Piracy Wars: Viz vs. MangaStream

Piracy Wars: Viz vs. MangaStream

So, I was meandering through Twitter when I saw some buzz over a scanlation group named MangaStream being forced to stop scanlating Viz-licensed titles.  Naturally, there were thoughts all over on the subject, so I thought I’d go and see what MangaStream said.  Here it is.

Dear MangaStream supporter,

It’s with a heavy heart that I make the following announcement. MangaStream will no longer be releasing the following series:

– Naruto
– Bleach
– One Piece
– Hunter x Hunter
– Katekyo Hitman Reborn
– Claymore
– D.Gray-man

VIZ Media has demanded that we end our scanlation work for all of the above. This comes despite our best efforts to pursuade fans into supporting official distributors by being the only group to actively prevent an archive from forming on their website through the removal of chapters that are older than a couple weeks. They’ve succeeded in little more than invoking inconvenience to the community as their digital magazine missed the mark; it runs several issues behind and only features 3 of the above series. So long as their product continues to be slow, awkward and inferior to something a ragtag group of nobodies can churn out in a few hours – fans will continue to look to scanlation groups and aggregators for their weekly fix.

The aggressive and escalating nature of their threats have forced our hand into removing the content. MangaStream will no longer be posting full scanlations for any of the aforementioned series, we will instead focus our efforts onto the series we do that are not licensed by VIZ Media (you can assume everything currently on our directory will be continued).

Well, these are hot titles in the U.S., so it is understandable that Viz would want them to stop. Further to that, the system worked because although MangaStream may have resisted Viz initially, they did comply with the request.

Unfortunately for Viz, while the short-term impact means that people won’t be able to get HQ scanlations of these titles, in the long term, the void left by MangaStream will simply be filled by other scanlators.

That being said, I have two thoughts I’d like to expound on: MangaStream’s releases and piracy in general.

I. MangaStream’s Puts the Bull’s-eye on Their Own Back

I was not aware of MangaStream prior to this incident, but I see that they are scanlating a title that I enjoy — Fairy Tail. (As an aside, “We’re THAT many chapters behind Japan?! Egad, Kodansha! Get on the stick!”)  I glanced at a couple of pages, and I was immediately struck by the fact that MangaStream feels the need to stamp every page they do with an ego watermark, as if they owned this title.  Take a look.Piracy Wars: Viz vs. MangaStream

Seriously, MangaStream? You are doing to Viz (and the original Japanese copyright owners) what you are asking others not to do to you?  Further to that, by ego-stamping every page, you were just BEGGING Viz to come down on you like gangbusters.  As I see it, those ego-stamps are the metaphorical equivalent of flopping your wedding tackle into a lion’s mouth and flicking his love spuds with a wet towel. (1)  There are lots of scanlations being done of Viz titles, but in my mind, having someone stamp the crap out of every page, which is then spread to other sites despite your requests not to, is a line too far.

Now, MangaStream is out of the game for those Viz titles, and as I said earlier, others will simply fill the void, only those guys likely won’t have ego-stamps, and their titles will go out via torrent, DDL, or other, online manga reader sites. So, one has to ask, “Is having an ego-stamp worth it, if it is only going to make you a massive target?” I know that the folks at MangaStream wanted folks to buy the manga from Viz as soon as Viz released it, and that’s partly why they claim they stamped their stuff. However, as we see, ego-stamping caused MangaStream to get stomped.

II. The Voids in Legal, Online Manga Keeps Piracy Alive

I noticed that some folks, while celebrating a scanlation site being forced to back down, made note of the fact that Viz has a lot of these titles online.  That’s true, though they aren’t publishing an English version of a manga title on the same day it is published in Japan.  That’s problem one.  The customer base is saying, “Hey! We want simultaneous releases of the manga as our Japanese cousins!”  As I see it, this *could* be done, but if nothing else, an English version could come out a few days after the Japanese version (for cleanup, translation, etc.).  Until this is done, there will still be a demand for scanlations.

The next problem would be Viz’s manga reader.  In order to “try” to keep people from saving the manga pages to their computers, Viz is using a dopey, flash system (because that will stop people…oh wait, it won’t).  As such, I’m forced to view the manga in a size that’s too small for my tastes because I have a large, 27″ monitor.  I noticed that MangaStream’s manga reader fills the screen for me, and thus is large and nicely readable. Viz needs to get off their butts and change their manga reader so that if someone wants to view a manga in a LARGER resolution, they can.  Worrying about trying to stop something that YOU CAN’T STOP shouldn’t be the top priority, IMO.  Just ego-stamp you pages like MangaStream did, because you are ENTITLED to do so as the licensor.

Finally, and this is the big void, Viz manga is for American’s only — you losers in the rest of the world need not apply.  To be fair, this region restriction is imposed on Viz by the Japanese copyright owners.  This evil system has its roots in Hollywood, where Big Entertainment freaked out by DVD creation, then decided to impose region encoding on all DVD’s and players, as part of a scheme to try to make more money (as far as I can tell, it hasn’t made them any more money).  The notion of region-licensing then spread to other media, all with the foolish notion of trying to scam more money out of the market.

Regardless, while we Americans can have access to a legal, online version of One Piece (as an example), other English speaking countries are out of luck.  As such, scanlators will step in to fill that void, and since English is a second language in many parts of the world (especially Europe), people from those areas will flock to an English scanlation if there’s no such scanlation in their native tongue.  By keeping these idiotic, region-locking rules in place, the Japanese (and subsequently Viz) are just creating a market for scanlations.

I’ll go into this more in a future article, but if companies would just listen to their customers, while at the same time using their noggins to figure out how to get paid, the problems would mostly resolve themselves.  There are a lot of people out there getting seriously paid for delivering free, or nearly free, content on the web.

(1) Credit to the writers of the British, sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf for that line. ^_^

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19 Responses to “Piracy Wars: Viz vs. MangaStream”

  1. Cube says:

    I believe the ego stamps are because of scanlation aggregator/reader sites.

    Since 99% of the time they rip the credits pages and use the scanlators works to get money via ads, MS and many other groups are watermarking all the pages so that you can go straight to the scanlators’ website.

  2. SparkNorkx says:

    I agree with you and companies like those are just blindly panicking about “piracy”.

  3. I had suspected that MangaStream (which I visit fairly regularly) might be halted but this was not how I expected it to happen. Their policy of removing their archived scans after a month or so is something I haven’t seen anywhere else, and I suspect the reason for their watermarks (which they only put on about a year ago I think) was in response to aggregators like Mangafox and Mangareader who started putting their stuff on their site and maintaining them on there even though MangaStream specifically asked them not to. (Mangareader even puts their mark on every single page of every manga they host on their site, which all comes from other scanlators)

    That’s not a good excuse though, since its not theirs, and because other than deleting an archives and making a small note on their credits page, they haven’t really done very much to support the artists whose material they have appropriated

    The reason I thought they might get in trouble for is the same reason their site became the dominant scanlator for the most popular series since came on the scene two years ago; they simply released chapters way before everyone else. Somehow they consistently get an early raw for Jump and for Weekly Shonen Magazine and have them translated and posted just hours later, which I suspect may be even earlier than they are actually published in their magazine (For One Piece, Naruto, Bleach and Fairy Tail anyway, the others can take a bit longer).

    For example, they have consistently published Fairy Tail (which comes in the same magazine as Negima) by Saturday, often before any Negima spoilers have come up (They have actually managed to somehow put it out on Friday for the last few months; the chapter you put a picture up from in this post corresponds to the first week of Akamatsu’s break).

    I suspect however, that this restriction will have virtually no impact as these series popularity are such that other sites are likely to try the same tack as Mangastream, much in the same way as other manga aggregators picked up right where OneManga left off when it was shut down a couple years ago.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      >Somehow they consistently get an early raw for Jump and for Weekly Shonen Magazine and have them translated and posted just hours later, which I suspect may be even earlier than they are actually published in their magazine (For One Piece, Naruto, Bleach and Fairy Tail anyway, the others can take a bit longer).

      I know for Negima, some French folks somehow got the manga hot off the press, prior to its release in Japan (I want to say on the Friday or Saturday before the Wednesday publication date). As such, there were a few times where the scanlation came out before the manga went on sale in Japan. Since Fairy Tail is in the same magazine, MangaShare must have access to the same, early source.

  4. Derek Bown says:

    Personally I think that while there are a lot of issues surrounding this topic, a lot of the problems would be solved if people were more patient. It wouldn’t help the countries that don’t get SJA, but in the states there really isn’t an excuse for turning to scanlators when all it would take to read the series legally would be to wait two weeks. I made the mistake of not stopping early right before SJA came out, and now I’ve been slowly going insane waiting for next week when chapters I haven’t read finally come out on there.

  5. O-chan says:

    I knew this was going to happen eventually but the one issue I DO have is why Viz has to pull copyright on series they don’t even publish anymore like Reborn. They did a very similar thing to Project ILM with their scanlations of Urusei Yatsura. I ALWAYS support all of Viz’s titles (even the one’s with censorship like Fullmetal Alchemist and Naruto)but it baffles me when something they have NO interest in publishing again they still stake claim on.

    As far as them being behind the Japanese version. If I recall their aborted efforts to do this Rin-ne kept up very well with the Japanese release until they just stopped.

    I guess ultimately what I’m saying is if Viz wants to fix the piracy problem they need to get their priorities straight because they also tend to drop projects and not finish series. I’m all for copyright claims but at least bother to back it up with actually releasing the content.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      >…the one issue I DO have is why Viz has to pull copyright on series they don’t even publish anymore like Reborn.

      They may have an obligation under their original contracts with Japan to pursue all copyright issues for the manga they had licensed.

      >As far as them being behind the Japanese version. If I recall their aborted efforts to do this Rin-ne kept up very well with the Japanese release until they just stopped.

      RIN-NE was never interesting enough for me to want to read ahead. *lol* So, I was unaware of it being dropped from the weekly release schedule. Any word on why they stopped?

  6. Honestly, people that don’t like the piracy should simultaneously release the manga internationally, no matter what the conditions may be (kinda like what Crunchyroll does). Although I do not support Crunchyroll (series that I like aren’t on that website, that, or I feel that others out there have translated the series that I like better), the idea that manga can be internationally released simultaneously is a starter’s idea.

    I would personally like a community-based translation, rather than a single person that translates the manga day by day just for grammar fixes and the little detail refinement, so that the quality does not fall behind.

    As for a payment method, people should have to pay for website for premium content, exclusives, and extras so that the website could exist.

    This could kill many birds with one stone:

    a. Curb manga piracy (piracy will not be completely eliminated, sadly…) via approved translators.
    b. Reduce the number of ego scanlators
    c. Complaints about censorship (if you want a censored version, go to a censored version link, if chosen to)
    d. Reduce the need for resources to fight sites like megaupload
    e. increase international attention (no localized laws like SOPA, PIPA, ACTA) so that copyright is not violated in any of the countries that support these websites.

    Although Chrunchyroll is not perfect, I think that a manga website that has these features would definitely curb piracy (get your people to think innovative, VIZ!). Just to mock the name Crunchyroll, the manga site should be Crispyroll. LOL

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      >As for a payment method, people should have to pay for website for premium content, exclusives, and extras so that the website could exist.

      There have been numerous websites which have a free content side, supported by some ads, and then a premium side, where for a modest fee, you get all the extras. In every case I’m aware of, the sites in question make a healthy profit.

  7. Brett says:

    Well, that’s lame. Mangastream was to manga as Dattebayo was to anime torrents: one of the few sites that actually tried to minimize their impact on legal versions of the material in question (Dattebayo pulled all their Bleach and Naruto torrents when Crunchyroll went online with the rights). All it did was make them bigger targets.

    Naturally, this is just going to favor the out-of-country sites, like MangaFox. Viz’s loss, I guess. Maybe they’ll eventually catch up.

  8. Well, that blows. I’ve been going to Manga Stream for quite a while now to catch up on the latest chapters of Bleach.

    This shows once again that the industry both in Japan and America has its collective head up its ass when it comes to dealing with “piracy.” While there are always be piracy to some degree, much of it is avoidable and results from such things as No Export For You, Bad Export For You, and Keep Circulating the Tapes. Shutting sites down won’t do a damn thing, and the only way to minimize piracy is to give people greater incentive to go for the legit sources. The only way they can do that is start doing a bit of one-upmanship. In other words, Viz and other manga licensors should start doing what MangaStream does: have the latest chapters available to read online for free, with decent quality and a user-friendly interface. To encourage people to actually buy the manga, they can take down the newest chapters from the free after a couple of weeks just like MS does (though other possibilities exist). People who want to be up on the latest chapters of their favorite manga aren’t going to wait weeks for an online version at Viz’s website, nor will they wait months for the English versions of the tankoubons to be released. If Viz isn’t meeting their demand, many of them will look elsewhere for someone who is. If companies like Viz were doing what the scanlators do, the scanlators would see their stock dwindle (they’d still be scanlating unlicensed series). Either the scanlators would just not bother (why would they if someone else was doing their “job” for them), or people would go for the legal method (which is less risky than browsing strange sites or downloading over bit torrent).

    Anime licensors figured this out already, as we’ve seen with the rise of streaming video from companies like Funimation. You can watch medium-quality videos of the latest episodes of many anime on sites like Hulu soon after they air in Japan, and sometimes they’re simulcasted. For example, I’ve been watching Guilty Crown, Mirai Nikki, and the new Last Exile on Hulu. No need to seek out fansubs, plus it tides me over until they get a DVD or Blu-ray release. Things aren’t like how they were before when it would be months or sometimes years after a series is licensed before it came out on home video (Kurau Phantom Memory is a notable example of a series that had a severely delayed release; it took ADV three years to put it out after they licensed it). Granted, not every series that is licensed is streamed online, and not all series get licensed right away (many not at all), and Japan doesn’t seem interesting in doing R1 releases themselves (except for Aniplex USA releasing $400 imported box sets of Garden of Sinners and Fate/Zero; I’m sure those high price points don’t encourage piracy *sarcasm*), and because of that there will always be fansubs to fill the void. What the legit market fails to provide, the grey and black markets will provide in their stead. That is the way of things whether IP owners and licensors like it or not. If they want people to stop pirating stuff, they need to do what their illegitimate competition does, and do it just as good if not better.

  9. Krono says:

    While I agree that watermarking every page has as much to do with their ego as it does with discouraging scanlation aggregaters from using their scans; Viz C&D those series has little to do with the water mark, and everything to do with Shounen Jump Alpha. Viz has been letting Mangastream slide for most of their existence, aside from killing an attempt early on by MS at having a smartphone app. They’re moving now because they just launched SJA, and are about to end the printed version of the english version of Shounen Jump:

    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2011-10-14/viz-to-launch-weekly-shonen-jump-alpha-digital-anthology

    Now that they’re in active competition in the same medium, they pretty much have no choice but to make a credible attempt at stopping scanlations for the conflicting series. Likewise Red Hawk Scans, the group that scans Negima received a DMCA notice for Beelzebub and Bakuman, two other Jump series. Some pressure from or appeasement of Jump’s owners in Japan is likely involved, given that some of what they’ve gotten, or are attempting to get taken down are popular series that Viz has either put on hiatus, or have not announced a license for, much less released anything.

    They also need them taken down, from the standpoint that Mangastream, release chapters well before the official street date in Japan. Competing with scanlations is one thing. Competing with scanlations when the scanlations are done before the best time the official scans would ever be allowed is another.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      >…Viz C&D those series has little to do with the water mark, and everything to do with Shounen Jump Alpha.

      True, but my point was that when it came time to shut down scanlators, the easy target is the group that stamps every page.

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