Is The Era of Free Anime Coming to an End?
The anime industry is no stranger to piracy. In fact, the anime industry made it to the United States thanks to piracy. In the 1980’s, no one was selling anime in the United States yet.1 As SocraTetris put it, “[t]he anime industry was not just small in the United States. It basically did not exist.”2 Thus, people began “fan-subbing” their favorite anime, a process where they would record the anime, which was airing in Japan, and provide their own English subtitles so that they could be enjoyed in the United States.3
While the anime industry has come a far way from these humble roots, it still deals with the ever-growing issue of piracy. Just to show how prevalent piracy is in the American anime market, the largest streaming service solely dedicated to anime, Crunchyroll, began in 2005 as a hosting service, where unlicensed anime content was illegally posted.4 Crunchyroll became the first and only anime pirate site to convert to a legal streaming service in 2009, but still other pirate sites loom large in the industry.5 The largest of such, KissAnime, has recently met its demise in August of 2020 from numerous copyright claims after operating for 8 years.6 This comes on the heels of Japan’s newly enacted anti-piracy law amendments, which show Japan’s revitalized efforts to strike at the heart of piracy.7 While the amendments that were passed on June 5th, 2020 are aimed at manga piracy, they also attack leech websites, which are “websites that host the content on their site or are used as databases with links to torrents or other download sites.”8 Most anime pirate sites, like KissAnime, fall under the term ‘leech websites,’ so many of these websites fall within the scope of these amendments.
In the wake of Japan’s revised anti-piracy laws and the take-down of KissAnime, many anime fans are questioning the future of illegal anime streaming sites. Illegal streaming sites are probably not going anywhere in the near future because the sites continue to dodge copyright claims by continuously switching their domain names to different countries.9 KissAnime had itself switched countries multiple times, with its final version being the Russian domain name of “.ru.”10 However, if we theoretically imagine a world where pirate sites are all taken down, then is the current legal streaming industry good enough to fill the void left behind? The answer to that question for some anime fans around the world is a no.
Despite the recent entry of many huge streaming companies, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, into the anime streaming industry, as well as the already established legal anime streaming site, Crunchyroll, pirate sites are still necessary for many fans to fully enjoy anime. One issue is that there is no legal site that has all the anime that one fan may want to watch. For instance, Crunchyroll does not have licenses for every anime that has aired, or is currently airing, in Japan. Thus, a fan would have to purchase multiple streaming subscriptions to have access to everything, which can become more than they can afford.11 Another issue is the geographic restrictions that the legal sites employ, where certain countries do not have access to certain anime. Thus, the paying fan does not even have access to all the titles that are on legal sites, such as Crunchyroll. Moreover, younger fans often cannot sign up for these subscriptions since they do not have their own credit cards yet.12 When piracy is viewed through this lens of market failure, anti-piracy laws may not be enough to make these anime piracy sites truly disappear and it may be up to the legal streaming sites themselves to put the final nail in the coffin of piracy.13
Lauren Orsini, How American Fans Pirated Japanese Cartoons Into Careers, Forbes (June 24, 2015, 9:00 AM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurenorsini/2015/06/24/how-american-fans-pirated-japanese-cartoons-into-careers/#11550287234a [https://perma.cc/A8DY-WKNL].↩
CrunchyRoll’s History and a Case for Anime Piracy – PhilosAnime, SocraTetris (Sept. 21, 2019), https://socratetris.wordpress.com/2019/09/21/crunchyrolls-history-and-a-case-for-anime-piracy-philosanime/ [https://perma.cc/8H9B-YY6W].↩
See Orsini, supra note 1.↩
Nate Anderson, Competing with free: anime site treats piracy as a market failure, arstechnica (Apr. 25, 2011, 3:25 PM), https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2011/04/competing-with-free-anime-site-treats-piracy-as-a-market-failure/ [https://perma.cc/RMP6-2MF9].↩
See CrunchyRoll’s History and a Case for Anime Piracy – PhilosAnime, supra note 2.↩
Spencer Baculi, Pirate Anime Streaming Site KissAnime Shuts Down As Japan Cracks Down on Piracy, Bounding Into Comics (Aug. 16, 2020), https://boundingintocomics.com/2020/08/16/pirate-anime-streaming-site-kissanime-shuts-down-as-japan-cracks-down-on-piracy/ [https://perma.cc/XJ9Y-TUTD].↩
Daryl Harding, Japan Enacts New Copyright Laws to Curb Illegal Manga Downloading, Crunchyroll (June 11, 2020), https://www.crunchyroll.com/anime-news/2020/06/11/japan-enacts-new-copyright-laws-to-curb-illegal-manga-downloading [https://perma.cc/EGJ5-YC6N].↩
Trash Taste, Uncovering Secrets Behind Anime Piracy | Trash Taste #13, YouTube (Aug. 28, 2020), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUlzvH1R6ng.↩
While the legal streaming sites, such as Crunchyroll, are well on their way to fixing most of these problems, they still exist, and thus there would still be a void if all pirate sites were taken down within the next year.[footnote]See Anderson, supra note 4.↩