Fighting the fan sub war: Conflicts between media rights holders and unauthorized creator/distributor networks

Mikhail Koulikov


The way Japanese animation has been spread outside Japan not only by entertainment companies but also by fan groups that have worked to produce fan subs—that is, subtitled translations of films and television shows produced without authorization and shared outside established commercial channels—has been one of the most powerful examples of transformative culture to take place in the last three decades or so. Much has already been written about anime and its global impact, but the process of fan sub creation and distribution, and in particular how these groups have been structured, has not yet been examined in depth. A question that is becoming prominent concerns what happens when the fan subbing culture finally clashes with authorized commercial content distributors. This essay explores the way fan sub distribution has changed over the years and draws on the concept of Net war to illustrate the conflict and the potential tools and methods animation distribution companies have used to engage, subvert, and interdict these groups. This has broad implications for understanding and predicting the flow of other emerging conflicts between networked actors, such as hackers, anarchists, and activists, and hierarchically organized traditional corporate entities.


Anime; Arquilla; Japanese animation; Net war; Networked publics; Peer-to-peer distribution; Ronfeldt

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