Monday, February 4, 2008

Ethics, fansubs and the Geneon collapse - an analysis

So for right now I'm going to post on this blog and the other blog until I can move AnimeNano over. Thanks everyone.

But onto the show.


I must be the last person on the fansub train. To be honest, I enjoy buying DVDs. I don't do it to support the industry, although I do. In fact, I disagree with the entire idea of buying DVDs (or anything else) so you can support the industry. To me that reeks of charity.

No, I buy DVDs so I can watch the show and over time, I've amassed quite the collection. I've never been part of the fansub scene until recently, and then mostly stuff that will never come out in the US (like LoGH or Galaxy Express 999). I read reviews to find out whether I might like a show, and then I buy the show if I was pretty sure that I'd enjoy it. I might rent the show if I was a little less sure, but up until a few months ago I never had to wonder about the ethics of downloading fansubs. Because well, I was walking the moral high road and all I had to do was be patient and I could trust that my anime companies would provide me with all the anime I could ever want.

All I had to do was be patient.

But Geneon's collapse ruined all of that.

On ethics and this Brave New World

Up an to now there has been one ethical rule when it comes to downloading fansubs: Do as little harm as possible. It's simple and pretty Liberatarian. Essentially while downloading a fansub of Legend of the Galactic Heroes might be stealing, the person isn't hurting anyone by doing it. Now the occasional hardcore capitalist might throw out a categorical imperative (i.e. You can't say everyone should steal anything without leading to anarchy), but for the most part their arguments are flawed.

Now there is a gray area in that Liberatarian rule when it comes to series that are currently airing in Japan, but haven't been licensed in the United States. Now while I'd like to say that the majority of people have really thought out why it's okay to download a series that might be licensed, but it's not okay to download a series that has been licensed, I think it's become more of a maxim then anything. And if they buy said series when it comes out in the U.S., then overall it evens out. Essentially, they have the choice to have a zero-impact, or they have the choice to have a negative impact.

But what becomes of a show like Seirei no Moribito. Ethically, at the moment, it's okay to download it. I mean it's in limbo. Sure it's been licensed, but the company it's been licensed by is defunct.

The problem is that it has been licensed which means at one point there was at least the intent to bring it to this county. So while I downloaded it, I just had a negative impact. And it's not an ethically clean negative impact. It's not like I didn't have a choice. I could have waited. But I didn't.

But wait, it gets even more twisted. Because sure with Seirei no Moribito, it might be a justifiable argument to say, "Well, I can't make a decision based off what might happen." And there aren't any disks in the U.S. to buy.

What happens when we start talking about Saiunkoku? There's a series that I have a definite choice with, but not all of it is out in the States. But some of it's out. So am I obligated to puchase those disks (even though it's an incomplete series) just so I can come out to a ethical neutral.

The problem and solution

The problem with the convential maxim is that it assumes that there is an industry that will continue to produce disks. Which leaves me in a quandry, "Am I ethically better to wait and see whether or not these series will be resurrected? Or am I okay in assuming they won't?"

The thing is that I don't see any easy solution. Sure, I'll buy them if they come out. Honestly, it won't be out of charity, but because I want a dubbed version on DVD. I suppose that ethically I'll come out even.

But it still makes me a little uneasy, and wondering whether in this Brave New World, if I'll have to make that decision again. Especially since I really do want to see Gurren Laggan and Code Geass.


Agree or disagree? Please comment here or at or e-mail And yes those are my anime shelves, but not necessarily all of my anime.


DrmChsr0 said...

I'll do my best to keep it as free of theology and religion to the best of my abilities, but unfortunately, some will slip in, because that's how I understand the situation.

The thing is, as human beings, we can't talk about "ethics" because at the core, humans are inherently evil. Forgive me for proselytizing or something, but we can't talk about "ethics" when we all will do some kind of evil some time in our lives. It wouldn't matter if we slavishly adhere to these "ethics", we'd still be doing evil no matter what.

And as for fansubs, there is no legal or moral ground. Fansubs killed the American industry long before animé become popular. By making the Japanese sit up and realize that America was ripe for the plunder, fansubs have unwittingly doomed the industry long before the whole thing blew up on our faces.

The Japanese were never interested in developing a market outside of Japan in the first place. They're more interested in milking the cash off suckers overseas than genuinely developing a "sustainable" overseas market.

I've written a couple of articles on this. And by a couple I mean more than 5.

I'm getting too old for this... ...

Cameron Probert said...

drmchsr0 - To be honest, I don't think people are necessarily good or evil. I think people are amoral and far more concerned with their own survival than anything else.

But the application of ethics is important, if for no other reason than it gives us something to think about. And it gives us a set of rules by which we can survive in large packs. Because evolution didn't decide to give us claws and actually good senses or anything.