Until Kodansha's recent re-release of the first volume, Sailor Moon had been out of print in the United States for six years. What's more, the original English-language edition suffered from many of the sins of early manga — bad translation, flipped pages, etc. Since it is, despite this, one of the most popular manga of all time, it's not surprising that there are scanlations of it all over the web.
But when a Sailor Moon fan site linked to scans of Kodansha's new edition, readers who clearly had no problem with posting scanlations were strongly critical of the site owner for linking to rips of an American edition. Here's a comment that sums up much of the discussion:
This is so sad! The new books are really beautiful and it's shame to rip them off this way. I understand why the Tokyopop translations were circulated because the copyright expired but this is very different. Really disappointing and I have to say I hope you remove them from your site.
But the person who posted the links, Elly, shoots right back:
LOL glad to see you're grateful for the years of pirated materials you downloaded from this place.
You people are unbelievable. One day you're fine with stealing copyrighted material, the next you aren't because it's an ~American release~. Guess what? International copyright applies to all the stuff you downloaded in Japanese too. Downloading scanlations makes you just as much of a criminal as downloading Kodansha's release.
As for the ethics of pirating any work, foreign or domestic, she has a ready answer: "As for personal morals, mine aren't confused. I've never supported copyrights."
Oh, OK. If I've never supported the idea of personal property, can I have your car?
Back to the issue at hand: Many scanlators, especially old-school ones, have an ethical code that prohibits scanning licensed titles; they only translate work that isn't available in English, and they take down the scans once news breaks that a book is licensed — before it is published. This allows them to justify copyright violation because it's only theoretical — the copyright holder isn't losing any sales — and, in fact, it builds an audience for the book, making it more likely that it will be licensed and sell well in the U.S. (Some publishers have made the opposite argument, that scanlations saturate the market and make a work less salable.) What's not in dispute is that posting a work without authorization is a violation of the copyright.
Some people simply don't care, and the big manga pirate sites routinely post rips of U.S. editions without even pretending they are scanlations. But in this case, the fans are enraged:
This smacks of utter arrogance to me. You knowingly put up scans of something for people to download FOR FREE, and you think you won't get any legal repercussions for it?
Scanlations are one thing, scanning a legal and official release for "comparison" is another.
I hope you get a cease and desist. In fact, I hope the many emails Kodansha USA get about this issue help shut this illegal action down.
In fact, Elly remarks that since it's a small site, the fans probably pose more of a risk than the publishers, which is kind of ironic, given the history of manga in the U.S.