Answerman
Why Is It "Wrong" To Buy Digital Manga From Other Countries?

by Justin Sevakis,

Anonymous asks:

Why is it legal to import/buy english translated print copies of mangas in a foreign country (e.g. Switzerland) through my local bookstore (normally per order only) or via bookdepository or on Amazon "Region xy" (e.g. Germany) or any other book distributor which (mangas) actually are licenced for a specific regions (e.g North America, that is the case for most of Viz´ Shonen Jump Imprint, Gundam Origin for example is only licenced in NA) but when it comes to digital distribution it is apparently questionable when I spoof my ip or create a foreign itunes/kindle account with a fake adress to purchase mangas as e-books? Could you enlighten us?

While it's hard to make a case that creating a foreign account with a fake address is all that harmful, or even clearly illegal, it's definitely against the rules that you're expected to abide by. It's the difference between buying a physical object and buying a service -- once you have the physical object in your possession, it's yours. But buying a digital service is a much more complicated arrangement, legally speaking. (Note: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice.)

In the American physical media world, we have something called the "doctrine of first sale." This is a rule that says that legally, a company might only have the right to sell a work within certain parameters (i.e. within the country they have the rights to, for a certain price, or bundled a certain way), but once that work has been sold, that's the end of the reach of the contract. The secondary owner (say, a retailer or distributor) can sell it to whoever they want wherever they want, or do whatever else they want with it (aside from duplicating it) without running afoul of any copyright laws.

This is how it's perfectly legitimate to import manga or Blu-rays from another country. While some other countries don't have an exact match for the US law, most come reasonably close. (Many countries do place limitations on rental of copyrighted works, hence why you might import a Japanese DVD that says "Sale only" on the back.)

Digital services are not like that, since you're not actually in possession of anything -- you're purchasing the ability to access that media on the service. That means you are always at the mercy of that company, and you have to play by their rules.

If anything, by claiming you reside in a country that you're not, you're committing fraud. Is it a serious case of fraud? No, and it's highly unlikely that anyone is going to sue or prosecute you for that in any way. However, not being who you say you are and living in the country you say you do is most definitely a violation of the terms of service of whatever digital platform you're using. It's perfectly within the rights of that platform to go, "hey! This guy is using a fraudulent address! Kill his account!"

And in fact, those platforms may be obligated to do things like that. When they buy the rights to sell digital downloads or access, they're buying those rights for specific countries, and making guarantees in the contract to the licensor that they'll make their best effort in keeping out people who don't fall within their legally designated territory. They made a promise to the licensor that they'll abide by the rules, and enforce them among their customers.

In my opinion, it's yet another reason to buy physical copies of the media you really really love.


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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's 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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