Why Are Anime Torrent Sites Disappearing?

by Justin Sevakis,

Brooks asks:

Why is the anime industry suddenly going after the big name anime Bittorrent websites after they've been up for years now and what kind of impact do you think this sudden decision is going to have on the anime industry and anime fandom?

For those unaware, the main torrent site that feeds the anime downloaders of the world, NYAA, shut down unexpectedly in the last 36 hours. NYAA was (is?) basically the last big anime specific torrent tracker on the internet that specialized in new titles, after most of the other major sites had shut down over the years for various reasons. Nearly all other anime torrent sites actually relied on NYAA for all of their torrent functionality. The site's shut-down has affected a huge number, perhaps a majority of anime files being shared via torrent.

(Another anime torrent site that specialized in archival of older anime recently locked off access to the general public and went members-only. They went down around the same time too, for extended maintenence according to their Twitter account, and this lead to an understandable freak-out among those who use these sites. However, the two incidents appear to be unrelated.)

Early indications were that the domain name had been taken down by the domain registration operator. However, the site had other domain names whose records seemed to indicate that the site was taken down intentionally by the anonymous owner of the site. A few high profile fansubbers and ripping groups have indicated that the site should now be considered dead.

As for why, no public comment from any possible owner has been made, and so we can only rely on rumors. New laws pending in the EU and other places would severely stiffen penalties for owning such a site, and chip away at "safe harbor" protections (i.e. the legal argument that the owner doesn't control the content that users post, and can't be held responsible for it), and a prominent rumor suspects that the owner may have gotten spooked enough to shut down operations. That's pretty much all we've got to go on.

It's unlikely that this shut down is the result of any direct action against the site or its owner. While anime companies have been trying to stamp out torrent-related piracy for years, the site has operated for many years without significant problems, although Funimation targeted 1,337 anonymous users of the site for legal action in 2011 and the Japanese government identified it as a major piracy threat in 2014. (The site also went down that year after a prolonged DDoS attack.) However, the general consensus is that real problem these days are the pirate streaming sites that directly compete with legal services. It seems unlikely to me that any actions brought about by legal rights holders would make a significant impact now when they haven't for years, especially in an era when their main worries are elsewhere.

However, nearly all of those pirate streaming sites are clearly obtaining their subtitled anime from NYAA or sites that rely on it, so maybe this shut-down will affect them after all. Or not: in the short amount of time that has transpired since, ripping groups are continuing to post new episodes via other means.

And so it goes. When it comes to piracy, nerds, like nature, will find a way.

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