Monday, July 30, 2007

Odex: Anime without a Choice.

I know this might seem a little old but the issues (and problem) remain pertinent and very much alive. I'm referring to the recent shockwaves sent through the Singaporean anime community when Odex, a local company that releases licensed anime, started sending out letters to people who download fansubs of the licensed anime that they produce. Letters that threaten legal action unless the person to whom the letter was addressed chooses to settle the matter for a sum of money. This matter was also reported in the local newspapers.

The impact of course was immediate and intense. From the unilateral outrage expressed by the anime fan community, which incidentally comprises a far larger strata than the hardcore otakus, to the horror, shock and dismay of the unlucky few who were the targets of the aforementioned letters. The shock and trauma of receiving a letter that threatens legal action and explicitly highlights the applicable penalty for the offence (either a hefty fine or imprisonment) cannot be understated, especially for the layman.

So much so that some like Shi Hao, a former otaku, have been so shaken by the experience that they've given up on anime altogether. The current general mood of the community can basically be described as ranging from trepidation, the more casual, kiasee ones preferring to lie low for now to indifferent defiance by the more hardcore and tech-saavy members of the community. And of course the unanimous hostility towards Odex and all its products.

Before I continue, let me make this clear. The legal position is very clear. Fansubbing despite the reasons given remains illegal: copyright infringements of the original Japanese anime. Downloading copyright infringing material is an extension of copyright infringement. By purchasing the licensing rights from the Japanese companies, Odex is legally entitled to enforce its copyrights on behalf of the Jap companies with regards to the licensed anime.

That said and done, there's always the Right thing to do and there's always what a lot of people do. And fan subbing has been something that has been going on for a long time. Plus let's face it, a lot of anime fans only became fans because they started out watching the fan subs of a certain anime series and fell in love with it. You'd be hard-pressed to find a fan who became one because he/she simply walked into your local video store and decided to buy the VCDs/DVDs of a certain anime series on a whim.

They want to see if it's good before they're willing to part with their money. Fan subbing helped to generate exposure and interest in the various anime series and fans responded accordingly, whether by buying the actual series or purchasing the anime-related licensed paraphernalia. Now while Odex has the legal right to do what they did, I seriously doubt their actions would improve sales of their licensed anime.

Firstly, because their actions have evoked a serious backlash in the community. Incensed by their actions, anime fans have sworn never, ever to buy a single Odex product. This also extends to those currently too fearful to download. The rejection is unanimous.

Secondly, the quality of Odex products is deemed by the community to be lamentable. The resolution and subs lagging far behind those of the free fansubs and the price, exorbitant. As Maverick aptly noted:

"Well, let’s see, ODEX basically has almost monopolized the distribution of anime in Singapore, so we kinda have no choice but to go to their goods. But what do they do in return? Lousy resolution/quality, seriously bad dubbings (though they’re in dual-sound), and exorbitant prices. How exorbitant, you say? Let’s see, S$29.90 for a vcd box…which contains only around ~10 episodes. That’s like $3 for an episode. Is it worth the money then? The resolution is so bad, you dun wanna maximise to full-screen when watching them on your computer. The dubbing, the hell, you would RUSH to set the audio to the original Japanese before the characters start to speak."

Put these two together and you will understand why fans are (understandably) incensed. Arm-twisting tactics are unpleasant enough but throw into the equation inferior products that are highly priced and one can see why anime fans aren't thrilled with Odex. Free, High quality Subs vs Expensive, Inferior videos. Not much of a choice there.

Anyhow, just a few points to note on the whole saga:

First, there appears to be a common trend. Those who were caught were using Bittorrent or a torrent client to download. And the ISP provider was Singnet, which means it gave the logs willingly. Like some of the more tech savvy members of the community explained, bit torrent downloads are easily traceable given that your IP address is recorded once you start downloading the torrent and anyone accessing the torrent would be able to record your IP address.
Darkonlore gives a good explanation:

"How are they doing it?We(referring to the anime community) has noticed that the ones caught are all using bittorrent. This is due to the fact that each bittorrent client keeps info of who it is connected to (IPs), and is easily accessible by anyone who use the same .torrent file. There are also trackers that would list the IPs of users who are currently connected to it. So just take down the SG IPs and ask the ISPs for their info. Encryption of data in that aspect is pointless.

I do not think it is feasible for the ISPs to do an exhuastive search of everything downloaded by all their users, and since it would turn into an international affair if AVPAS requests logs from http servers that hosted the tracker/torrent file, using less well known sources might still be possible. "

And like he so astutely pointed out, http servers or other less well known sources are still possible/safe and hence are in all likelihood still used. Bittorrent bad, less well known sources good.

Second, some of the more common series and files targeted based on the letters sent out (See Darkmirage & Shi hao) are Code Geass, Bleach, D Gray Man, Tsubasa Chronicles (Season 1), Inuyasha and One Piece. Again all the files were torrent files. For the full list of licensed titles, check out AVPAS's webpage.

Third, be smart. I think enough has been said on this and indeed expounded on by numerous members in the community. It all comes down to knowing what to do and what not to do. For example using bittorrent and downloading massive amounts of torrent files at one sitting is not something anyone should do.

Lastly, if there's one thing everyone agrees on, it's as Shi Hao said on his blog:


Yeah, neither will I. Tough luck, Odex.

Update: The crackdown continues, Odex sheds some light on the issues surrounding the saga.


Anonymous said...

fuck it !!!! i will never will never in my life buy stuff from odex i told all my family members not to buy i told all my friends not to buy when i start a family i will never ever allow them to buy .. and so odex may think i am just a small kid but many small kids spend silly money ... don't tell mi adults go to a video shop and say hey maybe i should try out this anime !!! anyway my whole school hate odex and will never buy any product from them . dude wat u said above is true .. without fan sub no one would jsut walk into a video shop and but $20++ on an anime without watching abit of it .. reading reviews isn't enuf ... see ya

GED said...

Great share!