Doujin : invisible but important player in Japanese contents business
Tens of thousands of people who love Otaku culture would have no idea how to spend their time on the end of this year. The organizers of the largest Doujin comic market in Japan, Comic Market or Comiket have decided that they will postpone Comiket 99 which was scheduled in December. In early spring in this year, they cancelled 98 in May. Because of the COVID-19, 2020 will be the first year which have no Comiket event for last 45 years.
Tokyo Big Sight, main hall of Comiket (Photo by T.F)
The pandemic will suffer not only the cosplayers, Doujin creators and the fans but also editors and contents publishers. For decades, the comic events such as Comiket have offered many business matchup opportunities. CLAMP, Chika Umino, Masamune Shiro, Ken Akamatsu and many other popular manga artists started their career as a Doujin creator. It is important for editors to have a skill to find and communicate with talented Doujin artists. In spite of that many amateur contents creators began to use SNS as a kind of portfolio from 2000’s, Dojin comic events are still working pretty well for recruitment.
According to the data from Yano research institute, the size of Doujin market is 82 billion yen (788 million USD) in 2018 based on its retail sales. Considering the size of total Japanese manga market which is estimated as 498 billion yen (4.8 billon USD), it is obvious how important role Dojin society plays in the Japanese manga market.
(Graph by T.F, based on Yano research institute report)
Doujin-shi is amateur manga publications, featuring either a cast of original characters and plot or characters from another manga or an anime. If you go to comic market or Dojin shop in Akihabara, you will find a lot of them which are featuring various manga, anime, game and even live-action drama and movie. Needless to say, each manga, anime and its characters are protected by copyrights. Then, how do Doujin creators deal with legal issues?
Book shop at Akihabara (Photo by T.F)
Actually, this topic has been an elephant in the room for many years. Since Doujin society has produced many talented artists for years, the copyright holders including publishing companies tend to avoid to make statements officially. In addition, some professional artists declare that they accept derivative work. For example, CLAMP, a group of creators known for xxxHolic and Cardcaptor Sakura said “We, CLAMP, are not considering for any regulation on derivatives and cosplays” on the post for their blog in 2015.
Ken Akamatstu, an author of UQ HOLDER! and Negima! Magister Negi Magi is working for the development of Doujin society even after he became a professional creator. From 2008, Japan started negotiation for participating in Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). Different from Japanese law system, copyright infringement under TPP doesn’t require an complaint from the victim for prosecution in principle. Consequently, the risk of Doujin creators who make derivative works could be much higher even if the rights holder wants to tolerate. To minimize the risk for both of them, Akamatsu and other activists created Doujin mark license and released it in 2013. This is a proof of authorization from the original creator to use the work for making derivatives and distribution.
The question now arises: Does the derivative work have its own property rights? Japanese Intellectual Property High Court showed very interesting judge for a certain trial. One of the BL (Boys Love) Doujin-shi author sued a company who uploaded some of her works on their website without permission and earned an advertisement income. The company insisted that their business is totally legal because derivatives don’t have own property rights. The case closed in October 2020 with an order against the company to compensate for the damage to the plaintiff. The significance of the trial is that Japanese judicial system clarified their position for Doujin works. So far, Doujin-shi authors didn’t bring their cases of copyright infringement to the public because their complicated legal position. Some of the authors even misunderstand that they don’t have property rights on their works based on the popular manga and anime. In addition, different from the case of Manga village, a pirated manga website which is closed in 2018 for copyright law violation, most of Doujin creators are working as a very small group so that they don’t have money and time enough to deal with reproduction website issues. However, thanks to the judgement of the BL case above and efforts of activists such as Akamatsu, the situation around Doujin community looks much sophisticated than before.
It should be also noted that some of the content rights holders are casting a stern eye toward Doujin society. Girls und Panzer, an anime franchise created by anime studio Actas tweeted several times to alert for the unauthorized products which are sold on the web shops and exhibitions. GuP has been collaborated with various companies and organizations including local government of Ooarai-cho, Ibaraki prefecture so that management of the copyright is quite important for branding. The arising of Doujin business and expanding of its scale could bring new problems for contents holders.
Like it or not, the creation of Japanese contents has been deeply related with Dojin society. In these days, numbers of contents are imported and exported. Along with the expansion of contents business, new methods, rules and initiatives will be needed in the future.