The Japanese government has begun an online campaign in August to battle growing piracy of anime cartoons and manga comics, one of the nation’s most popular cultural exports.
The government-led Manga-Anime Guardians Project kicked off their campaign with a two minute Youtube video calling on viewers to help “protect and defend the future of manga and anime”. It also aims to remove illegally uploaded media and stop consumers downloading the books and films from non-official sources.
They estimate that online piracy costs the nation’s economy 20 billion US dollars a year, practically the equivalent of Cyprus’s gross domestic production (GDP) in 2012.
That’s why 15 major publishers and production companies have joined together with the government from August 1 in this 5-month project.
Yukio Nagano, the head of the Manga-Anime Guardians, highlighted the international reach of the piracy problem.
“The damage is not only in Japan, but on sites worldwide. So this time we are not only targeting Japan, but sites around the world too,” he said.
The group are currently scouring the internet to take down copies of 580 works uploaded without permission and trying to reduce demand for pirate manga and anime by guiding fans to legitimate online sources and raising awareness of copyright issues.
Individual manga artists such as Reiji Yamada, who has authored comics ranging from romantic comedies to social commentaries, are generally angry at the spread of illegal uploads of their work. Yamada though, is also wary of any government intrusion into his art.
“I think it’s end of it if the creators start worrying about what the government thinks. That’s the dilemma – we want the government to do something to stop the piracy, but at the same time, we don’t want their involvement, and I guess that many other manga artists feel this way,” Yamada told Reuters.
In the Akihabara district – Tokyo’s go-to destination for all anime and manga aficionados – the advent of digital publishing has not yet deterred customers browsing the shelves of bookshops adorned with large colourful advertisements for new anime films.
Though according to a report commissioned by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, around 12% of Japanese surveyed admitted to accessing pirated copies of their favourite comics and cartoons.
One 31-year-old Akihabara shopper, Yurie Murase, would not say if she accessed illegal copies of manga or not but said she understood why some people did.
“When you just want to check it out, right now you can only either buy or rent it. So it’s annoying if it’s something I am not ready to buy just yet,” Murase said.
The Japanese government acknowledges that the numbers of people overseas accessing pirated material is greater, with more than 50% of Americans surveyed admitting to illegally downloading their favourite Japanese manga or anime.
Of growing concern to Japan is the fact that many of the websites where the illegal copies are hosted are based in China.
A recent report from the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan has found that piracy in China’s major cities alone costs the Japanese economy around 5.6 billion US dollars per year.
Chinese fans of Japanese anime say part of the problem lies in the increasing lack of legitimate outlets and the convenience of the digital format.
“But now China’s manga stores are becoming scarcer and scarcer. When I was in middle school, there used to be a few manga stores around this area, but now there aren’t any. Right now it seems like it’s more convenient to read (manga) online. Most people who read (their manga) on the internet probably think it’s easier to find, and more convenient,” said 30-year-old Shi Yun, who had come to Beijing’s Gulou Street area to look for some Japanese anime paraphernalia.
According to the same survey by the Agency of Cultural Affairs, the main reason why Chinese netizens download illegal Japanese anime or manga is because it’s there and it’s free – something the Manga-Anime Guardians is hoping to change.
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