Update 10/5/2015: The Trans-Pacific Partnership deal has been reached. It still needs to pass through Congress. The vote could take place as soon as 2016.
Before I get into this, I need to point out two things. Number one is that, under most circumstances, I’m not a fan of talking politics when it comes to anime. Bringing up politics almost always muddies the waters and, as I’ve observed and experienced, few people, especially in the anime fandom, know how to handle political discussion maturely.
Number two is that, as I’ve observed and experienced, whenever you are presented with material that suggests an emotional reaction, you should be aware that it is an attempt to manipulate you. This is not always malicious; however, it is almost always self-serving, and people should be very careful to fully understand the issues at play before throwing their lot in with someone whose interests might not actually align with their own, though it may seem that way.
Currently in talks among a number of countries is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between several countries on the Pacific Rim. Among the topics the TPP addresses are lowering trade barriers, enforcing labour and environmental standards, and creating a common baseline on intellectual property issues. The latter is what concerns the anime fandom.
Plenty of things the anime fandom does are legally dubious. AMVs use copyrighted material to create music videos. Fanartists sell drawings of characters they don’t own in convention Artist Alleys. Even cosplay is a grey area. Many cosplayers may handmake their own costumes, but they usually don’t own rights to the character the costume is based on or the work of media the character is from. And that’s not even to mention fansubbing and scanlation, both of which almost often rely on obtaining works illegally and distributing them illegally as well.
This is true on both sides of the pacific. Though Comic Market continues to be a staple of the doujinshi community in Japan, it still exists in a legal grey area. Though it’s largely permitted to exist by the owners of the intellectual properties these fan-works are based on, there have been legal actions taken against doujinshi artists over their works. They are very few and far between, but it has occurred.
The real issue here is the creation of a standard baseline for IP law. While many of the things the anime fandom does are legally dubious with regards to copyright, they often go unenforced because the owners of the copyrights to the works that fans make doujinshi of, sell fanart of, and cosplay characters from understand the value that fan-created derivative works can bring to their brands and the properties they own and make money from. Earlier this year, US anime licensing firm FUNimation released a statement concerning their stance on fan art that expressed that very sentiment. (In addition, they made clear that, while they can choose whether or not to enforce infringements on copyright, they must enforce infringements on trademark, which is a different concept.) In addition, particularly concerning Japan, the doujinshi community has a symbiotic relationship with the manga industry. Many prominent mangaka started out as doujin artists. Snuffing out the doujinshi community would cause stagnation down the line in the manga industry, due to a lack of discovery of new talent.
WikiLeaks released the draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s intellectual property chapter. Under Article QQ.H.7, dealing with criminal procedures and enforcement with regards to intellectual property. Item 1 states:
Each Party shall provide for criminal procedures and penalties to be applied at least in cases of willful trademark counterfeiting or copyright or related rights piracy on a commercial scale.
Item 2 builds on item 1, establishing that “willful copyright or related rights piracy on a commercial scale” includes:
significant willful copyright or related rights infringements that have no direct or indirect motivation of financial gain; and willful infringements for purposes of commercial advantage or [AU/SG/PE/JP oppose: private] financial gain.
That is to say that infringement of copyrighted works, regardless of whether or not the products of those infringements make money, would be criminalized under the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s proposed language. The reason this is significant is that, as it stands, at least in the US ( AndI would assume in Japan as well, given their lenient treatment of doujin artists), copyright is largely a civil issue, which is to say that infringements on copyright usually result in lawsuits, rather than jail time. As I understand it, the proposed language would turn copyright infringement into a largely criminal issue, which is why the anime community is up in arms.
Differences in culture produce differences in legal environments and, while that may make trading in intellectual property difficult, the standardization of laws has the potential to change the environment in a way that does not match the culture, and though many sing the virtues of compromise, it is a double-edged sword that can just as easily result in a situation nobody is happy with, especially when concerning cultural differences.
All that said, and despite reactions across the community ranging from outrage to panic, I highly encourage people to calm down and look at the facts. The discussion surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership is highly charged due to the secrecy under which the trade agreement is being drafted. As a result, when the news broke out among the anime fandom, it was met with rage, panic, snark, and a vilification of governments and politics.
To be clear, and to drive the point home, the Japanese anime community isn’t happy with this deal either. Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina, Negima), who’s known for standing firmly against legislation that would stiffly creativity in the anime and manga industry, delivered a petition with over 2,000 signatures, protesting the stronger IP laws.
WikiLeaks has the full draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s intellectual property chapter. I recommend people read it carefully, with a particular focus on sections G and H, which deal with copyright and enforcement, respectively. Pay attention to the way things are worded, and especially pay attention to which countries propose and oppose additions and changes in language.
While use of copyrighted material is the subject anime fans are paying attention to, the uproar has largely failed to mention other issues covered in the chapter, such as region locking and reverse importation.
This is something that came out of nowhere to many anime fans, and people are mad, but when discussing political and legal issues, it is imperative to gain an understanding of exactly what’s happening and why.