Fansubbing: Myths and FAQ
By DarkMirage - 11/12/2004
Recently, Media Factory Inc.
issued a legal statement to AnimeSuki
, requesting the removal of the site's BitTorrent listings for MFI intellectual properties. This turn of events took the fansubbing community by surprise as it was not an American company, but a Japanese one that made the request. The responses were loud and violent, as teenagers with questionable language abilities flocked to forums and chatrooms, each and every one of them eager to express his/her discontents through deep and profound posts that often consisted of words not exceeding four-characters long. The opinions expressed can generally be summarized as "confused" and "misguided", with some even nearing the realm of "retardation". This has significantly lowered my hopes for the future of humanity and so I have decide to create this semi-FAQ to facilitate my crusade against idiocy and ignorance. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against fansubs. I am part of a fansubbing group and I find fansubbers in general to be fine folks. I just hate those morons going on in forums about their constitutional rights to download and watch fansubs.
Pardon my poor English, for, unlike many of those forum-goers, it is not my mother-tongue.Fansubs are legal.
The unauthorized reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material is far from legal. See: Copyright
Fansubs are legal as long as the series in question is not licensed for distribution in the region where the fansubs are being distributed in.
Completely false. Fansubs are illegal whether the series is licensed for distribution or not. This is because the copyright (which is completely unrelated to the right of distribution) applies even in countries where the series is not distributed in. See: the Berne Convention
, specifically the parts about nationality of author
, rights of translation
and rights of reproduction
. Here's a full list of signatories
to the Convention. It is interesting to note that the mere act of making an unauthorized translation available for public usage is already illegal, much less the actual copyrighted footage.
Fansubs are legal because they are not being done for commercial purposes.
False. Fansubs are illegal whether they are being exchanged for objects of monetary worth. Just like copies of pirated software are illegal whether they are being offered for download or sold at roadside stalls. See: Statutory Damages
. As for the so-called "educational" purposes claimed by some fansubbing zealots, please refer to the question below.
Fansubs are legal in America and some other countries under the Fair Use / Fair Dealing clause.
No. No they are not. The unauthorized reproduction, translation and subsequent distribution of the entire length of a copyrighted animation is not protected by Fair Use in anyway whatsoever. The only protections Fair Use might give would be, for example, if you were to make a self-subtitled copy of a work you own legally and view it in your own privacy. This can include close friends and family, but whether all two hundred of your fellow anime club members count for close friends will be decided by the jury and not you. Using parts of a copyrighted work for the purpose of parodies, reviews, news report, teaching material etc. is also covered under Fair Use as long as they do not constitute a huge portion of the work in question. This means that fansubs do not qualify. For a more detailed explanation of Fair Use, see here
Fansubs are legal... somehow.
No. They are not. Just give up already.
My friend/brother/uncle/cousin-twice-removed/random guy on IRC/etcetera told me that fansubbing is legal because of [insert reason here].
If unlicensed fansubs are illegal, why were they tolerated? And why the sudden change?
To put it simply: fansubs helped to promote anime back when the word "anime" was not part of English and most animations on TV were Hana-Barbara, Disney and whatever else you Americans had. They were tolerated by Japanese companies for this purpose. Most studios also felt that it was not worth the effort to sue North American fansubbers, as they had, at that time, no assets in North America to protect. Suing could also potentially isolate their new fans and close up a potential market.
Today however, you ("you" being North Americans) can watch anime on cable TV, buy anime DVDs from any DVD stores, join an anime club in school and read about all the latest anime news on the internet. Fansubs today no longer play that single vital role in promoting a new series to foreign audiences. Yet because of their mass-availability through the internet, they are now hurting the sales of legitimate DVDs in North America, Asia and other regions. For this reason, Japanese companies have slowly started to take actions against fansubbers instead of waiting for a foreign distributor to do the job.
Japanese companies cannot sue American fansubbers and need to do it through American distributors.
False. Japanese companies have always been able to take legal actions against North American fansubbers. They just chose not to because they decided that committing the resources to do so was not worth the effort. Contracting an American law firm to represent you in US court is not exactly cheap and certainly time-consuming. It was, and still is, simpler to let an American distributor do the job. However, more Japanese companies are now willing to take actions directly to protect their interests due to developments in recent years such as the high broadband internet penetration and the exponential growth of anime subculture in North America.
I am poor! I can't afford legitimate DVDs! Those evil money-hungry companies have no right to make me pay so much for my anime!!!
The companies made those DVDs and the contents within. They, as the copyright holders, have complete control over what they want to do with their intellectual properties. No one is "making" you buy anime DVDs. You have logical thinking skills and free-will (or so I'd like to believe); if a product is overpriced, then don't buy it! As for companies being money-hungry, please see: Capitalism
I don't live in North America or any place where legitimate anime can be purchased!
Tough luck. Entertainment isn't a basic human right. The companies have no obligations to make sure that their products are made available to everyone. It's not oxygen for god's sake.
If you find any factual errors in this FAQ, please feel free to e-mail
me in a non-threatening manner. I will correct any mistakes ASAP.
You may use the contents of this page in anyway you deem necessary to raise copyright awareness in the fansubbing community.