In Defense Of Anime And Manga Piracy

With the recent crackdown on Kissanime, and possibly other sites, I wanted to put my thoughts on piracy out there as somebody from a country with almost no legal channels to watch anime easily.

Full disclosure, Kissanime sucks and I hate it, because better piracy sites exist that aren’t as greedy.

If and when I can support something, I always do. However, the truth of the matter is that so many manga are legally unreadable both physically and digitally in my country.

Image result for sorry, this is not available in your country

That’s the only time I will read or watch something on a piracy site. I can at least contribute to the discussion to bring a series to the attention of the select people who are actually capable of supporting it.

Image result for anime thinking face

But Lumi, if something isn’t available legally in your country, physically or digitally, what do you think gives you the right to read them? If a product isn’t being sold in your country, but you want it, you usually either have to wait until it is sold, or go through a few hoops to have it imported.

– anonymous redditor

Well, let me answer that question with another question.

What does it matter if I pirate it or not if I don’t have a legitimate avenue to get it anyway?

Mind you, before Netflix and Crunchyroll existed, this was all you’ve got for legal ways to watch.

If people don’t read it, they can’t join the discussion nor share it with other people. The manga is dead in this place. However, if people pirate it, it generates discussion AND even tempts a lot of people to buy merchandise of the manga,which can lead to the manga being sold locally due to interest! So while sales aren’t currently happening, it DOES build a fanbase in the country for future sales. Just look at stuff like My Hero Academia that wasn’t airing alongside Japan for us here in the Philippines.

Piracy, like it or not, creates a market where there wasn’t before. I buy official merch from manga I love online and have it shipped because it’s worth much more than supporting an overpriced digital release. I buy volumes when I can.

All of this is worth half of that Gurren Lagann blu-ray box set.

So many friends of mine in my country, who used to pirate as little kids who had no means of watching stuff like Naruto or reading it due to circumstance, became avid supporters in the future. Of course, this is just MY experience, but it honestly comes down to the brass tacks of “does not reading impact the manga positively or negatively?”

Conclusion

All I’m saying is this. It’s better for me to enjoy something I wouldn’t otherwise be able to and support it some other way until it BECOMES legal. Otherwise, the alternative is I have no idea it existed and it gets zero support from me or anybody else for a possible official translation or import.

Also, if I don’t enjoy it, no sales lost because it was impossible buy it anyway. Piracy will die only when the industry provides a service that can rival it. See Netflix, I used to pirate movies and even anime until CR and Netflix rolled around. Now I support my shows there because it’s a respectable business model that’s not wringing the money out of me.

Until Comixology can fully replace the much more convenient (and oftentimes better quality translations) scanlator market, it’ll stick around them for my online manga needs.

30 thoughts on “In Defense Of Anime And Manga Piracy

  1. I once buyed the Crunchyroll premium plan and what I got in it was, “the content is not available in your country” and I was like FUC* O** I didn’t pay 600NC (in my country 1 dollar is equal to more than 100) and from that time onward I stopped watching in so-called legal sites as I don’t pay to see ads.
    And that’s the reason why I watch in illegal sites but if the anime is available in places like Netflix or any other streaming sites then yeah I do support them there.

    But in the end, I will say that piracy is a good thing as it allows you to get what you want especially in places where the content is officially unavailable and when you have money then show full support to them
    Also, my experience with these legal streaming sites has been really bad…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m in such a country as well, and it really is very frustrating. Sometimes a VPN works, masking your signal and allowing you to watch other shows that aren’t available. I do try to avoid piracy as well, either buying stuff, or waiting for it to come out. But sometimes it never will, and that’s extremely frustrating. I find YouTube lately is a pretty good source for anime, especially older shows that aren’t available anywhere 😊 Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. Muse Asia is a godsend on YT for me, and Netflix has become my main source of anime. Seasonally though, it worries me greatly that Crunchyroll has not made steps to improve their platform, especially for licensing older shows that may not be in people’s radar.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Even worse, removing shows as well, which is even more annoying😢 Netflix definitely has been a pretty good source of anime for me as well. Let’s hope that Crunchyroll will eventually see the error of their ways😊

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sadly the issue with pirating a piece of media that you do not have a legitimate avenue to find is that it drives the price of the property down when Studios try to negotiate distribution deals which in turn makes the entire industry less profitable keeping salaries low and attracting less new talent. A premium distributor just isn’t likely to pay that much to license an anime that it knows viewers can easily access through illegal means. Obviously it’s not going to attract more business and isn’t a selling point so they won’t invest as much. This is often why older license fall out and don’t get renewed. If it becomes known that the series can just be watched on YT or through any number of illegal sites, it’s just not worth it as a business decision for a lot of distributors. Unfortunately, the fanbase for anime has been very vocal about seeking out free alternatives which makes larger distributors wary of investing too much in an audience that is so likely to drop them.
    I’m not arguing the morality of it and there certainly a point to be made about illegal distribution creating a market where there was none but to answer your question, the harm is that it devalues intellectual property and often one a value is set it is very difficult to raise it even years after the piracy has stopped. That’s why to this day the market price for anime is lower than it should be given earnings and viewership. Too many years of it being illegally available for free has instilled this mentality that anime is not something you should pay for, at least not much.
    To be clear, I don’t have a solution to the limited availability in certain markets or how to develop those markets without some piracy. I’m just giving the flip side of the issue.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I get your point and mostly agree. However, the reason why it got this way in the first place is because Japan has refused to adapt to a marketplace becoming more inclined towards streaming. The truth is, and I’ve seen it happen a lot, is that people WILL pay for anime if they have the means to do so. When Netflix and Crunchyroll came out, people were excited for the option to watch anime and support it. However, due to the host of region locking issues, horrible site management, delayed releases (sometimes up to a year from broadcast), the average consumer just decides pirating is more convenient, which it is. It shouldn’t be up to the consumer to adjust to the industry, the industry needs to adapt to the consumer. Not to mention, animators being underpaid isn’t solved by distribution because almost NONE of that actually goes to the animators, I feel like that’s another issue entirely separate from piracy. In my opinion, it’s nothing but the fault of Japan for not adapting quick enough to the market. They are making steps by relaxing the strict policies on streaming platforms and even putting stuff up for free on YouTube, but it’s honestly a bit too late. I don’t like arguing for piracy because it’s me admitting that the legal means are so anti-consumer. From my perspective, here in a 3rd world country, before streaming was a thing, I could only become an anime fan through piracy because only the big shounen anime would EVER show up on TV. We don’t even get reruns that often, nor can we enjoy the original Japanese dub on TV. I don’t imagine I could be an anime fan if I had to pay a quarter of my tuition every year as a child JUST to watch blu-rays of like, 4 or 5 shows.

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      1. As I said it’s a ripple effect. If the base product is considered less valuable in the global economy the relative wadges and privileges tend to follow suit.
        Like I said, I don’t have a solution. But the fact is anime is undervalued. We often hear fans grumbling about paying 70 to 100$ a year for a services with hundreds of titles as exuberant and unfair when they happily pay the same amount and more for a single anime figurine. Because we established a market where that one figurine and the work and effort that went into creating it is worth much more than the anime on which it is based. That is part of the issue.
        I’m sure that independent studios may have mishandled how to take advantage of a global market that’s probably an issue as well.
        It’s not a simple question but piracy does have an impact, that is all I was saying.
        Ultimately we can agree that if we drive the question to the ridiculous extreme, “what happens if everyone just pirates anime”, it’s not likely to be the healthiest for the industry. A solution has to exist in the middle ground.
        I think it’s up to everyone to figure out for themselves where they stand on piracy considering the current climate. But it seems that some people to think it’s truly and completely harmless and I find that a bit scary.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t believe it’s completely harmless, but neither do I think it’s as destructive as people think. The very fact that anime overseas was born FROM piracy (VHS tapes with fansubs) is proof of that. I wouldn’t want everything to be pirated, and like I said, I buy official when I can, but it has to be said that paying over $100 for stuff would be fine if you got more out of it. Most shows, even cartoons from overseas, do not cost as much as 1 season of an anime costs. If we use your example of $100 on a single figure, that same amount of money can buy at max about 3-4 seasons of a single show, based on what I could find from Amazon. Not to mention, older and popular shows typically cost even more. This is a huge issue for an industry that caters itself towards a young audience of presumably teens to young adults, who all either have entry-level jobs or are still in school and cannot provide for themselves. You can’t support the industry if the industry itself doesn’t give you reasonable options.

        Not to mention, if a show is a year past release, it tends to get removed from streaming platforms. At that point, I would honestly say they do leave consumers no choice. i feel like we can both agree that while no side is totally at fault, most of the blame should rest on how anti-consumer the anime industry is with blu-rays and streaming. Manga, on the other hand, is at least getting better, but not amazing.

        To quote Gabe Newell:
        “We think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy. Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem,” he said. “If a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate’s service is more valuable.”

        That’s the hard truth of it all. I know it’s complicated, and I also do not have a solution, but it should really be their job to find one instead of purging the symptoms of their refusal to adapt. Piracy will always be a problem for as long as corporations don’t provide an alternative. Netflix is still a major player despite piracy clearly existing and pirating shows from them. This is because Netflix provides a service and pays their creators upfront, usually going years on a loss before seeing their projected profits.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’ve actually never heard a single fan consider piracy as a problem. Industry insiders and economists for sure but I have never personally met an anime fan that has told me it was an issue other than in a very general abstract sense and they weren’t particularly bothered by it.
        Most people are like you and me. They consider piracy a symptom of a larger issue.
        Out of curiosity, are there no anime streaming services where you are?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh there are some in the Philippines, and I am fortunate enough to afford it (Netflix and CR). Muse Asia has done strides towards providing me with mainstream shows as well that aren’t on either platform, and I shill them as hard as I can.

        However, the majority of my country is poor. They cannot afford to pay monthly for streaming, and unfortunately, television has not been making much effort in getting shows to be simulcast unless they are big shounen ones. Not to mention, even with streaming, PH internet is notoriously bad. 5 M/bps is considered on the fast side for us.

        Anime used to have this aura of being for kids, but as time goes on, I see less kids invested due to streaming. That’s why I want the industry to give us options. Anime is a luxury, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be accessible.

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      5. Muse Asia is not available in my country…
        And I feel you, over the past 2 months 3 shows disappeared from legal streaming here and I was really enjoying them. It’s very frustrating.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Or harmless – I have met a lot of fans that have told me either that their personal actions were too insignificant to have any impact or even that anime piracy as a whole was inconsequential because the industry had other lines of revenue. That I have heard a lot.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Ocean is just a multitude of drops situation, yeah.

        The industry relies so much on other revenue because it links back to the problem of inaccessibility. Their main revenue stream (the show itself) is hard to watch legally. So, people just turn to merchandise or manga, which is fine by me. Honestly, because of the fact that Japan keeps on using a middleman for distribution instead of making their own,buying a figure is likely about the same as subscribing to a service.

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      8. If it’s licensed. I know for me though official licensed figures tend to be equivalent to roughly 2 years worth of premium subscription. People don’t like to ship things to the North Pole it seems…

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Depending on the manga it’s 15$ to 22$ average usually with a few extra bucks per volume for shipping. You can find some titles for 13$ though. If you order from places overseas like Right Stuff the price of the manga goes down a bit but I kid you not shipping is usually a bit more than the manga itself so it ends up double. Let’s just say I adore my Viz subscription.

        Liked by 1 person

      10. And that’s pretty much what I mean. So much stuff would go unnoticed because of exorbitant prices if not for online distribution. I’m glad manga is at least getting more reasonable, but I wish that Japan would hire from scanlators and just make them official.

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      11. To be honest I’m not sure 22$ is unreasonable. Manga are such works of art and so much work goes into them. Then the materials, the environmental cost the fact that they have to travel across the entire world. It’s a price that makes sense. I’m not sure how they can really cut it much more without cutting into labour cost. I donate my old manga to libraries so that more are available for people that can’t afford them. And I love legal digital distribution. It’s where it’s at.

        Liked by 1 person

      12. This is true and I agree that I would pay that much for art. However, I think the fact that it’s split across multiple volumes is the issue for most people. In Japan, it sells for about $5-$10 a volume, which I think is fine, but $15 is my personal standard.

        I do like where manga is at the moment. It hasn’t reached the insane levels anime blu-rays have. Unlike blu-ray, a manga is much nicer to have in general,lol.

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      13. I guess my biggest problem with manga is how little it pays forward to small creators. Scanlators with a passion have translated a lot of obscure manga that I now love and adore, but cannot find a single volume for because it’s so limited to just Japan.

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  4. “What does it matter if I pirate it or not if I don’t have a legitimate avenue to get it anyway?”

    That is the crux of the issue, isn’t it?

    There is the legalistic POV where you follow rules just because they are rules, not because the rules make sense. In this model of conduct, we are just sheep to be shepherded along by our minders who know what is best. Take it to an extreme and you have Nazi Germany or Stalinist USSR.

    I have no patience with this attitude. I don’t break the law lightly but I will under some circumstances. Besides, it isn’t clear that watching a pirate site is actually breaking a law. The law is violated upon the uploading of the material for general availability, not by viewing it. Take the case of Edward Snowden He violated the law (and I’m glad he did) by releasing information on aspects of domestic spying by the US intelligence community. However, there’s no crime in reading what he revealed or printing it in a newspaper. It doesn’t make you an unindicted co-conspirator.

    I remember back in the day, if you uploaded music or a movie, say as a torrent file, you might well be sued and be held liable for every song you uploaded. Some people ended up on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars. No such lawsuits took place against those who downloaded the material. Nowadays it is all free on YouTube so there is no point in piracy.

    ********

    There is a moral argument that by watching a pirate copy you are depriving the rightful owners of their ability to benefit financially from their work. NOT paying for a product causes everyone in the production chain to suffer. It dovetails with the argument that says piracy hurts the industry and reduces the amount and quality of product by making it less economical to produce. That’s a tougher issue to address.

    Moral arguments are not always stable. They depend on a shared morality. Such a shared morality does not exist in the US anymore. There is a common perception that it is ok to steal small amounts from large corporations because “they can afford it” or because of the feeling that it is justified because of the evils of rapacious capitalism. Usually boils down to “I want it and you can’t stop me so it is ok.” IMHO, not a good attitude but also nothing I can control.

    But… Let’s say you watched a pirated anime because it simply isn’t available otherwise. Nobody has been hurt because that’s money they wouldn’t have made anyhow. If it becomes available at some point in the future and you don’t watch it at that time, then there’s a case for harm being done. Should you rewatch it on the Crunch or the big screen when it is finally released, there is no claim of harm to be made.

    But this is a subtle distinction. Most people who watch pirate sites only do so to avoid paying for the product.

    There is also a practical side to this as most pirate sites are hotbeds of viruses and trojans and malware. It is like getting in the face of someone who is violently coughing and hoping your mask catches everything. I readily admit that when I first started watching anime I didn’t have a clue about piracy. I just knew that some sites drove my security software nuts and some didn’t.

    Another question I don’t have a good answer for: Suppose an anime is available in Japan but not the US? In order to watch it, you could VPN in through a Japanese IP to a legit Japanese streaming service. By doing this, the streaming service still gets your subscription money and records the stream for the purposes of distributing revenue. I am not sure how this would be considered piracy. More like buying “grey market” goods. I see nothing inherently wrong with using a VPN.

    Anime also get censored and modified for different localities. (Sailor Moon was once an absurd example of it.) This is a legit way to avoid that and see the original.

    ********

    The larger question is whether piracy helps or hurts anime in general. Personally, I think it hurts the studios a little bit and the distributors a lot. That’s why the big platforms are waging a very effective war against them. Japan pushed thru new copyright laws that killed the most common pirate sites. Yeah, there are other sites but they are not places that will show up on Google search so most people will never go there.

    Crunchy has a different business model and you can see most anime for free if you are just willing to watch the commercials and wait an extra week for current seasonal shows. If I were even poorer than I am, that’s what I’d do. There is no constitutional right to watch an anime just because you want to.

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    1. To be perfectly honest, you and Irina have good points that I agree with. Piracy obviously IS harmful, but my argument is that this nothing but the fault of Japan not adapting quick enough to the industry then blaming the symptoms as the cause for the harm it brings to their industry. The problem with Crunchy and Netflix is all the limiting factors that exist against the consumer. There are too many shows region locked, or removed after year because of “no interest”, or straight up just not there. Piracy, to the average consumer, just offers a better product and makes anime fans think that they are better of supporting the industry through merchandise and manga sales. It’s true that there is no constitutional right to anime, and that’s exactly the problem. People don’t feel morally obligated to support an industry that isn’t giving them the proper channels TO support it. Anime is marketed towards teens and young adults, which is a huge problem for how they distribute their content. Teens rely on guardians to give them avenues to watch content (besides free platforms such as Crunchyroll and YT, but even then, for 3rd world countries with awful streaming and region locks, it’s barely an option.) and young adults have more things to prioritize than anime. Anime wants to remove all options for people to watch them without providing an alternative, and this is what makes people angry because it further incentivizes a split between those with money and those who don’t. From an industry that relies on that community while also keeping the same young adults who were inspired to be animators poor due to low wages and overworked hours, it’s just a bad look. I do agree that pirates who pirate despite having the means not to, but from what I’ve seen, people pirate because there IS no option, especially here. As somebody in a 3rd world country, there are almost no options for anime, especially anime that isn’t shounen or popular in the mainstream. If we only relied on TV, so many amazing shows would not be available for consumption. This would be okay if anime wasn’t so clearly geared towards an international audience as well, but their attempts show that they DO want that international audience, they are just really bad at giving it to them.

      The problem lies most with the distributors and their current toxic business model of relying on blu-ray sales ($40 for one season of anime WITHOUT shipping is stupidly high), overly strict region locking (which is UTTERLY pointless), an inconsistent library of items that have to come from a server that may or may not have it, and a whole host of other issues that piracy sites do not have PLUS they are free.

      We can agree all day that piracy is morally wrong (which I don’t believe it is given the “alternatives” provided), but the fact of the matter is, they are removing their problem without providing a solution to the consumer’s problem. The majority of anime fans discovered anime as teens, and I highly doubt they had subscriptions or blu-ray.

      Distributors are free to crack down on but I think it’s the wrong approach. Steam and Netflix are doing it correctly by being as accessible as possible and unifying the marketplace for their niche. Unfortunately, corporations now want streaming to be like cable, which I assure you is just making the piracy problem stronger again.

      If there was an anime-only streaming platform with a reasonable pricing model and a HUGE library, I’d subscribe in a heartbeat. That doesn’t exist however, instead we get it split across a bunch of platforms.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pretty complex issue here. I guess the authors who’s works are pirated the most like Oda etc. are already pretty successful and don’t feel the impact too much. It is also true that some paid services kinda suck and the easy route to access an obscure manga may be piracy. Doesn’t make it right on a fundamental level though. IMO, piracy in itself should not be punishable, but making a profit from distributing pirated copies should be.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, well sadly the monetization aspect drives the piracy suppliers, otherwise they wouldn’t bother to host all those illegal sites. I really liked Mangastream in terms of user experience, for example, but in the end them building a business on stolen content was really a wrong thing to do.

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