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Libraries Are Not The Same as Manga Scanlation Sites

4 Reasons Why Reading Manga From a Library Isn't Piracy


Robin Brenner

Robin Brenner

Courtesy of Robin Brenner

When fans have protested the closure of scanlation sites that hosted unauthorized translated scans of pirated manga, several complained that they didn't see the difference between reading manga scanlations online and borrowing and reading manga from a library. "Libraries offer manga that's free to read too! Why aren't publishers going after libraries?" they'd ask.

To stop this nonsense once and for all, I asked librarian, author and blogger Robin Brenner to explain why borrowing and reading manga from a library isn't the same as reading illegal, scanned versions of the same books. Here's her breakdown on the four reasons why libraries aren't the same as scanlation websites.


Scanlation sites do not equal libraries. Thanks.

As the days of One Manga dwindled, I perused the hundreds and hundreds of comments about the demise of online manga access. One argument surfaced over and over again that got my goat: "Why is scanlation any different from what libraries do? They give out manga for free all the time!"

Oh, dear. I'm here, as a card-carrying member of the American Library Association for over ten years (seriously, I can show you the card in my wallet), to explain just why this argument fails.

Manga from libraries are not free.

They are free for you, the person who checks them out. They are not free for us, the libraries who purchase them. Got it? We pay for our manga and anime just like anyone else. Just like all the books, DVDs, and online databases we provide, we shell out money to make sure that you have access to them. (On a side note, you would not believe how many people think that publishers just donate books to the library. For once and for all, this is not the case.)

Taxes are generally what support public libraries, by the way. In that sense, it's not strictly free for you. However, a colleague of mine once calculated how much of one's taxes went to the public library, and it amounted to $30. If you read more than three volumes of manga in a year, you're getting every manga you read after that for free.

One copy for free via a library is not the same as unlimited copies for free.

Manga and anime are only free from the library if you return them on time. Late fees are standard. If you don't return the title, then you will get charged with replacing it for the collection. Unlike scanlation sites, if you never return that title, no one else will ever get to read it. It's one copy. Only one person can read it at a time, and there's a good chance the library can only afford to buy it once.

Scanlations are a far different beast. There is no limit on how many people can read a scanlated manga chapter at once. There is no limit on how many copies of the same scanlation may be copied, distributed, and downloaded. Scanlation provides a lot more ostensibly free copies than libraries do. They provide countless free copies. Libraries provide one.

Manga from the library is ok in terms of copyright law. Scanlation site copies are not.

Because we pay for our copies of manga and anime, we are upholding copyright. A bit of what we pay goes back to the original creators, the publishers and the distributors who offer us the opportunity to buy said manga and anime. We are supporting the business that allows those people to create and publish what we love to consume. If our copies fall apart or go missing, we buy more. We buy more copies if a series is super popular, and we buy more series if our patrons clamor for more.

The public library is a time-honored institution that provides free and open access to resources and information (including manga and anime), and it's a grand thing. We love what we do. But we, as an institution, have paid for the rights to lend all of the materials and resources we provide.

The key word there is lend. Not copy in its entirety, lend. Not keep forever, but borrow for a limited amount of time.

Copyright does not govern anyone's ability to lend materials out. We can lend out copies to our patrons without fear of the copyright holders coming after us. Copyright does cover the origin of the copy you're lending in that it must come from a source with the legal right to reproduce the work. Publishers have this right. Scanlators do not have this right.

By allowing a finite number of people to read our copies of manga is, in fact, doing what so many scanlators claim scanlations do: building the audience and introducing many a readers to a format they may not have considered reading before. If your friend reads a manga from the library, and then at their recommendation you rush out and borrow it too, a fan is being created.

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