Plagiarism, Fan Culture, and Libraries

The comics and manga blogosphere has been buzzing this week, and not in a good way: creator Nick Simmons, rock star Gene Simmon’s son, has been accused of plagiarism in the creation of his manga-style comic Incarnate.  Initially reported on the blog Robot 6, part of Comic Book Resources, the infringement appears to have first been identified by fans of Tite Kubo’s extremely popular series BleachA post comparing scans of Bleach and Incarnate shows fairly damning evidence that Simmons did not just pay homage to Kubo’s work, as he claims, but lifted layouts and character designs directly off of the page.

The initial charges of plagiarism, however incendiary, quickly shifted into some fierce back and forth discussions between bloggers, fans, and industry commentators arguing plagiarism and the dangerous waters of copyright, artist’s rights, and fan entitlement.  Heated discussions lit up Twitter, blogs, and message boards, reported by’s Deb Aoki, suggesting that plagiarism by a celebrity creator is a minor aspect of a much larger issue.

Scanlations have a long been a part of comics and manga fan culture here in the US. Scanlations are digital copies scanned from original Japanese language manga, translated by fans into English, and then posted online for anyone and everyone to read.  Scanlations arrive promptly after a story is published in Japan, often in a matter of days, compared to the years it often takes publishers here to license, translate, and print the same story.  Publishers have been tangling with this problem for years, especially in how the practice has created fans that want immediate access to titles.  Titles become old news, and fans move on to the latest hot series, and in the process the eventual print releases are left sitting on the shelves.

In the many discussions on the internet surrounding justifying scanlations (check out the comments on Deb Aoki’s initial post, if you dare), fans claimed that reading scans online was the same as reading manga from the library.  Both provide free, easy access to titles.  Several distinctions are lost on fans.  One, libraries pay for licensed translations, meaning the manga creators and publishers are compensated for their creations.  While libraries serve a specific community, scanlations are available to thousands of readers and can be downloaded and copied indefinitely.  Libraries lend out one copy to one person at a time, and the number of copies they purchase increases with the number of readers interested in a title.  At this time, it’s very difficult to judge what percentage of manga fans read scans.  At conventions and within fan circles online, it is a widely spread practice.  In the general public?  So far, no numbers have been authoritatively gathered.  Anyone who works with teenagers has undoubtedly seen it — I have as many teens sitting around reading stacks of manga as I do teens logged into our computers reading the latest chapter of Naruto.  It’s free, scans are easy to find, and readers have little reason to care that it is officially illegal.

Librarians are already contending with the problem of how to meet fan demand in their collections, and we should start thinking about how we might fit into a future scheme for online access.  If manga publishers start providing free access to manga before it arrives in print, as VIZ is already doing with their sites for IKKI ( and Shonen Sunday (, how can we as librarians show our patrons the way to the sites that comply with copyright?  It may be as simple as maintaining a website which encourages readers to visit publisher sites, or it may eventually be a library model for gaining access to online editions for our patrons a la Overdrive.
Being aware of the demands from readers is key to keeping libraries vital, and we need to advocate for our role in a world where scans and online access are already the norm.  That instantaneous gratification that young readers expect is already impacting our way of doing business, and we need to start guiding readers in a world where online access is free, easy, and ubiquitous.

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