Fansub - Legal and Ethical Issues

Legal and Ethical Issues

In countries subscribing to the Berne Convention, fansubbing is illegal as it constitutes copyright infringement. However, fansubbers have traditionally held themselves to a common code of ethics and do not commonly see themselves as pirates.

Many fansubs contain subtitle text that reads "This is a free fansub: not for sale, rent, or auction" that pops up during eyecatches.

Marketing concerns for distribution companies create a gray operating zone for fansubbers. While on the one hand it is true that products like Fist of the North Star are released and licensed in America, only part of the series is available. A fan willing to buy the whole series would find it impossible. However, the lack of support of these products is often a factor in the decision to not continue releasing a series. The costs of licensing more of the series might not be possible without a successful release of the initial offering.

Supporters of fansubbing point to an alleged positive impact it has had on the anime industry through its function as publicity. There have been several shows that were at first overlooked for US distribution, only to be picked up later when fansubs helped create a buzz about the franchise.

The role fansubs have played in popularizing anime titles received official recognition by at least two major distributors. In the promotional video announcing the American license of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Kadokawa Pictures USA and Bandai Entertainment specifically thanked fansub watchers and asked them to purchase the official release.

A company can successfully dub over 100 episodes in as little as a two year period, a length of time that has confused some fan groups due to the speed that fansubs can provide the same material (considering that the fanbase desires the unaltered Japanese show, simply with their native language subtitles). But companies are starting to address this issue, for example, Funimation is working to release their uncut, unedited episodes of One Piece in multiple formats, releasing earlier season sections alongside boxsets more recent episodes in attempt to meet fan demand. VIZ's boxset format releases for Naruto and Prince of Tennis also attempt to deliver larger chunks of a series to fans in a quick and efficient manner.

Due to 4Kids' heavy editing of their properties and refusal to release untouched versions on DVD, some fansubbing groups continue to subtitle and release popular shows owned by the company such as Tokyo Mew Mew, One Piece, and Yu-Gi-Oh!. 4Kids attempted an uncut bilingual release of Shaman King and Yu-Gi-Oh in the mid 2000s, releasing a handful of volumes of each title in the format, but in an interview with ANN Alfred Kahn stated that "The market for them just isn't as large as the one for the cut version," pointing out that their sales might not have met 4Kids' needs or expectations to continue them.

Past market reactions have shown that time might be better spent petitioning 4Kids for a bilingual release, and supporting the uncut release of former 4Kids licenses like One Piece, to show them there is a market for such titles. An older example is Sailor Moon, which was initially licensed by DiC. After fan demand showed there was a market for the title, uncut, unedited versions of the show, and Pioneer successfully release the Sailor Moon Movies in a subtitled VHS format in 1999, followed by dubbed versions and bilingual DVDs. This was quickly followed by the release of Sailor Moon S and Sailor Moon Supers, which both received complete unedited releases on VHS and DVD from Geneon. In 2003, the commercial subtitles of the first two seasons appeared, released by ADV Films under license by DIC, completing the uncut release that many fans never believed would be possible.

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