Fighting Copyright Infringements of “Makaizo” Characters, Manga, and Beyond

Japanese anime and manga are very popular around the world and have become a big industry. At the same time, counterfeits and plagiarism have also become commonplace. Losses derived from plagiarism alone amount to more than ¥1 trillion yen ($7.5 billion).

Intellectual property (IP) rights are violated both in Japan and abroad. So while law enforcement is playing an endless game of cat and mouse, production studios are also scrambling to take countermeasures.

A range of Evangeleon ‘Makaizo’

Some of these losses come from makaizo, which literally means “devil’s modification”. It is a technique in which the body of a popular anime figure is swapped for that of another.

Dozens of figures from the popular anime Neon Genesis evangelization are lined up on a desk. Most are figurines of Asuka Langley Soryu, one of the characters, and all of them have a heavy emphasis on detailing and sexual poses, unlike the brand’s official figurines.

A 54-year-old man from Tsuyama City, Okayama Prefecture changed these numbers makaizo-style and sold them on the Yahoo! Auctions. Kyoto Prefectural Police arrested him in May for violating copyright law because he infringed Evangeleon’s copyright and sold the figurines for a profit.

The man bought counterfeit figurines of Asuka and other characters online for a few thousand yen. Then he traded their heads and bodies and sold them for around ¥10,000 ¥10,000 JPY ($75). Its sales over the period from June 2020 to October 2021 amounted to 1.8 million yen ($13.5 thousand).

The police say: “The base figures are fakes, so they are not very well made. But you can tell at a glance that they are from Asuka.

The police crack down

There seems to be no end to copyright infringement targeting domestic creative works like anime and manga. Besides the extreme modification of the figure known as makaizo, there are also pirate sites that illegally download manga from the Internet and videos called “fast movies”. These condense movies into short clips.

According to the Tokyo-based General Incorporated Association ABJ, the damage caused by the illegal downloading of manga from pirate sites has reached 1.19 trillion yen (about $8.9 billion).

Confiscated figures from the popular anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. May 2022, Ukyo-Ku, Kyoto (photo by Rintaro Kinoshita)

In this situation, law enforcement is cracking down on copyright infringement.

In 2018, police from nine different prefectures cooperated to arrest Chinese men belonging to Hanhuazu, a group that translates foreign works into Chinese and uploads them to the internet. And in 2019, the man who ran Mangamura, Japan’s biggest pirate site, was arrested.

However, copyright infringement is often committed abroad. A Kyoto Prefectural Police official said, “There is not much we can do when a site is run from overseas,” noting the difficulty of cracking down on the practice.

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Content producers fight back

Content producers who have their intellectual property copyrighted don’t just watch and do nothing.

The Tokyo-based Content Overseas Distribution Association (CODA) began operating the CODA Automated Contents Monitoring Center in 2009, which sends out requests to remove pirate sites and freeze their operators’ bank accounts.

Japanese publisher Shogakukan (Tokyo), which publishes popular manga magazines such as Shōnen Sundaybegan producing official translations in collaboration with overseas fans and posting them online in late 2021.

This decision, which is an attempt to eradicate piracy by providing official builds before hackers can create their own, is based on reverse thinking.

“Even individuals have become accustomed to posting copyrighted images and working online. And there are many cases in which they are infringing a copyright without knowing it.

“This type of damage has increased since the internet and social media have become widespread,” says Professor Kaoru Kobashi of Kindai University, an expert in intellectual property rights protection.

He states that in the case of pirate sites, “the financial damages they incur for production companies and publishers are enormous”. He explains that even though they sue the people running the sites, they are unable to get adequate compensation for their losses, adding insult to injury.

Considering that the copyright infringement of pirate sites stems from the existence of thousands of users, Professor Kobashi explains that “there is a need to educate individuals so that they know and understand what is copyright”.

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(Read the article in Japanese on this link.)

Author: Fumiya Suzuki

Kimberly B. Nguyen