Tuesday, July 03, 2007

On Viz's Cease and Desist for Death Note Fan Sub Groups

While hindsight is 20/20, not everyone looks back and wonders why things happened as they were. Anyway, it was just today that I realized why Viz gave a cease-and-desist to groups fan subbing the series Death Note. Of course this is all speculation on my part and not necessarily the real reason for their actions.

Here's the timeline:

June 12, 2007 - Viz sends a cease and desist order to various fansubbing groups, giving them a June 22, 2007 deadline to discontinue the distribution of the material.

June 22, 2007 - All fansubbing groups who received the letter should have ceased illegally distributing Death Note.

June 29, 2007 - Exactly one week after all fansubbing groups should have legally stopped distributing Death Note, Viz publicly announces that a subtitled version of the show is available for download at TotalVid.com.

Now one must take into consideration at the format in which Viz is distributing Death Note. It's not on a DVD but a file you download from the site. Which is pretty much like how fan subs are distributed. Except fan subs don't pay fees to the companies that licensed them, nor did they obtain legal rights to the show. And in many ways, both products are similar: they're the same show with English subtitles. As a consumer, there's also a bigger leaning towards the fan subs because while $1.99 for an episode is cheap, in many ways it can't compare to something that's being distributed for free.

Of course many fans were vocal at how Viz's actions was an evil plot on their part since the letter came around two weeks before the last episode would be aired in Japan (and the respective fan subs following it). I don't think that's necessarily the case (but again, I'm not an insider, so who knows) but rather the launch of their subtitled video line happened to be around that time. Why are they launching their subtitled line only now? Well, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration, everything from the time it takes to subtitle the show to negotiating with a distributor, in this case TotalVid.com. The deal with TotalVid.com similarly isn't something that just popped up in response to fandom angry at the cease-and-desist of fan subs. Usually such negotiations take time and don't take place (at least not usually) in the span of just two weeks.

And honestly, Viz has been a good company to the anime industry. They're not the earliest anime company out there but they were early, bringing into anime consciousness hit shows like Ranma 1/2. Their translations, on the whole, have also been great (in my opinion Tokyo Pop varies from title to title while Del Rey is just horrible in that department). One of the early magazines (Animerica) and magazine anthologies (Animerica Extra, Shonen Jump) was also published by them. So you know, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.

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