To call manga (漫画), or comics, a big market in Japan is an understatement.

While the market experienced a dip in 2017, counting both paper and digital sales, it still came in as a 443 billion yen (appr. USD $3.9B) a year business. And while manga doesn't rank among Japan's top 10 exports, it's seen as an increasingly valuable means of marketing Japan and its rich history to people living abroad - a move that ties in nicely with Prime Minister Abe's focus on increasing tourism to the country. Compared to the US, where comics are traditionally dominated by superhero and fantasy stories, manga's sprawling diversity (popular titles have arisen in genres as diverse as horror, fantasy, sports, thriller, history, love and food) provides a little something for everyone - and foreign fans are eating from this smorgasbord as fast as publishers can add to it.

(JP) Link: Manga and Anime: The Trump Card in Japan's Exports

【Our World JAPAN】日本の文化輸出、切り札は「マンガとアニメ」

Obviously, manga publishers have a vested interest in ensuring this market receives all the sensible legal protections it can . It's not that manga qua manga is profitable. Large publishers such as Kodansha and Shuseisha freely admit that the product itself doesn't make them a lot of money. But when you factor in revenue from merchandising and anime licensing rights for a hit product, a given title can be quite profitable indeed.

So it's not surprising that the administration of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (安倍あべ晋三しんぞう) sought to proffer a revision to the country's copyright law that would, ostensibly, make it easier for law enforcement to crack down on manga pirate sites. Under the current copyright law, unauthorized downloading of video and music is explicitly illegal. The revision, innocently enough (or so its authors at Japan's Ministry of Culture believed), sought to extend this provision to all copyright-protected works, including manga. Violation of the law would incur up to two years in jail, a ¥2M (appr. USD $18K) fine, or both.

When news of the change hit the Internet, it drew an instant backlash. Critics noted that, because the law sort of lazily extends the download prohibition to all copyrighted works, it can be interpreted to mean that saving screenshots of a manga to your phone, or even saving a copy of an academic treatise, are violations of the law. Fear began to spread that fans who posted panel shots of their favorite manga on Twitter as reaction memes would find themselves hounded by authorities.

Internet fans weren't the only ones who objected to the bill's wording, however. The Japan Manga Authors Association (日本にほん漫画家まんがか協会きょうかい), which boasts some 1,600 members, also came out publicly against the bill, with many working manga authors signing a petition stating their opposition. Association Chairperson Satonaka Machiko (里中満智子), known for works such as Rainbow Ceiling (天上てんじょうにじ), and Constellation of the Hunter (狩人かりゅうど星座せいざ), said she was thankful for the thought behind the law, but:

。。。現案のままでは、悪意のない一般のネット利用者の方も法をおかすことになりかねません。心配のしすぎかもしれませんが、漫画を守るために今回の法改正をしようとしてくださったのであれば、漫画を守るゆえに一般の方が不自由になってしまうのはかえって不本意です。 its current form, it's likely that netizens with no malicious intent will be in violation of the law. This may be over-concern, but I'm reluctant to support this revision, which, while trying to protect manga, shackles ordinary citizens in the process.

(JP) Link: The Chairperson of the Manga Association Speaks: "If This Is Illegal, Even I'm Worried"


The opposition was so strong that PM Abe himself took the unusual step of asking the Ministry of Culture to strike out the line of the bill that extended anti-download protections to all copyright works, despite the fact that the bill had already cleared committee. The bill was a rare admission of defeat for Abe, who's earned the nickname 安倍あべ1強いっきょう, (Abe ikkyou), or "Abe the Strongest", for his ability to cram legislation through Japan's Diet.

The bill will now return to committee to receive a new draft.

I've no doubt this revision will eventually pass. One hopes that, in the next draft, the Ministry of Culture actually solicits the opinion of the people they're trying to protect.