The growth of the manga industry has lead to a rather interesting trend, in the efforts to spread their favorite works to as many people possible the most die-hard and loyal fans have taken upon the roles of scanlators (scanner/translator). To give a more precise definition, a scanlator is an individual or more commonly an entire group of people who voluntarily have taken upon themselves to obtain copies of various manga works, translate them and scan them to distribute them freely online for streaming and downloading. While the stereotypical perception of the comic book community may be to remain isolated from the world while shunning new members to the community, it seems that ardent manga fans have taken the opposite route by widely distributing many manga works in order to increase the fan-base. In order to fully understand this actually amazing phenomenon I intend to go over the core subjects pertaining to scanlating.
Lets be honest, when most of us want something we want it readily available and immediately. This is the premise that allowed something as insanely gross as toaster chicken snacks to be marketed.
Perhaps the most appealing thing about scanlating is the fact that its available on your computer at any time only a click away. Although the manga industry has been increasing in readership outside of Japan under normal conditions any dedicated manga readers would have to wait weeks, months or even years to receive updates from regularly scheduled manga series; compared to Japan where many series issue chapters out on a weekly basis.There are many factors that cause this but the most prominent one being manga licenses. Simply put not every manga series is available in every country, local publishers only carrying a tiny fraction of what is available in Japan. However this is where the scanlators come in, thanks to them many series that would of never been seen outside of Japan have become readily available via websites like Mangahere, Mangafox and Mangastream in many different languages. Yet there are undoubtedly many legal concerns in regard to this practice.
Obviously the first impression of this phenomenon is that it is assuredly illegal, manga artists have the right to translate, reproduce and exploit derivatives under Japanese law; which is also protected in foreign countries such as the US and Europe. Therefore most scanlators and websites that distribute their translations argue under the fair use clause of Copyright law. Certain conditions must be met however to ensure it properly meets the criteria for fair use:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
- The nature of the copyrighted work.
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.
However a practice such as this can also be seen as synonymous with the controversial music sharing, which works under the premise of purposely stiffing the music industry in order to “combat” commercialism. Scanlating too can be easily distributed with the goal of allowing an enormous amount of readers endless use of free manga as a substitute to actually buying the works themselves. Although this sentiment is more or less true for many readers, this actually brings me to my next point in the code of ethics that many scanlators actually follow.
You would think that with such an easily exploitable system such as this, that these scanlators aren’t any different from common bootleggers. However in actuality there are a set of unwritten laws among scanlators that really govern the entire process.
Free distribution to support the industry
This may sound contradictory but scanlators offer free translated works in order to support the manga industry. Therefore it is a largely non-profit endeavor, with the only exception being accepting donations from dedicated readers to further their work. This follows their ideals of just wanting to share these wonderful works with as many people as possible, in doing so there is an ever-growing fan-base that may support the industry by buying various merchandise related to their favorite series; fans may even go on to buy the official works themselves.
Giving credit where credit is due
It would be inconceivable for scanlators to simply go about and post what are the hard-work and even the very livelihood of authors without establishing credit. Some scanlators work exclusively to translate and distribute works of a particular author just because they are a huge fan and want to promote awareness and support for their work. They additionally tend to further show their support by first buying the original work of authors to use for their scans and translations; this both supports the industry and assures the highest quality of scans.
Striving for manga licenses
As I’ve said the main goal for scanlating is to promote fans most beloved manga works, increased awareness of said titles may ultimately lead them to become licensed for official release outside of Japan. Because of this many scanlators actually promise to cease translating works once it has become licensed. Although various other groups may continue to translate works even after licensing, this is mainly because the convenience factor and time gaps between publishing.
To close my crash course in the process of scanlating I would like to leave you with a final thought on the manga industry’s reaction. While you would think the manga industry would frown on a practice that is openly giving away their products for free, there have actually been very few times where any such major disputes have occurred. Even for popular already licensed titles the fan-base is already so huge its difficult to tell if scalating have hurt sales, as people continue to buy the physical copies. Industries have even begun to use this practice as a means of testing the market, using scanlation sites to discover new titles.
- Lee, Hye-Kyung (2009). Between fan culture and copyright infringement: manga scanlation. Media, Culture & Society, 31(6), 1011-1022, DOI: 10.1177/0163443709344251
- Image credit to Ansatsu Kyoushitsu by Matsui Yuusei
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