Piracy as a Scapegoat: How Distributors Play The Blame Game

One of the most oft-cited evils of the internet is how it has encouraged piracy, and hurt people’s ability to profit from their art.

On the one hand, there is truth to this statement. Piracy has grown more and more common as the internet has made sharing media easier and easier. But all too often, it feels like distributors are using piracy as an excuse to avoid having to actually examine how they distribute media, or why people would turn to piracy instead of simply buying the media they wish to consume. This inevitably leads to piracy and those who pirate media being demonized regardless of the overall circumstances.

A common complaint I see lodged at distributors (and which I myself have voiced) is that legally purchasing media results in getting a worse product than simply pirating it. This can be due to a flawed distribution method/format, but is more often due to anti-piracy measures which simply encourage people to pirate it.

This can be seen as early as 2005, when Sony BMG released music CDs which contained invasive DRM that secretly installed itself on user’s computers. The intent was to stop users from copying and distributing their music, and thus to increase sales and profits. The end result, however, was that users who legitimately bought the CDs had their computers exposed to massive security flaws, while those who simply pirated the tracks sans software were far better off. To make matters worse, the public distrust following these events led to Sony BMG’s profits dropping dramatically.

Such measures can still be seen in more modern industries, particularly in video games. Many games have DRM which people have to install in order to use (some of which, like battle.net, force you to always be online to play), often resulting in players getting a worse experience if they buy the game legally. These have even begun to rear their head on consoles, as both Sony and Microsoft have considered ways to force players to not resell/share games.

Beyond even anti-piracy measures, however, the mere fact remains that many distributors do not distribute media in a convenient and easily-accessible way. One example of this occurs in the anime and manga industry, with some publishers and distributors insisting on only releasing physical copies of media, often with a mark-up that prices it out of many people’s budgets.

The insistence on physical-only releases for manga is also annoying to me, as someone who frequently writes articles on manga, due to the inconvenience of getting good images for articles. Digital releases of manga would make this incredibly easy for me, as I’d have a good-quality scan with a (hopefully) good translation, and could support the author. Physical releases, however, are much more inconvenient. Getting a good scan of a panel from a physical release would involve removing the page and scanning it in, thereby ruining the book. Scanlations make this much more convenient, which is why I find myself turning to them for images.

Space also becomes a concern, as popular manga also tend to be long-running. A 20-30 volume series would consume a large amount of shelf space, meaning anyone who bought every volume of every manga they wanted to read would quickly find themselves running out of space. With housing prices in major cities rising and with even apartment prices skyrocketing, expecting someone to just conjure up more space is absurd.

This becomes especially annoying and hypocritical when manga publishers blame scanlators for falling sales. Scanlations do hurt sales by being easily available, yes, but there’s often more to the story than just that. All too often, localization of a manga won’t start until long after the series has begun its run in Japan, and sometimes even after the end of the series. One example being the series Goodnight Punpun, which won’t see an official English release until March of 2016. The series started in 2007 and ended in 2013, meaning this series was going on for 9 full years before people could legally read it in the states.

Other manga can go decades without being localized, and many have yet to see any sort of localization at all, like Crossbone Gundam or Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō. Keeping this in mind, it’s ludicrous to suggest that people who have the ability to scan, edit, and translate manga into English hold off on doing so until publishers get around to picking it up. If publishers want to compete with scanlators, they need to release manga in a timely manner, in a way which is convenient for people to access. This means embracing digital distribution, and not blaming everything on scanlators.

Piracy is absolutely a damaging thing for artists and creators, but distributors are far too quick to blame any and all lost sales on piracy. Aggressive anti-piracy measures and scapegoating only hurts those who wish to legally buy media, and ensures that more and more people will turn to piracy.

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