2004 Year in Review
BitTorrent and Fansubs

by Steven Pennington, Jan 26th 2005
The filesharing program, Bittorrent, made its way into Anime fandom in 2002, and is there to stay for quite some time. Animesuki, a website dedicated to cataloging and listing torrents, has made the distribution process easier, and fansubbers have adopted this service to display and allow their translated files to be available to the general public in an organised fashion. Shows are translated, released, and downloaded in days or even hours after the initial Japanese broadcast. It's popular, and the figures show; almost 35% of internet traffic consists of Bittorrent filesharing. Tens of thousands of fans download and share popular, unlicensed titles such as Naruto, Mai-HiME, Bleach and Air.

Obviously, the surge in filesharing of copyrighted works has raised concerns with a majority of media outlets. While Hollywood has taken action, Texas-based DVD distributor ADV Films and Japanese producer Media Factory are the most vocal Anime-related companies to take a stance on the Bittorrent issue. ADV Films issued cease and desist warnings to several fansub groups, as well as warnings to larger Bittorrent sites, including the website Suprnova, a torrent site for just about anything, licensed or not. ADV Films sent a warning to Suprnova requesting they remove torrent links to series they currently own. Suprnova declined ADV's advances, asserting that while certain users were located in countries under international copyright law (the Berne Convention), Suprnova's own servers were located outside of the Berne Convention. Suprnova later shut down for other reasons.

Another major incident occured when Media Factory requested that Animesuki remove links to its own productions, including series such as Genshiken, Gankoutsuo, and School Rumble. Direct action from a Japanese licensor is very rare, but regardless, certain groups continued to fansub and distribute Media Factory titles, once again raising questions about the legitimacy of and moral dilemmas surrounding fansubs in general. Given the increasing potential of the US market and the popularity of Japanese works, and increased pressure from Hollywood on Bittorrent distribution of copyrighted movies and television series, Japanese companies will possibly step up their response to unauthorized English reproductions, so it wouldn't be a suprise if Media Factory's actions are echoed by other Japanese studios.

While the issuing of cease and desist orders and legal threats have been fairly common ways for licensors, right holders, and production companies to combat file sharing, very few have looked into alternative options. One of those who has is anime distributor Central Park Media, which teamed up with TotalVid, an internet video library website, in order to distribute CPM's library of anime titles. As to whether this is CPM's way of working around pirated works of their own properties, or just a way to utilize a current, ever-growing trend, it's certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to preventing these issues.

Like most things, the current state of Bittorrent could go anywhere. There's still room for growth, allowing more and more people to download and sample basically anything they wish. An increase in the number of participants will probably occur, but at the same time, media entities are taking a fairly firm stance against this. Continued corporate pressure on more popular torrent sites could drive fansubbing back into the relative underground it used to inhabit. Will the US industry take a bigger stand? Will larger Japanese companies such as Sunrise or Gonzo also legally pursue English-language torrent sites? While there are a number of negative points to consider, 2005 for anime-based Bittorrent will also reap the rewards in a continually growing fanbase and interest, relative to the overall increased popularity of Anime.

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