Monday, November 26, 2007

:anime: The Attack Of (and On) Digital Distribution...

For HardDoor's first anniversary, the occasion was celebrated with the creation of a web directory/guide leading to free or low-cost anime legally found on the Internet. One of the themes of it and its accompanying article was to show the efforts being made by anime companies and distributors in discouraging the "illegal" downloading of shows, which has been a major source of concern in terms of DVD sales in North America and other regions.

The digital distribution movement has picked up steam over the last year and can found through many means, from video game consoles (Xbox Live) to streaming video web sites. The latter have been on under hot contention, as a number have hosted both fansubs and officially authorized episodes from distributors (and in some cases, ones that were not placed by them). BitTorrent is another such method that is being readily used by both sides as a way of distributing anime. Its way of peer-to-peer interaction that is meant to be less resource-intensive and easier on bandwidth. However, with the sheer volume and the sizes of the video files being traded, these issues are still present.

Comcast, one of the nation's largest Internet Service Providers and its largest cable operator, sent a "Notice of Claim of Copyright Infringement" to a number of users earlier in the month which detailed that they were in violation of the country's Digital Millennium Copyright Act by downloading shows unlicensed there (Note: caught via IP address). This, along with similar reports out of France and Singapore, could very well be the fruit of Japan's attempt last month at getting the U.S. involved in cracking down on the unauthorized distribution of its animated shows on the Internet. A case involving a French ISP's (acting for a distribution company in Singapore) accidental over-stretching of its own efforts into France has shown the length of the potential that these sorts of crackdowns can reach. However, in these attempts at quashing illegal distribution, companies can inadvertently hurt the legitimate causes made by others, such as ADV's own service and BT client maker Azureus' Vuze, which hosts content from anime distributors, among many others. Conversely, though, it is best for the user to be mindful of what sort of stress they may be placing on the network and refrain from uploading/downloading massive amounts of data.

Streaming video sites have become ideal spots for both sides of digital distribution, as anyone can access them without having to deal with the hassles and care that comes with downloadable content. ADV's introduction of an online version of the Anime Network and the upcoming launch of an online straight-from-Japan anime venture in BOST TV pose as great ways to combating the issue of discovering content both licensed and unlicensed on many popular video sites. With their existence and the continued growth of such distribution methods across both sides of the Pacific, the proliferation of fansubs may indeed lessen and the presence of unlicensed or unauthorized content on the web could lose more of its ground for being available as they are.

Much of this development is coming during a time in the anime industry when technology shifts (HD-DVD/Blu-Ray, implementation of high-definition signals), changes in the economy (the U.S.'s own troubled Dollar), and changes in the productions themselves (recent creation of an animator's union) place additional weight on the shoulders of all involved. Fansubs have been the poster boy of the bulk of what is wrong with the industry and perhaps rightfully so. They are very easy to find and prevalent across the Internet--and in spite of the negativity, they still are the greatest portal to sampling anime out there. The reason, very obviously, is that they are "right there" and free--no costs, no waiting until months later for a DVD release. As Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis put it (and something that I have been stressing for a while),

"THERE HAS TO BE A LEGAL, INEXPENSIVE WAY TO WATCH NEW ANIME IN ENGLISH. Not necessarily own, but at least watch."

In this regard, there needs to be more ventures in providing anime in some capacity to the masses outside of Japan, essentially, in concept, the "anti-fansub". More companies in the U.S. are developing their own free or low-cost (buy or rental) services as a means of eliminating the necessity (of fans) of having fansubs around, be it on VOD on cable or in the manners previously discussed on the web. However, most of this encapsulates shows already available in the region. That in of itself is great, but the majority of fansubs are of work airing in Japan at the moment. Many of those native companies have taken notice of fansubs and their impact on their business, yet, as's founder Chris Beveridge pointed out, there are no venues for watching anime fresh off Japan's airwaves in any current capacity. Those companies certainly have those on TV as well as online, but virtually all of it is for the Japanese resident only. BandaiChannel formerly allowed anyone to view any of its shows in their free section, a sampling from their massive library--so why cannot such a collection, even in full, exist for non-residential fans?

Once again, as it is for a downloader of fansubs, it comes down to "costs". It is something that many companies try not to incur if possible. Surely, Japanese companies are no different from American ones. Spending money on translations, somebody to translate them, the extra data storage space to house the translated files, advertising, staff to handled international affairs--all of it means more money to spend. At this point, it comes down to yet another word: "tough". Lawsuits can be easy to levy against fansubbers and downloaders if you know where they are. Yet in a virtual world where covering your tracks and changing your name is even easier than in the real world, that isn't a simple endeavor (and let us not forget of the grey legal muck that is "fansubbing rights and wrongs"). Channeling those legal costs into a viable anti-fansub measure, such as a channel or a digital distribution venue with, at the very least, (quality) subtitles will do much more damage than the avoidable fear of litigation. As this issue is nothing new to the industry, more solutions should have been in place already to avoid the sort dilemma at present. To keep business afloat, bold chances and changes need to take place soon rather than later.


1. More venues for international fans of shows that just aired in Japan with, at least, good-quality subtitling (English, French, etc.). As Beveridge suggested, this may provide the chance for fansubbers to put their skills to more legal, money-paying use...

2. More venues for shows released domestically. This is getting better, but more offerings from those not named "ADV," "FUNimation" and "Central Park Media" are needed.

3. Free or low-cost.

4. Multi-platform support (Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.). Wide coverage would be a great plus for many, especially for the growing non-Windows crowd.

5. Good bandwidth capacity to handle the amount of users bound to access such services (to avoid problems with the services and with ISPs).

6. More advertisement. This is a major issue that I have been harping on for long time, as there is not enough of a focus on it for either the titles or the services themselves. How effective is something to be noticed if you don't bother to get anyone to notice it, period?

Television (not exactly keeping in line with the post title, but it does have plenty to do with the fight against fansubs, a form of digital distribution)

1. A channel or block for freshly-aired shows from Japan, with, at least, good-quality subtitling. Same day would be asking a bit much, but since fansub downloaders have to wait a few days anyway for show to come online, there is still that same cushion of time for airing without seeming to be "too late". Also, with the advent and capabilities of digital broadcasting, making those sorts of efforts (i.e. different subtitles, increased broadcasting capabilities) is very possible. (Whatever happened to the Comcast-Sony-Animax partnership? The network already has English-dubbed shows that have never been seen in the U.S., which would be an instant big plus.)

2. Free or low-cost.

3. More VOD services or anime channels. It is less strenuous to control a channel, but at least having a readily-accessible source for viewings will mean a better availability for those interested.

4. More of an effort to get shows aired on stations not named "Adult Swim." AS is a top-notch spot, but expansion to other places is needed, as not everyone watches Cartoon Network (as it would be more commonly known as). The number is rising, but more titles airing on other places (rather than jockeying for AS airtime) will increase more opportunities for people to watch more shows without resorting to fansubs (downloaded or streaming).

Providing more ways to view more anime and utilizing more of the latest technology, both sides of the Pacific need to make the right changes, and sacrifices, if they want to save their industry. The Japanese companies in particular need to make the connections and services on their end happen, as so much of the source material and potential lay with them. And with the growing popularity and acknowledgement of anime, it is paramount that either side not miss the opportunity.

The attacks on the digital distribution of anime can be beneficial if they target the correct crowd. By offering alternatives to such things as fansubs and "raw" video files, one can cut into the amount of shows being put on the Internet without their permission, as the incentive to actually put work into releasing them would seem rather moot. The key objective should not be to stifle fansubs and other forms of "illegal" digital distribution, but to make their existence unnecessary and obsolete.

P.S.: This was originally meant to be posted over the weekend, but I never got to finish it in time. I suppose it was a bit of "good timing" that all of this news came about so recently before I could do so.

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