Some people wonder about the legality of fan-subs and in this article I will discuss the pros and cons of the fan-sub grey market.
Since anime began to air on Japanese TV there have been fan-subs. In the early days of fan-subbing it was often the case of watching a VHS tape of an anime while you read a translated script. This was not much fun for anyone as while you were reading the script you were missing the action on the tape.
Later, people began to use subtitling equipment to subtitle those same VHS tapes. Although this was a huge improvement in the fan-sub culture there was still the issue of the copies being on VHS tape. This meant it was a real pain to make copies for your friends as you had to copy each tape, one at a time. Each copy also looked worse then the original and after a while all copies looked like crap.
The only way to get fan-sub copies was to either know someone in Japan, live in New York City or go to the very few anime conventions in existence.
This carried on in the same fashion until the rise of peer-to-peer Internet file sharing. Once broadband Internet entered the equation it became possible to get HD quality fan-subs on your computer. Each copy was an exact digital copy of the previous one. Great days had arrived! No more swapping tapes and watching grainy shows!
it has become possible (with devices such as the sling box) to get Japanese anime into the fan-sub market just hours after airing in Japan. The Japanese companies who own the shows are in a bit of a bind over this for several reasons:
1) They make no money off of shared copies.
2) They do not want their Japanese customers getting "free" hi-quality copies instead of purchasing the DVD.
At the same time the fan-sub market is a boon for them as it allows for a wide distribution of their product AND if enough interest appears in the fan-sub market an American importer will approach the Japanese company to discuss importing their series into the American DVD market.
See, the fan-sub market continues to perform a very valuable service for the anime creators, it gets their product into the super-market of American consumers. Unlike those who share music and movies on peer-to-peer file sharing networks, the fan-sub market has been known to have the rare quality of honor.
They are honorable in that most sites will drop an anime once it hits the American DVD market.
That's right! Once an anime gets licensed for wide release in the USA the file sharers stop sharing the episodes!
So, to me, the fan-sub market is a win-win for everyone involved for the following reasons:
1) American anime fans get to see the new shows (with subtitles) as soon as they air.
2) American importers can track interest in a show to be sure they don't import any duds (though they still sometimes do.)
3) Anime creators get to see if their show will make it in the American market.
4) Once an anime enters the American DVD market it gets dropped by the sharing sites.
Your comments on this issue are always welcome.
Postscript: Perhaps the MPAA/RIAA should look at this model? They could provide a few new songs for an upcoming album for free via a peer-to-peer service and then see how well received the band and it's songs are. From this they could decide whether or not to release an album of the band's material.