In Praise of Scan Girls

Yeah, I read a few scanlations, but I also buy the printed English version if it’s licensed and published, and if I just can’t stand it, I’ll even buy the Japanese version. No, I can’t read Japanese, but the pictures tell most of the story. And the scanlations often have a note urging readers to support the mangaka (creator) by buying whatever version of the work is commercially on sale. That’s no hardship for me because I love the feel of a book in my hands. But if there are only scanlations, then I will read the scanlations and hope I can eventually read it in book form.

In the course of reading these scanlations in undisclosed locations, I became aware of a most wonderful thing: communities of manga loving females devoting their time, talents, and energy to producing this work, and producing it well enough, for other likeminded, non-Japanese reading females. I became very impressed by the camaraderie and professionalism of these groups offering new members a chance improve their Japanese, editing, or visual editing skills. I’m not a joiner, but this is one club I’d love to be in if I had the time, talents or energy for it. The scan groups, as they call themselves, have often been the catalyst for getting certain Japanese works licensed and published in the U.S. In every case that I’ve seen that happen, the scan groups do the following things:

1. A gracious note reporting the happy event.

2. A link to the publisher site and encouragement to buy the book when it’s published.

3. A notice that the scanlation files would no longer be available.

Of the communities I follow, I have never seen it be otherwise. (I am aware that there some unscrupulous places on the web that host scans they did not create, refuse to remove scans they did not create, and raise $900/month in donations to ruin the party for everyone, but they are not the subject of this essay, so they shall remain unnamed.) The civil society of the internet succeeds with success in the scanlation communities of my experience and I salute them. In many cases, this means a scanlation community will destroy years of work to support the publisher and the mangaka’s publication in English.

So you can imagine how distressed I was when I learned that one, possibly two, of my favorite scan groups were being attacked with DMCA (digital millennium copyright act [aka the Disney copyright grab act]) notices to their filehosting site and possibly their webhosts and were being reported to Google for TOS violations. Filehosts, webhosts, Google and their ilk do not generally have the time or resources to investigate allegations; they just shut the sites down when the get a complaint.

I was distressed squared when I learned that the culprits were the company run by a man I respect very much, the CEO of Digital Manga Publishing (DMP), Hikaru Sasahara. A few years ago, began a company called Digital Manga Guild (DMG); a collaboration between DMP and Japanese translators (many of them former scanlators) to produce ebooks of manga. The interesting part of this arrangement was that the people doing the work would not get paid unless the ebooks sold enough copies. (See Digital Manga Guild: Smells like Exploitation! for better financial analysis than I can do here.)

On March 3, 2012, this innocent thread started on the DMG forum: Dealing with scanlations of your titles, (here’s a pdf if the posts vanish GM) and ultimately snowballed into these from Shroud (Kimiko Kotani):

“Actually, as a member of the Guild, I have sent file sharing sites, blog hosts, etc as DMG has asked us to help combat the piracy by sending C and D’s, that means they HAVE given us permission to request on their behalf.

“The result was not only did filesharing sites take down where fans had uploaded files they had DL elsewhere, but Google removed search results to aggregators and such so that search results show only the legal listings. And yes, it is best to ask scanlators and bloggers and the like to take down the links and files themselves politely and informally first. But don’t be afraid to go further if you get ignored by anyone you contact. DMG asked us to send C and d req, and the polite thing Ben suggested is fine for an informal req but is in no way legally inforceable using that language, but since they have given permission AND requested we actually send a C and Ds for our titles, you can do so to the blog host, filesharing site, server host, etc. If a formal DMCA gets ignored or challenged by these, then ultimately DMP who has to decide how to take it further since the issued DMCA was on their behalf, and you’ll have to let them know so they can decide what to do. And that’s the crux of it. YOU are not the rights holder but you ARE the production partner DMP have given permission to send down take down requests/notices on their behalf for the titles you work on.”

And then, after Shroud (Kimiko Kotani) sent a DMCA to the filehost Mediafire (MF) on or about March 10:

“I filed for Takaga…not just the file I’d listed that had been in your acct, but files of it uploaded by others. I have NO idea why they they lumped your other removals with my request, but as they did, I am enquiring with them about it. if they did so after seeing the other copyrighted material present in your folder, they need to give the proper reason and not attach it to my complaint.”

“I never pretended that (she represented herself as the copyright holders of everything in the scan group’s Mediafire archive). The key legal statement is ‘that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.’ DMP gave us the right to request the take downs.

“As for how long it took you to learn of the license..that does not alter the fact that you still relased it knowingly AFTER license and release. As for referencing the fact it affects sales and sales provide the livlihood of those in the publishing business, it does have relevance. This fact has been repeated again and again and again in articles to do with scanlations of licensed titles ad nauseum. It’s not just MY’s EVERYONE’s, incl. the mangaka. The one whose work is being promoted. Asking someone to respect that is not unprofessional…it is fairly standard. Look at the front of nearly EVERY ebook produced by many small press these days, and you’ll see the same plea “Please don’t share..this is the livelihood of…”. As for how I treat people, I have been polite. People with fingers caught in metaphorical cookie jars may not always like it when they get caught, or find their files are gone, but then, as you point out…the content is illegal and they do not work for, with, or represent the copyright owners in anyway.

“… I complained to MF about DMG stuff. mediafire however has seemingly looked at the DP acct and suspended the entire thing for illegal content that had nothing to do with my takedown request. That issue is between DP and Mediafire. I’m (done) talking about it.”

Kimiko Kotani (Shroud) on the DMG forums, might think she’s within what she perceives as her legal rights, but this certainly smells like cyberbullying to me. And she’s done a great deal of damage to my opinion of DMP. I know business is business, but allowing “partners,” not employees, not lawyers, not owners of DMP to run amok like this, is sad and horrifying at the same time, and I don’t think it’s done much good for the goodwill towards DMG. I know I’ll never buy a or promote DMG titles and probably won’t buy from DMP again either if this is how DMP is going to allow DMG to behave in the communities from whence it mostly sprang.