Well, I guess it’s a little more than LOL copyright. This is kind of a comment to my own blog post in a way.
Thanks to Avatar and others (and maybe over at CCB), I’ve managed to say more than what I originally did, and in the process came to realize that this is really a viable possibility. Yes, fansubbing can be reasonably dealt with, outside the shadow of law. I’m glad to run into blogs and editorials of people who are continuing this conversation, because I think it is helpful.
Granted, this is more like a pipe dream than something feasible in the near future, but it’s a start (or a checkpoint?) to the legitimization of fansubbing. To me, fansubbing is a thing that fans do–can we at least legitimize, well, fandom? In general? I don’t really care about specifically fansubbing all that much. This blog post is not just about the economics of it, as some people have previously thought. It’s about the way people live, or will live, in the future.
Here’s an example. I like CLAMP. They’re good at design, specifically. In fact they’ve made a name for themselves as designers in a competitive marketplace with notable power in their brand. Now insert genki-go-lucky, CLAMP-loving, cosplayer teen. Congrats, you just have witnessed the mind set of copyright infringement! I mean, this is probably the least sinister example. It doesn’t involve obscene stuff (porn), it doesn’t involve a tarnishing of CLAMP’s IP (I guess unless you’re an old, fat man trying to do a CCS cosplay or something? I dunno.), nobody loses money, and what’s more, it’s a widely accepted practice that is pretty kosher even in commercial venues. Everyone loves cosplayers, they make good centerpieces for conventions, sets the mood, and it makes great front page pictures for local newspapers.
Is casual, fan cosplaying fair use, however? It’s non-commercial and fairly transformative, but it’s a taking of the entirety and engaging in conduct that is, well, infringing in likely arenas of commercial practice by the rights holder (and the gap has already been bridged in some other instances). In other words, a lawyer could say to the fans that you can’t make and sew your own outfits to resemble these characters. You have to license the right to do so, or buy it from a commercial vendor who did. That is the sad state of affair today. Sure, perhaps if you are an individual there is no incentive for a copyright owner to go after you. But what if you want to start a cosplay cafe? Or sell doujinshi? Or make an AMV collective website and make money via donation and ads? And of course, form a fansub/scanlation organization? The list is long and growing, and it’s all copyright infringement (with a shaky fair use defense at best for them all). As fans do it on their own, they are protected by their own poverty and the inhibiting cost of a federal and/or international lawsuit (at least in the US). But it’s still copyright infringement and the law itself stands in the way between collaboration between the fans and the publishers that lives off the fans, even if neither side cares for it in this context. This legal divide is particularly evident with the debates and controversies surrounding the semiannual Comiket and the doujinshi culture, but the same legal problem comes up in other places too. Traditionally in the US authors and creators have gone after fanfiction writers that produced works they didn’t like, and even entities like Blizzard and Sony-Varent took legal action over fan uses of their MMORPG content they didn’t like.
This has nothing to do with an collaborative enterprise like open source coding, and the strength in public domain against the monopoly (and subsequent control) of proprietary code and patents. It doesn’t even have all that much to do about fighting to restore balance, the power of the past leeching away from the future of you and me in the name of “lol support the artists.” (Even if the end result is some kind of naughty kiddy porn? But don’t we have laws to address that in the parallel?) Fact remains Japanese (and Korean and Chinese and Vietnamese and whatever) animators are already some of the lowest paying workers in this industry, but did anyone or any organization do anything about it? Then again, the industry has plenty of other problems to worry about, and fans too should give all of this a damn (and we don’t).
It’s about legitimizing fandom. It’s about free speech, not free beer. The latter is just a side effect, that, I believe, will continue to exist until the end of time. Sure, the excuse “They Might Be Pirates” can justify the paranoid ways some media companies operated, but is it even a rational thing to do in light of expanding your revenue? Does it even work? Can anyone actually do anything about it? Like propping up the sinking city of Venice, or transplant it to an alien world? You get to keep your pristine world order but at what cost? (Maybe media company execs can use some iyashikei anime too?) I propose a cheaper alternative to fight this particular kind of piracy: legalize it.
Still, the first step about legitimizing fandom is to, well, be legit. Fans have to make a statement about our identity and our condition. For most people this means simply buy the anime you like (as well as the merchandise that you like). Assert your identity through commercial impact, like a good capitalist. As much as I detest R1 DVD art boxes and super LE $$$ releases (because they’re usually low quality from a design point of view, and you’re not getting what you are paying extra for), I buy them because I like it. Isn’t that how it is suppose to work? I have a figure of Haruhi Suzumiya riding high with her Gibson, because I thought that was a captivating imagery, not because I want to support Atelier-Sai and how it makes a living for sculptors riding on the coattails of other people’s intellectual properties. I don’t buy stuff just to “support the artist” because some artists out there are just not worth supporting, and you do better writing them a check as donation than to support them than via some 3rd party which takes a 80-98% cut of the money you give. Besides, what does it say about the artists working for those publishers anyways? The moment we start down that “support” road it becomes a moral and ethical quagmire that betrays the fundamental principle behind charging money for intellectual property: creators and publishers can charge money for it because their IP and services have intrinsic value.
To me that last sentence is the crux of the copyright debate. Fans have to value the stuff they like; if they don’t then we shouldn’t expect publishers and creators to value the stuff they produce. And vice versa–the middleman has to value the creators’ creations beyond merely “business as usual.” The popular misconception that strikes the chord of common conscience is just a hair off. In other words, sure, people should get paid for their labor, but crappy products from hard work is still worth crap, and you shouldn’t be forced to pay for it, even if people “consume” said crappy product the same way they do with a quality work in a mass media context. IP is not commodity like a bar of soap; it’s not like a pile of iPods stocked outside on the street. And the general failure to treat IP as, well, IP, is one of the worst remaining traces of the industrial revolution-era misconception holding back progress in the 21st century. And this is a sin repeated by fans (can we even call them fans?) and by the industry alike.
It’s almost like the objectification of women, except as applied to artistic expressions instead.
Can we just say “support the arts” instead of “support the artists”? I believe most people know the music or TV show they listen to or watch better than how either is produced and financed. Besides, may it be artists or consumers, the art is what we are ultimately after anyways. And ultimately I believe supporting the arts will support the artists indirectly, and that’s a truer reflection of how things really work.
And once you start to see things from “support the arts” perspective, it’s just a different world. And why things like legitimizing fandom becomes so important. As fans naturally we want to share what delights us, and we want to produce derivative works based on these things that delight us. A cursory view into history tells that is how anime companies started in the North America–fans who wanted to make it legit. It’s a history that has repeated itself times and again. It’s how human beings have done it in all of recorded history. It’s how we make more art. We just can’t outlaw that.
It’s also about working together, too. It’s pretty clear that people are willing to pay for anime, and pretty much mass media in general. The question is how to extract this money efficiently and give it to the people who produce anime, without making too much of an economic footprint that suppresses creativity. And I think fans are willing to work with companies in exploring new options to make this exchange of money for services work better. It’s natural to say that, at one extreme end, a guy can go around with a sawed-off shotgun and hold people up at gunpoint, demanding them to buy stuff; or at the other extreme just have people make and publish works for free for all, and take up a donation (although this does work for some businesses). It’s important, I believe, to have a rational dialog between publishers and consumers. It means people have to stop and listen–or else it’s just a shouting match, not a dialog. At any rate, this ongoing dialog will help to figure out what works for us as fans and businesses, and what doesn’t. A site like AoDVD, IMO, is what we need, but it shouldn’t just stop there. And of course we have other tools in our disposal beyond just that, and we should use them.
That’s not to mention many creators and animators are fans themselves, naturally. Invariably legitimizing fandom legitimizes creators, as well. I think this is a necessary step to incorporate and bring closer the distance between creators and people who appreciate those creators’ works. For example, the ongoing dispute (did it end?) between Rowling’s plans to publish an official Harry Potter encyclopedia clashed with plans to publish a book version of the Harry Potter Lexicon, the premiere fan site which even Rowling herself used as a reference in working on the books. It’s just another unfortunate example that the copyright industry we have in place today doesn’t jive with the shrinking distance between fandom and creators, squeezing and trespassing onto the middleman’s territory. Sure, thankfully this will never happen in the US for anime because most anime companies are poor, but it shouldn’t even be an issue. Imagine if Nausicaa.net decided to publish a book on Studio Ghibli and got shut down by Disney? Hmm, I guess it’s not impossible.
Anyways. In a nutshell, I think fans and companies can only work together to deal with issues like fansubbing and doujinshi when we honestly confront each other in a loving way; that we are only here today because we care about the anime/manga/game/whatever we like. The legal barrier that protects the rights of the licensees only gets in the way when it is not put in light of faith in the enterprise of artistic works, but focused merely on money gained and lost. It puts the fans on the defensive and the companies the shoes of oppressors when in reality they’re just between the frying pan and the fire. Fans may be able to say whatever they want but corporate execs can’t because of these laws. It’s not to say we should discard these rights, but rights and entitlement come with responsibility and hard work that justifies them. We need laws to encourage industry practices that bend but not break. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition; with just limited rights you can still operate a simple business model of selling merchandises and DVDs effectively, and what good is it to sit on all the exclusive rights when you can’t even take advantage of the bulk of these rights?
So to sum it up: fight for your rights. When I say fight I don’t mean cause an argument or shoot people. In a Christian context resistance starts with a death of self in the service of love for other. It’s a fight against complacency and the convenience that robs creativity. It’s a fight against greed and against the principalities of this world (like how the past clamps onto the future). It’s only violent in love. Voting with your money speaks volume louder than a meager blog post (as the good book says, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”). Louder still is the silent majority who choose to not spend any money for whatever the reason. But as fans you are obligated to preach what you are crazy about–that’s part of the job description. That’s why I’ve been prodding Momotato again and again, because while he hasn’t watch a lot of shows this past year (witnessed by the 50% reduction in post count), it serves as a barometer to the health of the industry. It also works well as a non sequitur to end this long rambling thing of a post.