What a boring title. And this is going to be a bit of a boring post. I’m mostly going to talk about copyright and theoretical licensing rights so you know, feel free to skip this one if you’re already dozing off.
But for all you intellectual property nerds out there, let me tell you about this idea I had for provisional manga licensing and such! YAY.
As I write this MangaDex has been down for some time. I like MangaDex. They make an actual effort to remove any manga that has official translations either available or in the works. They had no advertising so they aren’t making money on the backs of the mangakas without giving them any and they kept their site virus-free. Don’t get me wrong, the site was still very dubiously legal but as far as they go, I think they did a lot of things right. And I do hope they come back some day. But I suggest some changes.
The main issue with scanslations or fan-translation and so forth is that they violate the author’s copyright. Now, sometimes the mangaka has, in fact, retained their copyright and fan translations directly hurt the artist, other times that copyright belongs to a publisher either through contract or purchase. In any case, when copyrights are so generally infringed on that you can easily find the product for free, sometimes without credit or publishing notes, the copyrights, in general, lose value. This means that one of the main assets of the manga industry is worth less by default because of the existence of sites la Mangadex. To me, that is a bad thing.
And here is the flip side. I’m watching Shadows House this season and I’m really into it. I like it a lot. There are a few episodes left but the way the story is unravelling, I think we won’t get all the answers. Enough for closure but there’s a larger story for sure. So I already decided that I would buy the manga to continue this tale. But you see, there are no available English versions of Shadows House. Not even digital ones. At least not officially. MangaDex had it… So I sighed and saw what similar titles AniList recommended. There was Kuro, about a little girl with a black kitten that might be a demon. It looked awesome and I really liked Kuro’s design. Nope, no English version. Also, Coffee Moon seems to promise all the mystery and fantasy but with some Yuri to boot. Sweet… And of course no English version.
I could be patient and wait for it to get licensed. That’s what they did in the olden days after all! And it might never get licensed. Too bad so sad… There are so many English mangas out there, I could just choose another one. I finished volume 4 of The Witch and the Beast yesterday. Those are awesome, I could read those… But I have another suggestion and I think we all win.
Why don’t we create a licensing structure for fan translations? As such, the copyright retains its value, no one is screwing over Mangakas and no artist finds out about a translation they don’t approve of years after the fact. And we still get manga!
The first and most obvious obstacle is – licenses cost money. I keep talking about value and such. And scanslation groups are often volunteers and students who won’t be able to afford those licenses. Not to mention all the hassles and administration around creating and signing the licenses with Japanese publishers that have strict business cultures to adhere to. I hear you.
First I call them provisional licenses because I think they should expire. Now a lot of licenses expire, there’s nothing special here. So these licenses would give the licensees the right to translate and distribute manga digitally in a specific language for let’s say, one or two years about, or until an official license is granted, whichever comes first. And there could be a clause that the license can be renewed as long as no other license for the same language is in place. It would be understood that these licenses grant no rights whatsoever over physical media, merchandise, spinoff projects or anything like that. On the other hand, They would be much cheaper than a “real” license as they can be overridden.
In my head, the people purchasing those licenses would not be the scanslation groups. It would either be distributors such a Viz or Yen press. They can recoup the money easily by creating subscription programs like Viz already has with Shonen Jump and for a few bucks a year, readers would have access to the entire fantranslated libraries. This means advertisement and some profits for the publisher, it also gives them the benefit of essentially test running manga to better figure out what licences they want to buy and how much they are willing to spend for them. They get a manga that becomes super popular in fantraslation form, get the full rights and now have exclusivity over new chapters coming out with an already built-in fanbase who is used to getting these mangas from them! It’s a good deal!
But it could also be third-party sites like Mangadex that would now be official and legal and as such could start selling some premium advertising space of their site for nice clean reputable advertisers and make a pretty penny without the reader ever having to pay anything directly.
As for the translators, I don’t see a need to change anything much. I figure the sites that want to distribute legal fantranslations can advertise the titles they need to get translated. The groups still do the translations as they do now, and can have Patreons or whatever on the side, same as now but they have the benefit of getting high-quality raws directly from the publisher which means they no longer need to clean or redraw any of the panels (that’s a LOT of time saved), they become immune to cease and desist letters and they get some actual legitimacy with the industry. It’s now something you can put on a CV as past job experience and even get references from.
And the manga industry as a whole gets to profit from a lot more publicity and distribution. It eventually allows independent mangaka another avenue to have their works translated if they directly want to work with scanslation groups and retain more control over the project and more visibility with their fans.
It’s an interesting idea that would have a lot of pluses for everyone. And I could find Shadows House!
Of course, there are some important drawbacks. Intellectual Property is an enforceable right. If you don’t enforce your copyright, the government isn’t just going to do it for you like in the case of other criminal offences. Even if everyone knows. So the license holders will have to put in extra effort to stop some of those less scrupulous sites from still ripping off manga. Creating those licenses will still require a couple of lawyers and they are famously inexpensive. So regardless of how pretty the theory may seem, the practice will be though.
Still, I thought it was a neat idea and I got excited about it so I wanted to share!