A New Ethical Code for Digital Fansubbing

Abstract: The goal of this ethical code is not point the finger at fansubbers who do not follow its every precepts. This code is intended as an impartial view from a source independant from both the industry and the fansub community. The guidelines outlined below were made deliberately stringent, and could be considered as a difficultly attainable "holy grail" of ethical fansubbing. For example, based on how many of these rules a fansubber follows, one could evaluate how ethical he is compared to others.

This code of ethics is based on 6 basic premises from which a certain number of specific rules are derived.

  1. The main purpose of fansubs is to allow English-language fans access to obscure anime they would never see otherwise.
    1. At least once a year, a fansubber should justify his or her existence by subbing an obscure or older title.
    2. A fansubber does the community no good by duplicating another's work. Therefore, if a fansub of an anime is already available, the fansubber should devote his or her efforts to another series, unless said existing fansub suffers from an excessively bad translation.

  2. A secondary purpose of fansubs is to give fans an advance taste of anime that may someday be licensed.
    1. Because of the speed at which new series are picked up, it should be assumed that a new series *will* be picked up. Therefore only the first 4 or 5 episodes should be fansubbed in order to give a taste of the anime. (roughly the same as viewing the first DVD release)
    2. If, after the show has completed its run in Japan (or one year from the airing of the first episode), the title is still unlicensed, then fansubbing may continue.

  3. Fansubs are not to be considered a substitute for owning a legal, English-language copy.
    1. Do not distribute an American-licensed anime. Distribution must stop the instant a license is announced. Any distribution after that point gives the licensee legal cause to pursue the fansubber.
    2. Fansubs are not meant to compete with a professional product, therefore perfection should not be considered a goal. Small improvements in video quality or translation should not be considered justification to create another competing fansub.
    3. Fansubs are not meant to compete with a professional product, therefore the audio/video quality of a fansub should not attempt to match or better the quality of a professional DVD. In fact, a large filesize is a hindrance to the spread of a fansub and thus goes against the purpose of increasing awareness of a title. 175MB per 25-minute episode should be considered a maximum and 140MB a better choice.

  4. Fansubbers should operate in a manner which minimizes impact on the commercial interests of anime-producing companies as it is in the best interests of anime fandom that these companies be healthy and create more anime.
    1. Do not fansub an American-produced anime. Even if the company didn't officially announce a "license" or a release date, we know it's going to come to the US.
    2. If the Japanese company went to the trouble of producing a DVD with English subtitles, do not fansub it and especially do not rip it and pretend it's a fansub. Region-2 encoding on the DVD is easily overcome and not considered a sufficient obstacle to fans to justify a fansub.
    3. If the creators of the show specifically request it not be distributed over the internet, their wishes should be respected.
    4. Encouraging and supporting people who choose to pick up the R2 DVDs as they come out is a good idea. Make the timed script available as a DVD subtitle file for people who would like to buy the Japanese DVD but don't understand Japanese.

  5. We have an interest in the way other fans behave because it affects the reputation of all fandom.
    1. If you see any series that is licensed (beyond one or two episodes, especially) on a fansubber's website, e-mail them about it. If they do not take it off in a certain number of days, e-mail the company that holds the license. Remember to give the company the URL and what series/OAV/movie is being fansubbed that is now licensed.
    2. The fansubber should promote fansub ethics by displaying the code of conduct expected of the viewer somewhere in the anime (preferrably during the eyecatch), such as:
      • not for sale, rent or auction
      • do not distribute once licensed
      • if you liked this anime, please buy a legit copy once it becomes available

  6. You make fansubs voluntarily, out of your own free time, because you are a fan. Never for personal profit or recognition. If at any time you feel you should be compensated for the work you've done then you're probably doing this for all the wrong reasons.
    1. The fansubber's goal should be to promote the anime they are fansubbing, not to promote themselves. As such, a fansub shouldn't contain credits (translator, timesetter, etc.) or a watermark identifying the group. The only exception is the name and website of the fansubber, presented at the beginning, eyecatch or end.
    2. At no time should money be made from distributing fansubs. The one and only reason to ask for money is to offset the cost of distribution supplies such as blank DVDs, CDs, packaging materials, shipping costs. A fansubber should not charge for time or labor (time spent copying CDs, going to the post office) as he is doing this voluntarily. Where distribution costs exist, those costs should not be rounded up, either to simplify pricing or to obtain compensation for labor; this amount, no matter how small, is not part of the distribution costs.
    3. Start-up costs and expansion costs of fansubbing equipment are the sole responsibility of those that would subtitle/distribute. You may not charge for the non-distribution costs associated with fansubbing, like buying the R2 DVD, paying for a translation or maintaining a website. Charging these expenses out to fans requesting fansubs is not reasonable. These expenses are considered the costs of participating in this expensive hobby. Fans or other sources, however, can voluntarily provide funds for these costs.


This article was compiled from suggestions made in this forum thread.

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