Praxis

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

Mikhail Koulikov

Brooklyn, New York, United States

[0.1] Abstract—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.

[0.2] Keywords—Anime; Arquilla; Japanese animation; Net war; Networked publics; Peer-to-peer distribution; Ronfeldt

Koulikov, Mikhail. 2010. Fighting the fan sub war: Conflicts between media rights holders and unauthorized creator/distributor networks. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 5. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2010.0115.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Numerous authors have put forth the argument that networks are—or are on the way to becoming—the dominant mode of interaction between groups of individuals and within societies (Pagels 1989; Castells 1996; Powell 1990). A good definition of a network, as presented by Brass et al. (2004, 795), is "a set of nodes and the set of ties representing some relationship, or lack of relationship, between the nodes," with the nodes being either individuals or organizations. The notion of the social network, conceptualized and used as a framework for applications, is quite possibly a defining concept of the first years of the 21st century in a whole range of disciplines. For example, Cross and Parker (2004) discuss the effect of social networks on business and management practices, Vega-Redondo (2007) draws on social networks to talk about international economics and development, while Scott (2002) brings together a group of scholars to show how important an understanding of social networks is to sociology. However, much of the scholarly and popular thinking that surrounds networks and their role in society is still limited in its approaches and goals.

[1.2] As Raab and Milward (2003) demonstrate, a significant percentage of the recent writing on networks, in particular social networks, has focused on their positive and empowering effects. The possibility that networks can be agents of conflict and facilitators of ways of achieving particular goals to the benefit of one group and the detriment of another is frequently either ignored or not even considered to begin with. A network of antiwar activists may be treated as inherently different from a network of white supremacists, even if the ways the two are actually organized as they carry out missions and pursue goals are largely similar. From another point of view, much of the focus on social networks has been limited to looking at their surface and immediate activities. Far less common are deeper analyses and the study of the question why these activities take place and what underlying frameworks can be used to predict how social networks develop and evolve. It would not be a stretch to say that much of the study of networks has left out the possibility of the real or potential threat they present to those whose own interests would be threatened by the development of particular networks.

[1.3] Many American parents are all too familiar with Japanese cartoons such as Pokemon (1998–) and Naruto (2005–). These shows have dominated television time slots aimed at children and teenagers since the late 1990s. But it will be a surprise to many that the Japan External Trade Organization recently estimated the market for anime (the term used to encompass all Japanese-originated animation, including feature films, DVDs, and television cartoons) in the United States to stand at close to $4.5 billion (Zac Bertschy, "Keynote: Anime in the U.S.," Anime News Network, June 29, 2007, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/convention/2007/anime-expo/keynote-anime-in-the-us). Anime conventions held in various cities around the country draw thousands of attendees, and according to internal research by the industry-leading distributor of Japanese animation, 69 percent of all Americans ages 16 to 29 have watched anime within a recent year (Koulikov 2007).

[1.4] Anime fans—whether or not they see or think of themselves in terms of membership in a coherent organization, group, or entity—constitute a prominent community with a distinct set of practices, patterns of behavior, and ways of relating to other communities and groups. The community, or at least its sections and subgroups, has been already been the subject of several studies (Newitz 1994; Napier 2006; Chandler-Olcott 2007; Allison 2008). The approach these studies have usually taken has been essentially anthropological—recording fan practices and behaviors, but not exploring them in depth. One particular topic that has not yet been examined is the relationship between the groups' organizational structures and their actions. Here, I argue that a particularly important feature of the community of anime fans is the networks within it, and that a key to understanding this community lies in understaning its networked activities. One such activity consists of working without authorization, perhaps even outright illegally, to subvert established commercial distribution structures for cinema and video entertainment products. This activity plays a major role in giving the community of anime fans structure and shape, and it allows the group to engage in various ways with the corporate, commercial world that the community comes into contact with. Just how the networks that support this activity operate, and what kind of response the commercial distribution structures offer, are issues that have particular value for both business entities and nonpolitical social groups, regardless of their specific fields or causes—to say nothing of groups and communities of fans of other forms of entertainment.

2. The birth of fan sub networks

[2.1] What is the standard distribution structure for Japanese animation in the United States? Details vary from fan work to fan work, but the overall scheme is the same and can easily be inferred. Animation is aired on Japanese television, distributed on DVD directly to consumers, or screened in theaters. Some time later, American companies (currently no more than a dozen, most of them privately owned and highly specialized) acquire foreign distribution and merchandizing rights to individual anime titles. Later still, these series and films are translated, given subtitles and voice-overs, and released into the retail market outside Japan for both online and in-store distribution, or broadcast on (primarily) cable television. The time between when a given anime airs in Japan and when it can be purchased at the Best Buy at the local mall generally ranges from several months to several years; 1 to 2 years is typical (Kelts 2006), although this has been changing as digital distribution of media content has undergone a rapid evolution.

[2.2] Alongside this structure exists a "fan distribution network," one that is entirely parallel but aggressively noncommercial (Leonard 2005a, 282). Before the commercial structure was even in place, and faced with no way to access Japanese animation commercially, individuals throughout the United States began acquiring anime directly from Japan, largely through private noncommercial channels, using cutting-edge computer technologies to attach subtitles to the original raw content, and then distributing the resulting products, known as fan subs (note 1), in a framework that Leonard (2005b, 197) defines as a "proselytization commons—[a space] where the media texts and the ideas of a movement are held in common and are employed to advance a directed cause." A more thorough overview of this process is provided by Hatcher (2005). Although a specific start date for this activity is difficult to pin down, by the early 1990s, articles in fan-oriented magazines could comfortably refer to the "earlier days" of fan subbing and its start "a few years ago" (Tatsugawa 1991; Wang 1992). "It was crude, it was make-shift but it worked for the most part" is how one of the earliest groups describes its efforts, which launched in 1985 (William Chow, "New Arctic Animation subtitling ordering information," http://web.archive.org/web/20090805112605/http://geocities.com/Tokyo/Teahouse/8513/policy.txt). From these humble beginnings, fan subs have evolved to a point where an anime episode shown on Japanese television on a Friday night can be available for free online by the following Monday, if not sooner, with (relatively) accurate English subtitles, provided by an unmediated and noncommercial online distribution network. This fan sub might then be downloaded by as many as 18,000 people at the same time (Leonard 2005b). All the while, the relationship between the anime companies and those who create, distribute, and consume these fan subs remains complex, in particular because of the close historical ties between them, but also because the fan sub groups represent an entirely novel and unexpected type of organization—one where it is difficult to know whether they are challengers or potential partners.

[2.3] From the early 1990s to the present, these fan distribution networks (I use the term here in a broad sense) have evolved through at least two, and possibly three, stages. At each stage, the flow of information, the social relationships that held the networks together, and their relationship to other stakeholders—particularly Japanese content creators and official American content distributors—were different. A pertinent area of inquiry might ask these questions: how might stakeholders interact with, and potentially disrupt, these networks? Should they even do so? And is a network, once established, essentially indestructible?

3. From networks to Net wars

[3.1] A new dimension was introduced into the study of networks in the mid-1990s. In a monograph originally prepared in 1996 for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Naval Postgraduate School's John Arquilla and RAND's David Ronfeldt move beyond examining the structures of networks—and past a relatively uncritical approach—to look at how networks can be agents of conflict and resistance. They have also used the description "dark side of the network phenomenon" (Ronfeldt and Arquilla 2001, 311) to refer to the object of their study. In the monograph, the authors propose the concept of the Net war, which they define as "an emerging mode of conflict…, in which the protagonists use—indeed, depend on using—network forms of organization" (Arquilla and Ronfeldt 1996, 5). Chapters in a follow-up edited collection of essays (Arquilla and Ronfeldt 2001) describe the three possible types of networks, diagram them, and present both expected and thoroughly unexpected examples of entities that wage Net war against more hierarchically organized structures. Anti-Western Islamic terrorists are one such group, but so are Mexico's Zapatista rebels, the loosely organized activists who took part in the violent antiglobalization protests in 1999 known as the Battle of Seattle, and nongovernmental organizations that began a publicity campaign against the government of Burma in the late 1990s. Arquilla and Ronfeldt argue that the way the network is actually organized is equally important to its goals—and that understanding a network's organization may be an important first step to effectively engaging with it.

[3.2] A key point to keep in mind when thinking about this analysis of networks and Net wars is that the terminology and diagrams proposed should be universal—that is, applicable to situations and groups beyond those that they describe. But precisely because of the situations in which this terminology is most often used, it is also far too easy to believe that network analysis is only relevant when looking at instances of conflict between sub-state-level groups and the state. In many cases, but not all, this conflict will be violent, involving terrorist, criminal, and otherwise destructive forces on one side and organizations whose duty is to ensure the safety and security of their stakeholders on the other. In fact, the case studies introduced in Arquilla and Ronfeldt's Networks and Netwars (2001) do generally demonstrate how networks try to disrupt the power and authority wielded by national or local governments. In their goals and methods, there is a degree of difference between a networked terrorist organization working to harm the interests of the United States and a network of human rights activists collaborating against the interests of the government of Myanmar; likewise, violent anarchists on the streets of Seattle differ greatly from relatively peaceful environmental activists. However, the patterns of power largely remain the same throughout the analyses. One side is limited to using hard power, up to and including violence; the other, the network, has access to the full range of soft-power and hard-power methods, with the specific range determined by its composition and goals. At the same time, there is a certain inherent imbalance: the state, while possessing a theoretical monopoly on the use of power, is not able to unleash its full force, while the network will not be powerful enough to seriously threaten the actual existence of the state structure it is opposed to.

[3.3] The next step in thinking about networks and Net wars, then, should be to extend the analysis of conflicts involving networks outside the state/nonstate arena, and to show how this same thinking can explain interactions between competing groups that do not have access to the level of power normally wielded by a state. The concept of networked publics (Ito 2008, 3) is useful here. Ito refers to individuals who are enabled to become "reactors and (re)makers in relation to media, engaging in shared culture and knowledge through discourse and social exchange as well as through acts of media 'reception.'" Individuals may be in conflict with the state, but individuals are primarily in conflict (again, used in the broadest sense) with other individuals, and with social and corporate groups. The entire concept of networks and Net wars may be usefully examined if we consider that networks may face off not against governments, but against corporations. At the same time, there is clearly value in seeing how nonstate actors themselves can respond to threats from networks, and whether these responses are essentially the same as or different from those offered in the original case studies presented by Arquilla and Ronfeldt.

4. Fan sub networks evolve into…

[4.1] As far back as 1994, Newitz described the typical process by which anime was acquired, translated, and presented to American fans. The original material was bought in Japan by tourists or other visitors, such as military personnel, or exchanged in kind with Japanese fans of American television shows. Several Americans, often college students, would then band together to use personal computer technology to create a fan sub. Advertising would be either by word of mouth or via early Internet communications such as bulletin board systems or Web sites. Actual distribution would be on VHS tape via the mail. An interesting feature, which Cubbison (2005) points out, was the emergence of a code of ethics that guided both the technical features of fan subs and acceptable behaviors of fan subbers. For example, only those shows that were not available in the United States commercially should be fan subbed; translations should be as close to the original Japanese as possible, regardless of how natural or literate the result would be; and fan subbers should be committed to operating not in a black market, but entirely outside market structures. The typical business model required that anyone desiring a copy of a fan sub must mail a self-addressed, stamped envelope containing either a blank videocassette or the cost of one in cash to the fan sub distributor. The transaction would be explicitly noncommercial.

[4.2] From a consumer's point of view, the process of getting access to a fan sub would begin with finding a fan sub group—through friends, an anime club, or an online advertisement or Web site. Each group could have complicated instructions on how to actually get its product, so an individual's request would begin making its way up the chain, from the individual viewer as an outlying node in the fan sub distribution network to the group as a hub. In their study of fan subbing, Diaz Cintas and Munos Sanchez (2006) identify at least five specific roles or tasks that would be performed at the level of the hub, although of course they could be filled by several individuals each, or combined with one person performing several roles. At a minimum, these roles would have include those with responsibility for acquiring and providing the original untranslated source material, translators, timers, typesetters, editors, and encoders. Each hub would in turn be connected via a pure chain network of links between single individuals, terminating with an original provider in Japan, who could also be represented as a node, neither directly connected to nor even really aware of the ultimate consumer. There would be little actual communication between nodes, both at the level of the customer and at the level of the group, although there could be some communication between the members of a given cluster of viewers involved with a particular group. In fact, the groups themselves could either compete against each other, usually on translation quality, or specialize in particular genres. For example, one well-known fan subber, who uses the pseudonym Hishoburaiken, was so dissatisfied with what he considered to be an inferior product being put out by several groups that he was inspired to learn the techniques of the process and founded his own group (Mikhail Koulikov, "Otakon 2008 fansubs and industry panel," Anime News Network, August 16, 2008, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/convention/2008/fansubs-and-industry-panel). The groups were often fiercely independent, with an emphasis on a particular identity and a good deal of self-promotion. Beyond providing a service to the fan community, each group or network itself could be seen as a distinct unit. Of course, there was also nothing specifically built into the system that would prevent abuse; for example, there were stores in areas such as New York's Chinatown and the Washington, D.C., suburb of College Park that were infamous for subverting the ethics of the movement by making in-house copies of fan subs, which they made commercially available for sale or rent.

[4.3] One question that fascinates those who have commented on this history of the fan sub movement is why this underground circulation was tolerated by both the original Japanese rights holders and the emerging American anime distribution companies. Why were there no real efforts made in the early 1990s to disrupt the distribution of fan subs? Russell et al. (2008) provide one simple explanation: there was very little in the way of an American anime industry at that point, and because the companies that did exist frequently grew out of existing fan groups and were still very much connected to them, disruptive efforts from the American side were minimal. For their part, Japanese companies had been soured by an earlier attempt to exploit the U.S. market commercially in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Leonard 2005b), and they now preferred to simply ignore the issue. Moreover, the attitude toward copyright enforcement was, at least then, more lax in Japan than in the West, even if Japanese copyright law is not substantively different (Mehra 2002). Working outside the commercial environment, fan sub groups took "risks no commercial distributor would have confronted, testing the market for new genres, producers, and series" (Jenkins 2005, 79)—and in fact prepared the ground for the anime explosion of the late 1990s. On a different level, trying to interfere with a distribution of a product that was moved primarily by word of mouth and propelled by personal, one-to-one relationships was simply too time-consuming and costly.

[4.4] The emergence and proliferation of high-speed Internet access, which spread outward from college campuses and major urban areas in the late 1990s, was a technological revolution that had an impact far beyond the merely technological. Lessig's read-write Internet ("Creatives face a closed Net," Financial Times, December 28, 2005, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/d55dfe52-77d2-11da-9670-0000779e2340.html) and O'Reilly's Web 2.0 ("What Is Web 2.0," O'Reilly, September 30, 2005, http://www.oreilly.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html) could not have happened without this technological backbone. The effect of many of these technologies on fan subbing was great; even the basic terminology shifted with the introduction of the term digisub, which puts an emphasis on the technical process. The concept of the fan sub is certainly still around, but although at one point the term had a distinct connection to its community origins, this is no longer the case. Nearly all fan subs are now shared digitally, with little or no ties to any established communities. A fan subbing group could still operate as a hub, but the number of hubs, and the number of end users attached to each hub, could—and did—grow. The output of a group did not need to be limited by how many copies of an anime could be physically recorded onto tapes and then mailed out, and the process of receiving a new anime episode from Japan no longer depended on waiting for a tape to arrive from a Japanese contact. Thus, tightly knit fan subbing groups defined by geography could evolve into essentially global virtual teams defined by working on tasks.

[4.5] In addition, the ethical component of the earlier stage of group-controlled fan subbing began to fray as the scene itself grew. Based as it was on the transfer of physical objects, it was not well suited to an environment where the transfer was of information. The scene moved to networked data exchange: file-sharing utilities such as Napster, Kazaa, and Hotline, as well as services such as IRC, ran on computers with access to high-speed Internet connections, and these networks permitted links to be drawn between individual nodes within clusters. Fan subs drew on this new model of anonymous content sharing. A customer no longer needed to build a personal relationship with a fan sub group. Instead, the group could provide content to many customers simultaneously, and the customers could connect directly to each other. The chain from original Japanese content provider to fan sub group to end user weakened. The network of fans with access to the latest content gained in strength and effectiveness, and the ethical component of provision of content within a rigid structure of rules fell by the wayside as fan sub groups fought to provide new content the quickest.

[4.6] At about the same time, Japanese companies finally saw the potential of the overseas market. McGray (2002), in discussing the concept of soft power and specifically using Japan as an example, introduced the Japanese government and the country's industry to the idea that it did not need to be an economic superpower to project its image throughout the world. The government—in particular what was then known as the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and what has since been renamed the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI)—in turn enthusiastically seized on the idea, proposing, for example, specific actions to promote the country's content industry abroad (Yoshimoto 2003). This, of course, would bring Japanese companies into direct conflict with the evolving American fan distribution network.

[4.7] These are good times to be an anime fan. DVD's have never been cheaper. If you're not into buying DVD's or don't have the money, you can download DVD-quality copies over the internet for free and never have to worry about anything bad ever happening to you, ever.

[4.8] An anime journalist opened a 2007 editorial with these words. The editorial received hundreds of responses from fans—and several more from executives of both American anime distributors and Japanese production companies (Justin Sevakis, "Editorial: An open letter to the industry," Anime News Network, November 25, 2007, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/editorial/2007-11-25). For the anime fan, if not for anyone in the business of selling anime, the third and current stage of fan sub distribution in the United States represents good times indeed. The distribution of fan subbed anime on physical media and via the original file-sharing programs has largely been replaced by the development of true peer-to-peer data sharing. Anime fans were among the first to adopt applications such as BitTorrent for peer-to-peer dissemination of data, which removes the need for any kind of stable, centralized entity that distributes content while also making it easy to access content. It allows for almost simultaneous release of the Japanese-language original and the fan sub—and it supports staggering numbers of downloads. Exact numbers for the popularity of BitTorrent are hard to pin down, but one figure—and not by any means the most recent—put the number of files of anime episodes being downloaded via BitTorrent daily at 120,000 (Borland 2005).

[4.9] Returning to Arquilla and Ronfeldt's diagram of networks, right now, the fan sub network might be understood as largely an all-channel environment, or perhaps a vast array of interconnected all-channel networks. Multiple nodes, some of them redundant, feed information for distribution to all willing participants, who themselves then become distributors. Fan sub groups no longer have to take active steps to spread their products. A new file, once placed online, is tracked by one or several third-party services that facilitate the sharing/distribution process further and remove most of the potential entry barriers, such as complicated technology or time demands. All a new fan needs to do to locate and download a new episode of an anime series is to know where to search for one using a generic program such as a BitTorrent client. The consumers of the fan subs are now as far removed as possible from both the original producers and the groups that translate the original files into English and make them available, and there is essentially no way to track exactly how a given file spreads or where it will end up. The network has grown and expanded at the price of weakening the internal connections among the nodes of creation and distribution.

5. Fighting the Net war

[5.1] Between the increasing relevance of the foreign market to Japanese companies (Onouchi 2007) and the continuing decline of overall DVD sales in the United States (Paul Bond, "DVD spells digital video decline," Hollywood Reporter, December 21, 2006), both Japanese and American companies involved in the industry have moved beyond ignorance or indifference to the sheer amount of unauthorized, perhaps outright illegal, distribution of anime that goes on daily. Especially over the past 2 years, the impact of this type of unauthorized content distribution has been cited as a significant contributing factor in the stagnation and decline of the market for Japanese animation in the United States (Calvin Reid, "News report finds manga sales up; anime DVD down in '07," Publishers Weekly, December 7, 2007, http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/new-titles/adult-announcements/article/4776-new-report-finds-c2-a0manga-sales-up-anime-dvd-down-in-07-c2-a0-.html). Companies' reactions to this have varied. In general, the specific methods that are being used to counteract the fan sub networks actually hold lessons for the network/Net war theory in general, especially given what Arquilla and Ronfeldt argue is the difficulty of successfully disrupting networks without the overwhelming use of force. Methods in use range from relatively unsophisticated, heavy-handed approaches that raise their own issues to those that are significantly more nuanced and cognizant of the unique relationship between the producers and consumers of a cult entertainment. Some embrace technological solutions, whereas others take a more strategic view and aim to take away the reasons for these networks' existence.

[5.2] The heavy-handed methods are perhaps the easiest to identify and explain. A frequent practice of American anime companies is to issue cease-and-desist letters to fan subbing groups that are working on series to which the company in question has acquired the distribution rights (Borland 2005). This attacks the major nodes of the all-channel network but does not directly affect other nodes or individuals. Furthermore, a key symptom of the Internet in general and of Web 2.0 specifically is that once information is released, it will exist essentially in perpetuity. Especially in a peer-to-peer environment, once created, a file will continue to be available for distribution as long as at least one person makes it available. An approach that attempted to correct for this by targeting not the originators but the end users (similar to how the music industry has approached illegal downloaders) was recently undertaken by the Singapore-based anime licensing company Odex (Victoria Ho, "Odex softens on illegal downloads," ZDNet Asia, September 17, 2007, http://www.zdnetasia.com/odex-softens-on-illegal-downloaders-62032298.htm). The company used technologies that allowed it to identify individual downloaders, then threatened them with court action. Perhaps predictably, the result has been public resistance, including criticism of the company's own business practices. Some efforts undertaken by Japanese companies have been similar: as discussed earlier, there is an aversion in Japan to litigation, but to protect both rights and potential markets, Japanese anime companies have been leveraging their existing relationships with American distributors to have similar letters issued. Ultimately, this kind of law-based approach is the one Hatcher (2005) recommends, although he does acknowledge that the youth of this industry and its relative lack of sophistication makes legal action unlikely.

[5.3] An entirely different approach has been proposed by, among others, Debra Kennedy, who called on American anime companies to recognize that their existing business models may simply not be sufficient to meet customer needs (Koulikov 2007). In fact, Leonard (2005a) identifies fan subs as complementary or prerequisite goods that have a particular niche to fill until the market sufficiently evolves. Some of the solutions Kennedy proposes, such as implementing online and on-demand distribution, are essentially technological, whereas others, such as prelicensing or coproducing, are purely business decisions. Both types would presumably strike at one of the reasons for the existence of fan subs: the lag between a title's release in Japan and its availability overseas. Conceptually, an approach of this kind would make the entire network obsolete or irrelevant. Of course, it would take significant investment; as Kennedy noted, not all of the companies that are currently participating in the anime market in the United States may be able to bear the cost. Nonetheless, over the course of the last few years, both Japanese and American companies have been embracing this idea. To many American fans, the gold standard of anime releases is a situation where television episodes are legally available for viewing as soon as they air in Japan. Although there has been some resistance among Japanese companies to this, others have been taking steps in this direction by partnering with video-sharing services such as YouTube, Hulu, and CrunchyRoll to premiere anime episodes online at the same time as they are broadcast on Japanese television ("Gonzo works to be streamed simultaneously with airing," Anime News Network, March 21, 2008, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2008-03-21/gonzo-works-to-be-streamed-simultaneously-with-airing). Another approach, recently pioneered by the U.S. anime licensing and distribution company Bandai, involves releasing bare-bones DVDs containing subtitled anime episodes and a minimum of bonus content as soon as possible after the licensing contract has been signed to satisfy immediate viewer demand, then following up some time later with more elaborate versions, including an English dub, aimed at both collectors and casual audiences.

[5.4] A third approach to the issue, beyond taking legal action against fan sub distributors and trying to beat them at their own game, is a radical one—and one that has made quite a stir in the ongoing discussion of networks. The original ethic of fan subbing was based on established social norms (Russell et al. 2008). Anime is at heart a commercial product that cannot exist unless its creators are duly compensated for their work, and one key to disrupting the network may be via emotional appeal and education. As early as 2002, there was at least one case of a Japanese producer publicly asking American fan subbers to refrain from translating and noncommercially distributing a particular title (Zac Bertschy, "2002—Fansubs in review," Anime News Network, January 14, 2003, http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2003-01-27/7). In fact, a connection can be drawn from this kind of approach to what is apparently the highly successful experiment undertaken by the band Radiohead, which released its 2007 album Rainbows online without a set price. Eduardo Porter links it to the concept, first proposed by Andreoni (1990), of the "warm glow"—the unquantifiable satisfaction of "helping create a new art form—or a new economy" ("Radiohead's warm glow," New York Times, October 14, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/14/opinion/14sun3.html). Rather than attacking individual nodes, which is costly and does not answer the question of redundancy, or of approaching the network as a whole, which involves even more financial commitment, this approach works at the connections between the nodes. It addresses not merely the network as it exists at any given point in time, but the reasons why a network would be formed in the first place. In fact, returning to the origins of thinking about Net wars from a national security perspective, this kind of approach is near to the model proposed by Abrahms (2008) of the terrorist organization as primarily a social unit.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] The concept of networks and Net war is clearly too important to be limited to thinking merely about defense, security, or political issues. From Castells's (1996) idea of the network society arises what Varnelis (2008, 145) calls "network culture," where the network is the "dominant organizational paradigm." Ronfeldt and Arquilla (2001b) argue that the "rise of netwar and its many early successes imply the need for statecraft to adjust to—perhaps be transformed by—these civil and uncivil manifestations of the information revolution." And likewise, as network culture begins to have a meaningful impact in other spheres, all types of organizations and business entities will need to become aware of how networks are going to affect—both positively and negatively—many of the basic patterns of interaction between content producers and their intended audiences. The next step will have to involve understanding the exact nature of the network. This in turn will determine the scope of available actions and responses. The experience of anime fans and the anime industry is a specific case, but nonetheless, it holds lessons for all types of content producers. At the same time, the success that fan sub distribution networks have enjoyed itself may be used by other social groups, whether they are distributing particular products or broader ideas.

[6.2] In 2005, the business magazines Forbes and Fortune were singing the praises of American anime companies for their success in turning fans' demands into handsome profits. But as noted earlier, the outlook for their continuing success was already bleak. Five years have now gone since those laudatory articles, and the North American anime market is structured in a much different way. Many of the companies that had been sharing the market have since gone out of business, and those that still remain have greatly downsized their product lines, at least in terms of actual DVDs. Even for DVDs that are still on release schedules, production and marketing costs are being trimmed whenever possible (Chris Tribbey, "Anime Expo indicates industry climate," Home Media Magazine, July 7, 2008, http://www.homemediamagazine.com/news/anime-expo-indicates-industry-climate-13084). What has really changed is the approach that both the American companies and anime's Japanese producers have been taking to digital distribution. Whereas in 2005 turning to a fan sub was most likely the only way to download an anime episode, now, for many series, fans are presented with an entirely legitimate, authorized form of digital access. The speed at which fan subbers were working then is now frequently the standard practice for anime shows placed online with the full consent of their Japanese creators and American commercial distributors. If assuring that kind of release pattern was the goal of the fan sub war, then that war has been won.

[6.3] The paradox is—don't tell that to the fan subbers. Much of the original reasoning behind fan subs is no longer applicable. Now it's not about filling the void when no authorized release exists. Rather, it's about direct competition with authorized distributors, but with the benefit of not having to think about licensing fees, translator wages, or taxes. Viewers, especially those who are not particularly sophisticated, are faced with the option of paying to watch an authorized translation of a new anime episode, or choosing one of several unauthorized versions to watch for free. In fact, recently, a new front has opened in the conflict, now involving what are known as scanlations—noncommercial, unauthorized translations of Japanese comics. The features of the conflict between media rights holders and unauthorized creator/distributor networks may have changed from how this conflict first played out, but the fan sub war is still being fought on new fronts, without an end in sight.

7. Acknowledgments

[7.1] I thank Dr. Carol E. B. Choksy for her recommendations in selecting the topic of this study, as well as Lawrence Eng, Brian Ruh, Brent Allison, and the other members of the Anime and Manga Research Circle for their inspiring and helpful comments.

8. Note

1. Both fans and the scholarly literature frequently treat this term as one word—fansub. The derivative form fansubbing is also used. See, for example, Dattebayo Fansubs (http://www.dattebayo.com); Nakama-Fansubs (http://www.nakama-fansubs.com); Poitras (2001, 74); and Rusch (2009).

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