The Pirate Anime FAQ
Comments, questions, suggestions, amendments and other feedback should be sent to email@example.com.
What are Unlicensed Goods?
What sort of unlicensed goods are out there?
Why do some retailers sell them?
Why shouldn't I buy them?
Unless you live in Taiwan or another country that hasn't signed the Berne Convention (unlikely) it is illegal to import them, your customs office has the right to confiscate these goods and would probably destroy them, you wouldn't get a refund of any kind either. US Citizens should note it is also a federal offence to import, buy, sell or trade these goods.
Often the production of unlicensed goods is used by organised crime to launder money made from selling drugs, pornography and prostitution and to generally expand "business" opportunities.
Also quality of the goods is often a lot less than official goods. Unlicensed goods go through little, if any quality control, often rushed into production.
Another more important reason, is money from anime/manga merchandise licenses go into making more anime and manga, so buying unlicensed goods is hurting the anime and manga industry. No one can say how much it is hurting the industry as the bootleggers are not exactly legitimate businesses and don't release their sales figures.
Why do some people buy unlicensed anime goods?
Places that sell legitimate anime and manga goods might also stock unlicensed goods (as mentioned before knowingly or unknowingly), Sci-Fi shops, China Towns are more likely to stock such goods as nearly all Anime and manga bootlegs originate from the Far East.
Some anime and manga retailers have a policy not to stock unlicensed goods, you may want to ask them about this if you are really concerned. As a general rule of thumb the bigger the retailer the less likely they are to stock unlicensed goods.
On-line Auctions sites such as eBay, Amazon's Market Place and similar services are frequently used to hawk pirate goods for more details about this please read the On-line Auction section below.
On-line Auctions Sites
Beware of eBay. Due to recent court rulings finding eBay not liable for the trade of Bootleg goods on their website, it is strongly advised to use caution when purchasing goods from eBay and similar online auction and trading sites. The sale of pirate merchandise seems to be on the increase on such services and many seem uncooperative when people complain about pirate goods being sold.
Currently eBay seem to remove only really obvious pirate items from their auctions. Many people have tried and failed to get eBay to remove pirated DVDs and other goods from their listings. Only retailers signed up to eBay's VeRO Program appear to have had any success in removing bootleg items.
Recently it seems that finding pirate DVDs on eBay is a lot easier than finding legitimate ones, 3 Disc DVD box sets seem to be especially common. In other words eBay is rife with bootleg anime DVDs! Remember eBay make their money through people listing items on their site and don't have the resources to check every auction. Perhaps if more people complained to eBay, something would happen.
Reading eBay's User Agreement for setting up an account you will find this disclaimer:
"We are not involved in the actual transaction between buyers and sellers. As a result, we have no control over the quality, safety or legality of the items advertised, the truth or accuracy of the listings, the ability of sellers to sell items or the ability of buyers to pay for items. We cannot ensure that a buyer or seller will actually complete a transaction." [User Agreement Section 3.1 - http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/user-agreement.html]
This is a pretty standard disclaimer, but one you should remember when purchasing things from eBay and similar auction sites.
Products and what to look for:
If you are unsure that the merchandise you are buying is genuine or not you should closely examine the product and consider all these factors. The more popular the anime series the more likely there is to be a pirate good. Dragon Ball, Doraemon, Evangelion, Gundam, Pokemon, Sailormoon and Totoro are popular with the bootleggers. After awhile you will develop a sense of what is an unlicensed good and what is not.
I wish it was as easy to say if the price is too cheap to be true then it is a bootleg, but now anime and manga is becoming more popular, goods can be picked up at a reasonable price. Some retailers even have sales or special discounts to shift stock, so compare price with quality. Some retailers have latched on to this, upping the price of the unlicensed goods in order to trick the consumer that they get what they pay for.
Also look for printing defects such as moiré lines or horizontal scanlines. Colour bleeding and unreadable or blurry small print is a good indication of bootleg goods. Poor graphical design with characters cropped badly, or bad colour combinations and characters with the wrong colour skin tones or hair colour is also a good give-away when looking for pirate merchandise.
Note when looking at the small print look at the spellings of company names. Nintindo and Studio Ghiblu are not the official spellings of Nintendo and Studio Ghibli!
What is more worrying is that it is not just anime and manga goods that are affected by this strange phenomenon. Some JAL programs used to (and still might) call Shepherds Pie "Beef Stew with Potato Sauce".
It should be noted that it is very common for Pirate DVDs to have very poor English translations.
Legal in Country of Origin
Products and what to look for.
However now with cheaper and more accurate colour reproduction available some very high quality counterfeit artbooks have started to appear on the market and as a result are harder to spot. The decent counterfeits can be hard to identify. If you compare these artbooks to official anime and manga artbooks the subtle differences are easier to notice. Colours on the counterfeit books are duller than the originals, yellows and oranges are also slightly washed out. Dirt and tiny marks may also be printed on these books, but it may take time to find these. It is worth taking note that some official artbooks do have textured covers (such as many Studio Ghibli artbooks), these covers are something that is currently not replicated when producing a counterfeit artbook.
More recently Alion have been producing a wider range of CD titles and not just Final Fanasty Audio CDs like in the past.
Quality is variable some are very good fakes, some are shoddy, since CD is a digital media, some pressings are near identical to the original others have plenty of faults, since there is little quality control, it is hard to say which is more common.
Both SonMay and EverAnime CDs packaging are of a lower quality than the original, they pass as originals at first glance, but close inspection shows that the inlay may be a bit speckley or have horizontal lines on them. If you can look at several copies of the same album, if the colours are slightly different shades, or if there are some other differences in the printing.
The cases are normal CD cases as they can be purchased in bulk very cheaply. To give you an idea of how much profit is being made from the sale of these CDs, some retailers are offered SM CDs at a wholesale price of $1 each! Now if the retailers are selling them off at $7 to $15 each you can see how much you are being ripped off. Also remember that no money what so ever goes back to the artist that produced the music in the first place.
All CDs have a number at the bottom, if you turn it upside down you should be able to see a fairly long number and possibly a bar code (maybe some Japanese lettering too). Most bootleg CDs have a short number, with the exception of SonMay CDs which often have a long number just like official CDs. If the number has been scratched off is also a clue to whether the CD is bootleg or not.
It should be noted although SonMay and EverAnime CDs are the most common kind of bootleg CD you are likely to encounter. Other bootleg CDs do exist, they include (but are not limited to):
Apart from avoiding any CD that has a Yahoo.com or similar free e-mail account, (since a legitimate business would not use a free account because are negative to the company image), also avoid CDs and DVDs with e-mail addresses that end in .tw (the Taiwanese top level domain) or hinet.net. HiNet are a Taiwanese government owned telecoms company, and a legitimate business, with an ISP service, which any member of the public in Taiwan can get.
Although the range of clothes varies as fashion changes several factors always seem to appear with unlicensed clothes. Lack of copyright information is the most common, either on the front of the clothes or on the labelling. Another common trick is to change the colours when anime characters are used, in an apparent attempt at avoiding any copyright problems. Reds are normally changed to purple or dark blue, hair and eye colour may also be changed.
T-shirts are the most commonly sold clothes, and print quality is variable. Recently in the past couple of years girls tops, with designs printed all over them have become more widespread, as well as 100% polyester shirts (often called Club Shirts or Hawaiian style shirts). Both are quite tacky compared to normal quality clothing. Sometimes they are accompanied by random Kanji lettering that could have been taken from anywhere.
eBay are rife with pirate anime DVDs, so use extreme caution when purchasing DVDs from eBay and similar auction sites.
The following companies are all DVD pirates (a selection of their logos can be found further down the page):
It should also be noted that recently DVD pirates have become more sophisticated using higher print quality and holographic stickers on their packaging, similar to official licensing stickers, to add an extra level of authenticity to their counterfeit products.
Like official companies, some counterfeit DVD firms even include their e-mail address in the small print along with other contact details. If they are using Yahoo, Hotmail or similar free e-mail account you can be certain they are DVD pirates, after all what sort of entertainment company would use a free e-mail account instead of a more high profile domain name?
Many pirate anime DVDs have certain factors in common, they are almost always set to All Regions or Region 0 which is also known as "Region Free". They have Chinese subtitles as well as the Japanese audio track, and many often have an English subtitle track which will vary in quality and accuracy of translation.
Also look at the price, you would not be able to buy a DVD boxset for $40 with all 26 episodes of a series on! If the price is too good to be true, then it is not the real thing.
A title that proves popular bootleg title is the "Archives of Studio Ghibli" DVD set (which is not to be confused with the official Archives of Studio Ghibli Artbooks). No legally licensed equivalent of this currently exists.
Very few officially licensed DVDs sold in Taiwan, Hong Kong and other Region 3 countries have English and Cantonese/Chinese subtitles, this includes "Spirited Away", "My Neighbour Totoro" and "Kiki's Delivery Service", which do have official releases (with English subtitles) but are still being pirated. More details about these titles can be found at Nausicaa.net.
So remember, if it is set to Region 0 or All Regions and has Chinese as well as English subtitles there is a very strong chance that the title is a bootleg.
So if in doubt, check AnimeOnDVD.com to see if it is out yet.
Anime companies including Manga Entertainment, Central Park Media and UK firm Kiseki do set some of their DVDs to all Regions or Region 0, so please take this into account when checking for pirate goods. Pioneer and ADV occasionally set their DVDs to Region 1 and Region 4 depending on licensing.
If you own a DVD and are uncertain if it is authentic after reading all this, have a look at the inner ring of the DVD near the hole in the middle. Normally there is a serial number in this area, just like a CD. If it has been scratched off, melted away or otherwise tampered with then that is another sure sign of a pirate/bootleg DVD. This number is used to identify the DVD pressing plant and has been removed so it cannot be traced.
It should be noted that Odex a Singapore based company do sell legally licensed anime DVDs and VCDs at a reasonable price, these are mostly Pioneer titles.
Episode to Disc Ratio.
When a fansub is made in a digital format such as DIVX, MPEG, Realmedia or Quicktime encoded file, they are often called Digisubs (digital fansubs).
The quality of the fansub can vary greatly depending on the original source materials, the equipment the fansubber has, media they use to distribute and the format they choose. Quality of translation is also very variable from fansubber to fansubber. Although fansubs are unlicensed and a breech of copyright law, video companies in the western anime industry generally turn a blind eye. Fansubbers stop distributing the title as soon as the license has been bought by a company who will produce the title in their local language (this may not mean the fansubber's country). If they do not stop distributing titles when a license has been purchased by a video company the fansubber can be seen as video pirates and risk criminal prosecution. This is a area of debate in anime fandom, as some fansubbers still distribute titles that have been licensed in their local language. If the licensed version is heavily edited the fansubber believes that distributing the original is still permitted. Video Companies chose to ignore moral fansubbers for many reasons (which we will not go into depth about in this guide, but will in a future article).
Readers should note that the only real licensed fansubber were ADV's Fansub wing which owns the licenses for the titles it released, they distributed them directly via mail order on commercial VHS tapes (not the blank ones fansubbers use), so technically they are not real fansubbers, but wish to label themselves as such. ADV Fansubs only existed for a short while and were used to release older titles on VHS to satisfy fans demands while they waited for the titles to be released on DVD.
With the increased popularity and availability of broadband internet access, affordable CD writers and cheap CD-Rs fansubbing is no longer limited to tape as it was years ago and digisubs are the most common form of distributing a fansub. Peer to Peer (P2P) file sharing networks have also been embraced by anime fans to share their digisubs on-line.
Digisubs should not be confused with copies or rips of licensed anime DVDs. This is when a DVD is purchased and copied onto a DVD-R or onto a computer hard drive where it is encoded into another computer format for distribution, this is video piracy and is also illegal, but not tolerated by the Anime Companies.
Digisubs greatest advantage is also problematic for the moral fansubber. In the "old days" when fansubbing was restricted to VHS tapes, only a limited run of fansubs could be produced. Additionally each copy of the distributed VHS tapes were lower quality than the master copy and any subsequent copies also degrade in quality. This encouraged fans to purchase the titles they have seen fansubbed, so that way they can see a higher quality edition. A few more ethical anime fans buy copies of anything they have fansubbed when it becomes licensed as they feel it is a moral obligation to do so.
However because a digisub does not degrade when copied, it can easily be distributed to a large number of people, via high speed internet access or by trading/borrowing/copying CD-Rs with other people.
Normally when a title is licensed fansubbers stop distributing it, however because digisubs are so much easier to distribute a fansubber can no longer prevent others copying a digisub. Since most digisubs are of reasonable to high quality (again it depends who authors it etc), the incentive to purchase the licensed copy is less, this results in more casual or unconcerned fans not bothering to buy the title when it comes out on DVD.
Plastic Toys - Action Figures, Plastic Kits, Resin Kits etc...
Is the copyright text somewhere on the model? Often it is hard to tell until the model is out of its packaging. Plastic kits often have the copyright information on every sprue (the plastic thing that everything is stuck to).
If the Kit says Phantom on it then it is an unlicensed kit from Korea. Phantom kits were formally known as Elfin Kits who have produced bootlegs of all sorts of anime kits. In order to so they acquire licensed kits and make moulds from them. Since they are made from kits and not the master models Phantom kits will always be lower quality than the original licensed product. Phantom also use their moulds for too long as a result the later kits produced are of a substantially lower quality.
Bandai kits and action figures have also been counterfeited by a firm called Bendi, using a logo like the red Bandai box, except with the name Bendi in it's place.
The more popular the trading cards the higher the chances are you will come across fakes. Fake Pokemon cards are probably the most common, some are easy to spot others are harder. Check the material they are printed on, is it the same as the other Pokemon cards you have? Does it flex when bent slightly? Look at the back of the card, counterfeit Pokemon cards often aren't the same shade of blue as official Pokemon Cards, often it is too dark or looks washed out. On the front of the card the copyright information could be incorrect with Nintendo and the other copyright holders names spelt wrongly. Check for the artists name, it could be spelt wrong or even have the wrong name. The card may be completely holographic/shiny on the front, or have a funny pattern on the hologram. Another give away is packaging if they are in the original foil wrap check if the ends have been crimped, official Pokemon card packs always have the silver ends of the foil crimped. If it is just in a plastic wallet, take the card out and have a look. After all the rarer cards are expensive and you don't want to spend money on a fake.
There are also unlicensed traditional playing cards. Often these are easy to spot as they don't have any kind of copyright information on them. Print quality is often poor and variable in a single deck.
Official Totoro dolls (and other Studio Ghibli plush toys) are of a very high quality, they all should have very nice fur, be well stuffed and have both a makers label sewn in and a card attached by plastic thread. Unlicensed Totoro dolls are of a lower quality by comparison, with the totoro's arms being too long and/or fat, the same sometimes applies to the ears. The fur is a bit shorter and feels cheaper. As well as being available in the official totoro colours bootleg totoros are available in neon colours such as bright green. One of the easiest ways to spot a fake totoro is to look at the chevrons (the triangles on his chest if he has them, not all do), if they look like they have been drawn on by a maker pen, which may be the case then they are not real totoro dolls. Fake catbuses tend to have darker brown fur, and sometimes no stripes of any kind, more than often they are not stuffed fully and look a little floppy.
Posters and Dirty Tricks
All pirate posters seem to have printing defects of some kind, it may be speckles of colour where there shouldn't be. It might have slight horizontal lines (an indication of being run through a scanner or an image being enlarged too much), browns in general look poor also.
What about dirty tricks I hear you cry? Well although it is not selling unlicensed goods what some retailers do is buy an anime calendar for (lets say) $15. Since some anime calendars have the dates right at the bottom they are just right to be guillotined and sold as individual posters at around $5 each! This can be very tricky to spot, the best way to do this is have a look at several posters and see if they are exactly the same size. Guillotining old anime calendars and using them as posters in your room is a great way of making them last longer and saves money, but please don't sell them as individual posters, after all it is dishonest!
They are Scanned translations of the original manga hence Scanlation. Normally the original manga in Japanese is scanned into a PC and then the text in the speech bubbles are airbrushed out and replaced with a translation in English (or whatever they are being translated into). The quality of a scanlation varies depending on the source material, the equipment used and how good the translator is too! Like fansubs technically Scanlations are also illegal, at the moment they are not as widespread as fansubs. We are currently not aware of any publishing companies taking action against authors of scanlations.
Scanlations are generally found on the internet and are not sold. Ethical scanlators stop distributing a title when it is licensed in their language. More moral translators only release a translation to the manga, without any images and state the page and panel numbers, this way the original source manga has to be obtained (eg: you have to own the Japanese original), some people use these translations as a guide to produce their own scanlations.
Can I link to this FAQ?
Details for Convention Staff
The following kind people have volunteered their time to translate and maintain this FAQ in other languages.
German Version - http://www.digital.anime.org.uk/piratefaq_de.html
French Version - http://www.digital.anime.org.uk/piratefaq_fr.html
The Anime Digital Team would like to thank the following people in the creation and support of this guide.
Alex McLaren of Otaku Publishing (http://www.otaku.com and http://www.otaku.co.uk) for some very useful information on SonMay and EverAnime CDs, as well as some excellent information about international copyright law.
Special thanks goes to all the proof readers that double checked the guide to make sure it was accurate they include - Kathy Hassinger, Helen McCarthy and Thurston Sherman.
A big smile goes to Sarah Morrison, the Anime Digital artist for creating the pirate character and the spot the fake picture for this FAQ.
Additional thanks goes to the Anime Web Turnpike for making this FAQ their pick of the week (October 16-23 2000).
A thank you also goes to Animerica who mentioned us in their Aug/Sep 01 Vol 9 NO 8/9 issue. It's the one with a Gundam on the cover, page 96 if you want to look.
Urban Vision also deserve a big thank you for linking to this FAQ from their main page, further increasing their customers awareness of pirate goods.
Matthew Whiteley also deserves a pat on the back for sending the To Heart T-shirt picture.
Special thanks goes to Markus G. Igel for getting his head around this FAQ and translating and localising it into German!
Thanks goes to both Wilma Jandoc and Stephen Tang for scans and extra details of Alion CDs.
John Thacker for the information about Meat Spaghetti.
Daniel Hies for the MAC DVD Images.
Thanks, as always goes to Chris Beveridge the main man behind AnimeOnDVD.com for allowing me to bounce some ideas off him.
Allie Bossaert and Corinne Leigh for various audio CD scans and some useful information.
And Michael, one of the admins at /., who approved my Ask Slashdot question. It was interesting to see the Slashdotter's responses and some of the post were very helpful. It was also fun to see the look on Dragon's face once he realised his webserver was Slashdotted, and survived!
Comments, questions, suggestions, amendments and other feedback should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
|This is site is best viewed using your eyes.|
©The Anime Digital Team - Anime Images are copyright of - Gainax, Pioneer / AIC, Studio Ghibli, Sunrise, Kodansha