Thoughts from a Japanese Media Pirate

The following was submitted for publication by a reader who asked to remain anonymous — Rob

I just finished Pirate Cinema and felt the need to write something about it, because it concerns a cause that's near to my heart. I saw myself in protagonist Trent McCauley, who makes new movies by chopping up footage from popular films, despite the consequences of getting his Internet taken away or being fined or imprisoned in the book's near-future scenario.

This is because I do the same thing. I'm one of those people who remixes different media and posts the finished pieces online. I combine Japanese television dramas, films, PVs, and clips from variety shows with mostly American songs, however, because I like the contrast of Japanese visual media with American music.

When Trent talks about seeing a film in your head and needing to make it and put it out there, I know exactly what he means. I recognize the same need in myself. Once, for a two-year period, I had a music video in my head for the Japanese drama Honey and Clover, set to The Swell Season's Falling Slowly. I created what I envisioned, and to this day, I still love watching it because I'm proud of what I created. It's something I made to convey a certain feeling, and even after making it with that feeling in mind, what resulted was a layered piece with unexpected themes running through it.

The way I obtain Japanese media is through the net and through sharing with other fans. I'm not clear on international copyright law, but I know that some kind of law is being broken when we download these videos. For now, with us fans and our fandoms, it's a very gray area. The Japanese companies know that we share videos, but they don't do much to stop it. The worst they usually do is shut down a streaming video site where these shows are hosted.

For those that do English subtitles for Japanese media, there is always a battle between those creating the videos, who offer the work for download free-of-charge, and the streaming sites who take the files without permission, post them to their own websites, and receive revenue through advertising. It's not that subbers want a cut of the profits; they simply don't want for-profit streaming sites to draw corporate attention to their work. By posting the videos to a streaming site, Japanese companies can see the encoded logos on the videos and then order those groups to shut down their operations even though those groups do not make any money from their works.

When MegaUpload was shut down, the Japanese media fan community was in an uproa, as it was our main way to directly share our sources and creations. Patchy torrents are now all that remains, along with a handful of somewhat reliable cloud servers. Those aren't even guaranteed, and in the bleakest of moments we worry that we'll have to resort to the days of recording to video or DVD and sharing videos that way.

We're slowly rebuilding, but we've been hit hard. All of our archives are gone. Communities that had thrived for years—places you might find a long-forgotted drama from 1987—are gone. The videos that I had made and hosted on MegaVideo are gone. All of the files I'd hosted and provided for people are gone. Even the ones I had created myself, for classwork and without any copyrighted material, are gone. They exist only offline, in random external drives, where they cannot be shared.

This isn't to oppose copyright. I agree that we need copyright law, but also that we should have access to everything. I'm all for supporting artists and buying their work, but is anyone suffering for the existence of mashups? Personally, I feel for my parents, who live week-to-week on my Dad's garment factory paycheck (where he makes jeans for less than $10 a pair, which end up priced at $300 in the store) supplemented by odd jobs my mom takes up. They're suffering too. Can you say the suffering of media companies is equivalent? I don't think so. I think we should be able to use these things the way we want to.

I know a lot of people who would be happy to have an all-inclusive Japanese media archive and wouldn't mind paying a small fee for access to everything. Wouldn't it be great to see Japanese dramas and films licensed in much the same way as anime site Crunchyroll? It started out hosting media without permission from any rightsholders, but went on to build good relationships with them. They used to be a streaming site for Asian dramas, films, and anime, but after going legit, the focus is now on anime. They have some dramas, but few popular or well-known dramas that are in high demand.

I plan to support this stance and hope that, in the near future, we can make it a reality.