HK Manga Fans Call For Release of Detained Chinese Subtitle Translators

HK Manga Fans Call For Release of Detained Chinese Subtitle Translators
Photo Credit:FirestarOfDarkness13CC BY SA 3.0

What you need to know

Protesters say the translators are 'cultural ambassadors' and that content providers depend on them to make their productions better known.

Fans of Japanese manga took to the streets of Hong Kong this week to protest the arrest in Japan of two Chinese nationals accused of illegally translating animated videos and spreading them online.

For years, so-called “fansub groups” have been illegally uploading foreign videos with translated Chinese subtitles to the Internet. Most of the original videos, which include many Japanese animations and dramas, are obtained illegally. PopGo, KTXP, Sumisora are three of the most famous fansub groups.

In late September, two Chinese men were arrested in Japan for illegally translating subtitles of Japanese animation. It was the first time Japanese authorities had arrested fansub members.

Twenty-year-old student Yang Wangyi (楊王軼), a member of fansub group Sumisora (澄空字幕組), was arrested in Tokyo. The other, 30-year-old Wang Liang (王亮), a member of YYMan (異域字幕組), was arrested in Yokohama.

Japanese police had been tracking down the two through their IP addresses since July. Both were accused of translating and spreading animation videos online without permission from the original content providers.

On Oct. 15 more than 10 Japanese manga fans protested in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, to support the pair. The participants said that without fansub groups, Japanese culture cannot be spread widely and content providers depend on these groups to make their productions better known. They said the subtitle translators are “cultural ambassadors,” and called on the Japanese government to release them.

Breaches of Japan’s Copyrights Law can lead to a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment or a fine of up to 10 million yen (US$96,000).

'We know its illegal'

Hong Kong Chinese-language The Initium interviewed several current and past members of different fansub groups.

In fansub groups, some members are responsible for providing video sources while others translate subtitles. Source providers live in Japan, record the programs on their televisions and sell the recordings to fansub groups. After the subtitles have been translated, they are proofread by members with more advanced language skills before being uploaded to the websites.

Wang Qianqian, a 23-year-old graduate student in Kobe, is currently translating the subtitles for a Japanese TV drama.

Wang told The Initium she did the work for free.

“I can tell you that nearly all fansub groups are ‘non-profits,’” she said.

Cici is the leader of a fansub group that follows a particular Japanese male celebrity. She told The Initium that the group's video sources rely on loyal fans who collect every production the celebrity is in.

“We gather together because of our love for him [the celebrity],” Cici said. “We know what we are doing is illegal in Japan so we need to be more careful.”

She also expressed concern for her group after learning about the arrest of the two Chinese translators.

According to Cici, the groups seldom upload their videos to major social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in fear that they will be caught.

“I really hope that everyone can keep a low profile to maintain a safe environment for fansub groups,” Cici said.

Heita, a 21-year-old Japanese student, told Initium he does not understand why the groups risks doing illegal translation work for free.

Heita said he has never downloaded foreign films from the Internet, and “would never break the law just to watch movies.”

Risako, a Japanese student who has studied in Shanghai, said she has never seen Japanese drama or TV programs aired on TV channels in China. There were also no Japanese animation or DVDs available in rental stores.

“My friends and I watched Japanese dramas on Bilibili and YouKu when we were in China,” Risako said.

Yin Yenxiang, a 30-year-old from China, used to help translate subtitles in fansub groups. Yin now works for one of the content providers whose copyrights he used to “violate.” None of Yin’s colleagues know that he used to translate subtitles illegally, and he has mixed feelings about the work.

“In the past, I thought working for fansub groups was cool,” Yin told Initium. “I could spread the works I liked and helped other fans watch them for free.”

“Companies need fansub groups to help promote their content, but too much infringement will result in no profits for the companies,” Yin said.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White