Fansubs... Our perspectiveby Justin Sevakis, Jun 9th 1999
Fansubs, as I'm sure everyone is aware, is a pretty sticky issue. For those that are unfamiliar with the concept, fansubs are subtitled versions of anime produced by fans for the purpose of enjoyment by themselves and/or others in the hopes that it will attract the attention of a commercial company, who would license and release the series. As you can imagine, there are a few problems with this...
First and foremost, there's the fact that the entire concept is a blatant violation of international copyright law. (Some claim that various aspects of the Berne convention or the fair use clause, but this would only cover making the sub for yourself, and not giving it to others.) The Japanese companies have been very kind to the fan community so far in allowing it to continue for the most part, and many of the original creators are flattered to have what are essentially bootleg copies of their works being circulated in other countries.
In order to show them as much respect as possible, 95% of all fansubbers adhere to a somewhat similar code of ethics (and constantly berate those that don't). This does not allow them to profit in any way from the creation or distribution of the fansubtitled works. Old-school fansubbers frown on those who accept donations with which to pay for translations (a necessity, as free translators become less and less common) and those that distribute fansubs much like an online retailer, except that they only charge enough to cover their costs (about $6-8 US, including 2-3 day shipping), in favor of the method where the fan sends in their tape to be copied, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope.
While these fans make valid points that fansubs should not have anything to do with money, this way of doing things is simply unrealistic. Anime fandom has grown by leaps and bounds, and the following fansubs have has gotten much bigger as well. The SASE method requires a lot more time and space (you can't run copies in tandem and stock them), and no sane person could ever fill the requests of the amount of people that want them in such a manner. Then there's the problem of people who can't follow directions, people who buy cheap tape that could easily clog the heads of a well-worn VCR, and people that forget to write what they want on the tapes!
This brings up another problem: Commercial companies, for the most part, don't seem to appreciate fansubs very much any more. They argue that they impact their sales by distributing low-cost or free copies of things that they must then license to a partially saturated market. (This logic doesn't seem to cover the numerous fans who would be just as likely to make themselves a bootleg copy of the COMMERCIAL version!) They argue that the market has grown to a point where they no longer need fansubs to tell them what's popular and what's not. While this may be partially true (ADV certainly didn't need anyone to tell them Evangelion was a winner), it is just the opposite for many titles. Think Fushigi Yuugi would have become so popular and eventually become licensed had it not been for the efforts of one Oregon housewife and her husband? Certainly not!!
The fansubbers are mostly very willing to comply and cohabitate with the commercial companies, but many times fansub enthusiasts (NOT the subbers themselves) make it difficult. Some see fansubs as a cheap replacement for commercial copies, and worse, see a company licensing the series as "screwing over" the fans. Can you imagine newbie fans e-mailing a commercial company, bitching them out for licensing a series that they haven't yet collected in its entirety in fansubbed form? ("How dare you do something legal that puts a stop to my illegal practice?!") It's happened... and fairly regularly at that. (Some blame the fansubbers for making their subtitles look too professional, but if a commercial company with professional editing facilities can't match what a bunch of broke fans can do on $300 equipment, who's fault is that?)
It's important that we keep our perspective. Fansubs are nice, but the commercial side is where most of the action is, and ANN will always concentrate on that. However, we'll be stopping in on the fansub community to see what's going on from time to time. (If you're a fansubber that values their privacy, simply e-mail us asking us not to mention you, or simply don't post your announcements to the fansub announcement mailing list.) Further, we'll be reviewing some of the more noteworthy titles, and have a special column on fansubs that we're reletively certain will never, ever get licensed. In such a case, the fansub would be the only way an English speaker would ever get to see it and know what's going on. Maybe with a bit more attention, they will get licensed.
There's no pleasing everyone, but this was by far the most requested feature of ANN in our last poll, and it's clear that enough people want it. I'm sure some will be a little bit PO'ed at the lenient point of view we're taking, but if you don't like the new sections, don't read them.
Meantime, here's some ways to help the fansub communtiy--and fans in general-- get along with the commercial companies a bit better...
FOR THE FANS:
FOR THE COMPANIES: