Major Manga Publishers Prepare to Sue Cloudflare Over Pirate Sites

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Four major manga publishers are preparing to sue US-based CDN company Cloudflare for allowing pirate sites to use its services. Rather than file a copyright infringement lawsuit in the United States, Shueisha, Kodansha, Shogakukan, and Kadokawa will file their complaint in Japan, demanding millions in damages and an end to the distribution of pirated content.

cloudflare logoCDN company Cloudflare provides its services to millions of websites all around the world, enabling them to stay online with enhanced performance and better protection from attacks.

In recent years pressure from copyright holders has seen Cloudflare labeled a piracy facilitator. The CDN company does cooperate with rightsholders and insists that its services and processes meet the criteria laid out in the DMCA. But for some companies, Cloudflare doesn’t go far enough and according to a report coming out of Japan, will soon face a new lawsuit related to manga piracy.

Major Manga Publishers Prepare to Sue Cloudflare

Major manga publishers Shueisha, Kodansha, Shogakukan and Kadokawa are no strangers to legal action against pirate sites and their operators. They were famously linked to the dismantling of Mangamura, a now-defunct site blamed for causing billions of dollars in losses to the Japanese manga industry. In that case, the site’s operator was jailed for three years but since then other pirates have moved in to fill the void.

In many cases, these pirate sites use the services of Cloudflare and over the past year we’ve reported on various DMCA subpoenas obtained by the publishers in the United States that require Cloudflare to reveal the identities of their customers. In the meantime, Cloudflare invariably continues to offer services to pirate sites, arguing that it’s a neutral technology intermediary.

It now transpires that assertion will be tested – not in the United States but on Japanese soil.

According to Asahi sources, the publishers will team up to file a lawsuit against Cloudflare in the Tokyo District Court next month, demanding 400 million yen ($3.48 million) in damages and an end to the “delivery” of pirated content to internet users.

The publishers say that their works, including the massively popular “One Piece” and “Attack on Titan”, are regularly offered on pirate sites via Cloudflare’s services causing them billions of yen in losses. Having previously filed a similar lawsuit in the United States, the fight will now be brought home to Japan.

Pirate Sites Not Yet Formally Identified

Since the lawsuit is yet to be filed, it is currently unclear which pirate sites the publishers are complaining about. However, there are tentative signs that the action could be related to a DMCA subpoena applications filed by Shogakukan, Shueisha, Kadokawa and Kodansha in a California district court in late 2021.

As noted in our report, the publishers asked Cloudflare to hand over the personal details of the operators of manga1000.com and manga1001.com.

At the time, manga1000.com was pulling in around 110 million visits per month, making it the 160th most popular domain in the world and the 17th most popular in Japan. With 180 million visits per month, 92% of them from Japan, manga1001.com was even bigger. Also targeted were manga1002.com and other platforms operating in the same niche.

In early December 2021, we estimated that when combined manga1000 and manga1001 were good for at least 290 million visits per month. The news coming out of Japan indicates that the publishers are targeting a platform with 300 million monthly visits, suggesting perhaps that they consider these domains to be linked.

Will Targeting Cloudflare in Japan Bear Fruit?

According to Asahi, since 2020 the publishers have been asking Cloudflare to stop “delivering” pirated content from unlicensed sites but under US copyright law, that was unsuccessful. Moving the battle to Japan now seems to be the preference since according to the publishers, Cloudflare has servers in Japan to service local users. This angle isn’t entirely unexplored, however.

In 2018, the publishers filed a motion at the Tokyo District Court demanding that Cloudflare stop providing services to several pirate sites. That matter was apparently concluded via a settlement, with Cloudflare agreeing to “stop the replication” of the sites on its Japan-based servers, if a court declares them illegal.

Another interesting angle is that Cloudflare traditionally defends itself under US copyright law, something it did successfully last year after being sued by wedding garment companies including Mon Cheri Bridals and Maggie Sottero Designs. In that matter, Cloudflare emerged victorious with the judge noting that a “reasonable jury” would not conclude that “Cloudflare materially contributes to the underlying copyright infringement” carried out by pirate sites.

In this matter, Cloudflare also feels confident in its position.

“Cloudflare’s CDN and pass-through security services do not meaningfully contribute to infringement,” a statement from the company reads.

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