Japan's manga industry under threat from piracy websites

The global phenomenon of Japanese anime and manga is attracting hordes of piracy websites that illegally sell the popular content.

Criminal punishments of piracy site operators outside Japan

NHK has learned that a Chinese court has found three nationals guilty of copyright infringement for running one of the largest anime piracy websites targeting people in Japan.

A Japanese industry group, the Content Overseas Distribution Association, or CODA, says a court in Jiangsu Province convicted three people for operating the site, and handed them suspended jail terms in December. CODA says it had warned Chinese authorities about the website.

The court said the group's ringleader ran the site for profit for about 15 years from 2008, through servers in China, Canada, Japan and elsewhere.

The court recognized they had made some 250,000 dollars in ad revenue by distributing more than 45,000 video clips without permission.

Before being closed last year, the site, known as B9GOOD, had allowed visitors free access to many titles, including Japanese anime and films. It boasted more than 300 million visits for the two years until 2023.

The organization says this is the first time that criminal penalties have been imposed on piracy site operators outside Japan, following a Japanese request.

Manga on a piracy website

This image shows manga in Vietnamese illegally posted on a piracy website.

Piracy sites that translate Japanese manga into foreign languages and post them without permission have been expanding in recent years, mainly in Southeast Asia. They're getting at least five times greater traffic than Japanese sites.

A recent survey by a corporation that includes publishers found there were more than 1,200 piracy sites, of which over 70 percent, or around 900, were in non-Japanese languages. The losses in 2023 from users evading fees are estimated to be more than 2.5 billion dollars for Japanese sites, and those from foreign-language versions are thought to be much larger.

Illegal apps that direct users to such sites are worsening the situation.

A major publisher said that in early 2023, they found at least five apps tied to foreign-language piracy sites available at app stores run by Google and Apple.

The publisher took legal action and the apps were deleted. CODA says it's difficult to identify foreign piracy sites at official app stores, as they are displayed differently depending on country or region.

Electronic publishers who aim to circulate legitimate apps are seeking the help of experts to avoid losses.

Nakajima Hiroyuki, a lawyer specializing in copyright and piracy sites, said some sites offering pirated English content attract more than 200 million accesses a month.

Some websites restrict access from Japan to avoid detection. He also pointed out that people may misunderstandingly download pirate apps if they are distributed on regular platforms.

He says piracy sites have become a grave concern as rights holders are suffering huge losses.

Nakajima also said closing such sites is not enough as the operators of the illegal platforms often keep the money. He emphasized it's vital to implement measures to identify such operators and hold them criminally accountable.