Piracy for History

I have subscriptions to Crunchyroll, Funimation, Amazon Prime and Netflix. I also have a shameful collection of Blu-ray box sets. I’ve spent hundreds, close to thousands of pounds (£) on Manga and Light Novels. I can only guess, but I would surprised if I have spent less on these products than the average consumer. I feel it’s necessary to assert this, because conversations around piracy can become quite combative, with one of the first shots being “you don’t want to support industry workers then?”. This is also not going to be a shield however. If you think I’m making a misstep, please feel free to call me out on it. I want to say that Piracy is never a first resort, nor do I think my defense of piracy is a call to stop paying for media. No, what I’m concerned about is the permanence of anime as an artistic product.

You see we live in a vastly different world than the markets of 10, 20, or 30 years ago. As audiences skew younger television is dying, or at least losing its throne, turning profits towards new media platforms. This is at least part of the reason why streaming services have successfully been able to fill the gap left by the mid 2000s market crash. To generalize, the notion of watching online straight away with an aim to collect later has become the consumer norm. While I don’t dislike the simulcast culture this has been born from, it does happen to come with its own set of complications.

Much like the rise of digital games, people crave that immediate access, standing well apart from the hassle of physical retailers. It provides a newfound ease of access that can be given credit for the rising interest in anime among western audiences. Where before your viewing tastes were defined by what was immediately available in store, now with the presence of online streaming you have seemingly unlimited control, able to define media consumption in new and exciting ways.

While I personally understand the fervor, I have a personal hesitancy about such developments. Call me old-fashioned but I have always been reluctant to accept the idea that when you ‘buy’ a product or service, what you’re really doing is borrowing it at the companies discretion. It might be fair to say that Steam won’t suddenly take away your games, or that Crunchyroll won’t block your access, but the fact that it’s even possible unnerves me. As subscription services and online libraries fight for your money, the underlying theme is of “peruse our collection” and I don’t like that.

Why you ask?

Because the current climate isn’t friendly towards inclusive viewing. You can blame the publishing industry or the broadcasters, I don’t pretend to know the intricacies on that side of the table, I only know that it has been harmful. Region locking sees companies such as Netflix create a system of have & have-nots between US and EU viewers. Economic life support sees others hold onto the licenses that they have stored up, yet fail to turn a profit on, condemning anime to limbo along with the company. On the other end of the spectrum nearly every show in a given season will be simulcast, with shows getting harvested for the recency bias seasonal viewing has engendered, making it a coin flip on which ones will actually get a DVD/BR release.

Right now, the only permanency promised with these factors taken in to account comes with the limited physical releases, that trend towards pricey collectors editions for the purpose of artificial exclusivity. Simply put, even if all the anime I watch were available physically, the cost of owning all 450+ of them would break the bank ten fold. If ownership is exclusively retained by the copyright holder, I’m concerned about what happens to anime in the foreseeable future. If new shows hold higher value over old ones, will we see businesses drop their licenses for lack of interest? They are already reluctant to pick up older shows that aren’t established classics, so does that imply a not-insignificant amount will be lost to the ether? How about whether region locking will continue to see non-US regions blocked from partaking? Most importantly, with anime entirely in the hands of corporations, who is to maintain a historical archive of artistic accomplishment within the medium?

This is why piracy, and in particular torrenting, holds so much value to me. I simply don’t trust that streaming services are a reliable platform to preserve anime, while still keeping them available in a way that museum exhibits and libraries simply can’t. Too late will people realize that the affordable opportunity we have to view anime today is distinctly evanescent. Just think of how many films and shows before the new millennium are now lost forever thanks to throw-away society. While that might not matter to bob from down the road, you cannot underplay how important that loss has been. Do we truly want things to continue that way?

Piracy might be an unjustly abused practice, but it gives a certain degree of control back into the hands of the general public, who unlike Crunchyroll or AlltheAnime, might not have the huge bags of money required to truly ‘own’ anime. Instead of surrendering to the turbulent whims of the economy, consumers can take the first steps in protecting the future of the medium- today. In terms of maintaining history, we have the means to do what our ancestors could not, so it would be an adamant shame if we let it go to waste.

I don’t wish for people to treat archival as an excuse to never use local providers, but I also reject the outright condemnation of piracy as redundant and regressive. A modern tool against unavailability is something we will sorely need as the transition into the internet age continues. The case made here might not have the authority to account for all the components that take anime from paper to screen, but I hope I’ve made a fair argument if you ever doubted my earlier statements. At the very least understand that for-profit organizations will never care as much about sustaining art as you might.

Thanks for reading!

9 thoughts on “Piracy for History

  1. I cosign this article. It needed to be said.

    I also have Crunchyroll, Amazon and Netflix accounts (although I don’t *pay* for the latter two, they’re tied to my family). I think it’s important to support the industries you enjoy. But I also feel it’s important to the medium to have a historical archive from which we can chart the evolution of anime and enjoy these great series of times past.

    This is something Adam Sessler has been talking about for years in regards to videogames, although with those there’s a deeper problem of outdated platforms and operating systems that can make playing those games exceedingly difficult if not impossible. But the conclusion is the same: it’s important to be able to access these series outside of the grasp of the businesses holding onto their licenses. The only caveat to this is that if you can find a legal version at a reasonable cost (especially through streaming services) then I support viewing them through those means instead.

    I do want to ask people to avoid the illegal streaming services though. They run ads and subscriptions for content they pirated. People should not be profiting off of pirating. Use torrents or other means but don’t support outright shameful business practices.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I struggle with piracy and the concept of it. I have Crunchyroll and Netflix accounts along with Sky; I don’t actually pirate anything myself but I know people who pirate everything under the sun. Films that are at the cinema currently and shows that air on premium TV services while never buying the physical copies when they’re available.

    My main complaint about streaming services, and even premium TV series, is the region locking. When I read a review about something available on Netflix only to find I can’t get it in the UK – it’s quite irritating. Generally, I’ll purchase the physical copy if I want to watch it enough (like Supernatural recently) but quite often I don’t know if I’ll like it enough to spend the money on the physical copy so it gets put in the “eventually” camp.

    I also struggling with the exclusivity between platforms and the ever increasing requirements to have a subscription for everything. It’s not enough to have Netflix and Crunchyroll because Amazon Prime have exclusive content too and yet I’m unwilling to spend on a subscription service where there may be only one or two things I want to watch. That’s not even taking into account the fact that I don’t have the time to split across four TV sources!

    All in all, I don’t partake. I’ve plenty available with the services I do have but if I had no other way to view something I desperately wanted to watch I probably would rather than sign up for yet another subscription service.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As contentious as your position may seem , I submit that it takes a bit of courage to write about this. People who work in the anime industry and passionate fans alike may reject what you’re saying here on face value alone (though you may have many quiet supporters from a quick look around this platform). While I can’t say I fully agree with you, I believe I understand your position and see merit in the core of what you’re saying. I also have spent more money than I am comfortable with on anime, but I would be lying to say I’ve never directly or indirectly participated in piracy. For that reason, I hope you’ll take whatever I say in response to be in the interest of respectful discussion and not argument or condemnation.

    The nature of subscription services, as you said, completely changes the paradigm of marketing and distribution of anime, and not always for the better. The anime market is nothing like what it was even 20 years ago. You’re right to suspect a company that charges you money to essentially “borrow” their product. I’ve railed against game companies that not so subtly put such language in their EULA after charging a consumer $50(US)+ for the game. It’s a sign of corporate greed and an exploitation of a market that doesn’t really have another choice if they want the product.

    While I don’t hold Crunchyroll in any saintly regard, I feel like they’re trying to do something different. Their stated goals reflect a desire to extend accessibility to anime, without regard to age or exclusivity. But at end of the day they are a business, and must make sustainable business decisions with regards to what they pick up or even keep.

    None of this is new to you, I’m sure, but I wanted to give a little background to what I am saying. Until the day anime is regarded as an art form akin to paintings and sculpture, the only way to preserve it, in a way that doesn’t do damage to the production incentive, is to have a business that is willing to compensate creators collect it.

    I can appreciate your hesitance to dismiss piracy as completely repugnant, but there is a good reason to do so. No matter what the reason, theft of a property will take advantage of someone who has done legitimate work towards it. While the people at the top are smart/careful enough to not lose money, the buck has to be passed somewhere, and often the most hard working are the least protected from the repercussions.

    Your goal here is an understandable and noble one. Preservation of art and media is of vital importance to a culture, but the extent that you’re describing may not be realistic for a business to pursue. Even a museum or similar institution funded primarily through donation and government funding needs to be picky. You’ll never find a place that has preserved all art from the 1500s, but you’ll find the most famous works of Da Vinci and Boticelli. These institutions have finite resources, after all, and will spend them on the most influential works before looking down the line. It’s a sad fact of life that not everything that gets created is remembered.

    In the internet age where the product is not a painting but rather data, there should be no limit to our capacity to retain it. Indeed, it is retained in some manner in relative perpetuity, but there doesn’t yet exist a model by which a business can make all of it accessible to an end user, and thus attaining this goal requires individual action.

    The problem with a “piracy for X” argument though, is that if gives a prospective pirate an excuse. A reason to think that whatever purpose there is behind the act can be given justification. Such justification is usually found through personal conviction anyway, but when the community is encouraged to espouse a justification, the ‘problem’ can become more widespread. Perhaps streaming services aren’t the ideal solution to retain media, but you need to have something that is paid for because otherwise why would an anime producer/distributor have any incentive at all to share it?

    To close, I apologize for writing such a long response. It happens to everyone when I find a thought provoking article, so don’t feel bad. I hope you’ll find equal benefit from thinking about what I’ve written.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey, thanks for commenting!

      While I see what you’re saying, I don’t think any of this is strictly incompatible with the main crux of my post. I might be misinterpreting your thoughts, so correct me if I do so. Either way, I’ll address your points paragraph by paragraph.

      You speak of museums having limits, and I agree with that! It’s exactly for that reason that I endorse piracy solely as a means for the everyday folk to get engaged with preservation in a way that profit or non-profit organizations are prevented from doing. Not only does this emphasize a model safe from kleptocratic-esque ideals, but it saves work from the unfortunate accidents of real life. I’d draw attention to events such as the 1967 MGM vault fire, which saw the loss of a huge chunk of already scarce original silent films. If the general public had had the means to download those films and store them on a hard drive, we would still have access to them to this very day. Indeed BBC has put out numerous open-calls to families that may have home-recorded now lost episodes of Doctor Who, for the direct purpose of recovery and restoration. That is same principle behind my intentions. If your average joe can prevent such losses from the comfort of their own home, then I don’t believe we should turn that opportunity down. If we don’t make the first steps now, then I fear for what the situation might be for the next generation of anime fans.

      While this can become an excuse for a pirate who just does it to save money on a crunchyroll subscription, I feel that these types of people will find justification for their actions regardless of whether I make this argument or not. Someone looking for an excuse is sure to find one eventually. Simply put, they are not interested in supporting the medium in the first place. If they managed to read my post and not catch the multiple times I tell people to continue using [legal] services, then I’m doubtful I could have done anything more to prevent them from copping out on the subscription fees.

      So long as people continue to pay for their media, then I don’t believe piracy is a threat to the livelihood of creatives or their business partners. This perhaps loops back to your point on excuses, which does have potential for harm, but it’s not exactly like piracy is dying out anytime soon, it at all. A bigger threat on that front actually comes from the poor decisions of upper management, who can effectively kill an artists work by airing it during the wrong hours in Japan, or by shelling off the licence to a company that has little interest in distributing it fairly.

      This is not to diminish anything you say, only to state that I think piracy can actually be used for the better of anime as an art form, when utilized as discussed. I hope this helped clarify things!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Bravo 👏👏👏👏👏
    People forget we all started from bootlegs once we knew about Anime but it was too niche to actually be available like it is nowadays . When some people had to bootleg tapes to actually see anything.
    I still remember getting to know that the cartoons I so enjoyed had a specific name, which wasn’t cartoon but Anime, thanks to YouTube in 2005, maybe. How it made me get acquainted with a lot of classics I would never have experienced because I live in Portugal.
    I also agree with you that rn anything you’re paying as a subscription is ephemeral. Heck, licenses run out all the time and the shows get dropped. This means shows are available now that they’re current but will phase out after a few years, and forget about finding them. At least with realistic prices, that don’t involve improving from Japan.
    If it wasn’t for piracy, we wouldn’t have salvaged games from the early stages of when gaming started in the 80’s, that we can’t find cartridges anymore.
    Unless there’s a museum to preserve games and Anime, and others like Manga, we will have to always depend on less than legal services to actually access older stuff that will never come. Cause there’s loads of Anime and Manga that if it wasn’t for fan translations we would never get to experience, or even finish. Since Tokyo pop and others dropped certain titles.
    You were very brave doing this post, and I 100% back you up 👏

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have a CR article but I not above having to illegally watch an anime I cannot find on CR or what not. Example is the 2004 series of Black Jack which is 61 episodes total but CR only has 24. So I will need to go stream it somewhere else since no company will get the rights to the full series. So that is how I feel in a small nutshell.

    Liked by 1 person

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