Scanlation Ethics

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See also: Scanlation, History of Scanlation, Scanlation Process

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This page on scanlation ethics intends to document ethics-related practices or controversies surrounding scanlating.

Scanlation ethics have varied quite a bit over time. For more detail on the historical development of the scanlation community, see: History of Scanlation.

Licensed Series

Some scanlation groups take down and discourage distribution of those works which have been licensed in their respective country.[1]

One reason for this is given in the scanlation team Shi-Ran's mission statement:

We hope that by our efforts readers will gain an increased appreciation of the work of so many talented women's comics writers and illustrators, and that ultimately our projects will encourage visitors to support the mangaka by buying their own copies of their works. [2]

Early generations of scanlators usually dropped series that got licensed. However, today, the majority of scanlators continue working, but encourage people to buy the official release once it becomes available.

Available Official Release

One reason many groups continue scanlating licensed series is that official translations are usually years and years behind the source country, especially for an ongoing series -- in the case of manga, domestically licensed versions are often not released until 2 - 3 years (or longer) after their original publication in Japan. On top of this, release schedules for domestic manga volumes are usually much slower than the release schedules of the originals, so official translated versions continue to fall further and further behind.

A good example is the popular series One Piece. Prior to 2010, new volumes were released at a snail's pace, with fewer than twenty volumes available in the US. Meanwhile in Japan, there were over fifty since on average, four new volumes are released each year. A fan could read the weekly chapters in scanlations a day or two after their release in Japan, but if they waited for the US release, it would have taken over a decade to catch up. This discrepancy changed in 2010 when Viz sped up the English-language releases. From January to June of 2010, five volumes were released each month before going to a four volume per year release schedule in 2011. By the end of 2011, 59 volumes were available in the U.S. compared to 64 in Japan. [3] This is on par with the speed of Naruto's release schedule. [4]

Discontinued, Out of Print Official Release

Even groups that frown on scanlating licensed titles usually think it's ok to scanlate series that have been dropped by their non-Japanese publishers (so the official translation is incomplete) or whose official translations are out of print.

Licensed, Never Released

Many companies license more series than they publish official translations of. While some groups refuse to scanlate any series that has been licensed, others reason that it's not unethical to scan something if a publisher is just going to sit on the rights and not produce a version that fans can actually purchase.

Bad Official Release

Some groups scanlate series whose official translation is seen as being of poor quality or too heavily localized or censored; other groups find this practice unethical. This is much more controversial than scanning material that is unavailable (as with series that get dropped by publishers or where the official translation is years behind the original language version).

Doujinshi

Whether scanlating doujinshi should be different from scanlating manga has been the cause of some debate. General fandom view tends to be that scanlating and sharing doujinshi is more lax than scanlating and sharing manga. This may be because doujinshi is amateur-published, sold, and usually based on a pre-existing work, instead of an original piece published officially by a company.

Scanlating doujinshi is generally done without the permission or knowledge of the doujinka (doujinshi artist), which is similar to how manga is scanlated. However, some fans feel scanlating doujinshi should be given the same consideration as asking permission to use fanart for English-speaking fanartists, or as asking permission to translate English-language fanfic into another language. Other fans disagree since doujinshi is being sold; in online fandom pieces are shared freely, but the exchange of money changes the situation from the usual fandom dynamic the scanlators are used to.

While a few Japanese fans have given permission for their doujinshi to be translated as text files or scanlated, most have not given permission, and usually are not asked. Since scanlating is usually on forums or communities in other languages, many may not be fully aware of it when it happens with their work. Some doujinshi artists have been flattered by the attention; others are horrified at the idea and have asked the translators to cease distributing their work.

Scanlation-hosting Sites

Very troubling to many scanlators, some sites host other group's scanlations for profit from users, using the hosted scanlations as a means to obtain revenue through paid memberships, excessive donations, or advertisements. Since the great majority of scanlators work for free and distribute their scanlations for free, this can be considered offensive, an exploitation of the scanlation groups, and a violation of scanlating or fannish ethics in general. Because hosting and serving scanlations takes significant bandwidth resources, many scanlation download sites which may not have strictly unethical intentions do in fact ask for donations to cover server costs -- these activities walk a fine line between a necessary evil and creating any appearance of profit, which is widely viewed as unacceptable.

One of the most notorious examples of this practice is NarutoFan.com, which effectively sells anime fansubs and manga scanlations of many series' through paid memberships. Many groups have requested that their scanlations to be removed from the site, but their requests were not (ever?) granted. There has been an ongoing fan campaign to get NarutoFan shut down.

OneManga also caused controversy for hosting other groups' scanlations for online viewing, without permission from the groups to do so. This caused problems not just because they were making money through advertisement and using the scanlations for viewers, but also because they were drawing attention away from the scanlation groups doing the work, and for hosting the images at a severely down-graded quality. At least initially, requests to have scanlations taken down were not granted, though they later developed a policy where they might take down scanlations in certain circumstances.

Poaching Projects

In the past, many scanlation groups considered it highly unethical to start scanlating a series another group was already working on or had announced the intention to work on. As scanlation groups have gotten more numerous, views on this have shifted, but "poaching" series still often leads to wank.

Scanlations of Scanlations

Many scanlation teams do their translating off of a previous scanlation. This is especially common from English into other European languages. Some parts of the scanlation community consider this highly unethical without prior permission. Scanlation groups often publicize their policies on this (a typical policy might be that anyone is free to translate from them, but they'd like to be credited).

Text Translations

Most scanlators consider it highly unethical to turn someone else's text translation (often called a "script" in this context) into a scanlation without prior approval. Some translators merely wish to be notified and credited. Others disapprove of scanlations and will abandon a translation they find being used for this purpose.

Raws

Raws are scans of manga or other material in its original language. Some raw providers upload their scans to websites where anyone is allowed to download them or use them for whatever they want. Many scanlation groups allow others to use their scans but ask to be credited for providing or cleaning them. Some groups are happy to send their raws to other scanlation groups (for scanlation into a different language, for example) if they promise not to post the original language version publicly (since speakers of that language already have access to a commercial version).

References

  1. see, for example, Nakama's dropped projects page. Accessed 29 October 2008
  2. August 3rd 2003. Shi-Ran Mission Statement. Accessed 29 October 2008.
  3. Wikipedia, List of One Piece chapters, (Accessed 4 December 2011)
  4. Wikipedia, List of Naruto manga volumes, (Accessed 4 December 2011)