This recent news bit from Anime News Network, got my attention:
Funimation has sent a cease and desist letters regarding fansubs of number of titles that had not previously been associated with Funimation. These titles are XXXholic TV, Ragnarok The Animation, Mushishi, Suzuka, Sakura Taisen: Le Nouveau Paris and ATASHIn’CHI (Not clear if the C&D refers to the Movie, TV series, or both).
At this time we have not been able to receive an official comment from Funimation regarding these titles. In the past, when Funimation has sent out C&D letters, they have informed us that the letters did not necessarily mean that Funimation had acquired rights to the properties in question.
Now normally when a company licenses a title the good fansub groups stop subbing and distributing the title without even getting a cease and desist letter. Additionally many of the main anime torrent trackers, such as Scarywater, remove any existing torrents from their sites as well. Funimation, however, doesn’t seem to understand this, or perhaps just doesn’t want to understand it. They’ve done this at least once before that I’m aware of, in December of 2005. The actual news item for it is on this page and it says:
Funimation recently informed fansub group Shinsen-Subs, “We own or control various exclusive copyrights and trademarks related to the animated motion pictures, including but not limited to, the series known as “Speed Grapher,” “Trinity Blood,” “FullMetal Alchemist,” “Dragon Ball,” “Solty Rei” a.k.a. “Origin,” “Detective Conan” a.k.a. “Case Closed,” and “Tsubasa”.” This was after Funimation had contacted the registrar for Shinsen-subs domain name, resulting in the registrar, Joker.com, freezing the domain name. Solty Rei and Tsubasa have not yet been announced for release by Funimation.
Read on for my thoughts on this whole thing.
So far there’s not been a lot of comments in the thread on ANN. I’m not sure if this is because it’s fairly recent, or that less people care. I personally suspect the former since these types of things tend to devolve into rather heated debates. At least one blogger has made an irate post blasting Funimation for this move, a markedly different tone from what they had to say last December when Funimation did this the first time. The usual debates with arguments on both sides is well underway on the latest post.
So before we get into the nitty gritty let’s get some facts straight:
- Fansubs are illegal.
- Yes they’re illegal even if the title has not been licensed in your country.
- Funimation has the right to protect their properties.
- Some fansub groups don’t follow the fansubbing ethos and will continue to sub and distribute a title after it has been licensed.
- Most of the larger groups, especially the ones who’ve been around a while, will discontinue subbing and distributing a title once a license has been announced automatically.
- Some anime fans will only download the fansubs and never buy any official release (R2 or the release in their country).
- Those fans are not lost sales, if the fansubs were unavailable they simply would never have watched the series unless they could borrow it from a friend or rent it.
- Some fans will buy an official release because they watched the fansubs.
- Some fans will buy the R2s and the release in their country.
- These fans benefit both the Japanese companies who made the title and the company who licenses it in their country.
- Official releases in your country take a lot longer to come out that fansubs.
- Fansubs do help build the potential market for a title.
- Yes the above is provable, the US anime market grew thanks to fansubs (mainly on VHS) to the point it is today. I lived through most of it as an anime fan, I saw it happen.
- Fansubs can cut into sales of the official release.
- Fansubs can also increase sales of the official release.
- How much is unknown, and will likely remain unknown since it’s hard to study and no one is really interested in doing a proper scientific study of it anyway.
- None of the above change that fact that fansubs are illegal.
Now that we’ve got that covered let’s talk about what Funimation has done with these cease and desist letters. The first thing I want to point out is that Funimation can’t simply claim ignorance of how the whole process normally works this time. They did this in December 2005 and were subjected to quite a bit of fan anger then. I’m quite certain that plenty of fans told them that all they needed to do was announce they’d licensed the titles. So they get no benefit of the doubt this time, they knew this would make a lot of people angry. Secondly I want to point out that according to ANN themselves, Funimation has told them that in the past “that the letters did not necessarily mean that Funimation had acquired rights to the properties in question.” So Funimation may not even have the rights to any of these titles. Others have pointed out that Funimation has registered domain names for some of the titles so they probably have at least some of them, or hope to have them.
However the fact remains that they sent out cease and desist letters over titles that they may not even have the rights to! I’m not a lawyer but this sounds like something that could potentially fall under barratry. Barratry is basically bringing, or threatening, legal action repeatedly with the intent to harass. Now wait, some are going to say, Funimation may be doing this at the request of the Japanese companies who own the rights to the titles. I saw someone at ANN suggest this in fact. I do believe that if that was the case then Funimation has to say so in the cease and desist letter. I’m not aware of the actual cease and desist letters being available so this is something I can’t check, but I somehow doubt they mention anyone but Funimation in regards to ownership of the titles. The same person on ANN says this has happened before, but I’ve never heard of it which makes me quite skeptical about the whole idea. I’m open to the idea that it’s possible but I’m going to need proof. To me the suggestion sounds like much hand-waving to try and put Funimation in a better light. The fact that the person who suggested this is ANN staff, and that Funimation advertises on ANN, is also suspicious as there’s a conflict of interest there. ANN obviously doesn’t want their staff making Funimation mad because then Funimation may stop advertising on their site. Finally the Japanese companies have proven to us that they’re perfectly capable of asking fansubbers to stop distributing their titles without Funimation’s help.
Now the other possibilities are that Funimation has licensed the titles but not announced them, that they are in the process of licensing them but haven’t finished the contracts, or that they’re actively trying to license the titles. Let’s go with the second two first, in both cases Funimation doesn’t own the titles yet and sending out cease and desist letters for a title they don’t own is rude, could potentially be barratry, and is just a great way to make their potential customers angry. In the first case Funimation certainly has the right to send out cease and desist letters but why didn’t they announce the titles first then send cease and desist letters to any groups that continued to sub and distribute them? I can think of a few possible reasons:
- They want to wait to announce the titles at some big convention.
- They’re not ready to announce the titles because they haven’t finished planning the workflow and therefore don’t have details on when they’d start distributing, how many episodes a DVD, how often, etc.
- They don’t trust the anime fan community (fansubbers, torrent trackers, etc.) to stop distributing their titles.
If it’s the first one then quite frankly they’ve blown their big surprise announcement because now everyone at least suspects that Funimation has the rights to these titles and the announcement will be a big yawner. If it’s the second case, well all I can say is that they really should be doing this in a more fan friendly manner, their public relations department must be asleep at the wheel. Finally in the last case, the one a lot of people are going to expect and assume, I think it’s fair to say as part of the fan community that we deserve the chance to prove ourselves, one that Funimation’s not given us here.
And that pretty much sums it up. Funimation may or may not own the titles in question, they’ve certainly not announced them if they do, and they’re giving the impression that they don’t trust the anime fan community. I can honestly say that at this point I’ll be buying R2 releases of Funimations titles and never buying the R1s. I don’t intend to support Funimation in any way, and it’s all something they could have avoided if they’d simply done three things:
- Wait until they have the licenses to titles, then announce them.
- Give the fan community a few days for the news to spread and allow them to stop subbing and distributing voluntarily.
- Send the cease and desist letters to the groups and sites that don’t do this.
If they’d done this I’d be supporting them when they got to step three. I don’t have a problem with that at all, but I do have a problem with how Funimation is currently acting and they’ve lost my support and business. If anyone at Funimation happens to read this, I recommend that you start respecting the fan community, they can help your sales tremendously through recommendations, but they can also negatively impact them as well. Note that this doesn’t mean allowing piracy to run rampant, just announce your titles before you sic the lawyers on people ok? I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
One final note, I’m quite sure someone will say “the hardcore fans aren’t Funimation’s market”. Looking at the titles listed I’d have to say that this isn’t true. I can’t see xxxHoLiC being a huge seller without the hardcore fans also buying it, neither can I see Sakura Taisen 3 doing well without hardcore fan purchases. For some of the titles Funimation may indeed be planning to target a more mainstream market, but not for all of them. In any case intentionally (yes intentionally, they did this last year so they knew how the fans would react) annoying and running off customers is an exceptionally bad business move.
Please keep all comments polite, let’s try to avoid a flame war here.