March 24, 2006


- Ian Condry on anime fans
- CBS gets on supermarket screens
- A comprehensive list of all things web 2.0

Online Piracy and the Dark Energy of Anime Fans
by Prof. Ian Condry

American fans of Japanese animation (anime) have something to teach us about online piracy. It’s a lesson that could tell us a lot about how media industries can adapt to a world in which all digital content can (and likely will) be subject to unauthorized sharing online. While the RIAA and the MPAA—trade associations for the recording and movie industries—sic their lawyers on thousands of people accused of sharing MP3 files and digitized movies through peer-to-peer networks, the online world of anime fans illustrates that there is an alternative to trying to scare people straight.

The take-home point is this: Although anime fans can and do share the latest TV broadcasts from Japan using peer-to-peer software, they self-police their own distribution hubs by removing content once official DVD releases are made available in home markets. The fans do this even though there have been no lawsuits filed against them. In contrast to music downloaders, who almost universally express distaste for record companies, anime fans have developed their own ethics of online file sharing that they say aims to “support anime culture.” To understand why, we need to consider not only why anime fans share Japanese media, but also why they work so hard on doing translation work for free.

As part of my research on media and globalization, I’ve been studying anime fans, and in particular a phenomenon called “fansubbing” whereby non-Japanese fans work in groups to digitize, translate, add subtitles and distribute online the latest broadcasts of Japanese animated TV shows. The most popular TV shows are often available within days of their initial broadcast, and the translations are often more detailed and more accurate than the professional DVDs that appear months later (if they appear at all).

Translating and distributing these shows takes many hours of work, and yet fansubbers do their work for free (though they accept donations to offset bandwidth costs). They usually distribute the files with the stipulation that “This is a free fansub, not for sale, rent or eBay.” In this, they sharply distinguish between the profit-motive of bootleggers and the non-commercial motivations that drive fansubbing. In addition, the fansub groups remove links to their fan-produced works once the official DVD has been released in the home market of the fan group. This ethical stance is reproduced by some anime clearinghouse websites, such as, in that they only list TV shows that are unlicensed in the US, that is, shows that no U.S.-based company has expressed enough interest in to license for distribution. One thing that has been missing in the debate over “how to stamp out piracy” or “how to develop new business models” is an acknowledgement of the non-commercial motivation that drives these groups

I call this non-commercial motivation “dark energy,” driven by love for a particular anime series along with the desire to participate in a movement (and to gain some fame through the circulation of one’s screen name). I use the term “dark” in part because this dynamism operates through the darknet of peer-to-peer networks, but also because it is an energy that invigorates the connections between producers, content, technology, and fans, and yet is largely absent from the debate about how to stop online piracy. Like the dark energy of the cosmos, pushing apart galaxies through some mysterious, unseen anti-gravitational force, the dark energy of anime fans expands the universe of anime culture. Perhaps most importantly, the dark energy is accompanied by a moral stance, an ethics towards using online media in a way that meets the official anime distributors halfway. The RIAA lawsuits aimed, but failed, to accomplish this.

What is it about Japanese animation and the fans who support it that generates both this “dark energy” and this moral position? That is the subject of a longer paper, but I will give more details during my panel presentation on “Loyalty” at the C3 Conference at MIT on April 27 (5-7 p.m., Bartos Theater, MIT).


Ian Condry is assistant professor of Japanese cultural studies at MIT in Foreign Languages and Literatures and Comparative Media Studies. His first book Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization will be published by Duke University Press in the fall.

--------------- TRANSMEDIA ---------------

-- In Finland, 1,862 contestants sang songs into their cell phones to join the "mobile karaoke" version of the Pop Idol show. Their performance was judged by 150,000 people who called in to listen and to cast their vote.

-- Radio Disney launched ad-supported podcast content targeted at 6-to-14-year-olds. The podcasts started with time-shifted content from the network, but now feature original material.

-- launched a serialized novel "The Unbinding" to be written by Walter Kim in regular installments in real time.

-- CBS has signed an exclusive deal with in-store services firm SignStorey to run original, customized entertainment features on TV sets in 1,300 supermarkets nationwide.

-- "American Idol" is now offering its fans to purchase the styles that contestants wear on the show.

--------------- STATS ---------------

-- The IPA TouchPoints survey results show that half of written communication is by e-mail, 29% by text message and just 13% by pen and paper. The survey was based on 5,000 people who updated an electronic diary every half-hour for a week.

-- Nielsen plans to introduce a new method for measuring television programming viewed over the Internet by the end of this year.

-- Nearly four in five marketers surveyed by the Association of National Advertisers and Forrester Research believe that television advertising is less effective than it was just two years ago.

--------------- ADVERTISING ---------------

-- Nike and Google launched, an invitation-only social networking site for soccer fans around the world.

-- W+K London claims their "Choir" ad for Honda Civic has been downloaded 3,000,000 times in a month since launch and that the iPod version of the spot has got into the Top 50 chart on iTunes.

-- KFC claims its commercial with a secret message viewable only in slo-mo made 100,000 people download coupons offered in the message and that traffic to KFC's site surged 40 percent the week after the ad ran.

-- Comcast is selling on-demand political advertising to candidates or advocacy groups to "elaborate on their causes." Comcast allows campaigns to run spots of up to 60 minutes and gives viewers the freedom to decide which messages they are interested in watching.

-- A very comprehensive list of all things Web 2.0.

Compiled by Ilya, Sam, Alec, Geoff, Ivan and Parmesh
Edited and signed off by Ilya (

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