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: copyright, impact, manga, piracy

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  1. icon
    Rico R. (profile), 30 Sep 2019 @ 2:38pm

    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.

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