The Trans-Pacific Partnership's new trade rules could kill the doujinshi industry

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a consortium of 12 countries, including Japan and The United States, that have entered into a mutual trade agreement concerning things like labor law, environmental law, and intellectual property (IP). A proposed update to the Partnetship's rules pertaining to IP could cripple the Japanese doujinshi publishing industry.

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Strictly speaking, doujinshi (roughly meaning "self-published works") are independently produced manga featuring characters from mainstream publications that, technically speaking, aren’t officially licensed.

Japanese law requires that any claims of copyright infringement be submitted by the party in possession of said copyright. The Partnership’s new proposal would make it so that anyone, not just the copyright holder, could file a formal complaint, which could lead to an official investigation. According to The Yomiuri Shimbun, the change is being pushed by the U.S., one of the Partnership’s 12 member countries, specifically because of the amount of copyright violations against properties owned by American companies.

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All of this could have an intense chilling effect on Japanese doujinshi.

The relationship between indie-created doujinshi and mainstream manga is equal parts symbiosis and light-hearted piracy. Doujinshi range in theme, tone, and genre, but there are two things that virtually all of them have in common: their pseudo-illegality and their popularity.

Naruto, for example, is one of the longest running manga still appearing in Shonen Jump, a popular weekly manga magazine. While there’s one canonical Naruto series, there are literally hundreds of doujinshi featuring Naruto characters in plot lines and situations that have no connection to Shueisha, the company that publishes Naturo.

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Every mainstream manga publishing house is fully aware that there are fans independently creating books using their characters without permission and making money off of them. Traditionally, though, most publishers have looked the other way.

“The creation of derivative works has helped the expansion of the market (for anime and manga),” copyright expert Kensaku Fukui told Crunchyroll. “[Doujinshi are] a rich gray zone built based on a gentleman’s agreement between original artists and amateur creators.”

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While a big publisher may not make any money directly from doujinshi sales, doujinshi work as a form of advertizing that can, in some cases, fulfill fan-desires that the canonical books do not. Many sexually-explicit doujinshi (hentai*) center around romantic and erotic stories involving characters that would never actually interact that way in their source material.

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And the doujinshi industry has proven it to be a solid jumping-off point for manga artists early in their careers. The artists who created Ghost In The Shell, The Electric Tale of Pikachu, and Tenchi Muyo! all got their start drawing hentai long before they became famous for their manga. Doujinshi are such an established part of the larger manga and anime industry that Comiket, a twice-annual expo featuring doujinshi creators, consistently draws hundreds of thousands of hardcore fans.

While the new trade agreement would undoubtedly allow the U.S. to more effectively crack down on the piracy of its intellectual property, the implications for Japanese publishers could be a bit darker: The new agreement would allow third parties to report one another to the TPP, a move that could be used by individual artists, or rival publishers, to create difficulties for their competition.

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