Piracy: The Fractale debacle
So, there was a big dust-up on the anime side of the blogosphere over the past two weeks, and since it was about piracy and global rights and other things that are relevant to comics readers, I thought it would be interesting to do a quick summary over here.
Basically, a U.S. company, Funimation, got the rights to show the anime Fractale online one hour after it was broadcast in Japan. This simulcasting is the holy grail of anime — nobody wants to wait months and months for a product that is already out somewhere else, so the usual solution is that bootleggers make their own subtitles and stream the anime on pirate sites. The simulcast gave anime fans a legitimate alternative. (Here’s Funimation’s Fractale page, which currently has three episodes up, if you want to check it out yourself.)
But some pirated versions of the anime got online anyway, and the Fractale Production Committee reacted by telling Funimation they could not simulcast future episodes until the bootleg videos were removed:
According to Funimation representatives, the committee requested that Funimation eliminates unauthorized videos of the anime on the Internet — including streaming sites, file-sharing networks, and file servers — before its simulcast will be allowed to continue.
That’s a pretty tall order, and frankly, it sounds unreasonable — Funimation has no control over bootleg sites. Funimation marketing director Lance Heiskell explained on the company blog that this is really about territorial rights:
With every new format, standards and territory restrictions need to be set so every country licensing content (live action series, anime or movies) can have their rights protected and be able to sell for their specific territories.
This is why when a person living in the United States wants to watch a Dr. Who episode on BBC’s iPlayer site, they get the following message “Not available in your area.” The video content is only offered in the UK for UK residents.
Except the Internet doesn’t work that way, and if you try to make it work that way, piracy is the inevitable result. In fact, had the Fractale committee followed through on their threat, they would have spawned even more piracy, because while they told Funimation that the second simulcast was off, they did not stop the simulcast of the French version in Europe — which the speedsubbers could have grabbed just as easily. (To give them their due, the Fractale committee did not pull the first episode of Fractale off legitimate anime sites—they just threatened to stop the simulcasts.)
David Brothers analyzed the incident at 4thletter and concluded that both sides look bad — the fans, for pirating something they were being given for free, and the Fractale commitee, for encouraging the pirates by shutting down the one legitimate channel for Fractale simulcasts. As for territorial rights, here’s David, quoted for truth:
It’s nice that you still have territory rights. It’s adorable. But it’s time to wake up and realize that your consumers hate it at best, and will actively bootleg your stuff because of it at worst. And, horror among horrors, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
David is right: Territorial rights are dead, and publishers must globalize or die. Teleread has a look at e-book territorial rights discussions at the Digital Book World conference this week, with links to more.
There are really two issues here. One is pirates simply posting the content on their own sites out of habit; the other is people using bootleg sites to avoid regional restrictions. Both are a part of modern life, and publishers can’t wish them away.
Meanwhile, Funimation has filed a lawsuit against 1,337 pirate sites (a cute nod to the leetspeak crowd), over illegal copies of the anime One Piece. The lawsuit has a nasty ring of the RIAA to it:
Funimation believes that the identities of the current 1,337 defendants and “additional infringing parties” will be revealed during the pre-trial discovery phase of the lawsuit, and it will then amend the suit to include their names.
Once the guilty parties are identified, Funi wants to “destroy all copies of Plaintiff’s [videos] that Defendant has downloaded onto any computer hard drive or server without Plaintiff’s authorization and shall destroy all copies of those downloaded [videos] transferred onto any physical medium or device in each Defendant’s possession, custody, or control.” That seems a bit… intrusive, and could easily backfire.
The question publishers should be asking is not “How can I end all piracy everywhere,” because that is not going to happen, no matter how much you beat up your licensors. The correct question is “How can I make money in this new environment.” Piracy is not going to go away; in fact, The Register has a very depressing article about how torrent sites continue to be popular despite the fact that up to 30% of the files are poisoned—some of them “zombie files” placed there by music publishers to thwart pirates. Bootleg sites are simply another competitor, and publishers who accept that and move on—as the Fractale committee seems to be doing now—will be quicker to develop profitable alternatives than those who don’t.
(Fractale image taken from Anime News Network.)