Whether you call it Comic Market, Comiket, or Comike, the twice-a-year event is the largest gathering of creators and fans of dojinshi, Japanese self-published comics. Each iteration of Comiket draws hundreds of thousands of otaku to its venue at the Tokyo Big Sight convention center.

Something else that’s known by more than one name is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A proposed trade agreement between a dozen nations, including Japan and the U.S., the legislation is more commonly referred to by the acronym TPP in the Japanese media.

As negotiations between the U.S. and Japan continue, some anime and manga fans are worrying that the Trans-Pacific Partnership/TPP could be disastrous for Comic Market/Comiket/Comike, but just how justified are these fears?

While some exhibitors at Comiket are there to sell manga and merchandise they developed wholly on their own, the primary action is in derivative works featuring characters from other professional artists’ titles. Technically, this would make most dojinshi copyright violations, especially as they’re being sold for profit with no share of the revenue being funneled back as royalty payments to the legitimate copyright holders.

However, dojinshi have something of a cultural legacy in the anime and manga industry. Many pros got their start or had their big break in dojinshi, and for decades rights holders have turned a blind eye to what goes on at Comiket and smaller events across the country, as well as the retail shops that deal in derivative dojinshi.

But some are afraid this golden age of dojinshi freedom may be coming to a close if the Japanese government enters into the TPP. What’s causing all the fuss? In the words of intellectual property lawyer Kensaku Fukui:

“As part of the TPP, America is seeking for copyright infringements to be criminalized, and for indictment and punishment to be possible, even without formal complaint from the rights holder.”

All that scary sounding terminology has some dojinshi enthusiasts spooked. “There are always people talking about the TPP on the Comiket floor,” one attendee told reporters.

Under current Japanese law, third parties can’t lodge a copyright violation complaint and request legal action. The proposed change would allow them to, drastically altering the letter of the law, so it’s not so surprising that the dojinshi market, estimated at some 70 billion yen (US$588 million) a year, is watching the developments with trepidation. Even Yoichi Miyazawa, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, commented in March that should the TPP be ratified containing such a clause, “We cannot say for certain that it will have no effect on Comiket participants.”

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that the impact of the TPP on dojinshi will be negligible. While the proposed change would allow third parties to lodge actionable legal complaints against copyright violators, the important question to ask is whether or not such motivated third parties actually exist.

The request to allow third-party complaints is largely being portrayed as something coming from the American side of the negotiations. Conversely, Japan’s dojinshi is overwhelmingly drawn by Japanese citizens borrowing the intellectual property of other Japanese nationals. In that light, it seems unlikely that American corporations or governmental institutions would have any interest in spending the time and manpower to patrol Comiket, document legal wrongdoing, and going through the legal channels to involve the local authorities. Seriously, no one at Warner Brothers has the time to care about your self-produced manga where Chihayafuru’s Chihaya and Suzuka’s Miki are in a love triangle with Seiji from Midori Days (especially when Seiji’s already got a really cool girlfriend growing out of his right arm).

In theory, American distributors that license anime and manga for sale in the U.S. could see dojinshi’s unsanctioned use of intellectual property as a threat to their business. However, by their very nature, such companies have no revenue stream from Japan. Comiket does get overseas attendees, but not anywhere enough that an American anime licensor is likely to see any net gain from the outlay of resources necessary to combat fans travelling from the U.S. to Japan and buying dojinshi instead of the U.S.-spec official product, particularly considering the loss of goodwill and backlash this would provoke from anime fans, whose consumer loyalty can be described as fickle at best.

Similarly, on the Japanese side, it’s not clear who these dojinshi-stifling third-party complaints are supposed to be coming from. Once again, with no benefit to be gained by them, it’s hard to imagine private citizens spending the time to go through the necessary paperwork and whatever else is involved in the reporting process.

Still, one could argue that the proposal currently contained in the TPP would give corporations one more arrow in their quiver to shut down fan-produced derivative manga. Except, who needs an arrow when you’ve already got the biggest gun there is?

The companies that hold the rights to the characters being borrowed for dojinshi don’t need any American-penned treaty clauses to give them permission to go after copyright violations. That’s already their prerogative as the legal owners of the intellectual properties, and it has been since Comiket started back in the 1970s. They’ve been letting dojinshi slide for 40 years, and if anything happens to change that attitude, it’s not going to be an approving nod from the U.S. government.

Taking that into consideration, the concerns voiced by one fan, who worries that “Comiket is going to be crushed by the TPP,” seem just a little blown out of proportion.

Source: TBS News