A consortium of Japanese government organizations, manga publishers and anime production and game companies, announced that they have formed the Manga-Anime Guadians Project, a combined effort to crack down on online piracy.

Their first step: unveiling a series of website and video appeals thanking fans for their support and love of the medium but also pointing to sites that offer legal access to read and buy manga. The goal here is to re-direct fans away from pirated content, and encourage them get their manga/anime fix from legal/authorized sources.

The MAG website offers a video thanking overseas fans for their support; there’s Manga-Anime-Here.com with links to buy manga. The website features an assortment of popular manga and anime series with links to read/purchase/download/view them from online and print publishers like Viz Media, Yen Press, Kodansha Comics and Crunchyroll Manga and Chinese language manga sites like AC.QQ.com. Links to anime sites like FUNimation.com and Viz's Neon Alley on Hulu.com are also included, with more sites to be added as the site grows.

Unfortunately the MAG Project's credibility was undercut at its debut by a website that is riddled with problems. At the MAG site PW found wonky navigation and user interfaces, broken search functions, an awkward URL, poor search engine optimization, and cringe-worthy English grammar. ("Keep on stop piracy").

The website and the videos it offers are part of the first wave of PR from the MAG Project to "promote awareness of copyright protection among viewers and consumers, expand the fan base of manga and anime, to eliminate infringing web sites, and to popularize the idea of proper compensation for creative works,” according to the group’s statement. Their next step: serve notice to websites that post and torrent unauthorized fan-translations (a.k.a. "scanlations") of anime and manga series that MAG Project intends to "massively delete" unauthorized copies of 580 anime/manga series owned by over 40 Japanese manga/anime companies from the Internet.

With domestic revenue from manga and anime sales declining, attacking the problem of overseas piracy has taken on greater urgency for Japanese companies. According to the MAG Project, the estimated yearly revenue lost due to piracy is 2 trillion yen, or roughly $19.5 billion dollars. Given that many prime offenders in the scanlation/pirated content space are websites—among them sites such as MangaHere.com and MangaTown.com—that are based in China (a country that seems to have little interest in enforcing copyright law regarding intellectual property, books, comics, movies, anime, and games), it remains to be seen how MAG Project's efforts will play out in the long run.

The Latest Crackdown

Naturally, this announcement set off ripples of alarm, discontent and more than a little skepticism across the worlds of anime and manga fandom. This isn't the first time that Japanese rights holders have announced they are dropping the hammer on websites that host pirated content. Past efforts resulted in a handful of sites being shut down, only to have the same content re-appear later under another name and URL. This game of whack-a-mole with pirate manga/anime websites has been going on for years. So what makes this new initiative different?

According to a representative from Content Overseas Distribution Association, the organization leading the MAG Project, this is the first time that so many Japanese government agencies, professional associations, and private companies have opted to collaborate and support a multi-pronged attack / public relations campaign to combat online piracy. The list of companies and organizations involved with this initiative includes over 50 top anime studios, media companies and publishing houses, including manga powerhouses like Shueisha, Kodansha, and Shogakukan, and anime top guns Aniplex, Sunrise and Toei Animation to name just a few. Also involved are several professional groups, including the Association of Copyright for Computer Software, the Digital Comic Association, the Japan Magazine Publishers Association and Japan Merchandising Rights Association.

This new effort will include a 5-month period of takedown notices as well as education efforts. The effort will not target individual fans or translation groups, the groups of fans that create the scanlations. According to a representative from CODA, "for the time being, we do not try to shut down websites that host infringing contents. Our aim is to remove infringing contents from such sites." In other words, their initial focus is to get specific titles/series removed from pirate websites rather than aiming for the outright closure of these sites.

U.S. Publishers Hail Anti-Piracy Efforts

While it's still quite early in MAG Project's campaign to curb online piracy, North American publishers were encouraged to see these efforts from their content partners in Japan.

"We are extremely encouraged to see renewed attention being brought to the piracy issue," said Kurt Hassler, Publishing Director at Yen Press and a key figure in the growth of manga in the U.S. "Rampant appropriation of creators' work has had an extremely negative impact on the international market for manga, devalues the amazing content coming out of Japan, and ultimately has a direct impact on the creators themselves. Yen Press is keen to offer its support to these efforts."

Robert Newman of Crunchyroll Manga, a site that offers legal access to streamed English-language manga titles, agreed. "Scanlations continue to erode the consumption of manga and licensed services," a state of affairs that threatens the continued development of new manga and anime content. “While it will likely take a while to see the impact of MAG Project's efforts, it's generally agreed that any actions taken to curb piracy is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Compared to years past when scanlation/torrent sites were the only way for fans in North America to get the latest and greatest content from Japan almost immediately after publication or air-date in Japan, more companies than ever are offering a broad array of titles, old and new on almost every digital platform, and faster than ever before. Almost all of the manga publishers in North America are offering at least some of their catalog in digital format on various eBook platforms and online comics websites.

Viz Media's Weekly Shonen Jump digital magazine gives readers in North America, Australia, South Africa, Ireland and UK their weekly fix of popular series like Naruto, Bleach and One Piece on the same day as they hit the newsstands in Japan. While these legal outlets are not yet able to match the quantity and selection of titles offered by scanlation sites, and do not address the issue of availability to fans outside of North America, it's still a huge increase of content compared to what was available only a few years ago.

Newman acknowledged that the MAG Project's goals are "ambitious," but added, "if it leads to a reduction in piracy and an increase in legal consumption that will be great for fostering a healthy market for the industry outside of Japan. In fact, we are seeing healthy traffic coming from MAG, so the project is already encouraging. We hope that it continues to ramp up and make a difference."