We live in a rather questionable time as far as ethics go. The internet has made everything digital, and everything accessible. It's hard to distinguish what is right and wrong in the view of the law, and more so what is right and wrong in the view of our own personal moral structure. The two do not always conform to each other. The buzz this past week has been the Rockman.EXE anime, which premiered in Japan this past Monday the 4th at 6:30 PM. Personally, I was amazed by the speed at which it hit the internet full force. In two mere days, the anime was up on the internet and available for download. Another day saw the translation of the script, and immediately teams went to work in making an unofficially subtitled version for download so American audiences could watch.
Of course, American audiences already had been watching it. Many didn't understand a word of what was going on, and I was amongst them. But the point is that it was Rockman anime, with very impressive animation and an easy-to-follow plot, even if the words were indecipherable.
Is it legal for us to have downloaded this cartoon for our viewing pleasure? To this I answer, who cares? The law is not the issue here. Despite countless net denizens who have claimed to know the full legal ramifications of this particular issue, the point is overall moot. Chances are unless one of our readers is also a lawyer, no one fully knows the law of it. That is why I don't mean to argue the legality. The question here is, is it ethical? That's a completely different issue.
For one thing, the only reason that many fans were downloading the cartoon in the first place is that they knew there was no other alternative. When it comes to more cut-and-dry black-and-white issues such as ROM distribution, or handing out episodes of a show that's easily accessible to an American audience that's willing to simply cough up the money, the answers are much simpler. But this particular cartoon is impossible for American audiences to view. The crime, if there is one, is a crime of passion; the passion behind a little blue bomber that people love enough to wait for hours to download a 25 minute movie of.
More so, not only are no profits being made by the distributors of this anime, but it seems implausible that any profits are being lost by Capcom from the distribution of it. The TV is shown on a public channel; no one in Japan has to pay to see it. The only profits made by Capcom in the airing of a TV show broadcast on a public station is through advertisement. Considering those downloading the anime were mainly Americans, it seems unlikely that we'd do anything to contribute to the products and services advertised for during that 30-minute block. If we would have no plausible way to contribute to these advertisers, then the advertisers in turn would not suffer and therefore Capcom would not suffer.
And an unfortunate fact of bootlegging is that, for all intensive purposes, nothing can be done. If it is in fact illegal (which I'm not disputing one way or the other), little can be done to stop it. As stated before, everything is accessible. There will always be a way, somewhere out there on the far reaches of the internet, to grab it. This isn't a proclamation of pride, it's merely a fact. ROMs are very illegal and have been for some time, but despite the efforts of many game distributors to shut them down, they are still spread like wildfire across the net. Piracy will always exist, a grim fact that companies must come to terms with and think of alternative solutions to.
There are no easy answers, legally or ethically, to the questions raised in this column. They must be searched and decided on for each and every one's own self. One thing that must be remembered, however, is the importance to not push your personal convictions on others. You will do no good to your cause, and will most likely simply make yourself a social pariah.
Our hope now is that this anime is brought to the US in some more traditional form, such as being aired on our TV stations with official dubbed voices, or being brought over in DVD form as has been done with many other popular anime series such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Trigun, or Cowboy Bebop. One thing that can be tried is to fill out the Mega Man Manga Petition, in hopes that Capcom will see the interest in America for these kinds of treatments to our favorite little blue bomber.
-Reeve, seeing various shades of gray