Thoughts – Piracy and Illegal Streaming

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So, I’ve read that the producer of Kemono Friends has come out to discourage fans from using illegal sites. And I thought, maybe it’s time I talked about piracy and illegal streaming in as few words as possible.

Firstly, there isn’t a moral debate to be had here – watching anime through means other than legal ones is wrong. I’m not an apologist for piracy, and I like to think that even the vast majority of people who pirate aren’t. Most fans acknowledge that piracy cripples an industry we hypocritically proclaim to support, and that the “I’m a poor college student” excuse is just the entrée to a whole slew of personal sob stories to be raised in one’s own defence.

Secondly, anti-piracy advocates are nevertheless barking up the wrong tree when they address these statements towards anyone outside of Japan and North America, because legal streaming options are virtually nil in these regions. And that’s honestly where the bulk of illegal streaming comes from. Not North America.

Thirdly, asking fans in these regions to wait it out and import DVDs from licenced regions is unrealistic for a whole gamut of reasons. For one thing, it doesn’t benefit them since the sales reflected in regions such as North America will create no incentive for companies in their own countries to look towards licencing as a business opportunity. For another, the anime community doesn’t work like that. Hype is built up through involvement in seasonal anime followings – Best Girl Wars, plot predictions, memes, rankings, etc. The biggest opponents of piracy like bloggers and Anitubers, whilst having good intentions, cannot speak to the hearts of a demographic that ironically gets incentivised to pirate simulcast because the commentators themselves premise their content (such as the episode reactions, reviews, discussions and best-of lists) on the viewers’ involvement in the season. I’m not saying that they take responsibility for the piracy, which is entirely a personal choice of their fans. But let’s be real here, lots of casual fans get sucked into the religious side of anime appreciation because of prominent commentators…and the urge to follow simulcast builds up from there.

Fourthly, I think the anime industry needs to adapt instead of playing whack-a-mole with illegal streaming sites. There’s always money to be made from enthusiasm and passion – you just need to learn how to exploit it. Learn from the K-Pop industry, where fans already get access to music for free on Youtube but nevertheless buy the heck out of albums just so their idols can win in the year-end awards. Has anyone questioned why album sales is the criteria to winning awards? Or why K-Pop lies about “selling music” when instead it really sells the joy of helping your idol make his dreams come true as a reward for all his hard work? Exactly.

Too many people were salty about the fact that Attack on Titan Season 2 took four years to come out. The reality is that this increased manga sales because many gave up waiting and converted to being manga-readers, which is totally fine by me. I think the industry can afford to be sneakier than that in many other ways. I mean, come on, we’ve got Best Girl wars. There’s so much money to be made off those. How about selling out by having each of your five girls on five different versions of the Season 1 DVDs, and promising that in Season 2 the protagonist will end up with the girl whose version of the Season 1 DVD sells the most. You know what I mean?

I guess the bottomline is that piracy has been anguished over as a problem for way too long, and I really think the real problem lies in the archaic business model of the anime / manga industry, where manga artists get their profits solely from manga sales, and animators get their profits solely from anime sales. Other industries manage to grow from having a more symbiotic relationship between their various arms, and I find it hard to believe that the anime industry is “just like that”, and therefore the only way to ensure that animators are well paid is to buy anime itself.

To me, it’s just not intelligent to keep hoping that one can profit off legal sales by guilt-tripping the pirates into stopping their activities. (On the Western side, it’s also unintelligent that there’s at least 8 different legal streaming sites out there when the illegal streaming sites have managed to consolidate their catalogue into just one platform.) Anime has shown us time and time again that Japan has some of the most brilliant minds in the whole world. I think that the anime / manga industry can be saved not by clamping down on internet piracy, but by coming up with a more brilliant business model than the one it currently has.

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