Otakon 2008: Fansubbers vs. Industry

Fansubbers and industry met head to head as major members of both sides gathered at Otakon to discuss the future of anime, subs, and distribution. The issue has been around ever since fans first applied their knowledge of Japanese and video editing to translate the shows they wanted to see. In the years of the VHS, this would take months; today, it takes barely a day. What does this mean to distributors with the license? By the time they acquire, localize, produce, and distribute, almost 75% of the series is already available to fans in translated form, for free. And lo, the expected lost revenue. However if you’re a veteran of fansubs, you already know this shindig, as did those at the panel. There was no heated debate, clash of beliefs, or surprise sting operation, but rather a calm, lighthearted, but serious discussion.

The topic centered primarily on the big issue: copyright. Major subbing groups will often times agree to industry’s request, not because of legal threat, but because of courtesy and respect. Despite what some may think, the American anime industry is not a soulless money-hungry copyright waving machine, but as human and understanding as the rest of us. Only they have actual authority to carry things further, as granted upon them by the parent company and recognized by American law. In fact, the industry has even admitted to hiring former and current fansubbers to help out with the work. Ultimately, they are like any other business, and they need to make money, so stamping out the free distributions is important for them. At the same time, industry also realizes the consumer’s desire for getting a show as soon as possible, in its freshest, least processed form. So far they’ve introduced several alternatives, such as official streaming of episodes and same-day releases (so you get yours the same day as Japan). They’ve made agreements with websites and with groups, so you can still get your anime, but you have to be an honest person and pay for it.

The ugly truth is that the industry is in fact taking a beating from the free distributions. Companies have and will go under if we as an audience and as fans do not go out and actually pay for our anime (you know, like how we really should). They’re evolving to meet consumer demand and desires, but they need your help to stay afloat. So don’t cry if your favorite anime gets dropped because of a cease-and-desist, and don’t bash the subbers and industry for doing so. They need to make money, just like you and I.

You can view a full video of the panel here

~Kevin Zhang

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