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
    bhull242 (profile), 1 Oct 2019 @ 11:44am

    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?


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