Have you ever wondered why, despite using material from existing work by other people, the doujinshi industry and communities can still flourish without concerns about copyright claims? In this part, we will find the answer to this question by digging deep into the mindset of Japanese people regarding this topic and how it differs from our Western perspective.
The grey zone of copyright law
To fully decipher how the doujin industry can still survive without copyright issues, we must first understand the term “Antragsdelikt” – which, according to Wikipedia, is “a category of offense which cannot be prosecuted without a complaint by the victim.” In Japan, this concept is known as shikokuzai. This is the main force protecting doujins from being subject to copyright claims.
Here, the government, the copyright holder, and the doujin creators all agree on an underlying rule of allowing the creation and distribution of doujins as long as it doesn’t result in any serious damage to the original publication as well as monetary gain from these works by doujin creators. In other words, although there is copyright law protecting the intellectual properties of creators in Japan, doujin creators will often not encounter copyright issues, as long as the copyright holders of the original works from which their doujins are derived don’t wish to engage in serious copyright disputes. This loophole in the Japanese legal system allows creators to freely create doujins without worry about copyright issues.
However, this doesn’t mean that copyright holders are ignorant about the potential harmful impacts on the doujin industry on their intellectual property. The distribution of doujinshi must still be subject to some restrictions. For example, with the rapid increase of interest in doujins thanks to the Internet, copyright holders often face the risk of readers discovering inappropriate content derived from their works. As such, since 2002, some manga publishers have barred the release of fanworks online, which is indicative of their uneasiness regarding the potential content of doujins.
Moreover, the publication of individual doujins outside of official events like Comiket is rare. Instead, most artists will sell their works either through large chains of doujin stores or online through the stores’ websites. On the other hand, while some doujins can be found on Amazon and similar websites, only original pieces are considered legal on those sites. “Fan fiction” works must therefore be collected in official anthologies in order to be published.
Japanese and Western Perceptions of Fanworks
But why does Japan seem to so easily allow these “violations” to the law that are cracked down on so heavily by Western countries?
This is because, compared to the West, Japan has a different perspective on communities and the publishing industry. We must remember that doujins have had a long history in Japanese culture, having originated in the mid 19th century. (You can learn more about the history of doujins in the first article of this series at https://thevaultpublication.com/2019/11/07/overview-of-doujinshi-part-1-the-meaning-and-history-behind-doujinshi/.) Westerners, on the other hand, have not enjoyed a long tradition of self-publishing comics, and have become aware of anime and manga culture in recent decades. As such, both cultures have drastically diverging viewpoints and methods regarding the appreciation of doujins and related works. For example, while Japanese creators use doujins to pay respect to the creator and fandom of original pieces, Western works tend more towards spreading the popularity of these pieces.
The differences in mindset between both cultures should also be taken into account. Japanese culture places greater importance on the harmony and goodwill between individuals as bricks on which society is formed; this allows a “uniquely fertile environment,”(based on the thesis of Nele Noppe) centered on the cooperation between individuals, in which the doujin industry can thrive. On the other hand, Western culture places a greater emphasis on individuality and less on cooperation. As such, derivative works like doujins cannot flourish in the West as they do in Japan.
From the Past to the Modern Day – and the Incidents and Difficulties along the Way
The current state regarding doujin copyright wasn’t like this at the very beginning, but was rather formed over time as a result of several incidents.
Before the 1990s, the doujin industry, despite growing uncontrollably alongside original manga and anime, didn’t attract any significant copyright issues. However, in 1999, a creator was arrested for publishing explicit Pokemon-derived content. The fact that a random creator was arrested for her work caused others to become concerned over the legitimacy of these works in copyright law. As a result, copyright and taxation laws have been modified to eliminate any confusions that may otherwise lead to similar cases; this therefore benefits both copyright holders and doujin creators.
Another major incident took place in 2005, when a doujinshi made by a professional mangaka based on the famous Doraemon was so successful that the copyright holder stepped in and accused him for copyright infringement. Fortunately, the incident was resolved without involving law enforcement or legal troubles, but it still left feelings of uncertainty among the community. Where was the future of doujin publishing going to lie, and was there even a safe space for publishing doujins?
Other Factors Supporting Doujins’ “Copyright Evasion”
As mentioned before, one of the reasons why the Japanese government has continued to support this industry – despite the gray areas in the law that it entails – is the benefits it has on the community. For creators of original content and copyright holders, doujin creators are both their most hardcore fans and potential collaborators in the future. So, why would they want to engage in disputes with doujin creators when you could risk losing their own reputation and potentially lucrative collaboration opportunities? Moreover, why refuse a chance to get free advertisement while simultaneously encouraging the work of unknown but talented individuals, as well as furthering the growth of 2D culture?
Secondly, Japanese culture doesn’t treat doujinshi like counterfeits, but rather as “parodies” of original works. Even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that doujinshi must be treated more like parodies (in a legal sense) and not as pirated works like illegally streaming anime or uploading manga. Additionally, mangaka Ken Amatsu – creator of Negima and UQ Holder! – said that “the doujinshi at Comiket are exempt due to a compromise worked out between the government and those involved. For doujin creators to be charged, the rights holder will still need to file a complaint first. So you can keep doing what you do. (But if the rights holder says it’s not okay, then it’s not okay.)”
Difficulties in Globalization
However, differences in how self-publishing is operated in Japan compared to other countries may lead to certain problems in the midst of Japan’s continued efforts at globalization. Currently, doujin communities are kept alive thanks to local agreements between the Japanese government and the creators. But things may change when Japan enters international treaties. In order for foreign governments and creators to justify the use and distribution of doujins, there are many obstacles that must be overcome. These range from the different attitudes between the parties involved to language barriers and the lack of knowledge regarding the importance of doujins outside of the creator community.
Despite this, all signs indicate that the doujin industry isn’t currently being threatened as there hasn’t been any more news since the launching of TPP treaty last year, so we can rest assured that this tradition will continue to thrive without being negatively affected by copyright issues.
- Law regarding Doujinshi: https://anime.stackexchange.com/questions/33892/law-regarding-doujinshi
- Japan’s doujinshi culture of creativity through theft and the monsters that are trying to destroy it: https://www.tofugu.com/japan/doujinshi-definition/
- Japanese Fan Comics Could Die Under New Trade Deal: https://kotaku.com/japanese-fan-comics-could-die-under-new-trade-deal-1723577428
- ASK JOHN: WHY ARE DOUJINSHI ALLOWED IN JAPAN BUT NOT IN AMERICA?: https://www.animenation.net/blog/34666/
- Prime Minister Abe: Dōjinshi Safe Under TPP: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2016-04-09/prime-minister-abe-dojinshi-safe-under-tpp/.100782
- Antragsdelikt Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antragsdelikt
- PhD thesis: The cultural economy of fanwork in Japan: dōjinshi exchange as a hybrid economy of open source cultural goods / PhD thesis 3: Introduction to the system of dōjinshi exchange: http://www.nelenoppe.net/dojinshi/PhD_thesis_3:_Introduction_to_the_system_of_dōjinshi_exchange