Online Piracy is Hurting the Anime Industry — Here’s How You Can Help

11 Min Read

I N S I G H T – A N I M E

Seeam Marjan

Modern anime has come a long way in both scope and visual fidelity. The art has evolved way past simplistic character designs and flat backgrounds. From Studio Ghibli’s fantastical settings to Shinkai and Kyoto Animation’s meticulous attention to detail, modern anime is a treat for the eyes. We drool over photo-realistic scenery, fluid animation, and even Instagram-worthy food creations.

But we rarely stop to ask ourselves: How did all these materialise onscreen? The answer, in short, is hard work and relentless dedication. But thanks to online piracy and corporate greed, exploitation is rampant. The creators who pour their hearts and souls into actualising their dreams struggle to make ends meet.

That’s why, on World Intellectual Property Day, we want to shed light on how intellectual property theft and online piracy are harming the anime industry and individual creators. And we want to show how you can help.

In the beginning, online piracy was the only way you could access anime if you weren’t in Japan. That’s why sites like KissAnime and GogoAnime rose to popularity. Many overseas fans credit them with introducing anime culture and promoting its growth. Even I remember the days I used to go through ads, close about a million popups, and have the web player buffer in advance to watch my favorite anime on a piracy site. What’s more, I could download them for later viewing.

But times have changed. Now, online piracy sites are doing more harm than good. Or at best, they’ve outstayed their welcome. That’s because legal streaming sites like Funimation and Crunchyroll are rapidly gaining steam in overseas markets. Even though some content is locked behind specific regions, their libraries are expanding thanks to new deals. It won’t be long before these platforms launch in Bangladesh with full force.

To make things even more convenient, legal anime streaming services have made their way to YouTube as well. Channels like Muse Asia and Ani-One are currently offering the best of the spring season to their viewers. The anime industry no longer needs online piracy sites to promote itself. So, do we, the consumers, really need online piracy sites? 

The truth is, online piracy sites are hurting the anime industry right now. Whenever a piracy site is used as a substitute for official streaming platforms, studios and creators lose out on real money. While you can enjoy handcrafted anime without paying a single dime, the money that’s generated through ads on the site doesn’t go back to the creators either. That revenue only serves as profit for website owners.

Even now, many people pirate anime online — even those who can afford to pay and support the anime industry. The existence of piracy sites gives them an easy way out to not pay for the media that they are consuming. And each customer counts. Every time a consumer chooses to pirate instead of paying for anime, it’s a loss for the creators. When you add up the loss in potential revenue, the number jumps to astronomical levels.

This problem isn’t only limited to streaming. Many piracy sites offer links to anime merchandise that you can buy directly from them. None of this money goes into the hands of the official retailers or manufacturers of that merchandise. It’s a shame because merchandise sales through action figures or clothing constitute a considerable chunk of revenue for the anime industry. When piracy sites get away with selling merchandise like this, the industry is hurt. It means more people choose to buy from those sites instead of official retailers.

This is why Japan is cracking down on online piracy. Popular sites like KissAnime and GogoAnime are no longer operational. 

But what does the closure of piracy sites mean for anime fans who don’t have access to good content? Or what about those who can’t afford to pay for the subscription? The sad reality is they will get left out. They won’t have access to premium anime content, and they’ll have to pay a premium for a subscription that doesn’t even offer all the shows they want.

In regions like Africa and China, where accessibility remains a big issue, online piracy sites are the only way the anime fandom can grow. And without the growth of a fandom, investors of large streaming platforms won’t find it profitable to operate in those regions. That’s why online piracy isn’t entirely harming the anime industry. In some areas, it can be a great facilitator of organic growth. As the community grows, more people will be willing to pay and support the creators in the long run. 

But let’s take a look at how hard life is for the average animator. On the surface, working in the anime industry feels like an absolute dream. You can draw beautiful vistas and gorgeous character models, and see your dreams come to life. And in the end, you’ll get a fat paycheck and live happily. But this hypothetical scenario couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Life as an animator is unbelievably difficult. If you’re starting, you’ll be lucky to earn enough to stay ON the poverty line. Entry-level animators have the painstaking task of drawing each panel from a storyboard and some keyframes. And this process takes a long time. It’s not uncommon for a single page to take a couple of hours to finish. And guess how much they are paid? Less than 2$ per page. Even mid-level or senior animators earn barely enough to live a frugal lifestyle. This ruthless industry sucks the life out of bright-eyed innovators and stifles creative passion. Many animators are victims of being overworked and underpaid.

Even voice actors, especially newcomers, are a victim of this cutthroat system. The more renowned the voice actor, the more pay they can command. It means studios pay much more to get big names than ensuring better pay for everyone across the board. A lot of these problems are due to corporate greed. Somehow, the industry norm is to pay less to the creators while hoarding the profit in production companies.  

So how can we help them? Reducing online piracy won’t solve the structural issues in the anime industry. But it will help little by little. More revenue for the anime industry will encourage more production companies to increase their budgets. That means studios can afford to pay their animators more. Funimation and Crunchyroll accounted for one of the most significant sources of revenue for the anime industry. That’s a staggering amount of cash flow to the hands of the creators. More importantly, these Western platforms can impose better working conditions and hourly pay.

That’s why it’s up to us to find ways to support the creators and the industry. If we can fork out a meager sum of our monthly budget to spend on streaming services, our collective effort will amount to a lot of revenue. 

Secondly, we can buy merchandise from official stores and import original manga and DVDs directly from Japan. This way might be inaccessible to a lot of people in Bangladesh. But if those who have the money do it, it will go a long way towards funneling money directly to the hands of the creators. Suppose you are even more dedicated to supporting the industry. In that case, you can donate to Kickstarter campaigns, and organisations like AEYAC and jANICA are working to help young animators with social safety nets.

Of course, you don’t have to go that far. It’s difficult for the majority of anime fans in our country to support creators in this fashion. For a lot of us, piracy remains the best way we can enjoy anime. That’s why it’s essential to nurture the mindset of giving back to the industry. Sure, you might not be able to right now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t contribute in the future. As long as you are willing to offer help, no matter how small, it counts. 

Modern anime is one of the most beautiful art forms that exist today. It tells stories that make us cry, laugh, stare in awe, and remember fondly for years to come. We owe it to the brilliant minds who bring these stories to life with their hard work. It doesn’t take much to help them out. But just like Ippo, all we need to do is take that first step. 


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