This post is a response to Sevakis’ open letter to the anime industry, as posted on AnimeNewsNetwork.com. To summarize, Sevakis is seeking to get the anime executives in Japan to embrace streaming and other new technologies, rather than relying on packaged media, for distribution of anime. In other words, instead of relying on sales of dvds and vhs, Japanese anime companies should focus more on making money from online distribution. My response is focused on the American consumer side of this issue.
A basic tenet of American copyright protection law is that the rights holders HAS TO ENFORCE their intellectual property rights. This means that whenever someone infringes on your copyright, you have to do the cease and decease letter, followed up by actual litigation in federal court if necessary. If the holders don’t enforce their rights, then I would argue the anime shows in question have entered the public domain, with no American intellectual property protection whatsoever.
Has this tipping point been reached? For heavily downloaded shows, I would argue the answer is, “Yes.” If you have 100,000 downloads of a Naruto episode, for example, I believe it would be hard for Viz to convince a federal court that the episode is still entitled to protection under American copyright laws.
But I agree that the change has to come from the Japanese companies. American companies are limited in available recourse under American copyright laws. And if the American companies don’t have the license to the anime shows, they have no legal standing to sue for copyright violations; only the Japanese companies that create/produce those shows have this power. By standing pat and doing nothing, the Japanese companies are allowing the degradation in the value of their anime properties.
Sevakis provides several ideas in the Getting Out of the Rut section of his editorial, and I fully agree with them. By embracing streaming technologies for episodes of new shows within days of airing on TV, the Japanese companies can capture revenue when global market interest in these episodes are at their highest. People who enjoy the show will still buy the collectibles and the packaged media. In America, you have plenty of examples of this occurring with TV shows like Heroes, CSI, etc. Even though these shows have been aired (and illegally distributed online), American consumers are still buying them on dvd.
Unless the Japanese companies stop relying on packaged media for distribution, I agree that the value of subbed anime is zero, and will stay that way for the foreseeable future.