With a fanatical audience that now reaches beyond Japan and around the globe, demand for manga and anime content is soaring. Publishers would prefer fans to go legit but in common with any premium content, there are those who prefer not to pay.
This has led to companies such as Shueisha, Kadowaka, Kodansha, and Shogakukan taking legal action to shut down or disrupt piracy platforms, hoping to send a deterrent message to site operators and consumers of pirated content alike.
This type of legal action generally only becomes public after a complaint is filed but a request filed by Shueisha in the United States effectively provides advance warning of an incoming lawsuit.
Shueisha is Extremely Keen to Identify Pirates
A San Francisco law firm acting for Shueisha has filed an ex parte application at a California district court for an order permitting discovery of information for use in a foreign proceeding (28 U.S. Code § 1782).
It appears that Shueisha’s targets are a number of ‘pirate websites’ (ssl.axax.cloud, ssl.advx.cloud, ssl.akkx.net, ssl.sdox.cc, ssl.standardcdn.net, ssl.lsh.buzz, ssl.appx.buzz, ssl.asiax.cloud, ssl.appsx.cloud) from where an “extensive amount” of its copyrighted works are being distributed without permission.
Testing these URLS directly bears little fruit but according to Shueisha, they all have something in common – connections to Mangabank.org – which appears to operate as a search/indexing site. This platform is insanely popular and according to SimilarWeb stats enjoys more than 81 million visits per month, making it Japan’s 44th most popular site overall.
“[Mangabank.org] is written in Japanese and invites viewers to search infringing material by titles, authors, and other keywords, seemingly catered to Japanese language viewers. The Infringing Websites [those listed above] were likely to be used to store the infringing copies so that they can reduce the traffic of the Main Infringing Website and make it more accessible,” Shueisha notes.
DMCA Subpoena Against Cloudflare
Before filing the request the publisher attempted to obtain information about the sites’ operators from Cloudflare using a DMCA subpoena. The personal information handed over did not prove useful in identifying anyone in particular but Cloudflare provided other details that allowed Shueisha to pick up leads.
For example, the domains sdocast.com and sdo.com.tw were used by the alleged pirates after being supplied by Hurricane Electric. According to MX records, the pirates also used services provided by Google, including a specific Gmail address and AdSense account.
IP addresses produced by Cloudflare led back to China but that is problematic. It is not possible to request personal information from Chinese ISPs based on copyright infringement claims. That is not a problem in the United States, however.
Discovery Request to Assist Proceeding Outside US
In its application, Shueisha requests that the “witnesses” (Google and Hurricane Electric) hand over information held in the alleged pirates’ respective accounts so it can track them down. The publisher seeks names, physical addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, and the IP addresses used when the site operator[s] created and accessed their accounts.
“Applicant intends to bring a lawsuit in Japan or potentially in China against the person associated with the Witnesses’ accounts in question as soon as the person’s identity has been ascertained through the discovery sought by this application,” the application reveals.
Shueisha believes that the requested discovery is “narrowly tailored” and limits discovery to materials related to the accounts held at Google and Hurricane Electric that were used by the alleged infringers to breach the publisher’s rights.
Shueisha’s Plan If Discovery Doesn’t Help Identification
Given that false information was provided to Cloudflare, Shueisha believes contact information held at Google and Hurricane Electric may prove equally useless. As a result, Shueisha says it needs to obtain access logs showing the times and dates the alleged infringers accessed their accounts along with relevant IP addresses.
At the time of writing the court hasn’t yet signed off on the request but whatever happens, Shueisha seems very determined to find out who these infringers are. The company suggests it is planning a civil lawsuit but for more than a year, criminal penalties have been available too, even for those who only link to pirated content.