Sally Yoon is an IPilogue Writer, IP Innovation Clinic Fellow, and a 3L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
The Australian government recently raised the alarm after noticing an increasing demand for unlicensed publishing materials, particularly driven by traffic to websites offering Japanese manga. The issue of manga piracy most notably made headlines back in 2021 — manga piracy had surged by over 26 times, resulting in a loss of 8.76 billion US dollars in the same year. In Australia, unlicensed television shows, films, and music have seen a general decline since 2017, causing some to wonder why manga could be an exception. According to intellectual property experts, consumer convenience is likely driving these trends.
The recent explosion of streaming services has enabled widespread access to shows, films and music, whereas there appears to be an ongoing lack of legal access to manga. Even though streaming services come with a cost, many offer a wide range of plans at reasonable rates, and some even offer free trials. Moreover, more individuals appear to be willing to pay the fee rather than potentially expose their devices to malware — consumers who engage in private downloads were found to be 28 times more likely to get their devices infected with malware. Blocked piracy sites were also found to be an effective deterrent to some of the less persistent individuals trying to access unlicensed content. The Australian government is currently reviewing Australia’s copyright enforcement regime in response to the need for an effective copyright system that takes into account shifting technological landscapes.
However, declining piracy trends in Australia may be unique. According to MUSO, a data company that measures global piracy to drive content protection, piracy is on the rise. With 17.4 billion visits, the United States had the most visits to pirate sites per country, followed by Russia and India. While Canada was not listed in the top ten, it may be too soon to breathe a sigh of relief, as developments in the streaming market may create conditions that will predictably lead to an uptick in demand for unlicensed content. Streaming services implementing new ad-supported tier subscription options, increasing costs, or tightening the grip on password sharing may seem like a huge inconvenience to many, which can result in some consumers feeling like the legal avenues for accessing content are no longer worth it.
Moreover, the fragmentation of streaming services has been frustrating consumers. With over 50 video streaming services in North America alone, consumers find themselves subscribing to multiples services in order to watch their desired content. According to Horowitz Research, the average streamer uses approximately 4 subscription services and desire “managed and consolidated services” to streamline their streaming experiences.
Overall, it is beneficial to investigate piracy trends, especially as we see significant changes in how we consume content. The rising demand for unlicensed manga suggests that there is a need to assess consumer access to legal content in order to prevent a slew of other piracy issues in the future.