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Are Scanlation Sites Playing Hide-and-Seek With Manga Publishers?

By June 23, 2010

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MangaFox logoLate last week, comics-industry watchers were astonished to hear that popular manga scanlation-hosting site MangaFox pulled unauthorized scans for over 230 manga series licensed in the U.S. by VIZ Media, and over 100 additional manga series per requests from various scanlation groups. But in the face of mounting legal pressure, are scanlation sites like MangaFox really complying with cease-and-desist orders from publishers, or are they playing a game of hide-and-seek?

Dengeki Daisy Vol. 1UK-based manga blogger Kimi-chan did some snooping around and found that after MangaFox removed the VIZ titles from their roster, things aren't quite as simple as it originally seemed. For starters, it seems that due to recently-implemented restrictions, the volunteer staff who are generally in charge of removing manga series from the MangaFox site are not allowed to completely remove the files - they can only "lock" or hide the files and flag them. This means that with a little ingenuity, savvy users could still possibly access the files through their RSS feeds or bookmarks.

A few tweets from MangaHelpers (a site that has recently purged all of its unauthorized scans in favor of developing a legit alternative, Open Manga) offered some hints about tactics that some scan sites may have be using in response to cease-and-desist orders.

mangahelpers protip: these sites don't have the majority of their entrance sources be main page.

mangahelpers even one manga have for years now had the main page display a "maintenance downtime" for jp visitors

In her post titled "Shell Game Manga," Kim pointed out how another scanlation site, AnimeA was skirting the issue by removing links to the scanlated series from the "front door" or via the site's main directory, but still leaving the actual manga pages accessible via links easily found via Google. As Kimi described her experiences on AnimeA:

Visit their site, click on a manga title they have supposedly removed, (all Viz so far, just like MangaFox) and up comes a message that it is licensed and you have to buy it. But if you have a page bookmarked, or come via a search engine, and click on a listed numbered chapter of (name of removed manga), guess what? Yes, it is there, just hidden and inaccessible from the main page in an attempt to appear compliant.

Finder Vol. 1After Kim posted her note, it only took a day for word to reach AnimeA site admins . When a fan asked what happened to the scans of My Loveprize in the Viewfinder, a yaoi manga title by Ayano Yamane (which is currently licensed by Digital Manga Publishing), AnimeA admin Lizarazu replied:

guess you refer at the manga You're My Love Prize in Viewfinder (Finder).

All mangas that are licensed won't be on AnimeA anymore - that means nerver(sic) ever.

If you want to find out about releases from this manga try (Manga Updates). There you can also find the links to the scan groups that are going this. But you must know that many scan groups drop their projects if they are licensed so don't cry out loud it there won't be anymore(sic) releases, on any other site, from this title. Try buying the volumes and support the mangaka!

I wasn't able to replicate the steps that Kim described to access any of the now locked VIZ Media titles, such as Nana, GinTama, Bleach, Naruto or One Piece on MangaFox, so perhaps they've closed that loophole, if it existed? In any case, posts like Kim's and Manga Helpers has raised some suspicions about the scan sites' compliance with C&D orders, such that publishers and their legal representatives might want to keep an close eye on their actions from here on out.

UPDATE: As of 10 PM on Wednesday, Ooku, Legend of Kamui and Voyeurs have been removed from MangaFox's front page directory and search -- but if I click on any of the URLs I have saved for any of these series, they still display those manga pages if I click on them. With a quick Google search, I was also able to access the mobile version of MangaFox's hosted pages of scans from Naruto. So it looks like Kim's assertions are correct -- when MangaFox "pulls/locks" a series, there are still backdoor ways of getting into these files.

NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T: YAOI / MATURE MANGA ON MANGAFOX
Why did the MangaFox admins just "lock" these unauthorized scans and not purge the files completely? Well, only admins employed by Noez, the China-based parent company of MangaFox have the ability to completely remove files. Also, keeping the scanlated manga pages locked rather than completely removing them means that if Noez' alleged "negotiations" with VIZ go well, then it's probably just a flick of the switch to open the pages up to readers once more - a process that's much easier than asking that the files be uploaded again.

So what keeps fans' hopes alive that MangaFox will soon re-open access to super-popular but now locked series like Bleach, One Piece and Naruto? Well, one only has to look back a few months to April 2010, when MangaFox admins locked all the "mature" manga (including a lot of explicit boys love / yaoi manga titles) due to a threat from Google Adsense, a major source of MangaFox's revenue.

In this article posted on April 9, 2010 on L7 World, Mark Putnam writes:

According to Google Adsense Terms of Service (TOS) simply linking to pornography (legal or not) is a violation, that is unless a website has enough traffic to make it worthwhile.

Manga & anime (Japanese comics and cartoons) frequently involve characters of questionable age in sexual situations but there's nothing ambiguous about the genres known as Lolicon and Shotacon, in which clearly prepubescent girls and boys are blatantly sexualized. While no actual children are involved, these images are still considered illegal under the United States' Protect Act and the UK's Coroners and Justice Act.

The article then goes on to list links to various anime and scanlation websites hosting "lolicon" and "shotacon" content. It also lists the names of major corporations whose ads were found on these sites, including American Express, Verizon, Gilette and Frito-Lay. On top of that, Putnam apparently brought this situation to the attention of these advertisers. Several responded by promising to "investigate" and "escalate."

This news made its way to the MangaFox forums. In a post dated April 15, 2010, "manga.dreamer," a MangaFox administrator linked to the L7 World article and posted this announcement:

Recently we got notices from our advertisters (sic) that we are not allow to host any adult/porn related content, especially in child porn section. So we need to clean up the site right now.

Okay, there WAS a dedicated child porn section on MangaFox? (shudder)

Little ButterflyWhen this policy was implemented, MangaFox readers were up in arms, much like they were when the VIZ Media titles were pulled. But flash forward only two months to June 21, 2010 - that's when MangaFox admin firefly-lynn posted this announcement:

Dear Mangafox members,

We ,mangafox has gone through a lot of difficulties recently, and we feel so sorry for the inconvenience we brought to all of you.

Now, we do not want to let you down, so we decide to re-open mature manga with the cost of losing Google ads.

Even there are still many difficulties left, we have the confidence to fix them one by one. Enjoy yourself here, and your consistent support and love for MF are precious to us.

This news was met with great joy in the MangaFox forums, especially from fans who mentioned that they lived in countries where yaoi manga is almost impossible to obtain. This return of many once-removed series gave several fans reasons to hope that maybe, just maybe Naruto and other VIZ-licensed titles would return, if they were just patient enough to wait.

A quick search on MangaFox using their "advanced search" feature and clicking on categories like "mature" and "yaoi" revealed several pages of titles to choose from, including titles that are clearly licensed by U.S. manga publishers, including:

Digital Manga Publishing

  • Little Butterfly by Hinako Takanaga
  • Kizuna by Kazuma Kodaka
  • Ludwig II by You Higuri
  • Yellow by Makoto Tateno
  • Ze by Yuki Shimizu
  • SugarMilk by Jaryu Dokuro (a direct scan of DMP's June Manga edition, complete w/ cover art and copyrights)

MW TokyoPop

  • Croquois by Hinako Takanaga
  • Gerard and Jacques by Fumi Yoshinaga
  • Gravitation EX by Maki Murakami
  • Love Pistols by Kotobuki Tarako

Vertical

  • MW by Osamu Tezuka (a direct scan of Vertical edition)

Also notable: many titles listed in the "mature" category have updates posted after April 15 and before the official "return" date of June 21, which suggests that these titles remained live, update-able and accessible even while being "locked."

Will re-posting "mature manga" on their site cost MangaFox advertising revenue from Google Adsense, or are they just hoping that the "coast is clear" and advertisers (and Google) won't notice? This is hard to confirm without additional comments from MangaFox. But in the short term, they gained the gratitude of some of their readers, as MangaFox gave them one more reason to keep coming back for more.

THE PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE APPROACH: "IF ITS NOT ON THE LIST YOU GAVE US..."
Ooku Vol. 1So did MangaFox really remove all of the licensed VIZ Media titles from their site? No, not exactly. A quick scan of the site found these VIZ Media titles still posted on MangaFox - some even updated as recently as last month.

  • Ooku by Fumi Yoshinaga - Updated on May 23, 2010, and it's a direct scan of the VIZ Media edition, right down to the semi-Shakesperean dialogue.
  • Legend of Kamui by Sanpei Shirato - another direct scan of the VIZ edition, complete with VIZ copyright notices
  • Voyeur by Hideo Yamamoto - another direct scan of the VIZ edition, complete w/ the copyrights.

These titles are also licensed by VIZ, but remain posted on MangaFox:

  • Arata: The Legend (Arata Kangatari) by Yuu Watase
  • Gente (Gente Ristorante Hitobito) by Natsume Ono
  • Hyde and Closer (Magic Ban Removal! Hyde and Closer) by Haro Aso
  • Kamisama Kiss (Kamisama Hajimemashite) by Julietta Suzuki
  • Kurozakuro by Yoshinori Natsume
  • Legend of Saiunkoku (Saiunkoku Monogatari) by Sai Yukino and Yura Kairi

Vampire Kisses Vol. 3Up until yesterday, new VIZ titles like Toriko by Mitsukoshi Shimabukuro and Dengeki Daisy by Kyousuki Motomi were posted, but were pulled down as of today. Until then, Dengeki Daisy was a top 10 title on MangaFox, generating over 200,000 page views per month.

Also worth noting: One of the most popular manga series posted on MangaFox now is Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber, rem and Elisa Kwon, a original English language manga co-production from HarperCollins and TokyoPop. Or to put it another way -- it was first published in the U.S. and never needed to be translated from Japanese because it was only ever published in English. And as a relatively recent release, it isn't exactly out of print either.

I'm not even going to get into the hundreds of additional titles licensed by TokyoPop, Del Rey Manga and Digital Manga Publishing that remain listed on MangaFox. How long will these titles remain on this site? Who knows. But this whole chasing after unauthorized scans thing is starting to feel like an extended game of "Whack-a-Mole" with no end in sight.

Image credits: MangaFox, Kyousuke Motomi / HAKUSENSHA, Inc., Ayano Yamane, Hinako Takanaga, Tezuka Productions, Fumi Yoshinaga, Ellen Schreiber / HarperCollins

Comments

June 23, 2010 at 5:08 pm
(1) Getsu says:

It’s been happening for years. You could even call it “common practice”. If not for recent developments, it would have likely continued.

For example, all series that were locked on OneManga at the request of the publishers were still accessible (until recently). If you typed the URL, typically by entering onemanga.com/manga name/chapter number/page number, chapters uploaded before the series was “suspended”, were once accessible.

Similar results could be obtained when MangaFox first “removed” ‘mature’ manga. And yes, you’re quite right, I just tried accessing the WSJ titles and it didn’t work.

Speaking of which, the whole ‘mature’ manga facade was a debacle. In addition to the above, I believe the titles were still accessible through MangaFox’s beta site which was in development.

With Yaoi titles, there were clear discrepancies when using the advanced search function. Titles not tagged as ‘mature’, but which still contained ‘mature’ content, were not locked and other such things too tedious to go into detail. But I suppose that was a flaw with the tagging system instead of a deliberate attempt to hide the ‘naughty stuff’.

Regarding the L7 article, it clearly misrepresented what classifies as “child porn” and what classifies as “loli”/”shota”. There was NO child porn on MangaFox in the strict sense of the term. Possibly obscene by some (US) standards and applicable laws, but calling titles such as Kodomo no Jikan and other series containing “lolis” as “child porn” is a blatant falsity. For one, KnJ contains NO, sexually explicit content which could be regarded for pornographic purposes. There was never real hentai ‘lolicon’, or otherwise, on MangaFox.

The way I see it, re-opening ‘mature’ manga was a desperate move to retain traffic. With the big WSJ titles (One Piece, Naruto and Bleach) gone, the only thing keeping people in MagaFox would be the ‘mature’ manga – that, believe it or not, members (most of which are not ‘old enough’) flock to after being deprived of them for so long – especially titles which can tagged with ‘mature’, ‘smut’, ‘adult’ and particularly, ‘yaoi’. Not that they were not available elsewhere (seinen), though I imagine the some of the yaoi might have been harder to find.

And yes, direct scans are not anything new on MangaFox, though if those concerned with uploads feel like it, on a whim, they may remove the title – though many stay without being noticed.

“Hide-and-seek” is a very accurate term to describe the scanlation community in general.

June 24, 2010 at 1:53 pm
(2) BruceMcF says:

In AnimeA, it doesn’t even need an external search or saved bookmark to find a “locked” file. Someone who only wants to catch up with the “last chapter” need only go to the “popular manga” list, and there are the most viewed chapters this week, whether the series page is “locked” or not.

June 26, 2010 at 7:39 am
(3) Garble says:

MangaFox does not host Original English Language manga. I asked one of the mods there if I could upload Bizenghast and she/he said that they don’t host OEL’s. It’s stated on their rules, too but why Vampire Kisses is up there is beyond me.

June 26, 2010 at 8:23 pm
(4) Ashley says:

I think the only thing that will make the scanlation issue disappear is for manga chapters to come out for the rest of the world within the same week in Japan – whether it’s online or print, but online would be faster.

I don’t think it’s too far fetched of an idea for the fans to pay a small fee (or have the site have advertisements to compensate costs) to Viz, Tokyopop, etc. to read Naruto, Bleach, etc. a day or two after it comes out in Japan. It might just work (like SigIkki or Shonen Sunday).

June 26, 2010 at 9:11 pm
(5) Cait says:

I don’t see how MangaFox/Viz would have any right to use scanlation translations of any of those titles, even if they worked something out with each other. Hell, even the scanned rips don’t belong to the aggregators, not that the scanners/scanlators would be able to win a legal battle over it given that they are already infringing on copyright by creating said scans. However, Viz and MangaFox could very well get themselves in trouble with fandom by a joint effort to profit from such scans. Which might not be a bad thing. It might just get the scanlators to think twice about continuing their projects on licensed titles.

As for simultaneous release schedules, Netcomics has already proved that a small publisher, working on a couple of titles for simultaneous release, can work, however, it is completely unrealistic to think that it could be done in the same week. Scanlators don’t even work that fast, and even if the English publisher got the finished product at the same time it went to print in Japan, from what I understand books go to print right before they come out (as in, deadlines are incredibly close), meaning it would still be several weeks between Japanese and English releases. Factor in the need that the Japanese want to make their money back on their print release before allowing international localization, as well as that this would never, ever work for any but the most popular titles on a regular basis (the cost/profit ration wouldn’t make it worthwhile), and the idea is plausible but nowhere near simple.

June 27, 2010 at 7:25 am
(6) Getsu says:

@Cait: No way are Viz and MangaFox going to co-operate. They can’t even begin to relate in any way, whether this be legally or their involvement in the industry. Viz is owned by Shogakukan and Shueisha. MangaFox is owned by a Chinese internet advertising company…

About Viz owning the rights to the translations, as I understand it, the publishers would be able to enforce their rights over current scanlation translations, due to the fact they own the original copyrights? Scanlators are very unlikely to be able to claim copyright over the scanlation translations, which for the most part are literal and possess little transformative value, and well, you can’t claim copyright over something which you were not granted permission for, thus not having copyright, in the first place.

June 28, 2010 at 12:00 am
(7) Aaron says:

Honestly for every officially licensed title that gets pulled there are hundreds if not thousands of titles that are not licensed in America or in an english translation. I can google Thomas no Shinzō by Moto Hagio and literally the first or second result is to a scan website that has it.

It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul the noticable english language series gets pulled but lesser known stuff or things that only have a Japanese release get scanned it’s all really disingenuous if you ask me.

June 28, 2010 at 6:15 am
(8) FA says:

perhaps it’s time to buy onemanga and mangafox or forcefully seize them and have them as free, ad-supported, internationally open to everyone sites?

look at crunchyroll. sure the quality is questionable, but people who read manga on youtube will not complain about quality. and people still buy premium accounts with CR.

more page views, more revenue.

but them forming a coalition – it smacks of the Riaa, mpaa fiasco. the manga community is a niche and touchy community. anger it and expect quite a lot of hate – look at that company that went after torrentors.

July 25, 2010 at 9:55 pm
(9) unknown says:

if you close down these 2 manga websites 100 or more are there to pick up the slack is no stopping it look at the music ind. Sure raps. and other music sites are making them pay for the music but u type in a song you can find 100+ free music download sites

August 7, 2011 at 11:23 pm
(10) asdf says:

Get your facts straight. Mangafox is NOT a ‘scanlation’ site, but an aggregate site for scanlator works.

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