For almost as long as I've been running this site, I've gotten e-mails
from people who unknowingly bought bootlegs of Cowboy Bebop merchandise.
The irritating thing is that they were trying to buy the real thing,
but seeing as the bootleggers are as crafty as they are with the packaging
and such, they were fooled into buying an illegal product. This ticks
me off no end, especially when I find that places like Ebay and seemingly
respectable Anime stores refuse to do anything to protect against these
rip-offs. Well, I'm writing this FAQ to hopefully educate those of you
interested in buying Cowboy Bebop products legitimately, who want to support
the anime industry, especially great artists like Shinichiro Watanabe,
Yoko Kanno (and all the crew at Sunrise) so that they continue to make
the shows we love so damn much. Please do me a favor and read the sections
about how to recognize bootlegs before buying a CD or DVD, especially
if you're buying from Ebay.|
What is a Bootleg? | Recognizing a Video Bootleg | Recognizing a CD bootleg | More Info
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What is a bootleg?
For our purposes, the technical definition of a bootleg is: any illegal
copy of video or audio. That can mean everything from a program that you
tape on television and pass on to a friend (yes, that's technically illegal)
to someone "producing" a professional looking DVD or CD of intellectual
material that they do not own the rights to.
Now, in anime fandom there are some grays when it comes to what is "permissible" as far as bootlegs go. For example, I don't think that anyone, no matter how hard-line they are against bootlegging, would think that it is wrong to copy an anime on tape from a Japanese broadcast and send it to your friend in another country. It may be technically illegal, but I doubt that even the anime companies would object to this; after all, it's free advertising.
The next level of bootlegging creates more of a controversy, however: fansubs. Fansubbing is an "industry" that (as far as I can tell) is entirely unique to anime. A fansub is an anime video which has been subtitled by amateur translators, generally fans. They are not professionally done, and are usually free. If you ever pay more than the cost of materials/shipping on a fansub, you're getting ripped off. While fansubs are generally passed over with a wink and a smile (even by some anime companies), there are a few things to remember if you want to get a fansub:
There are some people who find fansubs objectionable, period. I am not one of those people. However, I do not think that there's any excuse to buy a fansub if the video you want is commercially available in your country. Buying a fansub under those conditions is called "stealing."
The next level of bootlegging is people who buy anime DVDs or VHS, make VCD or VHS copies of the programs, and sell them on Ebay. I think this is pretty obviously wrong to most everyone, and (hopefully) you can all recognize this sort of thing when you see it.
And then there are "professional" bootleggers. To me, these people are the most despicable, not only because they sell bootlegs but because they try to fool their customers into believing what their buying is legitimate. Many people have been fooled by these shysters. (I was of them, unfortunately, until I wised up.) Because they package their bootlegs almost exactly the same way that the American or Japanese companies do, it can be difficult to recognize a bootleg. However, there are certain warning signs to let you know whether what you're buying is a bootleg or legit.
Recognizing video bootlegs
| I don't think I need to
explain how to spot the copies that people make with their DVD burners
and whatnot; those should be easy to spot. Obviously, if there are way
to many episodes on one VCD, then you know it's just someone burning their
DVDs to VCD. If you think that you do need some explanation in spotting
generic bootlegs, send me an e-mail and I'll add one to this FAQ.
No, the real problem, as I've said many times, are the Hong Kong/Taiwanese bootleggers who create complete duplicates of other people's work, and thus fool many people into buying second-rate products. Those are a little harder to spot, but there are some warning signs:
Recognizing CD bootlegs
| Now, CD bootlegs are slightly
trickier to spot, since there aren't as many discrepancies between the
bootlegs and the originals, but if you look carefully you'll know a bootleg
from a legit CD. There are really only three signs of a CD bootleg:
Probably the best way to protect yourself from being
swindled with a bootleg is to learn something about the legitimate products
from sites like Anime
on DVD. Also, there's are other bootleg articles that go into more
detail than this FAQ, and might be of some help:
Animenation's Ask John offers some help on spotting bootlegs.
Another piracy FAQ by Anime Digital that goes into more depth.
I hope that this FAQ is of some use to you folks. I certainly hope that I haven't encouraged anyone to seek bootlegs. The main lesson here is: buyer beware. Just because it looks legit, doesn't mean that it is. And no matter how tempting it is to purchase a bootleg of an expensive Japanese item, please keep in mind that Japan is in economic crisis right now, and think about how horrible it would be if your favorite anime company (like say, Sunrise, the creators of Cowboy Bebop) were to go out of business because no one is spending money on their product. I know it's tough to buy those import CDs, I know it's tough to wait and save up for the DVD set you want, but waiting is preferable to the alternative. If you have further questions that you think should be answered on this FAQ, please e-mail me.