What Does Darker Than Black's License Withdrawal Mean?
by Justin Sevakis,
I heard the news of Funimation losing their license to Darker than Black. People speculate (or is it confirmed?) that the license was taken away by Aniplex of America. So I was wondering, is this one of those rare circumstances where Funimation lost the license by accident? Or is this a case of the Japanese withdrawing their license and taking back the rights for the show by force? My real concern relates to the implications of this event. Is this the fate of any licensed anime in the West? Will other older shows that have been licensed for a decade or more start disappearing too in the next few years? I am really at a loss and worried since there are some shows I have yet to purchase.
The relationship between the American distributors and the Japanese licensors is constantly changing, and while some trends can be seen from time to time, every licensor has their own personality and own agenda.
In the case of Aniplex, the company has clearly had a long term strategy to move into the North American distribution in a major way. That move was successful. Now that they're a publisher themselves, why would they keep their shows in the hands of their competitors? They already own the dub and subtitles Funimation made. Now that their agreement is over, Aniplex can make far more money by distributing their shows by themselves. What we can glean from this is not that Funimation is in trouble, but that Darker than Black sold well and remains a valuable license.
Nobody is "taking back" anything by force. Funimation doesn't own any anime (except, partly, for Dimension W and that Mass Effect OVA from a few years back, among a few coproductions). A license is a limited-time loan of publishing rights. While many shows hang their hat at a certain publisher for many years, and in some ways becomes synonymous with that publisher, the truth of the matter is that there is no gigantic obligation on the part of the licensor to keep renewing that agreement every time it ends. If the licensor doesn't think it's worthwhile to keep that show available to that company, they're not going to sign an extension. And so it appears, at least, that Aniplex has decided to take their toys and go home.
When a license expires, the publisher usually has six months to sell off their remaining inventory, and that's that. Aniplex hasn't done much to keep their older back catalog shows in print, but they do seem aware that these shows -- particularly hit shows -- have value. I expect they will be out of print for a few years to let demand build up, and then perhaps there will be a reissue. It's hard to say. In the mean time, fans who missed out on its availability before will only have remaining inventory at retailers, and used copies on eBay and Amazon to choose from.
While I definitely expect this to happen with other Aniplex titles, I currently don't see situations like this being a trend. Pony Canyon is a major Japanese publisher in Japan that now has a US label, but they are very seldom a licensor. TMS and Toei Animation both have a US rights management office, but neither seem to be interested in publishing their own discs.
One thing to remember with any content you love -- be it movies, TV shows, OVAs, anime, live action, web content, music or whatever -- it does not stick around all the time. While many things you love will be around indefinitely, things go out of print all the time. Masters get lost, rights expire, business have fallings-out, and all sorts of other issues crop up that can make it impossible to keep offering that media. If you really love something, and you need to have it available to you, you HAVE TO BUY IT. Given how available and inexpensive it is to be an anime fan these days, t's easy to get lazy or complacent with the belief that it'll always be around, and you have unlimited amount of time in which to buy a show, but you really never know.
I certainly don't maintain a 1,200 disc and terrabytes-large media server collection for my health. Convenient though streaming services may be, you can't count on them always having a certain show. And discs go in and out of print all the time. The chances to buy an anime series tend to last a very long time these days, but they will never last forever.
Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.
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