, I did that. That sucks, huh?”

Scanlations aren’t how you stand up for Authentic Manga or creator’s rights or whatever. Scanlations are how you read books for free. You aren’t fighting the power. You aren’t sending a message to the companies. You’re reading for free. If you care that much, then the only thing you should be doing is purchasing the original tankobon from Japan and reading it yourself. That way, everyone involved gets paid, you get your authentic manga, and we’re all happy.

Pretending that scanlations are something you can justify, or something that is morally correct in any way, shape or form, is a joke. You want it, you read it. That’s what it is, that’s how it works. Be grown up enough to admit it, rather than trying to justify it.

“Be aware and be honest,” is what I’m trying to say here.

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24 comments to “Scanlations and Piracy: Cry for Justification”

  1. Amen. It ain’t particularly right but we all do it, admit it and cut the BS

    I make no bones that I read scans for no reason other than lack of cash and impatience. on that note, new One Piece was fucking AMAZING and I can’t imagine waiting for the ViZ release


  2. I completely agree but then again my position might be a tad skewed because I don’t have a lot of extra cash flow right now so I read everything online and then buy the ones I want to support and that I would read again later


  3. I read One Piece scanlations, but when the manga was being released here on Brazil, I’d always buy it, because I liked it so dawn much. Unfortunately, One Piece stoped being released around here, so there’s only the scanlations left for me… =[ I still have all the released volumes, though…


  4. @Rick: oh, so essentially Ultimates 1 and 2 and read Ultimatum online?

    I get that

    @Deicide.UH: wow that fucking sucks.

    Still though with scans you’re up to date with the balls to the wall action that is Whitebeard


  5. You could argue – not inaccurately – that someone could choose not to read online manga that’s unavailable here in the west and instead jump on a plane to Japan and buy the mangas there, bring them back to the west, then learn to read kanji.

    Some torrent hubs like Animesuki don’t host torrents for licenced anime material, just the stuff that’s unavailable in the west, and when anime companies respond to high download volume by licencing shows – which has happened a few times – the sites stop hosting links to the material. Same thing applies to manga hosting sites. Not ALL anime/manga sites are like that, but then I’m only questioning a generalisation, not making one of my own.


  6. I think it’ll be interesting to see what happens to this pseudo-logic in the future when high profile animations start getting worldwide DVD/BluRay releases (what up, Gundam Unicorn a week from now?), although I don’t suppose that would be the case for manga any time soon.

    For what it’s worth, I’ll cop to reading scanlations of JJBA, Blaster Knuckle, lots of Go Nagai, anything Getter Robo, and some Gundam. To the best of my knowledge, of that list only certain parts of JJBA have been published in English but I’d be lying if I said I checked. Everything else is either widely available or like One Piece too long-form to catch my eye (I’m only depriving myself, I suppose, but that’s how I roll & I’ll stick to it).


  7. I don’t know if I agree completely, especially about the music downloading example. You already own the CD; having a digital copy of the music on your computer is not illegal, so there’s nothing wrong with procuring the data in a way other than ripping it directly from the CD. I’m not a lawyer, of course, but I don’t think there’s any moral issue with what you did.

    And when it comes to scanlations, that’s kind of where I stand as well. I don’t agree with downloading stuff that’s already licensed because you can’t wait for it to be translated, but reading something that’s not available to purchase in English is a different matter. I haven’t done it lately, since I’ve got plenty of physical copies of stuff that I haven’t gotten to, but I used to read scans pretty regularly, mostly stuff that has little chance of ever being released outside of Japan. And I do know that I’m going to have to download and read Naoki Urasawa’s Happy at some point, since it’s not likely to get licensed, and scanlations are just about my only option there.

    I dunno, it’s a complex world, with a lot to look at, and I think it’s usually not a good idea to issue blanket statements that some act is always wrong. There are a lot of gray areas, and when it comes down to ownership and availability of information, there’s too much to consider to say something is always right or wrong. I guess everybody has to have a moral code and decide what works for themselves, but that code isn’t going to (and shouldn’t) be the same for everybody.


  8. @Matthew J. Brady: I agree– in a perfect world, I’d buy the content (be it the song, the book, the _______) and be able to own it in whatever format I want. But, as it stands now, ripping CDs is a violation of whatever crap the RIAA is pushing now.

    The point about the complex world is right. We’re at a point now where old companies have suddenly been thrust into the future- I can watch movies on my cell phone. That’s crazy. And the companies are, by and large, struggling to keep up. It’ll be interesting to see what it turns into, because right now, we’ve got what amounts to a quagmire.


  9. @Matthew J. Brady:one of my flaws

    also seriously some of the RIAA horror stories /twitches


  10. There are also some series which are long out of print and unlikely to reprint soon. As someone who doesn’t know my manga, I’ll toss out Miracleman and Flex Mentallo in this category (I know that in theory Marvel is reprinting early Marvelman).


  11. Complex world, I agree, and I think it’s worth it to remember that the word “piracy” covers a whole continuum of “ripping” activity over a whole giant range of different media and technologies and fee structures and marketing costs and delivery systems and ethical questions — I’ve got bootleg “Let It Be” tracks sitting around on a disc somewhere, stuff that’s been traded around since 1970 that got to a hundred million people before me, I’m not even gonna feel bad about it. I think that’s the bottom rung of the ladder, something that just doesn’t matter to anyone, that’s essentially archival at this point.

    Then you’ve got stuff you want that’s right down the street, current release of whatever, it’s carrying twenty people’s current-day jobs on it…it seems unclear if “couldn’t wait for it to get to the library” is a bearable excuse for getting a copy of it. I mean, in a way it is like going to the library; but in another way, it isn’t. I think that’s the top rung of the ladder as far as members of the reading/viewing/listening audience goes (there’s a whole other really important stretch of the ladder that people on the “making” side have to be responsible for, I think): the most ethically-fraught cases are the ones where once you’ve pirated something you have to care enough even to make up an excuse about it. I think sometimes the excuses are pretty good, like “I thought the CD was great, so I went out and bought a for-real copy, that’s how I operate”. No one even comes close to getting hurt, there. On the other hand, that good excuse with music has got to fall pretty flat when you’re talking about movies (anyone like that ripped movie so much they’re gonna go out and drop $40 on a DVD at Virgin?), and comics are almost as dicey as movies, though for different reasons. At some point you finally hit “book”, where it’s just a matter of whether you shoplifted it or not, so it’s not fraught at all — hooray! Uh, kinda.

    As far as the RIAA goes, though, I’ll just say what I always say anytime anyone mentions them: that they’re not agents, managers, or union/association spokespeople for artists, but instead they’re the very reason artists need all those people, because they’re the people who famously make a huge pile of money by ripping artists off willy-nilly whenever they can get away with it. Full stop: it’s a very common practice for the very companies that scold you for not giving money to artists, to keep the money you thought you did give them, for themselves. And that’s a big, big problem — bigger by far than David making an illicit copy of something he already paid for but gave away, rather than having thought ahead and made a licit copy to give away while he keeps the original. I mean, that’s some kind of ethical three-card monte going on there, that’s like “oops, didn’t say Simon Says, now you have to re-buy!”…but how much worse is it if he does re-buy, but then that just means the legal rightsholder gets ripped off twice?!

    Complex world: it sure is!

    Sorry if I’ve gotten on a high horse, here: I don’t mean to thread-jack, but I worry that sometimes people don’t know the context of their (admirably) honest actions and admissions. Personally I’m still dealing with the (to me) newly-acquired information that James Brown’s drummer is the most sampled man in hip-hop. If I’d known that twenty years ago, I like to think I would’ve been a different kind of record-buyer, and record-listener. I think we are not done wrestling with these issues, they’re still being sorted out, they’re still too lively to be reduced to a set of simple moral prescriptions. But I do absolutely agree that if people don’t get real about what their actions really are, they’ll never be able to figure out how to give the credit(s) that are due. They’ll never be able to figure out what’s okay, what’s kind of okay, what’s kind of not-okay, and what’s wrong.

    Blah blah blah. I am a real serious bore on this subject. I’m like Steven R. Stahl talking about Brian M. Bendis. Sorry about that.


  12. [...] 4thletter!, David Brothers has a fairly nuanced response to the defense of piracy posted on Anime Vice yesterday. Alex Hoffman links it back to the Nick [...]


  13. Good post.

    There are a lot of people who try to justify their pirating behavior. And it’s true, what a lot of people say – they’re just empty excuses.

    But what a lot of anti-piracy people don’t seem to get… is that some of their arguments are just as empty to a pirate’s ears.

    “Scanlations hurt the US manga industry.” Sure. But why would a pirate care? Scanlations were around before the US manga companies decided to start making money on the medium. They’ll still be around even if the US scene fizzles and dies. You’re barking up the wrong tree on this one. The people who CARE that the US manga industry remains strong are the people who buy manga from US companies. Pirates who ONLY download manga (and don’t buy it) really don’t care what happens to the US industry. And if they do care? It’s only because _they’re_buying_manga_too_.

    “Buy the original Japanese tankoubons to support the artist.” Give me a break. Why pay all the overhead to buy and ship a book… that you can’t even read? Why not send $5 to the mangaka, instead? That’s more than they’d make off the sale of one book – and less than you’d have to pay buying it. Win-Win. Otherwise, the people you’re really supporting are the publishers, online sellers and the good ol’ postal service. Now if you can give me any reason why THOSE people should have money mindlessly thrown at them in “support” of a particular artist’s work… I’d listen to it, but I probably wouldn’t give a rat’s behind about it.

    “If you can’t afford it, then you can’t have it.” A broke leecher downloads because they can’t afford the legit releases. These are the people who, if free alternatives weren’t available, would simply go without. So when you argue against THEM downloading… Who, exactly, are you trying to help? The fact is, if broke leechers stopped downloading tomorrow… NOTHING would change in the pirating world. You’d just have a lot of really, really bored broke people. Also, you can’t make assumptions about the moral leanings of these people. Most of the broke leechers I know spend every penny they DO get… on buying legit copies of their favorite downloaded material.

    In short… There are some good arguments out there on both sides. Just remember, what’s an empty argument to you might make a lot of sense to someone else. And vice versa.


  14. @plok: Yeah, the RIAA stuff– the 360 deal is one of the most vial deals I can think of. I make write the songs, make the music, do the tours, sell the t-shirts, and you get a cut of it… why? Because I should be honored to have the chance to get on the world stage? Get outta here.

    And bootlegging is gonna be here forever. I remember being a kid and renting anime tapes from the local spot (1.50 for five days!), hooking up two VCRs, and copying movies onto an 8 hour cassette. I had stacks of anime tapes. Eventually, DVDs came out and it was easier to buy, but one thing is true: if someone, somewhere can get something for free, there’s a good chance they will.

    Being honest about this will help us figure out what’s what, as you said. Sometimes it’s as simple as “I want to read One Piece the day after it comes out in Japan, in jpeg form.” Great! Let the companies know. If enough people do it, hopefully we can get exactly that. That’d be pretty dope. I’d probably pay cash money for that one.

    Just a basic example of how things have changed– hip-hop is born, sampling becomes a staple, then the record industry is like “Nuh uh, honey, you got to pay us some scratch for that scratch.” Some people paid, others found new routes, others went for even more obscure works. DJ Premier proves that sampling is an art unto itself. Then, later, getting on someone else’s song for a freestyle was the thing. Usually it was on radio, and it might make it to a mixtape, but most of that stuff got heard once, unless someone dubbed it off the radio. Now it’s 2010, The Game released some song called “Shake,” Joell Ortiz got the instrumental and put out his own extra-dope version for free.

    You couldn’t do that in 1997.


  15. @Shari: In short… There are some good arguments out there on both sides. Just remember, what’s an empty argument to you might make a lot of sense to someone else. And vice versa.

    This is fair, but I don’t think that every argument that makes sense is actually a worthwhile argument. It’s easy to connect A (“I do not like/agree with these translations”) to B (“I dislike the fact that the company did this”) to C (“Therefore I will not buy their books”) to D (“Instead I will read them on OneManga”). A-C– perfectly sensible, we all do it (with adjustments for format/genre/whatever) every day of our lives. “I don’t like Leo DiCaprio, so I won’t go see Titanic.”

    But when you (figurative you, i’m not talking you specifically) add in that last step, that part where you get it for free on a level above and beyond “try it before you buy it,” you step into the realm of “Wait, what?” You obviously like the artist’s work, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading it. But you turn what should be a two way stream (artist makes work< ->you pay for and enjoy work) into a one way stream, where you get all of the benefits and the artist gets zilch.

    And, obviously, I’m not saying I’m innocent, because I’m not. I’ve got a 160 gig iPod that’s got about 90 gigs taken up by music. I didn’t buy all of that. But I don’t try to justify it by standing up for REAL translations or whatever. That’s dumb. It’s better to just be honest and say, “I wanted this for free.”

    And you’re right that a certain segment of the downloading audience won’t ever buy the books. But some of them can, will, and should.

    Eventually companies will find an online solution that gets the creators paid and the fanbase served. I look forward to it. I think it’ll be somewhere inbetween the two sides right now, and Viz’s SIGIKKI.com is probably about how I want the final solution to look. Free to read online, regular updates, high quality work, popular books get printed. Bam, easy-peasy.

    I’m not the hardline anti-piracy “Don’t download!” guy. People are gonna do what they wanna do, I’m not gonna stop that by typing on a website. I do think that people, like the guy in the essay I used as a jumping off point, need to be a whole lot more honest and informed about what they’re doing. That’s all.


  16. Where does one stand if they don’t like the quality of the material being put out in the US?

    For example, when Love Hina was localized, I snatched it right up. Easily one of my favorite manga of all time, and I wanted a paper copy. And boy was I disppointed by the quality. The paper was thin, slightly yellowed already, and whenever there was a large swath of dark color, it was visible on the other side of the page. Tokyopop was infamous for their terrible paper quality, binding glue, and other physcial issues. On the other hand, Viz has been doing fantastic work, especially with Naoki Urasawa’s volumes. I’m proud to have 20th Century Boys in QUALITY print. Those are some seriously nice looks books that used high DPS scans of the original artwork, no accidentally twisted artwork, no ink bleed through, thick paper, tight binding… Everything I could want for a book that’s going to be on my shelf for the next 10-20 years. But I can’t buy a copy of Love Hina in this quality. In fact, because Tokyopop no longer holds the liscense for this book, I can’t buy one where Ken Akamatsu and his team will see any profit at all. All that’s left for sale are used copies and remainders.

    And that’s kind of sad, especially since the scanlation of Love Hina is quite well done, and has none of the problems that the Tokyopop one does, save that it can only be read on the computer.

    The timing issue isn’t as big a factor as it could be anymore. They rushed a subtitle only version of Gurren Largann out as soon as it took off on the internet, and I snatched that right up. I’d rather lounge on my couch than hunch over my computer screen. One Piece is pretty close to simulcasting in English translation online from their official website, and every episode is already available for stream from Funimation’s official website (http://www.onepieceofficial.com/), and if sales figures are any indication, they haven’t lost any cash from it. Could this work for manga as well? I’m not so sure you could rush the books out quick enough, though darned if Naruto and Bleach aren’t trying…


  17. Well at least with VIZ anime they did pay attention to the fansubbed work. That leads to us to them basically taking off naruto on CN and putting up legit subbed Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece on Hulu very fast. I haven’t downloaded an episode of naruto in a very long time.


  18. @Julian Lytle: Yeah, Viz is a company that I think has the right idea. They get that it’s not Us vs Them, Scan fans vs Real Fans, because that’s not what it is in real life. It’s just people who want to read manga who exist along a spectrum of ways and means.

    They’ve got volume 1 of OP on the website, mad free dubbed eps on Hulu (like the first 15, then a regularly updated stream of about 30-50?), then current subbed eps. That’s the way to do it, and it being on Hulu probably nets them some valuable viewership info and (hopefully) money. I know that’s how I watch my episodes.

    Hulu is also how I’m about to watch Gurren Lagann, since I’ve been putting that off for so long.


  19. @david brothers: Make sure you set yourself up a nice long block of time when you start. GL is one of those shows that makes you ache for the next episode, and I had to shotgun it all in 2 sittings.

    Yeah, sometimes I have lousy self-control…


  20. @Shari

    “Scanlations hurt the US manga industry.” Sure. But why would a pirate care?”

    Well, foreign investors have helped keep the industry afloat. Hurt the foreign sales, they put less into the Japanese market, everyone loses.


  21. I was wondering if you guys have heard of of the Online Comic Library that uses the Rules of a Library to be able to share comics with people through the internet and keep it running over a long period of time.


  22. @david brothers: Prepare for awesome. Story doesn’t light the world on fire, but the presentation is unmatched


  23. [...] one of those ‘hey, that makes all of us look bad‘ sort of things. There was a nice counter post written that pretty much summed up my feelings on the matter, except for one teeny tiny [...]


  24. Wow, for someone who thinks the essay on justfying piracy is crap, you’ve got a pretty weak argument which is nothing more than “blah blah I think this essay was crap.” I’m not trying to justify piracy either, just that your essay is, shall we say, about as substantive as a CSI evidence montage.