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Scanlation (also scanslation) is the scanning, translation and editing of comics from a foreign language into a different language. Scanlation is done as an amateur work and is nearly always done without express permission from the copyright holder. The word scanlation is a portmanteau of scan and translation. The term is most often used for Japanese (manga), and occasionally for Korean (manhwa) and Chinese (manhua) comics. Scanlations may be viewed at websites or as sets of image files downloaded via the Internet.
Scanlations got their start due to a lack of translated Japanese manga releases outside of Japan. Manga fans cooperated and shared translation efforts since importing manga directly from Japan was often expensive, and a knowledge of the language was required to understand the originals. Similar to video fansubbing, scanlation began as small individual efforts between fans connected by telephone modems and postal mail. With the advent of the Internet, both the size of audience served as well as the methods used in both scanlation and distribution of scanlated works changed dramatically.
Scanlation is older than its anime counterpart, fansubbing. Manga fans coordinated, translated and shared efforts via postal mail well before fansubs. The amateur press association (APA) was the first formally organized form of manga scanlation. Their major period of activity occurred during the late 1970s through the early 90's. The professional magazine Mangajin resembled scanlation efforts but went beyond that. It used authorized manga excerpts and professional translations to introduce contemporary Japanese language and culture to an english audience. Mangajin was first published in 1990. As internet access became more widespread, the popularity of postal mail APAs declined in favour of internet-based efforts. Eventually, these efforts became more organized and coalesced into various groups of people forming their own communities. This approach to scanlation became dominant after the year 2000. Examples of the earliest organized scanlation groups are Mangaproject, Mangascreener, Manga-Sketchbook, and Omanga.
Many groups have their own webpage as well as an IRC channel. IRC is an important part of the community aspect, as they allow for real-time interaction between the group staff and the target audience. IRC also allows the groups to recruit new staff. Releases are often made through IRC rather via a centralized website, as it means the burden of bandwidth is distributed among multiple users, something especially important given the lack of funding of most groups.
However, some groups do release downloads from their websites, as well as via torrents or download providers such as MegaUpload or RapidShare. Some sites also exist which do not make their own releases, but instead serve as a repository for releases from other groups: this sort of centralized, direct download approach is popular among users who are unfamiliar with IRC.
Reason for scanlating
Scanlators say that they scanlate to promote the series or the author in their own language, but Hope Donovan suggests that the scanlator's goal is more along the lines of "self-promotion", and argues that it is prestigious for a scanlator to have many fans.
In addition to the groups who release scanlations of comics which are unreleased outside of their country of origin, there are groups who release comics which have already been made commercially available. In some cases, this is due to perceived or actual censorship or shortcomings in the commercial release of the comic.
Another motivation is the quantity of new comic series that are created. Most new anime series are fansubbed, and many are licensed for distribution by companies around the world. However, the quantity of manga series which are released in Japan (which has the largest market for comics in the world) and other markets makes this eventual commercial release unlikely for comics. Scanlators often release projects because they want to give it wider exposure.
The quality of commercial offerings is a common complaint. Localization is also a common complaint among supporters of scanlations. Commercial releases often have titles, names, puns, and cultural references changed to make more sense to their target audience. The act of horizontally 'flipping' the pages of commercial releases has also received criticism from fans of manga. The reason for this change is that the Japanese language reads from right-to-left, and Western languages such as English, Spanish, and French read from left-to-right. However, due to large-scale fan complaints that this 'flipping' has changed the finished product from the original (e.g. A flipped manga image will keep the speech translations legible, while any graphics such as the wording on clothes or buildings will be reversed and confusing), this practice has largely diminished.
The cost and speed of commercial releases remains an issue with some fans. Imported comics from the original countries' markets sometimes cost less than the commercially released version, despite the high cost of shipping. Despite weekly or monthly serialized releases in the country of origin, translated editions often take longer to release due to the necessity of translating and repackaging the product before release.
Reasons for downloading scanlations
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Script error Johanna Draper Carlson says that some readers of scanlations do not wish to spend money, or that they have limited mobility or funds, or that they are choosy about which series they wish to follow. Carlson feels that the readers of scanlations "do not care" that scanlations are illegal.
In the yaoi fandom, commercially published explicit titles are often restricted to readers aged 18 or above, and there is a tendency for booksellers to stock BL, but also insist that more of it is shrink-wrapped and labeled for adult readers. Andrea Wood has suggested that teenage yaoi fans seek out more explicit titles using scanlations.
Another possible reason is to gain access to comics that would otherwise not be available outside its native country. Also this practice is common for some manga which are given a release in a country then discontinued do to lack of popularity or sales in the target area; fans of the manga wanting to see a conclusion or for other reasons will attempt to find translators as well as scanlators for the manga.
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Script error As of 2009, Japanese publishers felt that scanlation was "an overseas phenomenon", and no "coordinated action" had taken place against scanlation.
Historically, copyright holders have not requested scanlators to stop distribution before a work is licensed in the translated language. Thus, scanlators usually feel it is relatively 'safe' to scanlate series which have not been commercially released in their country.
In fact, TokyoPop's Steve Kleckner went as far as saying,
"Frankly, I find it kind of flattering, not threatening... To be honest, I believe that if the music industry had used downloading and file sharing properly, it would have increased their business, not eaten into it."
However, this view is not necessarily shared among the industry, as some Japanese publishers have threatened scanlation groups with legal action. On February 14 and October 31, 2004, Kodansha, Ltd. sent cease and desist letters to the scanlator site Snoopycool.
Scanlations are often viewed by fans as the only way to read comics that have not been licensed for release in their area. According to international copyright law, such as the Berne Convention, scanlations are illegal. However, since many scanlators stop distributing commercially licensed series and advise fans to buy the official translation, most groups view their releases as occupying a 'gray area' of legality.
Some licensing companies, such as Del Rey Manga, TOKYOPOP, and VIZ Media, have used the response to various scanlations as a factor in deciding which manga to license for translation and commercial release.
"And, hey, if you get 2,000 fans saying they want a book you've never heard of, well, you gotta go out and get it."
However, some translators feel differently:
"I know from talking to many folks in the industry that scanslations DO have a negative effect. Many books that are on the tipping point will never be legally published because of scanlations."
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- Between fan culture and copyright infringement: manga scanlation