In My View: Fansubs? Again?

So there’s been a lot of drama around Scott’s post about Greg Ayres panel. And granted, I know I’m writing this pretty late in the game, but it’s taken me a while to get my thoughts into a coherent form on this subject.

The problem with fansubs and the industry is not a simple one. And there isn’t a simple fix for it (well except for shooting all of the downloaders). To be frank, I’m not qualified to talk about this problem on a business level. I don’t even think the industry really knows how to make money in this new market. Most of the arguments I’ve heard sound like people taking their personal experiences and trying to generalize them to the wider populace (including mine.) While they certainly sound nice, there isn’t enough evidence one way or the other to really talk about the issue. Especially since it seems that even providing fans with anime straight from Japan wasn’t enough to save GDH from the threat of getting taken off of the stock index for Japan.

And I’m certainly not qualified to talk about copyright from a legal angle. Despite what people may think, the law is neither simple nor clear-cut on ANYTHING. Even something as simple as, “the right to free speech” depends on time, place, manner, medium and content. Case law is often contradictory and occasionally flat out confusing. And copyright law is no less labyrinthine.

So we’re left with one thing I can discuss with some level of intelligence.


Now, I’ll freely admit, I wasn’t a philosophy major. I did take a few classes in college and my sister did major in it, so I’m arguing based on what I know. If anyone wants to correct me, please feel free. But as far as ethics go, I’m a Libertarian. So your mileage may vary, depending on how your feel.

The Problem with Stealing

Now, omo is certainly right. Stealing is an easy metaphor when we’re dealing with downloading copyrighted material. But in my mind, it’s also the correct one. I mean, anime IS a product. It is meant for sale. Taking a product that is meant for sale is, well, stealing. The thing is that all stealing isn’t equal. What if I steal the denotation device from a nuclear bomb? What if I steal food that’s going to be thrown away? What if I steal a five-dollar bill off of the side of the road? What if I steal clothes out of a dumpster and then sell them to a thrift store?

And I have to admit that Ayres’s argument is compelling. I don’t want to put anyone out street. I don’t think any of us do. But just like anime consumers can be accused of seeing the industry as one faceless mass of people, the industry can be accused of seeing consumers as one open wallet that should be willing to give them cash.

So the question becomes, who’s right? And the answer is it depends on who is getting harmed more.

Like it or not, anime has no intrinsic worth beyond the plastic it’s printed on and the packaging it comes in. Any worth it has must be determined by the consumer. Period. And just like Ayres (and to a lesser extent Scott) seem to think that, “We owe it to the creators to give them money.” The anime industry owes it to the consumer to give them a product that’s worth buying (this is why I don’t like the ‘Save the Industry’ argument.) Now Scott is certainly right. If a show has come out in the United States and you live in the United States than for God’s sake rent it. If $9 a month is going to put you out on the street than you’ve got bigger problems than watching anime. And to be honest, the majority of anime series are worth what you’d pay for Netflix.

The problem starts though when the show is not available in the United States (or in whatever country you happen to be in.)

Because in a perfect world, you, the consumer, would be able to decide whether a show is worth buying or watching on TV or through Hulu without having to wait and wonder if it’ll be released in the States. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to choose between importing the disk (not to mention hunting down a region free player) and stealing it off the Internet.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

No matter how much we want to.

So the question is no longer which one is more right, and becomes which one is less wrong. And that answer depends on how much anime is worth to you.

Frankly, it’s worth $7.50 an episode for a show I REALLY like on DVD. It’s not worth $30. So I have to balance out the harms. I’m hurting the industry $7.50 an episode when I download and they’re hurting me $22.50 an episode if I import it.

It’s that simple.

Why this matters and why it doesn’t

The classic arguments against what I just said are, “You’re just making justifications,” or “You just do it because you know there won’t be any consequences.” And they’re right to a degree. I can do it because there aren’t any consequences and I am making an ethical argument (which is in a way a justification.) But when the law doesn’t provide you with a deterrent for your actions, and the anime companies haven’t started hiring mercenaries to enforce their vision of the “proper” consumer, all you have left is ethics.

And ethics like it or not, are personal. I can argue with people. I can disagree with people. But in the end, I can’t expect people to see things my way. The only person who can decide whether or not you should click that torrent link is you.

For anyone who finished reading this, I apologize for the length. I had a lot to say, and I couldn’t figure out how to shorten it down.


  1. The best way to shorten posts is to add pictures.

    Taking legal action isn’t difficult. Sending out a few cease and desist letters could kill fansubbing overnight. They know where to go. They know who to find. It’s just a matter of taking action. The law is unwilling to help those who are unwilling to help themselves.

  2. I don’t quite like your argument, and here’s why: It seems you’re trying to convince us downloading fansubs isn’t “wrong” by pointing out there’s varying levels of “wrong”. Regardless whether you’re stealing all the gold in Fort Knox or a candy from a store, it’s still ethically wrong. Yes, the severity is different, but that doesn’t deem the lesser offense any less of an offense. Just because burning down an orphanage is less severe than burning down an entire county, one doesn’t justify the other as acceptable.

    The second part of your post, where you argue downloading fansubs is the result of “balancing out harms”, is also a little absurd. “They” are not hurting “you” any amount of money, because you are not FORCED to buy their product. You forgot the option where you simply don’t HAVE to see that particular anime. Just because it exists, does not mean you are entitled to have it. It’d be like saying a Bentley would hurt me a lot more to buy it than for their company to lose it, therefore it’s okay if I steal it.

    After having said all this, you’d figure I’m anti-fansubs, but I’m really not. I’m grateful they’re around and I download a good share as well, but I also accept what I’m doing is blatantly wrong. I just hate it when freeloaders try to justify this as if they’re the victims and they deserve free stuff.

  3. @Baka-raptor – That is true.Although I think there’d need to be a little bit more behind the C&D than there is right now. At least from what I’ve seen.

    @Sagacious1 – You do have a point about severity. I do disagree. A lesser offense is less of an offense. If I kill one person it’s less wrong than if I kill 1,000 people. That’s my standpoint.

    On your second point, I avoided the entitlement issue on purpose. Because it frankly isn’t that simple. You’re right I’m not entitled to watch it. But if I want to watch it then my ONLY choice would be to spend $30 an episode. And like I said, it’s a question of worth. And frankly comparing a physical product with a non-physical product isn’t really fair. A Bentley does have an intrinsic worth (the materials it’s made of have an ACTUAL worth.) It would be more fair to say that just because I don’t have money to buy a book doesn’t entitle me to take it off the shelf. But the other side of that is that just because it is a product doesn’t entitle people to make money off of it.

    I’ve never thought of myself as a freeloader. It’s not that I don’t pay for anime. I just can’t justify $30 an episode. Does that make me less of a fan? Yes. It does.

  4. At the AX keynote, they pointed out that C&Ds aren’t that easy. A Malaysian translates a Chinese sub, which is timed by a Brazillian and edited by a Lithuanian. How does an American court stop this?

  5. @Sagacious1 – One other thing though, this is my belief. I don’t expect people to agree with me. In fact, my final point was that ethics are personal.

    @jpmeyer – That’s a good point. I hadn’t really thought about that.

  6. Actually, I think that was one of your shorter posts. 😉

    I’m glad, that you’re agreeing with me on the Netflix thing. Honestly, the price I pay for a monthly subscription is nothing compared to the amount of content I get. I’m recording my viewing habits over the course of the next month to find out exactly how much I’m paying per episode with it, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be low. As of now, it’s at around $1.80 per episode and I’m not even a week into July yet.

    This kind of micro-payment system is great when you want to sample different types of anime. If I end up watching something that’s complete crap, I don’t feel like I wasted any money on it. Just send it back and remove all the other discs from my queue. But when I find something that I really like, I’ll fork over the cash for the pretty box set to add to my collection. This whole system is 100% legitimate, and I’m sure that the companies would much rather you micro-pay for video rental rather than download for free.

    And you’re right. It’s an imperfect world and not every series is available legally in the US. But the problem with downloading fansubs is that you’re never going to pay to “sample” the shows, not even in micro-payment or in advertisement revenue. So I figure that I can probably live an active otaku lifestyle without having to watch these fansubs. If I live my life never seeing something like Antique Bakery or Chocolate Underground, that’s no big deal. No one is ever going to be able to watch everything ever made.

  7. I do wonder sometimes in this case, “Is the customer always right?”, especially with all of the “SAVE THE INDUSTRY” arguments that I see. I agree with a lot of what you said though, and it makes me wonder if companies will take more initiative in sending out products that people would want to buy. What would make someone want to buy anime does differ from person to person, but at least make the effort. :3

  8. I think there’s been a misunderstanding on the first part. I do not deny there are lesser wrongs (my wording wasn’t all that great in my initial post). That’s not the point though…the fact is that both accounts, lesser wrongs and greater wrongs, are still inherently wrong. I don’t think my stealing a candy bar is a big deal, but do I still consider it wrong? Yes.

    Also, it’s besides the point, but I still think my example was valid. Yes, the materials used to make a car have value, but so do the efforts of the staff behind a tv show, movie, or whatever. It may not be as tangible, but it’s still worth money obviously. In any matter, it seems like you still got the main idea of what I was trying to say.

    Regarding your book example, I don’t quite see what you’re getting at. It is true that a product doesn’t HAVE to be made for profit, but that’s irrelevant. In this case, one of the reasons for the production of anime IS to rake in money. It’s not for us consumers to decide what it should cost; that decision is for the people who created it. They’re entitled to sell their work for as much as they want, and we’re entitled to choose whether to buy it or not. We’re not entitled to lift it because we don’t agree with their prices.

  9. Sagacious1: the choice about not spending any money and not watching something you like does not serve anyone any good either.

    To be honest, though, you are right–this is exactly where using a theft analogy is EPIC FAIL. However if you work within that framework you will get the “too expensive == no sale” position being the most ethically sane choice. It’s not a desirable choice because in practice it has a similar effect as pirating it.

  10. @jpmeyer – Malaysian, Brazillian, and Lithuanian pirates are probably not the best role models for you either. 😉

    I know that you can’t stop piracy. I know that you can’t stop fansubbing, or convince other people to stop. That’s why copy protection, C&D notices, and just the DMCA is useless. The only way that you can stop fansubbing is by the Japanese stopping the need for people to fansub.

    But even when they do that, people will still pirate, as you’re already seeing with the douchebags putting up Gonzo’s new shows in on BT.

    However, just because you can’t stop it doesn’t mean that you have to participate in it. That’s all I’m trying to say.

  11. “And you’re right. It’s an imperfect world and not every series is available legally in the US. But the problem with downloading fansubs is that you’re never going to pay to “sample” the shows, not even in micro-payment or in advertisement revenue. So I figure that I can probably live an active otaku lifestyle without having to watch these fansubs. If I live my life never seeing something like Antique Bakery or Chocolate Underground, that’s no big deal. No one is ever going to be able to watch everything ever made.”

    Just like many Japanese fans?

  12. @omo

    I haven’t made any arguments concerning fansubs and the state of the industry (because I wouldn’t have a clue about the economics of it all). My main issue here is with the ethics component, that it’s silly trying to justify downloading anime isn’t stealing/wrong because of its availability/price. Frankly, I think my point is obvious common-sense, but the conscience makes it hard to come to terms with it. No one wants to say “what I’m doing is wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway”, but in this case, it’s pretty much the case.

  13. @omo

    What? I thought that the Japanese pay to watch their shows on TV. Isn’t there an NHK tax, or paid cable services?

  14. @Scott- Although I do think that it’s kind of hard to figure out exactely what the cost of renting from Netflix is. It’s not as easy as the Zone of the Enders disks I picked up for about $4 a disk (including shipping), but I do think it’s a better alternative.

    And to be honest, I’d gladly pay for a copy of LoGH, but I’m not going to pay to import it. And I’ll be honest, I do have problems with that. Because ethically I know that the series is worth more than what I paid for it. But it’s not worth what it’d cost to import it. So it becomes a really tough issue.

    @TheBigN – Oh I definitely agree with making the effort. I really don’t like downloading stuff I could buy (either new or used in a US release).

    @Sagacious1- I agree that it’s wrong. And in a perfect world, where I got to decide whether I was going to buy something new or if I was going to buy it used or if I was going to buy it on sale or if I was going to rent it then I’d agree. But if the choice is between getting overcharged or stealing, well it becomes less clear.

    Although you do bring up an interesting point about whether there is a worth to the work behind the product. And what I’m saying is that worth is determined by the consumer (yes you can argue that they had to get paid something prior to that and that is a fair counter-argument, but not one I agree with. Because I can work really hard and get paid a lot to make crap, but that doesn’t entitle me to overcharge for it.)

    Thinking a little more about it, I think my problem with the whole entitlement issue is that if we were dealing with multiple choices, then that would be certain. But when the two choices are import it or steal it, then I’d say the harms have to get balanced out.

    @omo – What is the correct metaphor?

  15. Also, as for those non-Anglophone pirates, legit DVDs almost never cross their mind since nobody’s going to try to get a license for say, a Hungarian release because it’s such a minuscule market, and there’s no real reason for them then to think “I should buy this American DVD”. I don’t know how many flame comments I’ve gotten (not at me, but at the R1 companies) that are like “Fuck ’em. I’ve never bought an American anime DVD, I have no plans to start buying American DVDs, and I feel no reason why I have to buy an American DVD instead of watching fansubs”, and then check the IP and see that they’re from Venezuela.

    (Or when they do look at importing, they realize how $30+crazy shipping+unfavorable exchange rate+developing nation economy purchasing power makes them completely unfeasible as a purchase.)

  16. @Sagacious1 – But on the other hand, I see your point. It doesn’t entitle me to steal. So maybe I do see your point there. Hrm…

  17. @jpmeyer – Yeah, it’s also one of the reasons why I didn’t want to touch on the economics of it. Because frankly there’s no way of knowing whether or not the amount of people who download fansubs are coming from the United States or from other places.

    Really, it does change from country to country.

  18. So it all boils down to this: can the greed of a few people beat the selfishness and hedonism of the world? Especially this generation who thinks it deserves everything good without slogging their pants off to get it?

    If you want me to modify my habits, then no problem, i’ll do so gladly. If you want me to be a corporate whore, though, tough luck. Even i know that’s the stupidest route to take.

    If the Japanese creators want money, then no problem, i’ll gladly part with a portion of my salary (assuming I have one) to them every month.

    I’m sorry, but if you keep saying this party and that party is entitled to my money and the only way for them to not send a platoon of Blackwater troops to kill me or an army of lawyers to sue my family for everything we’ve got, then mister, yo probably don’t deserve it in the first place. For one thing, I may earn the cash, but it’s not mine to keep. I’m not even supposed to have the cash (or to be alive) in the first place. So there.

  19. And as for poor Greg Ayers, i’ve got only one thing to say: Get the fuck out of voice-acting and work your cruddy day job (the IT Consultant gig) before that disappears as well. You’ve had your fun, and that’s cool, now it’s time for you to get back to what you do best and not on a flight of fancy.

  20. @drmchsr0 – I’d have to say your right there.

  21. @drmchsr0- Hey, norhing’s wrong with a dude leaving an office job for something a little more exciting. Let him have his fun until his savings runs out… which judging by the amount of times he’s brought it up recently, is probably happening soon.

  22. @Scott – Although he could be like Hilary Haag and work both jobs. Although I haven’t heard her in anything recently either.

  23. @iniksbane

    I know a lot of this is reiteration, but I feel like you’ve been skirting my main points. You say being overcharged and stealing are both wrong, and that downloading fansubs is the “lesser wrong” for you. My problem with that is two-fold:

    (1) From whose perspective are you saying the product is “overcharged”? You may think it’s a bit pricey, others may think it’s acceptable, and the company thinks it’s reasonable. The concept of “overcharged” implies that there is a clear-cut price of what it should be, but that’s obviously not the case. The worth changes between perspectives. When it comes down to it, it’s up to you whether to buy the product or not based on your sense of what it’s worth, but it’s not your right to tell the creator what he must sell it to you for. If you think the creator isn’t entitled to charge what he believes it’s worth, then I simply don’t know what else to say.

    (2) Having said that, your “balance of harms” turns into these options: (a) import, (b) steal, or (c) do not watch [in the real world, you cannot deny this option]. However, even just between importing or stealing, the issue still remains clear as day. Importing would be the “morally right” thing to do, and stealing would still be the “morally wrong” thing to do. Like I said before, just because it hurts your wallet more than it hurts theirs, it still doesn’t make “stealing” the right thing to do, nor does it make it the lesser of two evils.

  24. @Sagacious1 – I’m not trying to be deliberately obtuse. But I’ll try to respond as directly as I can.

    (1) From the perspective of me. I mean I can’t argue for anyone else because that is going to change from person to person. Does that mean I’m the final arbiter of what the price should be? Well I am for myself. And if I don’t have the right to determine what price I’m willing to pay, then who is? But you are right, the creator can charge what he wants for it. But I don’t think he’s entitled to get paid that. That’s kind of the crux of my argument. And to be fair, as I’ll get to in your next part, my argument probably isn’t the best argument either way. But I do refuse to lose the nugget of it.

    (2) Okay assuming I go with you on dissecting it that way. Option a) is unethical if the product isn’t worth the price charged for it. Option b) is unethical for obvious reasons. The only ethical option then is to not buy it at all. Which seems to defeat the purpose of having this discussion.

  25. I download fansubs. I don’t regret it, because every time I tried supporting the industry it has bitten me in the ass. There is no legitimate method of watching anime, and I can’t BOST because I don’t have a credit card or PayPal.

    I just don’t buy. Because if I do, all it’s going to be are bootlegs.

  26. I totally agree that copyright is indeed a moral decision and not a simple criminal one. Basic Economics say that near infinate supply of a product should be free, copyright is created by society. What do we collectively think this product should be worth?

    Just replace Fansubs with Films, Games or Music and you have what may turn out to be the key early 21st century ideological arguement. This, in all probability, will be resolved but it won’t be Anime companies or Fansubbers or Fans who decide.

    In all likelyhood, the Anime industry will follow the lead and business models of the MPAA group under the legal framework decided by respective governments. When ISPs start filtering traffic – fansubbing dies. When the police start a serious crackdown – downloading dies. Simple. Or alternatively, new business models are formed where profits are acceptable and downloading is incorporated or quietly accepted. A bit more complicated but works.

    I have already formed my own morals, no doubt highly personal based on past experiences. One of them is having purchased ‘inferior’ products on a whim or mis-information many, many times in the past. It’s horrible. It sits on the shelf and insults me, telling me how much money I’ve wasted. Now I will only buy the best quality.

    If something I experiance is worth my money, I will pay for it! However I don’t want to risk supporting duds, those companies should die.

  27. […] and I did enjoy some of the responses to his post, both in his comments (which are now lost) and blogs (which included Hinano’s RAEG post, but is also unfortunately […]

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