The manga boom in this country started out with a handful of enthusiasts who, when they couldn’t find the books they wanted in English, learned Japanese, translated the books, scanned them in, and pasted in the English text, then shared them with their friends via the Internet. Basically, these fans became mini-publishers, except for one important thing: They didn’t have the rights to the works they were reproducing.
Back in the day, though, most people shared their scanlations via IRC (Internet Relay Chat), which is clunky and requires a bit of technical know-how, so there was enough of a barrier to entry that you had to be at least a bit motivated to get your free manga. In the past few years, though, a number of sites have sprung up that basically pirate the pirates, downloading scanlations and posting them on a website so anyone can read them in their browser. What’s more, these sites are also posting scans of English-language manga for all to read — a far more violation of copyright than anything scans_daily ever tried. I recently spoke with an industry watcher who said that traffic on these sites is increasing sharply, and the publishers are worried.
Manga fans resurrect the scanlation debate periodically, and it started up again last week when Kate Dacey, a.k.a. The Manga Critic, addressed the issues of pirate sites and provided her readers with a primer on copyright. At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson responded that the way things are now, there are plenty of incentives for readers to use pirate sites and pretty much no disincentives. Simon Jones argues (facetiously, I think) that digital rights have become worthless and obeying the law is for chumps.
This caused manga veteran Jake Forbes (editor of Fruits Basket and writer of the Return to Labyrinth manga, among many other fine series) to ask if he could post a guest editorial at my home blog, MangaBlog. It’s long but very informed, and Jake addresses the deficiencies of the American and Japanese publishers as well as approaching the fan entitlement issues from the point of view of someone whose own introduction to otakudom came through those primitive tools I mentioned up top.
All of these posts have lengthy comments threads that are worth reading in their own right, and I expect that the discussion will continue this week with more commentary from people inside and outside the industry.