From AnimeSuki Wiki
- This text was originally written in 2003. Last revision October 2009.
What is licensed anime?
When a company obtains the rights to publish an anime series or movie (part or whole) in a specific area on a specific medium from the original (usually Japanese) anime studio, we consider such anime series or movie licensed anime. Specifically, when a company obtains the rights to release an anime series or movie on DVD or Blu-Ray in the US (in English), then this series or movie is considered licensed anime by AnimeSuki. Note that of course it's also possible for anime series and movies to be licensed in other languages or areas (such as Europe) or for other kinds of media, however such licenses are of no interest to us.
The original purpose of fansubs
As recent as about 15 to 20 years ago anime was not easy to get outside of Asia. The few anime companies that existed could only bring out a few titles as they lacked the funds and the market for licensing more shows. To get more anime and also to encourage certain titles to get licensed in the US, some anime fans started to make fansubs: series which were taped of Japanese television and to which fans had added subtitles themselves. These fansubs were typically distributed on VHS tape. One of the self imposed rules the fansub groups adapted was that once a series was licensed in the US, distribution of the fansub should stop. After all, the fansub had served it's purpose.
Eventually the popularity of anime grew in the US and with it the market for anime grew, which in turn resulted in more money to be available to license even more shows. It is probably this reason why many series (certainly the popular ones) stand a good chance of being licensed. The popularity of fansubs also grew explosively with the introduction of "digisubs": digital fansubs which could be easily distributed over the internet.
Fansubs violate copyrights
- See also: DMCA notices
We have to admit it: the distribution of fansubs is technically a violation of copyright under the WTO TRIPS agreement. However the TRIPS agreement does not demand that distribution of copyrighted material is a criminal offense unless it is done on a commercial scale. This means it is up to the copyright holder to bring the offender to court. The copyright of unlicensed material is held by the original creator. In the case of anime this usually means the Japanese distribution company. If something is licensed, the licensee holds the copyright and thus the right to take legal action against any copyright infringement within the area covered by the license. (source: ato's forum post)
Up until a few years ago fansub groups had little to worry about legal pressure from Japan. However as US companies are more likely to put legal pressure on fansub groups, it's a good reason for fansub groups to stop distributing a series once it gets licensed in the US. If you are wondering why in some cases you can still find fansubs of licensed shows (even of episodes aired after the show was licensed), the answer is that the world is not perfect. Certain fansub groups do not follow the general fansub ethics of ceasing the distribution and fansubbing of a show after it is licensed.
The future of fansubs
Whether fansubs have a future remains to be seen. David Williams of ADV Films mentioned at Anime Boston 2003: "One thing fans might not know is most shows are licensed now during the financing stage, before the show is even produced. This makes a lot of fansubs pointless now. Of course, there are still old shows that probably won't be licensed; but new shows are almost guaranteed."
Still some series might need some help to get popular. Would you buy Lucky Star DVDs if you had have never heard about it? Fansubs probably helped this series and others gain popularity. Also as there is so much anime being created in Japan, there will usually always be some series which don't get licensed for some reason, like Potemayo or Kokoro Library.
What if you're not in the US?
While a large part of the visitors of AnimeSuki are from the US and Canada, not all of them are of course. Those people might be thinking: "If anime is licensed in the US, what has that to do with me? Why stop fansubbing? Why remove it from AnimeSuki?". AnimeSuki's view on this is that the US is the largest market for English subbed and dubbed anime, therefore once anime is licensed for DVD/BD release in the US all English fansubbing of it should stop.
If you're not from the US, this means you can still download fansubs of the same series (if it's not licensed in your region as well) at your own discretion. Alternatively you could also import the DVDs when they are released in the US. It is not expensive to do so if you order directly from online shops in the US. You will need a region free DVD player of course, but even those are easy to get - just ask around or buy a second DVD drive for your PC for region 1 DVDs. For Blu-ray, check the Blu-ray Movies Region Coding Database List to see which discs are region free.
If a title is not licensed in your area and you still want to download English fansubs, AnimeSuki won't stop you from doing so. However, we won't help you find them either for reasons mentioned earlier. Also be aware that (again for obvious reasons) newer episodes of series which have been licensed before being completely fansubbed might be very hard to get.