New Study On Effects Of Manga Piracy Show Piracy's Effects Are More Nuanced Than Good Or Bad

from the comicly-nuanced dept

In all of our years and years of discussions on piracy and copyright infringement, one sweeping issue with the public discourse on the topic is how bereft of nuance it is. It’s as though the world has been confronted with a massively complicated topic, the internet and digital piracy and their effects on content makers, and decided to make the conversation binary. Piracy is fine. Piracy is horrible.

It should be immediately apparent how absurd that type of thinking is. Complicated issues require complicated analysis that often times has complicated outcomes. Serving as an example of this, a recent study out of Japan on the effects of piracy for the manga industry shows exactly these kind of mixed and complicated results.

Newly published research by Professor Tatsuo Tanaka of the Faculty of Economics at Keio University suggests that both sides have a point.

The findings come from a natural experiment that uses a massive takedown campaign conducted by anti-piracy group CODA in 2015. This campaign reduced the availability of pirated comics on various download sites, which allowed Professor Tanaka to analyze how this affected sales of 3,360 comic book volumes.

The results, recently published in the article titled “The Effects of Internet Book Piracy: Case of Comics,” show that the effect of piracy differs between ongoing and completed series. In other words, the effect of piracy is heterogeneous.

Interestingly, if a manga series is a completed finished product with no more issues being produced, antipiracy efforts show positive sales effects for that series. On the other hand, for ongoing series, antipiracy efforts actually reduce future sales of that series. And, if you think about this for five seconds, that makes all the sense in the world. Illicit copies of an ongoing work will attract new potential readers of the work as the cost barrier to trying out the new series is null. Once a reader is gained illicitly, some percentage of those readers will go on to begin paying for the product. This happens either because of the way people use piracy as a no-risk method for trying out a new product or because of a more easy or convenient method to buy the product instead of pirating it.

What it absolutely does not show, however, is that content makers should be uniformly against piracy in every situation, full stop.

“If the effect of piracy is heterogeneous, it is not the best solution to shut down the piracy sites uniformly but to delete harmful piracy files selectively if possible. In this case, deleting piracy files of ongoing comics only is the first best strategy for publishers regardless of whether the total effect is positive or negative, because the availability of piracy files of completed comics is beneficial to both publishers and consumers.”

Nuance. Selective enforcement. These are not the hallmarks of the entertainment industries, unfortunately, but it has been demonstrated that they would be useful tools to those industries if they were applied. Is piracy good? No. Is piracy bad? No. It’s all much more complicated than that and it would be nice if our public discourse reflected that.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “New Study On Effects Of Manga Piracy Show Piracy's Effects Are More Nuanced Than Good Or Bad”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Rico R. (profile) says:

More nuanced than this study lets on...

Interestingly, if a manga series is a completed finished product with no more issues being produced, antipiracy efforts show positive sales effects for that series. On the other hand, for ongoing series, antipiracy efforts actually reduce future sales of that series.

One thing that some copyright nutjob might take away from this story is that it only makes sense to stop "piracy" if the series is 100% complete, with no new episodes/issues being released. In the realm of select TV shows, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

There are many TV shows, like my childhood favorite TV show, Zoom (1999-2005) that has NO official DVD release. This could be for a handful of reasons, depending on the show. Zoom, in particular, had a few specials released on VHS, but other than that, it’s had no home video market. Not on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. Not in DVD box sets. Not even being shown on TV in reruns. But you know where you can still watch the episodes? YouTube! A handful of fans digitized their own collection of episodes recorded off-the-air and then uploaded the episodes to YouTube.

Is it copyright infringement? Yes. Is the series releasing new episodes? No. Does that mean anti-piracy efforts need to be directed towards the show? Of course not! Even though it would be within the copyright holders’ (WGBH) rights to do so, I believe they recognize that this fan preservation is the only way that Zoom lives on today. If they start issuing DMCA takedown notices, then there is no option for watch Zoom, barring an official release from WGBH.

Zoom is not just an isolated incident. Many shows have no official releases online or elsewhere. That could be because of music or other licensing issues that can even throw copyright maximalists for a loop. It’s only through fan preservation that the show lives on. Even TV Tropes created a trivia page for this phenomenon: Keep Circulating The Tapes, which gets its name from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Shout! Factory had to clear a lot of rights due to the same licensing issues mentioned above just to release episodes of MST3K on DVD.

So at the end of the day, as Techdirt points out, piracy is not always black and white. It’s a lot more nuanced, and in certain circumstances, it’s the only way to enjoy a show from the past.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


See also: Video games. The near-entirety of the arcade scene, from After Burner to Zaxxon, would likely be lost if not for preservationists dumping and sharing ROMs. Hell, until Capcom announced the Capcom Home Arcade earlier this year, Alien vs. Predator was only ever legally available on the original arcade machine. That is a 25-year gap between the game’s arcade release and its first(!) release on a console. Without preservationists, that game may have been lost to time, existing only a memory for only those lucky enough to have played it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Many shows have no official releases online or elsewhere.

Sadly, or rather idiotically, that has never been an issue for copyright madmen. out_of_the_blue will very eagerly tell you that the ability to make sure content never sees the light of day again is the whole point of copyright. Tero "Meshpage" Pulkinnen has even said on multiple occasions that older content needs to be trashed completely to allow newer things to exist, which is why he believes anything that passes into the public domain should be wiped from human consciousness.

Glenn says:

Piracy is fine–copyright is horrible.

People are smart enough to know that paying for what they like–esp. manga [and anime]–will help ensure they get more of what they like. The "sorely" infringed upon have spent more money on anti-piracy efforts than they’ve "lost" due to piracy [which is frequently recognized as "free advertising"]. (Now that’s stupid.)

Annonymouse (profile) says:

Re: Re:

All to true which is why some form of patronage or sponsorship is a more viable model for the artist. They get to eat today and not await the largesse of some fat publishing industry types who control their creativity.

A number of popular series were axed due to bellow expected sales where sales were limited to one region, despite a huge online fanbase willing to pay/donate to the artist to compete the story.

When it comes to fansubs the quality varies though the truly stellar invariably run afoul of publishers and artists with more ego than good sense alienating the fanbase with horrible official translations.

David says:

Conflicting statements in article?

The quoted statement that "deleting piracy files of ongoing comics only is the first best strategy for publishers" conflicts with the article statement that "for ongoing series, antipiracy efforts actually reduce future sales of that series".

Based on reading the original paper, it seems the TechDirt article is misinterpreting the results, getting them backwards. Essentially, the paper suggests that piracy of older materials is helpful, while piracy of new/ongoing materials is harmful.

I’m not entirely sure of the breakdown, but some of the charts seemed to imply that < 1 year old material was harmed by piracy, 1-2 year old material was neutral, and > 2 year old material was helped by piracy. This may be further adjusted based on studies that show piracy helps low-profile media, while harming high-profile media.

I would probably bracket things like:
1) Discourage piracy for first 2 years of high-profile releases. Allow after that.
2) Discourage piracy for first 1 year of mid-profile releases (ie: average stuff). Allow after that.
3) Allow piracy for low-profile releases. (EG: Self-published, or minor publishers)

Ratzenberger's - The Original Fast Food Chain says:

Re: Conflicting statements in article?

The actual ONE "bracket" is LEGAL OR NOT.

Anything less than absolute means you pirates are advantaged even more than the very generous deal you get now, little likelihood of caught.

Why should creators give you thieves even the present great deal?

Ratzenberger's - The Original Fast Food Chain says:

You're conflating "nuances" as same for creators and thieves.

YES, for you pirates "nuances" are ALWAYS a positive. You put in nothing and get entertainment for free. YOU always win.

NOT so the creator who put in long hours, brainwork, money, and above all HOPE that can get enough people to PAY that it’s worthwhile use of time.

You pirates STEAL actual investments and hope, then laugh about it. You deserve no benefit of doubt nor presumption of innocence.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: You're conflating "nuances" as same for creators and thieves

The point is that, whether or not it is legal, moral, or ethical, which are separate questions on their own, piracy does not always have a negative impact on sales and sometimes even has a positive effect, which means that overzealous enforcement of copyright can, in certain cases, actually make a series less successful financially and/or readership-wise than if piracy is stamped out more selectively.

This is not about whether or not piracy is legal (it isn’t), moral (questionable), or ethical (same). It’s not about whether copyright should be enforced or not. It’s about how heavily it should be enforced based on the effects of doing so on the copyright holder.

And if you read the whole article, you might note that a) they note that sometimes piracy does appear to have a negative impact on continuing sales (that is, aggressive enforcement has a positive impact), and b) a lot of those pirates wind up paying for the work solely because they care about the work the author put into it and want to support them. They don’t laugh about getting something for free; it’s more like a demo: if you like it, buy it, but at least give it a try. It’s a fallacy to assume that people who pirate would pay if they were unable or unwilling to pirate, and it’s also a fallacy to assume that pirates don’t wind up paying copyright holders.

I could go on to note other reasons people may pirate, but that’s the most relevant one, and you probably won’t read this anyway. I’ll just note that with regards to presumption of innocence, “deserves” has got nothing to do with it; you presume someone isn’t a pirate until proven otherwise. Where’s your proof that all of us pirate?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Well, yeah...

People not knowing about your stuff(whether manga, music or otherwise) is a much greater obstacle to getting them to buy than the availability of infringing copies, and once they do become aware of your stuff being able to try some of it to see if it’s something they like it also conductive to future sales.

This really shouldn’t be an issue at this point, but I suppose so long as there’s greedy control-freaks that still think that the best response to copyright infringement is ‘nuke it from orbit’ it still needs to be said.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...