Sunday, July 6, 2008

In My View: Fansubs? Again?

So there's been a lot of drama around Scott's post about Greg Ayres panel. And granted, I know I'm writing this pretty late in the game, but it's taken me a while to get my thoughts into a coherent form on this subject.

The problem with fansubs and the industry is not a simple one. And there isn't a simple fix for it (well except for shooting all of the downloaders). To be frank, I'm not qualified to talk about this problem on a business level. I don't even think the industry really knows how to make money in this new market. Most of the arguments I've heard sound like people taking their personal experiences and trying to generalize them to the wider populace (including mine.) While they certainly sound nice, there isn't enough evidence one way or the other to really talk about the issue. Especially since it seems that even providing fans with anime straight from Japan wasn't enough to save GDH from the threat of getting taken off of the stock index for Japan.

And I'm certainly not qualified to talk about copyright from a legal angle. Despite what people may think, the law is neither simple nor clear-cut on ANYTHING. Even something as simple as, "the right to free speech" depends on time, place, manner, medium and content. Case law is often contradictory and occasionally flat out confusing. And copyright law is no less labyrinthine.

So we're left with one thing I can discuss with some level of intelligence.


Now, I'll freely admit, I wasn't a philosophy major. I did take a few classes in college and my sister did major in it, so I'm arguing based on what I know. If anyone wants to correct me, please feel free. But as far as ethics go, I'm a Libertarian. So your mileage may vary, depending on how your feel.

The Problem with Stealing

Now, omo is certainly right. Stealing is an easy metaphor when we're dealing with downloading copyrighted material. But in my mind, it's also the correct one. I mean, anime IS a product. It is meant for sale. Taking a product that is meant for sale is, well, stealing. The thing is that all stealing isn't equal. What if I steal the denotation device from a nuclear bomb? What if I steal food that's going to be thrown away? What if I steal a five-dollar bill off of the side of the road? What if I steal clothes out of a dumpster and then sell them to a thrift store?

And I have to admit that Ayres's argument is compelling. I don't want to put anyone out street. I don't think any of us do. But just like anime consumers can be accused of seeing the industry as one faceless mass of people, the industry can be accused of seeing consumers as one open wallet that should be willing to give them cash.

So the question becomes, who's right? And the answer is it depends on who is getting harmed more.

Like it or not, anime has no intrinsic worth beyond the plastic it's printed on and the packaging it comes in. Any worth it has must be determined by the consumer. Period. And just like Ayres (and to a lesser extent Scott) seem to think that, "We owe it to the creators to give them money." The anime industry owes it to the consumer to give them a product that's worth buying (this is why I don't like the 'Save the Industry' argument.) Now Scott is certainly right. If a show has come out in the United States and you live in the United States than for God's sake rent it. If $9 a month is going to put you out on the street than you've got bigger problems than watching anime. And to be honest, the majority of anime series are worth what you'd pay for Netflix.

The problem starts though when the show is not available in the United States (or in whatever country you happen to be in.)

Because in a perfect world, you, the consumer, would be able to decide whether a show is worth buying or watching on TV or through Hulu without having to wait and wonder if it'll be released in the States. In a perfect world, you wouldn't have to choose between importing the disk (not to mention hunting down a region free player) and stealing it off the Internet.

But we don't live in a perfect world.

No matter how much we want to.

So the question is no longer which one is more right, and becomes which one is less wrong. And that answer depends on how much anime is worth to you.

Frankly, it's worth $7.50 an episode for a show I REALLY like on DVD. It's not worth $30. So I have to balance out the harms. I'm hurting the industry $7.50 an episode when I download and they're hurting me $22.50 an episode if I import it.

It's that simple.

Why this matters and why it doesn't

The classic arguments against what I just said are, "You're just making justifications," or "You just do it because you know there won't be any consequences." And they're right to a degree. I can do it because there aren't any consequences and I am making an ethical argument (which is in a way a justification.) But when the law doesn't provide you with a deterrent for your actions, and the anime companies haven't started hiring mercenaries to enforce their vision of the "proper" consumer, all you have left is ethics.

And ethics like it or not, are personal. I can argue with people. I can disagree with people. But in the end, I can't expect people to see things my way. The only person who can decide whether or not you should click that torrent link is you.

For anyone who finished reading this, I apologize for the length. I had a lot to say, and I couldn't figure out how to shorten it down.

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