Populist movements don't build themselves ...

... It doesn't matter what the "horse race" outcome of the campaign is, if we fight the campaign. Fighting it, we learn how to fight. Learning how to fight political battles, we become citizens again. Becoming citizens again, we reclaim the Republic that lies dormant beneath the bread and circuses of modern American society.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Can the Teaspoon Model stand up to Bloodsucker Streaming Sites?

Burning the Midnight Oil for Breaking the Silicon Cage

A little while back I saw a Tweet about one of these bloodsucker bootleg anime sites from debaoki, manga blogger at About.Com:Manga. So I want to check it out, and a little conversation ensued ... (NB: skip to the last section if you've heard all of this before)

The post that Deb Aoki pointed to was a whining complaint about getting a "Cease and Desist" letter from the American anime distribution house Funimation to take down links to bootleg copies of the works that Funimation licenses. The list (shown an item per line at AnimesFree.com) was:
Afro Samurai, Air, Air Gear, Baccano!, Baki the Grappler, Basilisk, Beck, Black Blood Brothers, Black Cat, Black Lagoon, Blassreiter, Burst Angel, Claymore, D.Gray-Man, Darker than Black, Desert Punk, Devil May Cry, Elemental Gelade, Ergo Proxy, Fate Stay Night, Fruits Basket, Fullmetal Alchemist, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Ghost Hunt, Great Teacher Onizuka, Gunslinger Girl, Hellsing Ultimate, Jyu-Oh-Sei, Love Hina, Lovely Complex, Magikano, One Piece, Ouran High School Host Club, Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~, Samurai 7, Samurai Champloo , Shuffle!, Strike Witches, Trinity Blood, Welcome to the NHK, Xenosaga, xxxHOLiC, Casshern Sins and Eden of the East

Lest you think that "whining" is unfair:
I woke up this morning thinking it would be a crap day.

I was right. As I opened my e-mail inbox I found a nice little message from my webhost. Funimation had launched a massive DMCA notice and had kindly taken the liberty to go straight to my copyright-zealous host asking them to ensure that I take content down. They said I had 48 hours before my account was suspended.

So as it is, I spent three hours today taking down each and every category that Funimation wanted me to remove due to their licensing, each with a nostalgic flashback of the many hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons that it took to link and add. In reality, it really felt painful removing over 1000 episodes of good Anime from the website. All the staff on AF are devastated as well. They worked hard. We all did.

So I hope that anyone who reads this little message understands that life never goes the way you want it to. And as far as ‘Anime’ and ‘community’ are concerned, Funimation seem to only care about the sites that would be too troublesome to take down and pick on the one’s that try to grow. And what perfect timing too. We were just becoming more popular by the day. I hope whoever DMCA’d us from Funimation feel good about what they just did, because we must have been SUCH a threat to the industry that they had to have us remove One Piece alongside other good Anime.

But it wasn't all just whining: there was bravado as well:
But here’s a little message:

AnimesFree.com will continue just as STRONGLY as it has been these past three months. Meeting everyone new on the website was great and I don’t intend for it to stop anytime soon. So we’re not going to quit just because of a few dozen series. There’s two things that you can do when a bully pushes you down. You either stay down and cower, or you stand back up and fight until you can’t walk anymore. There are just some things that the ‘Anime’ corporate giants will never understand about how people rely on online Anime communities.

Fans supporting a healthy industry speak out

The first reply from Dave (URL seemingly deleted in a fit of pique by the site admin) received the kind attention of having a reply edited in by the site admin:
Jesus Christ, you need a tissue? The legal owners of the material claimed their rights to the product you compile links to. You are not a victim. They are not bullies. What you are is a whiny, entitled brat. And then the begging for money: priceless! Thanks for the laughs, bro, I’m out.

Reply from Admin:

And you’ve just wasted minutes of your time and my time insulting me which doesn’t make a damn difference to… anything. And if they’re not bullies, why do they pick on some sites and others? Or maybe ten or so other websites have the ‘legal rights’ to stream all their products for free? Whatever it is, if you’re going to post such a useless comment don’t even bother putting in your site URL through the comments next time. Begging for money? That’s about as retarded as you can get. You’re getting nothing from us and we want nothing from you. Get lost. On our site, we always have the last laugh.

gia pointed out that some of these titles are available streaming from legitimate sources:
I’m with Dave– don’t whine because your copies of copyrighted material that people worked hard to make so that they could earn a living had to get taken down. The only reason I cared enough to even look at this was to see if there was any indication of new licenses.

I mean, really– Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood? Why would you even host that? FUNi’s worked its ass off to make that anime available FREE and QUICKLY after its air date in Japan. Anyone who claims to “care” about anime or its industry should want to support projects like it.

... and so the conversation went. Having a link to the original complaint about the evil Funimation copied out through the #anime Tweetosphere and connected parts of the anime blogosphere attracted the interest of those who were less than impressed with all the work put into attracting people to get free streams with not a fraction of a cent going back to the original animators, voice actors, graphic artists, directors, or any of the other collaborators in the creation of the original works.

The replies started putting the site admin who posted the original complaint into defensive rationalization mode. Icy Storm:
I don’t think this is worth complaining about. You’re illegally providing content that others sell legally; does it not make sense that they use the law to rightfully assert their ownership of the content in the United States? I think the DMCA is crap, but if you’re offering licensed shows here, I don’t see why you’re surprised and devastated. I think it should be expected. At least on Hulu, FUNi (and the Japanese companies involved) would probably get compensated in some way for showing Baccano! for basically free. Here, they don’t get squat unless a viewer decides to buy the DVD… but how many people actually do that in the United States?

Reply from Admin:

The only reason why I was devastated is because I’ve heard many stories about Funimation and how harsh they are with their series. It’s understandable, they have rights to their titles. But instead of simply sending me an e-mail, they went straight for a full on hostile DMCA which could have been avoided. If Funimation would have co-operated a little more, I would have been willing to comply and this post would have never existed. And looking at all the other sites on the Internet which are left alone, it really boils my blood. {emphasis added}

VamptVo of ani-gamers weighed in:
Frankly, you are an idiot.

What in the world made you think that you had any right AT ALL to post videos of anime that somebody else owns? The only reason why you are allowed to do what you do on this site is because no one steps in to stop you. When a company finally decides that enough is enough and shuts down a mere fraction of your operation (not to mention all of the unlicensed shows that you also have no real right to distribute), they’re not a goddamn bully, they’re somebody whose business is being hurt by your self-righteous bullshit. Get over it, dude.

Well, this generated a big rationalizing reply, which prompted a reply by VamptVo, which prompted another rationalizing reply, and that was when I butted in ... note that the interior quotes are mostly by the AnimesFree site admin in question in reply to VamptVo (just to be, uh, clear):
“You’re supporting companies who never even aired something that was aired FREE in Japan.”
Actually, it was either aired on ad-supported or subscription supported broadcast or narrowcast networks. It was never aired for free. If it had been aired for free, they could not pay the salaries of all the producers, directors, animators or voice actors involved.

“Unless, of course, you guys are Funimation employees. In which case, you can keep your jobs.”
Actually what happened is this page link hit Twitter, so it was exposed to a broader cross-section of anime fans, including those who support anime.

“Funimation should work in CONJUCTION with sites such as this in order to provide both for anime communities local and abroad.”
Why? There is no revenue stream from sites like this to even support the salaries of the employees who are “working with” sites such as this.


… is their effort to generate revenue from video streaming. Why should Funimation undermine its own revenue, when Funimation’s revenues are what pays for its licenses, which are one of the income streams that funds the industry in Japan and helps new anime series be financed?

“This site doesn’t just help US people who can purchase Anime for themselves, but also in other countries where DVD purchases are far out of reach.”
Simply block access from US locations, and US license holders will not bother with you. In fact, block Region 1 and 2, and pragmatically you are unlikely to attract much notice at all.

And backing slowly away from the storm in the teacup

It goes on ... indeed, I have another point by point reply, VamptVo weighs in again, but the point is not this particular bloodsucking bootleg site amongst the swarm of bloodsucking bootleg sites out there. The point is rather trying to think through how niche creative industries are to survive when they have had much of their income stream knocked to one side.

It became clear to me just how naive the site admin was when I received this challenge:
As for Bruce however, who makes some constructive points -

Name me one Anime licensing company that has folded over because of the recent financial crisis.

Setting aside the notion that the recent recession was the start of the recent financial crisis in the anime distribution industry in the US, I did some googling and in less than a quarter hour came up with:
The Synch-Point R1 division of Broccoli shut down in 2005. The Geneon USA division was shut down in December 3, 2007. Central Park Media filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in April of 2009. Last month, ADV finished the re-organization it was forced into by threat of insolvency, re-organizing as AEsir/Sentai and spinning off its production arm.

That leaves Viz Media, Bandai and Funimation as the substantial surviving dubbing houses, with AnimEigo, Manga, Media Blasters, and Nozomi all adopting lower overhead niche marketing distribution strategies focused on sub-only thinpack boxset distribution.

Now, as noted in some of the discussion above, its not as if its impossible to get legit streams for many of the animes under discussion. For example, the site Crunchyroll which gained the reputation of being the "YouTube of Anime", largely on bootleg copies, went entirely legit at the beginning of this year, and now streams about half of the Japanese Fall season line-up, an hour after Japanese broadcast for subscribers and by ad-supported free stream, normally a week later, for the balance of members.

Yet when I took a closer look at Animesfree, I found they were linking to the following clips which I knew to be Crunchyroll streams:
  • Letter Bee
    • Ep1: http://cache01-videos02.myspacecdn.com/183/vid_507c7882740444f1894c8ae0e92f9926.flv
    • Ep2: http://cache01-videos02.myspacecdn.com/151/vid_930a22aec97c4edbad8c7431a99d0968.flv
    • Ep3: http://cache01-videos02.myspacecdn.com/184/vid_ec33035cde1a444ea00b1bd822ae8e17.flv
  • 11Eyes:
    • Ep1: http://cache01-videos02.myspacecdn.com/178/vid_b959ed011b8442a585e9f4d7a7a68622.flv
    • Ep2: http://cache01-videos02.myspacecdn.com/227/vid_2efe0de4c3624cf59de17cbd5950b399.flv
  • Fairy Tail:
    • Ep1: http://cache01-videos02.myspacecdn.com/136/vid_c13594d14f9f4b5281772b7d639d8b71.flv
  • White Album Second Season:
    • Ep1: http://cache01-videos02.myspacecdn.com/199/vid_2ae06ddcd4c14af0b052194bf9a2655b.flv
    • Ep2: http://cache01-videos02.myspacecdn.com/151/vid_f5a74443bc40454dab17cd348332b6c7.flv

  • Armed Librarians - Book of Bantarra:
    • Ep3: http://cache01-videos02.myspacecdn.com/199/vid_5c4dd294f806414da629d5e93295bc92.flv

And just who is "cache01-videos02.myspacecdn.com"? According to Whois.Com, the administrative contact is
Fox Webmaster
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Intellectual Property Department P.O. Box 900
Beverly Hills CA 90213


"MyspaceNCD" seems to mean, in other words, "Network Data Communications" service served by the myspace.com servers.

Does this mean that Twentieth Century Fox is streaming these films and Animesfree is leaching off of them? Does it mean someone has uploaded the bootleg files (maybe at the request of AnimesFree, maybe not) using a free video server, and that is being leached by Animesfree? I have no idea.

But it does highlight the perilous state of niche businesses like anime distributers in the new information economy. This is just a small sample of the information that could be automatically harvested from AnimesFree and followed up to find the actual site where the bootleg material is being stored. After all, "off-site" streaming sites have to tell the Java player that they are using where to find the material, so they can't keep secret the location that they are leaching material from.

Including, in this case, proving themselves to be liars in the disclaimer that they put up on episode player page:
Note: AnimesFree is a streaming website which embeds already uploaded videos on the Internet much like the way Google embeds searches. In case anyone had any misguided ideas about the purpose of this site, we fully support the Anime licensing industry and encourage anyone who watches and likes a particular series to go buy it, from sites such as VizMedia or your local Anime licensee.

Yet at their Armed Librarians: Book of Bantarra (Crunchyroll) pages, while they stream the third episode from MySpaceCDN.com and link to an external free streaming site for episode 2, they seem to stream the video for episode 1 from:
  • Ep1: http://www.animesfree.com/16cb7e37b96ef20da3d465bf3a303881/v191595926YmD5BmB.flv

Now, I have not been able to confirm that, since it may just be a link to an external site - that link may be to a process which is required to leach off of some larger site like Veoh (which when I checked does seem to have several copies of Book of Bantorra). However, if that is a file at their server rather than a process, then it would show how "flexible" they are with respect to their disclaimer.

What does the Teaspoon Model have to do with it?

The lovely Shakespeare's Sister at Shakesville presents the teaspoon model like this:
The teaspoon reference started with my post on International Human Rights Day, when I said: "Today is the final day of the 16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence, during which I suppose I have blogged exactly as often as always about violence against women, in America and abroad. Sometimes it feels like it's all I ever write about; sometimes it feels like I can't possibly write about it enough to do the issue justice; often, those feelings exist within me simultaneously. All I ever do is try to empty the sea with this teaspoon; all I can do is keep trying to empty the sea with this teaspoon." From that came the Shakesville Silver Teaspoon for Random Acts of Feminism, and a whole lot of subsequent references to teaspoons in these pages, when we are feeling crushed by the vastness of the work to be done.

As far as the economic health of this creative industry which is just a niche market in the US economy, and the success of efforts to try to come up with business models that can work in the new information economy - AnimesFree is not "the problem". They are one small bloodsucking fly in a cloud of bloodsucking flies.

And swatting down that cloud of bloodsucking flies would seem to be impossible but still, I wonder. After all, as I noticed when I started looking into this - being an aggregator for material available elsewhere in the Internet means pointing to where to find the material. And the reason they attract memberships (they are presently trying to raise $100 for their new and improved site design) is because its time consuming to wander around the back alleys and dank corners of the Internet trying to find places where the bootleg material is available.

So this is what I was thinking. Perhaps a small, struggling company that wanted to reduce the density of the cloud of bloodsucking flies draining the work of the artists who create this material of market value could gain leverage not by trying to find the Super-Teaspoon - but by recruiting a supporting group, each armed with ordinary teaspoons.

There'd have to be at least one person at the company actually sending out the letters to the sites streaming the bootlegs - but they would be far more effective if backed up by ten or twenty people contributing a couple of hours a week tracking down where the material is located. Indeed, the "white hats" could drop in info on where to get the material legally while at the bootleg bloodsucker streaming sites, including the proliferating opportunities for legal free streams.

Anyway, that's the idea that comes to mind when I think about the position of small, struggling distribution companies trying to survive the turbulent transition from the Old Media economy to the New Media economy.

Midnight Oil: Bedlam Bridge promotional clip

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