In this article Salil Mehra discusses the practice of dojinshi, or Japanese fan-made derivative comics, and its implications for copyright law in both Japan and the United States. He investigates the economic and social incentives fueling both sides of the dojinshi movement, making particular effort to understand the Japanese system in context of American copyright concepts of fair use and economic efficiency. He divides his dissertation into four parts, focusing on the ubiquity of comics in Japanese culture; a comparison of Japanese and American copyright law; the Japanese comic industry's tolerance of dojinshi's infringement; and the implications of this tolerance. After briefly discussing the artistic and economic history of manga and anime comics, Mehra compares American and Japanese copyright law and precedent rulings, specifically in regard to cartoon character copyright. He even attempts to evaluate dojinshi by the four factors of fair use analysis and court precedent involving cartoon character infringement, and finds that dojinshi would not pass by American standards. The similarity of the two copyright law systems, he offers, suggests that the grounds for a legal action against dojinshi are certainly evident should the comic industry choose to pursue it. The fact that the industry generally has not taken filed complaint against dojinshi artists, however, indicates that there are rational incentives for tolerating dojinshi. Mehra notes that culturally, Japan is a less litigious nation than the United States, and winning copyright cases are typically not nearly as lucrative as American ones; this is likely a deterrent to lawsuits in the manga industry. Furthermore, mainstream comic artists might tolerate dojinshi in order to appease their fan base--an artist could ruin his reputation among fans by filing a lawsuit against a loyal, albeit infringing, fan. Discussing commercial reasons to not litigate, he posits that dojnishi ultimately promotes the original work and raises new artists that can eventually enter the mainstream system with ideas of their own. He closes by calling for a reevaluation of the American notion that greater protection yields more or better intellectual property, as well as acknowledgment that a system akin to dojinshi may promote innovation and benefit collective industry.
Mehra's article is unique in its attempt to reconcile dojinshi with Japanese Copyright Law. His investigation of court precedent in cartoon infringement suggests that dojinshi is indeed a unique situation. By comparing Japanese and American copyright laws and demonstrating how alike they are, he proves that the creation and sale of dojinshi is not simply allowed in Japan because it has weaker copyright laws than the U.S.--other factors (cultural, economic, etc.) must account for the dojinshi phenomenon. Mehra is also unique among dojinshi scholars for making pains to demonstrate that the industry's tolerance of dojinshi has as much to do with the legal atmosphere of Japan as the commercial benefits of allowing the practice to continue. Furthermore, he emphasizes that with the dojinshi system, individual artist's interests are sacrificed for the collective good of the manga industry. In other words, an individual artist must agree not to protect his work from infringing artists in order to maintain the system that benefits the industry. This is all important for my paper because I investigate whether the fan policies of entertainment industries in Japan are transportable to the United States. The comparison of American and Japanese laws and cultural circumstances is thus critical to determining my argument.
In this article Henry Jenkins discusses the series of events that gradually elevated Japanese animation to prominence in the Western market. He suggests that Japan's allowance of early fan piracy was able to promote international expansion of the cartoon business when its own publicity efforts could not. Early attempts to broadcast Japanese animated cartoons in the US were rebuffed by censor groups who considered them inappropriate, and Japanese cartoons largely disappeared from American television. When videotape recorders became available, however, it became common practice for Japanese and American animation fans to tape their favorite shows and exchange them, circumventing both copyright laws and the limits of television broadcasting. In the US, many of the Japanese tapes were exhibited at science fiction fairs around country, and fan clubs sprang up to collect and translate these foreign cartoons in a practice called “fansubbing.” As Japanese animation gained popularity, some fan groups actually won the rights to distribute Japanese cartoons in the US and began the first legal distribution companies. Eager to see more work imported, fans collectively agreed to stop circulating pirated shows that had been licensed, so as to avoid competing with the official legal cartoons and encourage growth of the foreign market. In addition to fansubbing, fan clubs worked to translate and explain the unfamiliar cultural elements of Japanese cartoons to American viewers. They also worked to identify Japanese cartoons that could be commercially successful in the US. This has resulted in the introduction of new animated genres in the western market, and massive global growth in the industry from 1994 to 2004.
A few ideas here are central to my research. Jenkins remarks that the Japanese industry's tendency to not interfere with fan practices has largely encouraged its own international growth and innovation. The industry has followed a similar policy domestically, too, largely supporting fan-made cartoons (called “dojinshi”) and using them to promote official work. Moreover, this article emphasizes the commercial advantages of thoughtfully monitoring a trend before taking action for or against it, as the Japanese animation industry has done. The industry has pleased its consumer base and ultimately strengthened itself by exploiting a form of piracy that it could not completely control anyway. In Japan, apparently, new technology is not considered inimical to business, a philosophy that western entertainment businesses might do well to embrace.