The Trans-Pacific Partnership has proven a source of extreme contention on both sides of the ocean. For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been openly critical of the potential agreement, describing it on their website as “a secretive, multinational trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement.” Japanese farmers don’t seem to fond of it either, though for entirely different reasons.
And now the TPP is drawing the ire of (with a few smatterings of approval from) Japan’s manga and anime fans. Some are even saying the agreement has the potential to utterly destroy otaku culture. Is this hyperbole or is the sky really falling?
First, to understand what all the hubbub is about, we have to look at what we know about the Trans-Pacific Partnership — and what we don’t. As the EFF has pointed out, much of the agreement is still relatively secret. Whether or not that’s a good thing, we’ll leave to our readers to decide, but it does mean that certain aspects of the conversation are based on speculation — and even if the speculation is accurate now, it doesn’t mean the final agreement won’t be different. So, all of the hand wringing online might be over nothing, which has never happened before in the history of the Internet, right?
On the other hand, if the speculation is correct and the final TPP agreement is as the EFF and others have described, it certainly could be very damaging to Japanese otaku culture in terms of "dojinshi" and, by extension, Comiket.
The issue stems from new regulations proposed by the Trans-Pacific Partnership regarding copyright. We’ll let the EFF explain it.
“The U.S. is pushing for a broad definition of a criminal violation of copyright, where even noncommercial activities could get people convicted of a crime. The leak also shows that Canada has opposed this definition. Canada supports language in which criminal remedies would only apply to cases where someone infringed explicitly for commercial purposes.
"This distinction is crucial. Commercial infringement, where an infringer sells unauthorized copies of content for financial gain, is and should be a crime. But that’s not what the U.S. is pushing for — it’s trying to get language passed in TPP that would make a criminal out of anyone who simply shares or otherwise makes available copyrighted works on a 'commercial scale.'
"As anyone who has ever had a meme go viral knows, it is very easy to distribute content on a commercial scale online, even without it being a money-making operation. That means fans who distribute subtitles to foreign movies or anime, or archivists and librarians who preserve and upload old books, videos, games, or music, could go to jail or face huge fines for their work. Someone who makes a remix film and puts it online could be under threat. Such a broad definition is ripe for abuse, and we’ve seen such abuse happen many times before.”
That’s all a bit dense, so it might be better to look at what, exactly, "dojinshi" producers and fans are worried about.
First, Ken Akamatsu, creator of the legendary series "Love Hina," says on his Tumblr page that the TPP would introduce some new rules that would be “truly scary” for the manga world. The primary one, Ken says, is that copyright violations, regardless of intent, would be treated as criminal offenses, which would include a vast majority of the work found at Comiket, as well as fan work on sites like Pixiv. He also writes that this could (taken to the very extreme) result in people being arrest for parodies, which sounds like he might be taking this a bit far – though the EFF seems to agree with him.
Perhaps you’re already familiar with much of the manga available at Comiket, but if not, it’s important to understand that many of the titles available are derivative works. In other words, they are like fan fiction, in that the creators use characters from established series to tell new stories – kind of like "50 Shades of Grey," but with better BDSM scenes. If you’re from the United States, for example, you may be wondering how all these Comiket artists get away with it, but the simple fact is that most publishers are completely fine with derivative works. While attending Comiket this winter, we stopped and spoke with Biliken, whose work re-imagines certain "One Piece" characters in a way that would probably appeal primarily to people who always thought the series didn’t have enough gay sex.
When asked how she had managed to avoid being sued into the next century by the "One Piece" publisher, Biliken explained that as long as artists aren’t making toys or other merchandise, publishers seem not to care about derivative works. In fact, she thought that they appreciated the fan work as it seemed to bolster sales. Of course, this is just one artist’s opinion, but it’s important to remember that many manga artists get their start with "dojinshi" work – Ken Akamatsu himself gained popularity through his work sold at Comiket.
But what do other Japanese Internet users think?
“TPP: Will Japanese culture and business be harmed? Making copyright violations a criminal offense." "Based only on the reports of completely unrelated third parties, police could arrest 'dojinshi' creators." "Wouldn’t this harm the strengths of businesses and culture powering markets in Japan?” “This is the chapter where otaku culture is finished. However, personally, I think this good. If you’re going to use someone else’s creation, it’s certainly logical that you should pay a fee. If a culture would be destroyed by this, it’s not much of a culture in the end.” "This would pretty much get rid of 'dojinshi' and parodies." “Are we at the stage where we’re counting down the seconds to the death of 'dojinshi?'”
Well, those are some harsh words, though this Twitter user is hardly alone. A number of commenters simply responded with, “Make your own characters.”
Well, that seems pretty alarming, doesn’t it? Of course, as we stated at the beginning, all of this is speculation at this point, since much of the TPP agreement is shrouded in secrecy and we don’t know what will actually be in the final treaty. That said, if you never cared much about international politics, the TPP might be a good place to start reading about it.
Sources: NHK, Hachima Kiko
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