Despite the growing availability of legal options, online piracy remains rampant. In Japan, manga comics are a particularly popular category.
Publishers are attempting to deal with this issue by ramping up enforcement. This recently led to major success when a Cloudflare probe helped to shut down 13DL, Japan’s largest pirate site.
These enforcement efforts are intensifying but they are not new. Back in 2019, Japanese authorities arrested the operator of Mangamura, one of the leading manga pirate sites at the time.
Mangamura had only been around for roughly two years but according to Japan-based anti-piracy group CODA, it caused well over $2 billion in damages to the local manga industry. The operator of the site, Romi Hoshino, was held responsible and eventually pleaded guilty in a criminal prosecution.
In 2021 the Fukuoka District Court sentenced Hoshino to three years in prison and more $650,000 in fines. This is a serious sentence, no doubt, but the publishers weren’t done yet.
Publishers Demand Millions in Piracy Damages
Last summer, manga publishers Kodakawa, Shogakukan, and Shueisha filed a civil lawsuit against the former Mangamura operator. Together, the companies requested 1.9 billion yen in damages. That’s close to US$14 million based on today’s exchange rate, without taking into account the 5% interest rate on top.
According to the complaint, Mangamura had around 100 million monthly visits at its peak. This arguably made it one of the largest pirate sites in history with the now 31-year-old Hoshino as the main defendant.
“The monthly visits went up to 100,000,000, and based on [CODA’s] calculation, the amount of the damages was estimated to be approximately 320,000,000,000 yen. Due to the large scale of the infringement, it was recognized as a social problem and named the ‘worst piracy site in history’,” the complaint reads.
This lawsuit is very much a Japanese endeavor but this week the manga publishers made an appearance at a California federal court where they requested subpoena to obtain vital information from Google and Cloudflare.
Google and Cloudflare Data is Crucial
Mangamura allegedly used the services of the American tech companies as part of its daily operations. The publishers believe that data from the companies could help to substantiate its claims.
This includes Google Analytics data to back up the visitor numbers, for example. Similarly, Cloudflare may have traffic stats as well and both companies should be able to connect the Mangamura operation to the main defendant.
“In support of the Applicants’ claims in the Lawsuit, additional information would be needed to verify (a) the accuracy of the calculation of their damages claimed in the Lawsuit, and (b) the identifying information relating to Mangamura to show the connection between Mangamura and Hoshino,” the subpoena request reads.
“[T]he number of visits or accesses to each of the Infringing Websites and the identifying information relating to the Mangamura would be critical in the Lawsuit,” the publishers add, adding that Google and Cloudflare are the only parties that can provide access to it.
The request was filed in court yesterday and has yet to be signed off on. In addition to the main mangamura.org domain, the less-frequently used manga-mura.net is also listed. The domains reportedly had different Google Analytics IDs.
Sending a Message
Whether Google and Cloudflare can deliver the requested information has yet to be seen. In any case, the publishers are determined to hold the operator of the defunct site financially responsible for the damages they suffered.
The Japanese complaint mentions that Hoshino likely had help from co-conspirators but no other names are listed. The Tokyo District Court did previously fine two advertising companies for placing ads on Mangamura. Neither of these companies show up in the publishers’ civil lawsuit.
Despite the fact that there’s only a single target in the Japanese lawsuit, the publishers hope that their legal action will eventually make other pirate site operators rethink their actions.
“We hope that the lawsuit will be conveyed to operators around the world and will deter them [from pirating],” Shueisha’s head of PR, Atsushi Ito, said previously.