Unethical Fansubbing - Followup

by Christopher Macdonald, Jun 19th 2003
When I first wrote the article about Anime Junkies, I truly had no idea how much of a response it would elicit.

I have to admit that I don't closely follow the current fansub scene. I know the names of a few fansub groups, and I know which groups do adhere to a strict ethical code, but I had honestly never heard of Anime Junkies before, so I wasn't aware that they were so popular.

True, I expected a few extra page views as a result of the editorial--maybe 10 or 20 thousand over the course of a day, but that's nowhere near the number of extra people who did visit.

A lot of people headed to the forum to discuss this, and others sent us a variety of e-mails. The discussion brought up a number of interesting points that I feel deserve mentioning here.

International "Consumers"

The one point that gave me the most pause for thought was the issue about Anime fans in other countries outside of North America. The traditional fansub ethics, as well as the ones we proposed, are very North American centric. Many people brought up the very relevant point, “Why should international fans lose access to a title just because it was licensed in North America?”

After a fair amount of thought, I have found two reasons that international fans don't make it right for groups to continue to fansub titles after they have been licensed in North America.

1) I am aware of Spanish, German, and French fansub groups. If there isn't a fansub group doing titles in your language, perhaps you should consider starting one.
2) If you can read the English subtitles on fansubs, then you can read the English subtitles on an imported R1 DVD. This might sound harsh, but fansubs aren't there (or at least they aren't supposed to be) to make Anime cheaper; they're there to make Anime available.


AJ Response

By E-mail:
I think in all fairness to Anime Junkies, after the recent events, that you should also post their response. It is only fair that all parties involved be allowed to tell their side of the story. After that, all that can be done is to let the anime fans themselves decide what should happen.


Point conceded. The AJ response was mentioned in the forum, but given that we mentioned Urban Vision's response on the front-page news, it would have been only fair to do so for Anime Junkies as well. At the same time, I absolutely refuse to link to a fansub group that continues to distribute licensed titles.

For those of you who haven't read their response, I'll post it here: (The black text is the original post, the gray text is what is there now.)


The topic of today's post is somewhat serious. AnimeJunkies stands accused of carrying out unethical and illegal practices against the anime industry in a recent article published by the Anime News Network. The article, provided here, claims that the writer, Christopher Macdonald, has had contact with staff of Urban Vision and has become aware of the private issue between Urban Vision and AnimeJunkies concerning the Ninja Scroll television series. As many fansubbing groups did, with the release of the Ninja Scroll television series in Japan we began to freely fansub and distribute the series with English translations.

With the announcement by Urban Vision that the series was licensed for American release, AnimeJunkies was contacted by Urban Vision and politely asked to cease all distribution of the title. AnimeJunkies chose to comply in a manner we felt was ethical. We stopped continued translations of the series a week ago in compliance with the request issued by Urban Vision. We did not however, immediately stop distributing the first five episodes we had already translated and released.

Until recently the BitTorrent links for Ninja Scroll remained active on our BitTorrent section located here on the site as well. Unfortunately the core issue of this entire matter revolves around ethics. The topic of fansubbing has been hotly debated for quite some time regardless of the fact that less than twenty years ago fansubs were practically the only source of anime in America. In more recent years, with the more rapid progression of anime from Japan to America, the topic has become inflamed with questions of right and wrong. On the extreme left of the issue are people that feel that fansubs are illegal no matter what. On the other end of the spectrum there are some fansub groups that will continue to fansub and distribute titles even after they are even available to buy on local store shelves. AnimeJunkies has opted to assume a position in the middle of these two extremes. We view each scenario individually and simply to chose to do what we feel is right in each instance. We do not however, distribute any title once it has become available to buy and regularly stop MONTHS ahead of such time.

Until recently the BitTorrent links for Ninja Scroll remained active on our BitTorrent section located here on the site as well. Unfortunately the core issue of this entire matter revolves around ethics. The topic of fansubbing has been hotly debated for quite some time regardless of the fact that less than twenty years ago fansubs were practically the only source of anime in America. In more recent years, with the more rapid progression of anime from Japan to America, the topic has become inflamed with questions of right and wrong. On the extreme left of the issue are people that feel that fansubs are illegal no matter what. On the other end of the spectrum there are some fansub groups that will continue to fansub and distribute titles even after they are even available to buy on local store shelves. AnimeJunkies has opted to assume a position in the middle of these two extremes. We view each scenario individually and simply to chose to do what we feel is right in each instance.


Admittedly this is a hard to understand concept from the outside. The point should be stressed however that there is no fame nor fortune in the fansubbing world. Fansubbers are by no means receiving any kind of paybacks for the work other than the satisfaction of having helped an anime become popular in a region of the world where the title would not normally have reached in any kind of expedient time span. While I cannot say that I have had the honor of directly contributing to the inner workings of a fansub group, I do stand by AnimeJunkies as their webmaster. I have had a long history in the online anime community serving as a webmaster for over four years. I have been anime fan for over a decade and I'm proud to say that I honor my obligations, including my obligation to AnimeJunkies to continue running the official website for the group.

Finally, I would like to stress that AnimeJunkies stance can be summed up to this. We do not wish to harm the industry in America. We are a group of loyal and dedicated anime fans that annually put thousands of dollars into the industry straight from our own pockets. We only wish to help the growth of anime in America and around the world. I would also like to illuminate the fact that AnimeJunkies regularly complies with requests from license holders to stop all distribution. Finally, I would like to say that while we cannot totally control what files are distributed in our IRC channel as the file servers are for the most part ran by non-AnimeJunkies staff members, we do encourage people to continue visiting us there. We openly and honestly stand by our actions as anime fans and as decent human beings.

Finally, I would like to stress that AnimeJunkies stance can be summed up to this. We do not wish to harm the industry in America. We are a group of loyal and dedicated anime fans that annually put thousands of dollars into the industry straight from our own pockets. We only wish to help the growth of anime in America and around the world. I would also like to illuminate the fact that AnimeJunkies always complies with requests from license holders to drop a series. That we continued to allow distribution of the first five episodes of Ninja Scroll is simply because we had already produced them, not as a sign of intent of continuing on with the series as a full time fansub. Proper research into our group prior to this incident's start would have revealed this. Finally, I would like to say that while we cannot totally control what files are distributed in our IRC channel as the file servers are for the most part ran by non-AnimeJunkies staff members, we do encourage people to continue visiting us there. We openly and honestly stand by our actions as anime fans and as decent human beings.


In regards to AJ's responses official and otherwise, they are a mixed bag. I am aware that at least one of AJ's translators did contact Urban Vision to apologize, and their webmaster posted the above, very polite and reasonable explanation of their actions. He also visited our forum and discussed the issue in a very decent and intelligent way. I don't agree with their decisions regarding how to deal with licenses, but at least his response was reasonable.

On the other hand, the person who wrote the original e-mail to UV, AJ's “leader” never did apologize, and shortly after the whole thing came to out, the topic on AJ's IRC channel was changed to "Ninja Scroll Dropped, Urban Vision sucks a fat dick."

So, in the end, I'd still like to see people turn their backs on AJ, and for the more mature members of the group (obviously there are some) to join other groups or start their own. It probably won't happen, but that's what I'd like to see.

Among the other comments:

"Fansubs fight monopolies."

A couple of people brought up the point that “Monopolies” exist in the Anime market.

I guess some people don't know what a monopoly is. A monopoly exists when only one company releases a given sort of product. If there were only one company releasing Anime in North America, that would be a monopoly. But there are over a dozen companies releasing Anime here.

Yet there is still a point worth looking at here: companies generally hold exclusive licenses, so when company A releases Title A, they are the only ones releasing that title (It's the same throughout the entertainment industry). It would be interesting to see what would happen if two or more companies picked up non-exclusive licenses for the same title. The potential for choice is attractive, but the problems are evident, as the company that does a rush job will probably be the company that makes more money.

This will never happen though. And, it's not the place of fansubs, simply because fansubers don't pay for a license, so it wouldn't be a fair competition. If you have one group paying good money to the original producers and charging money to recoup their expenses, and another group not paying any money for the license…well, you know where this goes. Any time a fansub is looked at as an alternative to a licensed release, it's piracy, and it hurts not only the North American industry, but also the original creators of the Anime back in Japan.

"I support ANN in the fight against unethical fansubs."

Thank you, but ANN isn't here to lead a war. We're an online newspaper, and like every other newspaper, we do our thing with words alone. We report on the facts in our news articles, we give opinions on the quality of titles in our reviews, and we express our opinions on issues in our editorials. I would love to see the creation of an industry independent group that, believing that fansubs are ethical under certain conditions, helps to shut down those groups that aren't ethical. But ANN is not that group.

"Anime Junkies isn't the only group fansubbing licensed titles, so why'd you pick on them?"

Because of their response, Urban Vision contacted several fansub groups, and only one group had the audacity to insult UV in such a manner. Still, there are other groups that continue to fansub licensed titles, including Ninja Scroll. They really should stop, and Anime fans really should boycott them. Unfortunately it probably won't happen, but perhaps with the attention brought to the issue a few less people will download those titles.

"How could Anime Junkies have known that these titles were licensed?"

It only takes five minutes of research on the internet to find out what titles are licensed and what titles aren't. If you're going to break the law for “ethical reasons,” the least you should do is double check the status of the titles you are fansubbing.

"Anime News Network is 'pro-industry.'"

Yes, we are. But that doesn't make us Anti-Fansub. We want to see the North American Anime industry grow; we want to see more people exposed to and enjoying this pastime to which we've devoted so much of our lives. And for the most part, fansubbers want to do the same thing. But Anime needs its clients, and it's the industry that provides those clients. So anytime fansubs hurt industry, it's not a good thing, and it's certainly not necessary. Fansubers can continue to promote Anime in their own way without undercutting the industry.

Thank you to everyone that expressed their support, and thank you to everyone who discussed this, even those that disagreed with us. It's only through discussion and disagreement that true answers may be discovered.

Thanks,

Christopher Macdonald

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