Scanalation – In this age of internet file-sharing, one of the most important fan activities surrounding Japanese manga (or Korean manhwa or Chinese manhua) is a process called scanlation. Fans get physical copies of titles in their original language, scan in the pages, translate the text into the language they need (for us, English), and then post the results on the internet for fans to read. Scanlation is the term coined for this process, and it usually involves a number of fans working on different aspects. Officially, this is illegal under international copyright law. At this point, publishers have not attacked individuals fans or those downloading and reading the posted scanlations, but there have been some skirmishes from groups. Many groups have a kind of honor code — they will only publish scanlations of titles not yet available where they are (i.e. in the US), and once that titles becomes available, they will take their scanlations down. However, there are many sites that continue to publish series after they’ve been licensed for US distribution, and if you work with teenagers, you should know that many of them read their favorite series online, direct from Japan. For a similar process for anime, see fansubs.
Scanalations are important to teen librarians because they technically violate copyright, and there is a good chance that you are teens are viewing them on the library computers. I know they view them on ours. We are working on how to address the issue now, but it is a complicated problem.
Copyright and Anime/Manga fandom have an awkward relationship. Many of the people who founded the North American Industry got started by violating copyright law and creating fan translations of their favorite shows before they were legally available in North America. In the 90’s they traded transcripts of the English text for Japanese language manga, and for Fansubs they distributed VHS tapes at cost or at a loss. The fan community grew up around this practice.
However, things have changed. Manga chapters are the equivalent of American floppy comic books. They are generally published in a magazine format that is an anthology of several monthly series. Manga chapters of popular series like Naruto or Bleach, have been translated by fans within hours of being put on shelves in Japan. This includes manga published in the U.S. legally.
The anime industry rarely took legal action against fans. Scanalations and Fansubs were a labor of love for many fans, and as noted above, most of those series were unavailable in the U.S. These chapters are distributed in a variety of ways. However in the last few years websites have sprung up that embed scanalations and stream fansubs.
The more popular websites act as a digital repository for scanalated manga and fansubs. The majority of the copyrighted materials on these sites are not available in the United States.
Unfortunately the most viewed manga are available in the United States, and these sites have monetized themselves through donations and ad revenue. One of these sites, Mangafox, has branded itself a non-profit, and it has ignored requests from the copyright holder and the scanalation group to remove the manga from the site. According to Quantcast, MangaFox gets over 200,000 N. American visitors a month. The majority of those visitors are younger than 24 years old.
We haven’t decided what we are going to do yet. Right now, I am focusing on educating teens about the industry and the cost of production. I created a list of free and legal Anime streaming sites and put it on our library website. I am working on a link list for free and legal manga also. I link them to articles about the anime & manga industry, and I try to humanize the creators.