On Fan Translation

Ranting Apr 26, 2022

Having been a fan of anime since before the rise of streaming services and simulcasts, I can still vividly remember back when fansubs were largely the only way to watch and read most anime and manga. That is to say that I am no stranger to piracy and consuming fan translations. With that, it should be clear that I take no issue with the fan-subbing scene itself. However, I do very much take issue with a very specific part of it: Specially those groups who clearly that are in it for profit.

Many if not most larger groups of today serve ads on their websites. This might not be too big of a problem by itself – ad-blockers should be something which everyone uses anyway – though the law will no doubt weigh in to say otherwise. There is also a significant portion who employ various forms of anti-scraper techniques on their websites. This is if nothing else an issue with accessibility, seeing as these means almost always prevents the browser's built-in "Reader" mode from functioning correctly.

Scrapers, both manual and automatic ones, are frustrating to deal with. It really is. Having others take your work and reuse it without permission or any sort of credit can be frustrating. As a writer, a programmer, and generally (as much as I try to avoid using the word) a creator, I can sympathize with those frustrations. However, the solution to those problems are not to implement obnoxious mechanisms as prevention to them, especially not when those inevitably lead to the user experiencing frustration when trying to read.

JavaScript text-scrambling, hidden paragraphs, and copy-paste prevention does not stop those who are seriously after "stealing your work." The existence of Digital Right Management protection schemes, which gets cracked almost immediately after a product's release should be more than enough evidence on that front. Seriously, if multi-million-dollar companies can not stop piracy, then some random schmuck on the internet will not be able to. And in the scenario they did, then the end-result will no doubt be a product which is functionally useless.

It is not rare to see fan-translation sites include various forms of references to piracy, unauthorized reproduction, and "thieves" on their sites. Even more common still, is the inclusion of links to "support" them financially.

Do not read our works on any other site, especially pirates or aggregates and report them. [...] Support our translators and site through the available Ko-fi pages or Patreon buttons.

Not only do these groups operate in a morally grey area by taking authors' work and translating it without permission, they are also actively and willfully violating copyright law by doing so. Worse yet, a great deal of these groups misrepresent their unauthorized works as being official, or at the very least fails to make it abundantly clear that they are not an official source of these translations.

While I do very much lean in favor of an open and free internet and piracy, I also believe in giving proper credit and citation when using and otherwise distributing another's work – you have taken something which are not of your original creation, after all. There is also a distinction to be made between freely making something available or remixing something, and grandstanding, passing off that work as your own, while taking means to prevent someone else further down the chain to "steal" that work in turn.

Appealing to morals or law does not work when you yourself have stolen that work. One would have to laugh at a convicted burglar who complains about having their possessions stolen. Not that I believe in comparing physical to digital items, but I do believe the example does work to illustrate the point.

When looking at one particular site and their translations, it is immediately clear that there has been no information put in place, informing visitors that this is not an official source of translation. Yet their Terms of Service state "Unless otherwise indicated, [the site] is our proprietary property and all [...] text, photographs, and graphics [...], are owned or controlled by us or licensed to us [...]". This is deceptive at the very least. Furthermore, opening the browser console, one is met by a big red "Stop!" message, telling the visitor they are being "logged" and that they will have their "requests terminated" if they attempt to copy their content; further directing to a dedicated "Copyright Protection" page. This page contains little more than badly interpreted Copyright legalese from Wikipedia and yet more threatening language on users getting "banned" for using "Readers on the site."

Just for these types, I'd like to direct everyone towards the LightNovel Crawler project on GitHub. This handy tool makes "stealing" their precious content quite easy, even for the common user.

For all the moral and legal messaging, informing visitors about the nature of plagiarism and copyright, these groups seem to fail to comprehend that "stealing" someone else's work and translating it, does not grant them legal copyright ownership of said material. Then again, seeing as the focus is making money off the backs of others, and the "elaborate" measures taken against any and all who dares "steal" the already illegally pilfered content of theirs, I suspect they do, in fact, know they are in the wrong.

Fansubs and scanlators has unquestionably, historically, done more good for the industry than bad. Anime fansubs made the wonderful world of Japanese animation accessible to the world at large, and scanlation gave even those who knew nothing of moonrunes a way of enjoying some of the most beautifully crafted stories there is. Yet, at the same time, things have largely moved past the time of passion projects and those who translated purely for fun. Now we have entered the mainstream, and those whose motive are the fame and money they can profit off it.

It is inevitable that, when something enters the mainstream, there will always be actors who tries to co-opt and exploit it. The "fan subbing" scene is certainly no exception. Though that is not to say that there are no true fansubs and fanlations being made anymore, just that it is much harder to find those truly good gems amongst the sea of low-effort and profit-driven works.

Now, this post has gone on long enough, and fact is, I barely remember how it started off, and it has morphed into something completely different from when I started writing it. At this point, I do not even know how to end it off... So, bye, I guess.