In the ’90s, scanlation was still a fan passion project. At some point, that changed. The scanlation sites became more about piracy. And they just don’t care.
Dragon Ball, Naruto, and Golgo 13 – if you recognize those titles, then you may qualify as otaku – a rabid fan of manga, the quintessentially Japanese form of comics. Publishers like US-based TOKYOPOP have helped make manga a global media phenomenon. Fans, too, can take some credit, even if they don’t have the right to.
A species of copyright infringement native to the manga world, “scanlation” has shaped the business, for better and for worse, over more than three decades. A portmanteau word combining scanning and translation, a scanlation is a fan-created translation of manga that first brought the form beyond the island of Japan in the 1970s. Then, in the early years of the 21st century, scanlations nearly destroyed the business.
“In the ’90s, scanlation was very much still a fan passion project,” explains Kae Winters of TOKYOPOP, a Los Angeles-based manga publisher. “It was done to bring over titles from Japan that were unknown to the English-speaking world.
“At some point, that changed,” she tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “The scanlation sites became more about piracy, in the same way that you’ve seen BitTorrent sites for music and movies. And they just don’t care. They’re in it for the advertising revenue. They don’t care about the fans. They don’t care about the publishers. They just want the money from the views.”
Kae Winters recently spoke about the industry effects of scanlation at the annual International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO) conference in Tokyo. At TOKYOPOP, Kae Winters manages marketing, social media and event coordination. She grew up in the suburbs of London, where her love of manga inspired her to study Japanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).