Answerman
Who Polices Anime Copyrights?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jacob asks:

I'm seeing that there is Anime that is uploaded to YouTube by people that don't have copyrights. My question is Who is enforcing the Copyright (The Japanese Holder, The American License Holder, or the Manga Holder)?

It depends. The inherent right to enforce a copyright for something is always held by the copyright owner for that show/movie/manga/art/song/whatever. Depending on the circumstances in which that work is made, it could be the original creator, the producer, or the licensor or some combination of these. Usually when a new anime production is made, someone in the production committee is assigned the right to handle all legal matters regarding the show. Usually that's the licensor, since they have to handle all of the contracts to sell the show to other companies anyway.

Here's where things get interesting. It's a standard part of a licensing agreement for the publisher to gain the privilege of acting as the licensor's "attorney in fact" -- i.e. they get the power to legally represent the interests of the licensor as it pertains to that show. They gain the ability to file takedown notices, make claims against videos on YouTube, seize bootlegs, and even file lawsuits about that show. It can get exceedingly messy and expensive for a company in another country to try and deal with the legal system, so this makes a lot of sense from the licensor's point of view. Also, it gives the publisher the power to actually do something when some bootlegging operation comes up. Some contracts require the publisher to get approval from the licensor before engaging in any heavy-handed legal action, to prevent them from causing the licensor embarrassment by doing something really fan-unfriendly.

So, for example, when Funimation bought the rights to the Attack on Titan anime from Kodansha, they also got the right to enforce the copyright on that show within North America. They can go through the dealer's room at a convention with a lawyer and seize bootleg merchandise and DVDs. They submit the episodes to YouTube, which then uses its ContentID technology to identify when someone is uploading those episodes without permission, and blocking them before they go live. Funimation also gets the oh-so-joyful duty of policing other video sites, and either sending them takedown notices, or going to Google and asking that the site be blocked from search results for copyright infringement. This is often akin to playing whack-a-mole, but it's an unfortunate part of working with anime these days.

Some licensors do not like a local publisher acting as their attorney-in-fact. That's often the case when the licensor is big enough to have a local office. But these days, anyone who seriously wants to police the illegal use of their shows online needs manpower, and really only the major publishers are big enough to handle that additional workload. So the major US publishers, unsurprisingly, are the most on-the-ball when it comes to copyright enforcement. Funimation spends a huge amount of time and money getting illegally posted whole episodes taken down. Most publishers go through the trouble of rooting out bootleg merchandise at conventions. Every year a handful of vendors, all SWEARING their discs are all legal imports from China, are booted from cons in the US and Europe.

There are always shows that fall through the cracks. Older shows, ones that don't currently have a US publisher, and a few from smaller publishers, are still uploaded to YouTube and other places willy-nilly. But that doesn't make it OK, it just means there's nobody around with enough time or money to deal with it. In this way, the ability to protect your copyrights really is a luxury for well-heeled corporations. But since copyright violation is a civil matter, that's just the way things work.


Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!) animenewsnetwork.com.

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.


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