Casual use of pirate sites endangers livelihoods of authors, publishers

Many people readily browse pirate websites that provide manga and novels for free. This encourages criminal acts that put the publishing industry in jeopardy.

The losses caused by pirate sites are once again on the rise, reaching an estimated ¥211.4 billion last year, according to a survey by an industry group. Losses are said to be exceeding ¥30 billion a month this year.

The large-scale illegal website called Mangamura, which allegedly posted the contents of 70,000 volumes of popular manga, was shut down in 2018, and its former operator and others were indicted. Under the revised Copyright Law, which went into effect in January, individuals who repeatedly download manga or other content are subject to criminal punishment.

Despite this, the number of illegal sites continues to increase, and more than 700 such sites are still believed to exist. Total page views of the 10 most-frequently used sites exceeded 200 million last month. Some sites saw their views jump to more than 20 times the level from a year ago.

This is an extremely grave situation. This trend is believed to be spurred by demand from people who are spending more time at home due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Many pirate sites have servers overseas, making it difficult to identify who runs them. Domains that serve as addresses online are changing constantly, so it is not easy to keep track of them.

In response, an industry group and the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry have launched a project to identify the operators of such sites in cooperation with engineers called white hat hackers. They will also conduct case studies to seek compensation from operators.

It is also effective to halt the display of ads, which are a source of revenue for illegal sites. It is hoped that those concerned will share their knowledge and make efforts to eradicate illegal sites.

Another problem is that users have little sense of guilt. According to a survey conducted by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, only 10% of the respondents knew that downloading manga was illegal. Those who said they “never wanted to use pirate sites” accounted for less than half of the respondents.

An industry group has launched a campaign to stamp out pirate sites with the message “We don’t want you to be a criminal.” The government is also stepping up efforts to educate young people on the matter. It must continue to push this tenaciously.

Amid the slump in the publishing industry, the growth of electronic publications is remarkable. Last year’s sales were estimated to be ¥390 billion, up 30% from the previous year. Comics accounted for nearly 90% of this figure.

When readers pay for what they enjoy reading, authors can move on to create their next work. It should once again be remembered that the use of pirate sites could shake the publishing industry, undermining the livelihoods of authors and the financial situation of publishers.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 26, 2021.