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. identicon
    David, 30 Sep 2019 @ 6:04pm

    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)


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