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Anime Industry Faces Piracy Concerns

30 Dec, 2004 By: Edwin De La Cruz

Recent lawsuits by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) against peer-to-peer file-sharing sites have sent shockwaves throughout the community, with some sites shutting down completely.

While many Hollywood releases have virtually disappeared from these sites, anime hasn't been so lucky. A simple search resulted in dozens of sites still hosting links or information on how to download anime titles such as the “Ghost in the Shell” TV series and even programs such as “Naruto,” currently on air in Japan and slated for future U.S. release.

Newton Grant, business development manager at Central Park Media believes that one way to tackle anime online piracy is to join the online revolution.

“CPM strongly supports new technology initiatives [that] will provide online anime viewing for rental or purchase,” Grant said. “We are moving aggressively in this direction via licensing arrangements with market leaders like Comcast for cable VOD services, and OnAir and TotalVid for online VOD services.”

Jason Meyers, director, business and legal affairs, at Geneon Entertainment could only say that, “Geneon will be implementing policies and procedures to aggressively combat and eradicate piracy of Geneon's products. Piracy will simply not be tolerated.”

Bootleg DVDs Also a Concern
Other anime studios such as Bandai Entertainment have different concerns from online file sharing: the prevalence of bootlegged DVDs. During last year's Anime Expo convention, Bandai filed lawsuits against several retailers for engaging in the duplication, importation, distribution, and/or sale of unauthorized DVDs and merchandise that infringed upon copyrighted and trademarked properties.

“We found several retailers selling cheaply made DVDs of some of our properties,” said Jerry Chu, Bandai's marketing manager.

“Our legal department is quite aware of the online file trading situation, but currently we're on a ‘wait and see' approach due to illegal product we found at these small retailers.”

Since Anime Expo, Bandai has also found illegal product in comic book shops, on eBay and several online retailers that will sell complete sets of anime TV series at a small price above the suggested retail price of a domestic release. Bandai's lawsuits against these retailers are still pending, and Chu could not comment further.

Some small anime retailers are fighting back by supporting the anime released legally.

Image Anime, based in New York City, is one such retailer. Located in the heart of midtown Manhattan, this small, 1,200-square-foot anime retailer has been servicing the anime community since 1992 and prides itself in stocking only legitimate releases.

“We try to educate the consumer, who sometimes may not know the difference between a bootleg and a legitimate release,” said Adam Dickstein, a manager at Image Anime. “Sometimes they've seen the title on the Internet and think it's available. And when they come looking for it, we tell them what they saw was a bootleg.”

Bootlegging Part of the Culture
Meanwhile, other industry insiders are not exactly rushing to blame anime's ardent fanbase for the ease in which these files are readily available.

Fans are technologically savvy and have been subtitling anime on their own for more than a decade.

In today's high-tech world, these programs are easily subtitled — while they're still on the air in Japan — and are made available for download using almost any type of peer-to-peer technology.

“We have sent these fan-subtitling groups cease and desist letters. Most, if not all, usually comply and stop the distribution of a newly acquired property,” Chu added.

It isn't clear yet whether the shutting down of sites hosting BitTorrent links will have a lasting effect. One only needs to remember Napster's sudden closure in 2000 and how it sparked more popular music file-sharing programs such as Kazaa.com to spread.

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