Scanlation update: The land of lost manga

It looks like the first round in the scanlation wars has gone to the publishers, but appearances can be deceiving.

Shortly after several publishers announced that they had formed a coalition to fight manga piracy, a number of the most popular scan sites removed scans of series that had been licensed in the U.S. Or did they? As a blogger named Kimi-chan explained a few days ago, the site admins at two sites, Mangafox and Animea, merely disabled the links from the home page. If a user had bookmarked the series, however, the bookmark would still work, and Google searches still turn up valid links for these series.

Kimi-chan's post has been up for about a week, and when manga blogger Deb Aoki tried the tactic with a number of Viz titles on MangaFox, she found that they truly were gone. But that made me curious about something else.

A few months ago, I downloaded an iPod app that pulls manga scans from the Onemanga database—it's one of several free or cheap apps that do that. I opened it up for the first time since April, apparently, and it immediately updated the list of available titles. Sure enough, all the Viz manga were gone from the list. There were a scattering of Del Rey, Tokyopop, and Vertical series, though, and a number from Yen Press.

All the Yen Press titles were listed as "suspended," and if you go to the Onemanga home page, sure enough, the links to the individual chapters are dead. But in my iPod app they open just fine. Onemanga seems to have stopped updating the series in March, but all the previous chapters are obviously still in the database.

It's interesting that the situation has shifted a bit. When I was first looking at these apps, back in April, I asked Yen Press publisher Kurt Hassler why he was able to have his manga removed from the iPad apps that draw from scan sites but not the sites themselves. He replied,

With respect to your question about the app, Apple has a very effective system in place whereby concerns about content are redirected to the app developer. Developers who fail to respond to these concerns run the risk of having their apps removed. Unfortunately, similarly effective remedies with respect to scanlation sites are not as readily available. While publishers can and do send DMCA complaints to such sites, they are all too often ignored. Certainly this has been the case for Yen Press in several instances in recent months. As a consequence, we are actively pursuing other avenues to remedy these situations.

Those "other avenues," as we know, include the publishers' coalition

Purely for research purposes, I bought a slicker app from the iTunes store, one that draws from several scan sites, including Onemanga, MangaFox, and Manga Volume. While blockbuster series like Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece do seem to be absent, I was able to download recent chapters of Toriko, a new series from Viz, and Black Butler (listed under the Japanese name).

What this means, of course, is that the publishers have a long road ahead of them. The internet is vast, and as many, many commenters pointed out after the first round of takedowns, the manga is always going to be available somewhere, if you look hard enough. The key is to make it hard to find, and if the scans are still turning up via a Google search or an iPod app, the sites haven't really complied—no matter what they say on their home page.

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