Ethics, fansubs and the Geneon collapse – an analysis

I must be the last person on the fansub train. To be honest, I enjoy buying DVDs. I don’t do it to support the industry, although I do. In fact, I disagree with the entire idea of buying DVDs (or anything else) so you can support the industry. To me that reeks of charity.
No, I buy DVDs so I can watch the show and over time, I’ve amassed quite the collection. I’ve never been part of the fansub scene until recently, and then mostly stuff that will never come out in the US (like LoGH or Galaxy Express 999). I read reviews to find out whether I would like a show, and then I’d buy the show if I was pretty sure that I’d enjoy it. I might rent the show if I was a little less sure, but up until a few months ago I never had to wonder about the ethics of downloading fansubs. Because well, I was walking the moral high road and all I had to do was be patient and I could trust that my anime companies would provide me with all the anime I could ever want.
All I had to do was be patient.
But Geneon’s collapse ruined all of that.

On ethics and this Brave New World
Up an to now there has been one ethical rule when it comes to downloading fansubs: Do as little harm as possible. It’s simple and pretty Liberatarian. Essentially while downloading a fansub of Legend of the Galactic Heroes might be stealing, the person isn’t hurting anyone by doing it. Now the occasional hardcore capitalist might throw out a categorical imperative (i.e. You can’t say everyone should steal anything without leading to anarchy), but for the most part their arguments are flawed.
Now there is a gray area in that Liberatarian rule when it comes to series that are currently airing in Japan, but haven’t been licensed in the United States. Now while I’d like to say that the majority of people have really thought out why it’s okay to download a series that might be licensed, but it’s not okay to download a series that has been licensed, I think it’s become more of a maxim then anything. And if they buy said series when it comes out in the U.S., then overall it evens out. Essentially, they have the choice to have a zero-impact, or they have the choice to have a negative impact.
But what becomes of a show like Seirei no Moribito. Ethically, at the moment, it’s okay to download it. I mean it’s in limbo. Sure it’s been licensed, but the company it’s been licensed by is defunct.
The problem is that it has been licensed which means at one point there was at least the intent to bring it to this county. So while I downloaded it, I just had a negative impact. And it’s not an ethically clean negative impact. It’s not like I didn’t have a choice. I could have waited. But I didn’t.
But wait, it gets even more twisted. Because sure with Seirei no Moribito, it might be a justifiable argument to say, “Well, I can’t make a decision based off what might happen.” And there aren’t any disks in the U.S. to buy.
What happens when we start talking about Saiunkoku? There’s a series that I have a definite choice with, but not all of it is out in the States. But some of it’s out. So am I obligated to puchase those disks (even though it’s an incomplete series) just so I can come out to a ethical neutral.

The problem and solution
The problem with the convential maxim is that it assumes that there is an industry that will continue to produce disks. Which leaves me in a quandry, “Am I ethically better to wait and see whether or not these series will be resurrected? Or am I okay in assuming they won’t?”
The thing is that I don’t see any easy solution. Sure, I’ll buy them if they come out. Honestly, it won’t be out of charity, but because I want a dubbed version on DVD. I suppose that ethically I’ll come out even.
But it still makes me a little uneasy, and wondering whether in this Brave New World, if I’ll have to make that decision again. Especially since I really do want to see Gurren Laggan and Code Geass.
Agree or disagree? Please comment here or at or e-mail And yes those are my anime shelves, but not necessarily all of my anime.

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