Why cosplay fans fear the TPP
MARIKO TAI, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO -- A Japanese girl with short blond hair takes a fighting stance, holding a gigantic sword and looking like she has just stepped out of a "Final Fantasy" video game. Right behind her, Sailor Moon and her warrior friends gather around, taking a group selfie. It may sound surreal, but such scenes were par for the course at a major cosplay bash in Tokyo last month, where thousands of comic and anime fans gathered to share their passion and have some fun.
Massive fan-driven events, including cosplay contests and comic conventions, are held everywhere from the U.S. to Dubai to Germany. Otaku fever has recently been heating up in Asia, too. In 2010, Singapore held its first comic convention, followed by India in 2011 and Thailand in 2014. The appeal of these forms of entertainment transcends cultures, nationalities and borders, and cosplay is just one way these enthusiasts pay homage to their favorite artists and characters.
But there is growing concern within this thriving subculture that their days of dressing up may be numbered. And it is due to something else that transcends borders and cultures -- the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
Though no deal has been sealed, the pact, if implemented, would strengthen the protection of intellectual property to such a degree that merely dressing up as Sailor Moon could potentially land someone in jail.
"Stronger regulations could deprive the entire comic world of its engine," said Ken Akamatsu, author of the "Love Hina" and "Negima! Magister Negi Magi" manga series.
He is not the only one who feels this way. In a period of just two days, more than 2,000 like-minded comic fans signed a petition opposing the tougher intellectual property arrangements expected under the proposed trade deal. Professional manga artists, actors and comedians were also among the signees. The petition was handed to the Japanese government on Thursday.
The main fear among these fans is that the TPP will make copyright violations -- however harmless -- prosecutable and punishable by law even if the copyright holder does not file a criminal complaint. Copyright violations in Japan are punishable by up to 10 years in prison or fines of up to 10 million yen ($80,600).
Such a change could spell disaster for Japan's Comic Market, or Comiket, the world's largest event for doujinshi self-published comics. Twice a year, more than 550,000 comic fans and artists gather at the Tokyo Big Sight convention center to sell fan-produced comics and related merchandise and dress up like their favorite characters. According to the Comic Market Preparatory Committee, more than 75% of the doujinshi at the event feature characters from copyrighted works, such as "Naruto" or "One Piece."
Although such fan-made works are technically illegal in Japan, the creators are not punished unless the copyright holder files a criminal complaint. Helped by a generous amount of legal grey area, Japan's doujinshi market has flourished for decades. According to Yano Research, a Tokyo-based market research company, the market for self-published comics and related goods was worth more than 73.2 billion yen in 2013, up 32% from six years earlier.
A big reason professional manga artists have turned a blind eye toward the doujinshi market is because it has been a breeding ground for future professional manga and anime artists -- and also die-hard fans, who buy their works.
"Every artist starts out by copying the work of pros. I myself improved greatly by doing so," said Akamatsu, who began as a doujinshi artist himself. And Comiket is more than just a venue for creators and fans to network and showcase their work -- it is a prime spot for being headhunted by publishers.
"Dream come true"
Like many professional artists, Akamatsu understands the appeal of creating doujinshi. For fans, he says, dreaming up new adventures for their favorite characters and putting those stories to paper is a way of "making their dreams come true."
And being copied can actually be good for a professional artist. "There have been cases where an imitation takes off before the original and gives the original a boost," said Kenichi Kai, general manager of the chairman's office at Dwango, a Japanese company that operates the niconico online video streaming service.
"To protect this culture, we hope the Japanese government will find a balanced domestic law that prosecutes piracy but tolerates harmless imitation," said Kensaku Fukui, who practices law in Tokyo and New York.