The popularity of pirated comics represents a thorn in the side to many publishers. Manga publishers, in particular, are faced with a constant stream of infringing copies.
Over the past year, we have seen some enforcement actions on this front.
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For example, the Japanese Government jumped in and created a special task force to investigate the pirate site Mangamura, which shut down last year. Since then, several operators and uploaders have been prosecuted.
However, when Mangamura went offline, many other sites were more than happy to take its place. This includes Hoshinoromi.org, which is particularly popular in Japan but does well outside its borders too.
Hoshinoromi positioned itself as a successor to Mangamura and managed to build a rather impressive library of content in just a few months. According to its own stats from late July, it has 93,000 volumes or books in its archive, good for millions of pages.
Faced with the rapid rise of the site, a group of some of Japan’s largest manga publishers is now taking legal action. In a complaint filed at a federal court in New York, Shueisha, Kadowaka, Kodansha, and Shogakukan, accuse the site of blatant copyright infringement.
“This case is about willful and massive infringement of the Publishers’ manga,” they write. “Hoshinoromi is a pirate website operating at www.hoshinoromi.org, which organizes, promotes, and distributes unauthorized copies of the Publishers’ manga on a massive scale.”
New York seems an odd choice as publishers are all from Japan and the website is also in Japanese. However, the companies note that Hoshinoromi uses a variety of US-based companies to conduct its business and hide the operators’ identities.
“Cloudflare caches infringing content from both Hoshinoromi.org and the backend server, zakayloader.org (previously, worldjobproject.org). Cloudflare provides a reverse proxy to mask the server locations and operators,” the publishers write.
Other US-based outfits used by the site are Twitter and Gab, the publishers explain, adding that the site itself is freely available to American visitors as well.
Hoshinoromi allegedly used Twitter to advertise the site, making it clear that it was aware of the potential negative impact it has on legitimate sales.
“When the old Manga Village closed, sales of manga went up, so the new Manga Village was revived, and profits will lower again!!!! What countermeasures are you going to take this time??,” the site previously wrote (translated) on its now-suspended Twitter account.
The publishers add that, while the site is open about its pirating activities, it apparently doesn’t want other people to ‘steal’ from them. According to the complaint, it is actively blocking outsiders from ‘exploiting’ the site’s collection of pirated files.
“Hoshinoromi has gone to great lengths to block competitor pirates and investigators from copying images in bulk. The operators of the site have no problem stealing and profiting from the Publishers’ manga, but they implement countermeasures to ensure that others do not do the same to them,” the publishers complain.
With the lawsuit, the publishers hope to unveil the site’s operators and be compensated for the damages they have suffered. They list a total of 41 works, which means that the theoretical statutory damages amount runs in the millions.
While it’s not specifically mentioned, another goal of the lawsuit may be to urge or compel third-party intermediaries to take action. Cloudflare is specifically mentioned as a caching service, and the publishers make it clear that they would like to see all copies of their works removed from the company’s servers.
A copy of the complaint filed by Shueisha, Kadowaka, Kodansha, and Shogakukan is available here (pdf).