The growing popularity of cosplay in Taiwan has prompted legislators to call on the government to adopt measures to protect the rights of the thousands of people who participate in this colorful and often misunderstood subculture.

Cosplay, in which participants wear costumes to represent a character in comic books or anime, originated in Japan about 30 years ago and has been popular among manga enthusiasts and young comic book lovers in Taiwan over the past two decades.

Since 2000, many major cosplay events have been held around the country, drawing tens of thousands of cosplayers every year. In 2014 Taiwan became a member of the World Cosplay Summit (WCS), an annual international cosplay event held in Japan.

Now Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕), along with 10 other members of parliament, want the government to actively supervise and subsidize cosplay-related activities and events. They have also asked the Ministry of Culture to actively promote the rights and benefits of cosplay.

However, legal issues could stand in the way.

Violating copyright laws?

Whether cosplay violates the Copyright Act has been a constant source of debate in legal circles.

Chung Meng-shun (鍾孟舜), director of the Taipei Comic Artist Labor Union, told The News Lens International that cosplay essentially violates the act.

"Yet, if a cosplay performance does not involve commercial purposes, most of the time the copyright holder won’t sue the player," Chung says.

In Taiwan, violation of the Copyright Act is actionable only upon complaint.

Yang Chih-chieh (楊智傑), an associate professor in the Graduate School of Science and Technology Law at National Yunlin University of Science and Technology, agrees with Chung.

In an interview with The News Lens International, Yang said that non-commercial-use cosplay does not breach the economic rights in the character or the work and is therefore regarded as fair use as regulated in the act.

"Although there are still many gray areas between cosplay and violation of the copyright act, the bottomline lies in whether the performance is for commercial purposes or not," Yang says.

Ya Men-shang, an active and well-known Taiwanese cosplayer, said that about 90% of Taiwanese cosplayers do cosplay "just for fun." She does not believe a cosplayer dressing up as a character would have a huge impact on the sales of the original work.

In a research paper Yang wrote in 2015, he argued that despite the fact that there are no previous cases to refer to in Taiwan or the U.S., the Intellectual Property Office once stated that comic characters are artwork, which is protected by copyright laws; conversely, the costumes and styles of characters are just a concept, which is not under legal protection.

What can the government do?

Ya says that while she is fine with the government supervising cosplay, officials need to better understand the subculture and come up with comprehensive plans and policies.

According to Yang, the government should include a new provision in the Copyright act that clearly details permissible cosplay for non-commerical-use and that cosplayers should acquire authorization from the artist before appearing in a commercial context.

Chung says that while most legislators know little about the cosplay culture, the attention the hobby has received in the legislature recently is a positive development. However, he says he hopes legislators will learn more about the culture before that make any comments or decisions on the issue.