Piracy Wars: A look at the recent Japanese manga pirate arrests

Piracy Wars: A look at the recent Japanese manga pirate arrests

As most of you probably know by now, there have been some recent arrests in Japan over manga piracy. Some folks have asked for my thoughts on what has happened, so I’m going to oblige. For those who don’t know what has happened, I will write about what transpired, followed by an explanation of the speed scanlation system, after which I’ll talk about the fallout from this arrests, followed by some final thoughts.

The Arrests

In the first incident, on Friday, November 13, 2015, Japanese police arrested three Chinese men after they took the latest chapter of the One Piece manga and sent it to the manga aggregation site (and in more recent times, speed scanlation group) Manga Panda. Also arrested was a 69 year old Japanese male delivery driver (HIDAKA Takehisa).

One Piece

In the second incident, on Wednesday, November 18, 2015, Japanese police arrested two Chinese men for sending the latest chapter of The Seven Deadly Sins to the scanlation group Red Hawk Scans. They apparently got their copy of the manga magazine from the same delivery driver from the first incident.

The Seven Deadly Sins

How Speed Scanlations Work

The goal of any speed scanlation group is to be the first to get a manga chapter on the web, thus they can capitalize on the ad revenue from the increased traffic this brings.  As such, the scanlation group pays a contact in Japan (in this case, the Chinese men who were arrested) to provide them the scans. The scan provider finds someone in manga production chain (in this case, the driver who delivered the manga magazines from the publisher to the various booksellers/magazine stands) and pays them for access to the manga magazine.

After the scan provider gets the manga magazine, which is the size of a large phone book, they take it apart and immediately start scanning the pages. I’m not sure how much cleaning (where defects in the scanned page are removed) is done at the scan level, but once a chapter’s pages are scanned, they are sent to the scanlation group to work on. There, the translator quickly translates the pages. If they have an editor (in the case of Manga Panda, likely not), that person gives the translated text a read-through. Meanwhile, the scanned pages have their Japanese text removed, the pages are usually cleaned up to look crisp (depending on the group scanlating the manga, the quality of that cleanup work will vary), and then it is made ready to have the English text inserted into the pages. Any art fixes required by the removal of the Japanese text are also done.

A speed scanlation group can get a chapter of the manga up in a few hours after get the raw scan. As soon as the chapter goes up, a hoard of people hungry for that content flock to the website of the scanlation group to read said chapter. This results in quite a bit of ad revenue, which not only pays for the high costs of maintaining their servers, but also pays the scan providers.  How much remains after that is not known by me.

A few years ago, speed scanlation groups could get a chapter of a manga up as many as SIX days prior to its release in Japan. I used to see this happen with Negima! quite a lot, which caused a very aware Akamatsu-sensei to really raise the alarms over this growing problem. That also eventually led to Kodansha making some changes to how it handled its manga distribution.

The Fallout

As a result of the arrests, the scanlation groups Red Hawk Sans and Imperial Scans immediately shut down. I know nothing about Imperial Scans, but Red Hawk Scans is an older scanlation group. They did some early release scanlations (Nisekoi and The Seven Deadly Sins), but they also did some more traditional scanlations (meaning the chapter didn’t get an unofficial English version until after it went on sale in Japan) such as Hayate the Combat Butler. They posted this message regarding their shutdown.

All things must come to an end, and this is no exception. After more than seven years of bringing you manga, the decision has been made to close Red Hawk’s doors. You may have noticed that the amount of series we do has dropped significantly lately, and the reason is that most of us have just gotten too busy with real life to pick up anything new. After much consideration, we decided that with our key members having less and less time to focus on manga, the best course of action was for us all to stop while we were ahead instead of giving you something that we couldn’t put our hearts into.
To all the readers and staff, thanks for following us all this time. You’re the reason we do what we do.

P.S.: PRAISE THE SUN.

I’ve no doubt that what they say here is true. They had been doing fewer and fewer titles in more recent times. However, I suspect that getting early chapters for manga titles like Nisekoi and The Seven Deadly Sins really footed the bill for their server, so without that early advantage, there was no reason to continue if you couldn’t pay the bills.

Nisekoi

In more broad terms, the fallout from this will probably make early scanlations of manga chapters before their publication in Japan really scale back, at least among English sites. I can’t say for sure they will cease as if there’s money involved, there’s crime to be committed. (Remember, the delivery truck driver was actually stealing a physical copy of the magazine and selling it to the scan providers.)  That being said, some other English scanlation groups who also have scan providers in Japan decided to back off early releases just to spare their people potential arrest.

As far as scanlations in general go, I don’t see any changes. After all, if a scanlation group has a scan provider go to the local (or random) 7-11 and pick up the latest issue of Weekly Shounen Jump or Weekly Shounen Magazine, those become much more difficult (but not impossible) for the police to track down. And though legal, digital publications of the latest chapters of manga like Seven Deadly Sins (all chapters of this series plus all other Crunchyroll manga available with a $6.95/month Premium subscription; access the latest chapter with ads with free membership) or Nisekoi (download the latest chapter along with the latest chapters of other Viz manga titles with the $25.99 Weekly Shounen Jump digital magazine subscription; some earlier magazine issues downloadable for 99¢ each; after that, manga title volumes have to be purchased for download for $6.99 each) exists, they aren’t globally accessible, thanks to stupid copyright laws (which could get MUCH worse with what seems to be a hideous Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement).

The Conclusion

While it might be nice to have, I have always warned against these early scanlation that are published days before they are even available for sale in Japan. Doing this was only going to anger the Japanese publishers AND mangaka, who quite understandably would not (and do not) want to see their labors up for free before anyone has a chance to buy the genuine article. It was only a matter of time before the police were brought in to bring the hammer down on this practice.

In the end, I think that early scanlations will certainly be heavily curtailed. Regular scanlations will continue, though it is possible that some titles may end up falling through the cracks (like Hayate the Combat Butler, which is not legally available digitally, but sadly doesn’t have a big following in the West) if no other scanlation groups pick them up. That being said, if the Japanese truly want to stop piracy, they’ll listen to the GLOBAL customer base and meet their demands while making money in the process.

Hayate the Combat Butler manga

On a personal note, while reading up for this article, I’m now interested in reading The Seven Deadly Sins. Luckily for me, it is up on Crunchyroll. 😀

Update: Special thanks to Comic Book Resources for the link to this article. ^_^

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38 Responses to “Piracy Wars: A look at the recent Japanese manga pirate arrests”

  1. liz says:

    this was a sudden shock but i guess it was a long time coming. i ‘ll miss hng but i thought it was popular enough to be picked by up any other scanlation group. now that story is close to its conclusion its hard to drop the manga just like that.

    nice article. thanx for sharing your views on all this.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      HNG could get picked up. However, in America, the series isn’t all that popular for some reason. 🙁 That’s why Viz only releases two volumes of the manga a month, despite there being four a month coming from Japan.

  2. DerGilga says:

    I remember an incident where someone congratulated Tite Kubo to, I think, the 400th chapter of Bleach via twitter. The problem, that issue of Weekly Shounen Jump was still several day away of being officially released. So Kubo, who wasn’t aware of only scanlations at that time, was understandably confused.
    On the bright side, Kubo got fan tweets from all over the world. So he saw that he had fans in Africa, which seemed to be a pleasant surprise for him.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      My impression of the awareness of many mangaka is that they aren’t aware of how popular titles are outside of Japan. If they have some awareness, most have no clue that a great many fans like it to include its Japanese flair in the English adaptation (meaning Japanese foods, jokes, and cultural elements). Akamatsu-sensei is probably more aware than most of his contemporaries, considering he keeps an eye on the English market and apparently was the one to request the Twins translate UQ Holder (which is awesome and a half).

  3. exof954 says:

    Yeah, like you said. Haikyuu’s also gonna fall through the cracks, I’ll reckon, since it’s not getting any sort of English release until next year- and that’s just the manga volumes, not the latest issues. Stupid Jump.
    Black Butler as well… and Magi, and RE:Tokyo Ghoul… There’s a lot of stuff that the people in Shueisha and other such companies need to be working on. And I’m not sure they are. That’s why this happens… But you just said that, didn’t you? XD

    • Kurusu Kimihito says:

      It’s only been a few days since those groups closed, so to say these series will definitely fall through the cracks is a bit pessimistic imo.
      In the coming days and weeks there will probably be a good number of people looking to pick up the pieces and fill up the void that these groups left.
      This isn’t the first time something like this happened, it didn’t do anything then and it won’t do anything now.

      • AstroNerdBoy says:

        With Hayate the Combat Butler, it certainly is possible that someone will pick it up, but considering that the manga isn’t all that popular in America, that causes my pessimism.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      And I’m not sure they are. That’s why this happens… But you just said that, didn’t you? XD

      Yeah, but it is fine to say it again. 😀

  4. NT says:

    I don’t pay attention, but usually scans the UQHolder chapters? will thiss effect that group much?

    • mattcgw says:

      That ‘group’ happens to be the official simulpub done by the series twin translators, for the official volume release and no others. Just Print screens on aggregator sites.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      Matt gave the answer. I think MS did attempt to scanlate this when it first started, but not in a good way (they had some strange rule about not using Japanese honorifics, even though they use them in Fairy Tail).

  5. Krono says:

    I don’t think they “brought in the police” on this matter specifically. This has been a problem for them for years, and they’ve known about it for years.

    Instead they seem to have gotten lucky. They try and arrest uploaders generally, as evidenced by the way we’ll see an article every now and then about someone in Japan being arrested for uploading some anime series, or some manga scans. Sure it’s possibly they were making some specific efforts to crack down on early leaks, but I think this time they just got lucky and hit the jackpot – one of the sources of early scans for English language sites. They weren’t trying for it specifically, they simply lucked out.

    In the long run this may make some people more circumspect, but there are still other early scans floating around in the mean time. Similarly, other groups have been affected, but haven’t closed down.

    All told I’m skeptical that this will have a major, lasting result on things. It’s a nice win for the publishers, but it doesn’t fix any root problems.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      I’m not sure they got lucky. As you say, the Japanese have known about the problem of early releases for a long while now. I know Kodansha changed its distribution methods in an effort to crack down on early copies of the manga magazines getting out. They knew it had to be an inside job of some sort within the production chain. I think that over time, they were able to track down the likely suspect, then all that remained was catching them in the act of committing the crime. Thus there are two arrests which put a major hit on early scanlations.

      Scanlations will continue without a doubt. Early scans…I suspect those will be more rare.

  6. utkarshray says:

    Region-locking content is pretty stupid, in my opinion. I can’t access Funimation at all and most of my favourite titles are region-locked on Crunchyroll. While I have found Crunchyroll’s manga to be quite good in general (as long as I’m not considering it as simulpub), the same cannot be said of others. Some official English translations of manga localise (and in some cases “sanitise”) to the point of kills the puns, not saying anything about the colour pages and extras. Viz’s “Assassination Classroom” and “No Game No Life” by Yen Press come to mind. It is high time that Japanese publishers put serious efforts for the consumers outside of Japan.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      Yeah, the whole region locking thing is a foolish attempt to try to make more money on a product by generating more licensing fees on the same product.

      Some official English translations of manga localise (and in some cases “sanitise”) to the point of kills the puns, not saying anything about the colour pages and extras. Viz’s “Assassination Classroom” and “No Game No Life” by Yen Press come to mind.

      Yeah, Viz can be quite bad at times. I’m shocked they were good with Hayate the Combat Butler, even if sales there weren’t so good. As for Yen Press and the No Game No Life novels, unfortunately, while their manga division is good, their novel division says, “If we don’t domesticate the title, it will never sell.” In my mind, this is an old, discredited 80s-90s idea, but it never goes away.

      It is high time that Japanese publishers put serious efforts for the consumers outside of Japan.

      Unfortunately, the Japanese publishers get their information from the very people who domesticate (localize/sanitize) the adaptations. As such, the Japanese publishers hear, “This will never sell in American unless we are allowed to rewrite things, rename characters, and remove some/most/all of the Japanese components.” Then the Japanese agree to this and when fans outside of Japan complain, the English publishers say, “The Japanese approved of all of our changes and so you fans need to sit down and such the F up! We can’t sell this unless we change it radically.”

      • ghostbeetle says:

        That’s not even a ‘vicious circle’, that’s a ‘stupid circle’!
        Have these people never heard of the internet?!

        • AstroNerdBoy says:

          Unfortunately, what an official representative from the business has way more weight than the entire Internet.

  7. shadowofthevoid says:

    The best way to deal with this issue is to address the root causes of piracy. The reason scanlated manga is still a big deal is because there’s still significant demand for it. And why is there demand for it? More often that not, it’s because of a lack of any legal alternative in many places outside of Japan, even in the U.S. which is perhaps the largest market for anime & manga outside of Japan. Many manga aren’t available legally in English, and if they are the distributor sometimes doesn’t offer it online.

    Much like how nearly every new TV anime is simulcast on places Crunchyroll and Hulu makes downloading fansubs largely a moot point, having a similar simulpub arrangement where every notable manga magazine would have all the chapters of every series released in English within 24 hours of their release in Japan. Basically, you’d have a single official English manga aggregator site, like Crunchyroll’s online manga program, only far bigger in scale and, y’know, actually functional all the time.

    Now, there will always be a certain segment of the population that will pirate everything because they feel they’re entitled to free entertainment, but most people will willingly pay a small subscription fee to read all their favorite manga all in one place, like how they do with anime nowadays. It would kill most of the demand for scanlated manga, thus largely reducing the viability of piracy.

    P.S.: I do agree that the TPP is an abhorrent treaty. The parts dealing with copyright is the latest example of the entertainment industry stacking the deck in their favor by twisting IP laws. Copyright was never intended to be a perpetual money-making scheme, but the entertainment industry wants it to be that way. But this is another subject that requires more in-depth discussion and is a little bit off-topic from the subject of scanlations.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      The best way to deal with this issue is to address the root causes of piracy.

      Amen! Everything you said is right on point, but I would like to state that anime piracy still exists because there are still a lot of people around the world who aren’t allowed to access Crunchyroll or Hulu, thanks to region locking.

      Copyright was never intended to be a perpetual money-making scheme, but the entertainment industry wants it to be that way.

      Yeah, that’s true. I wrote about that a while back in one of my earlier Piracy Wars pieces.

  8. Kurusu Kimihito says:

    Yeah, i’m also quite worried about HnG since it has a significant lack of popularity in the west. But i’ll try to stay positive, it’ll probably get picked up by someone hopefully.
    At least the raw seems to be online already, i think its over on SenManga.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      Yeah, I got to take a look a the raw and read lordcloudx’s summary/review to get a bit of an understanding.

  9. NML says:

    I hope this is the beginning of trend of stopping scanlations, at the very least shortening their lead time on official releases.

    Oohh Seven Deadly Sins reviews? That’d be cool, the series starts kinda cliche but gets better when the first few Sins have gathered, their flashbacks being particular highlights.

    Do you follow Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches? Since you have a Crunchyroll account you should definitely check it out.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      I hope this is the beginning of trend of stopping scanlations, at the very least shortening their lead time on official releases.

      It won’t stop scanlations, simply because the way things are set up, legal translations from Crunchyroll or the like aren’t available to everyone in the world who’d want to read them. As long as those region (or country) blocks remain, piracy will continue.

      Oohh Seven Deadly Sins reviews? That’d be cool, the series starts kinda cliche but gets better when the first few Sins have gathered, their flashbacks being particular highlights.

      I read the first chapter. It did seem interesting enough for me to want to continue…when I find the time. ^_^;

      Do you follow Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches? Since you have a Crunchyroll account you should definitely check it out.

      I am aware of it and several people have recommended it. I read the first chapter when Crunchyroll first came online with their manga, but for some reason, it didn’t grip me. I should take a deeper look.

  10. Kurusu Kimihito says:

    And i was right, HnG 511 is out.
    As i already said, these arrests won’t have any effect.
    If that whole TPP thing happens though, that will be a different story.
    When that happens, scan/sub groups will probably see a avalanche of c&d’s and other bullshit.

  11. OverMaster says:

    “That being said, if the Japanese truly want to stop piracy, they’ll listen to the GLOBAL customer base”

    It’ll never happen. The Japanese are way too centered on their own market, and the rest of the world is a tertiary concern at best.

  12. Krono says:

    What I mean is that they weren’t trying to nab Mangapanda’s guy specifically. If they had been, I expect there would have been a lot more gloating from Viz, etc.

    I think they were just trying to track down early leaks in general. Instead of getting the provider for early Chinese scans, or early Korean scans, they got one of the providers for early English scans. They would have been happy to get any early leaker, but lucked into getting one with a really large impact, instead of someone who contented themselves with posting early spoilers.

  13. […] Piracy | A manga and anime blogger who reads some scanlation sites provides interesting context on the recent arrests of several people in Japan for uploading manga before its release date: He says scanlation sites depend on the traffic the early releases bring them for a good part of their revenue, and he also notes that two scanlation groups have shut down in the wake of the arrests. [AstroNerdBoy’s Anime and Manga Blog] […]

  14. Krono says:

    Yep, they’re still early. For that matter plenty of English scans are still early as well, just not as early as they were before.

  15. Tatsumaki says:

    Very informative, and very interesting. Thanks for the article 🙂

  16. _Satanel_ says:

    Hi, if someone is looking for Hayate no Gotoku in english, MANGACONDA is making it, they post yesterday the last number in mangafox, so it’s no problem. I hope you continue with this info work.

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