Apple Should Get Out of the Manga Piracy Business

Sorry for another anime/manga-related post, but a thread on Twitter reminded me of some Apple misdeeds that need rectifying. It started with a pair of tweets, first from Zac Bertschy of Anime News Network:

I’m sure this has been asked a million times, but why are there so many goddamn bootleg manga apps on the iOS store?

And then a follow-up from social-media expert and publisher Erica Friedman of Yuricon:

@ANNZac I’ve tried to write Apple/Google about the links to bootleg sites. Neither has a reasonable way for reasonable people to complain

So let me back up a second… what we’re talking about are dedicated apps that read “scanlations”, which are comics (usually Japanese manga) that have been scanned, translated by fans into English, and posted for free to various websites or made available through channels like BitTorrent.

Zac righly calls this “bootlegging” because there is no question that copyright violation is involved. Entire works are being digitally redistributed with zero compensation to the original authors or publishers. What can make this a gray area is a question of whether or not any actual harm is done: if the work is unavailable in English, nor likely to ever be, then how can a scanlation eliminate a sale that could never be made? This is a fairly bogus defense because (as we’ll see), the untranslated works are just a minor part of the story. Moreover, we could apply the established tests of “Fair Use” under US copyright law, such as:

  • Is the new work “transformative”? In other words, are we using the original to create a fundamentally different thing?
  • How much of the original is being used?
  • Does the copying impede future sale of the original work? Does it harm the creator?
  • etc.

Guidelines like this permit use like, say, presenting few pages of a comic in the context of a critical review or an academic paper: fundamentally new work, small amount of copying, doesn’t replace the original (and might actually drive new interest and sales). And obviously, a scanlation fails every one of these tests: it’s a full-on copy that changes only the language, and fully replaces a translation the original publisher might provide. It’s also been pointed out that scanlations are harming the development of a legal digital manga industry in the US. Scanlations would have zero chance of surviving a legal challenge.

So why the hell is Apple in the business of distributing them on iOS?

Search for manga on the App Store and you’ll get dozens of hits. Most of them are apps for downloading and reading scanlations on your iPad or iPhone. For the purpose of this blog, I tried the free versions of:

Note: these are not affiliate links. I wouldn’t want a cut of their sales, since I consider them illegal and illicit.

Most of these apps get their contents from three scanlation websites: MangaFox,, and MangaEden. Some of these sites play at supporting the source of their titles by slapping in pseudo-legal disclaimers and vague admonishments to somehow support artists as seen on this page of The Rose of Versailles:

Manga Storm page from Rose of Versailles, with disclaimer caption

This image is hosted at We take no credit for the creation or editing of this image. All rights belong tot he original publisher and mangaka. While we hosted this for free at, please don’t forget to support the mangaka in any way that you can once his/her work becomes available for retail sale in your region!

Some of these sites also adhere to an ethic that they don’t host scanlations of titles that have been licensed in the US. In this screenshot, Manga BDR (which awkwardly makes you browse MangaFox rather than scraping its index) shows an notice that Fullmetal Alchemist is unavailable from MangaFox because it has been licensed in the US:

Manga BDR showing MangaFox notice that Fullmetal Alchemist is unavailable

Does this mean there’s honor among thieves? Hardly. The sites are still violating the original Japanese copyright of the titles they do offer. And they’re not living up to the implicit promise to make obscure titles available to a wider audience — the Rose of Versailles manga cited above has not been completely translated, despite being more than 30 years old. And wherever Manga Rock gets its data from, it has no compunction about offering up titles that have US publishers. Here’s Manga Rock 2 offering Fullmetal Alchemist in its entirety:

Fullmetal Alchemist manga on Manga Rock 2

Not only is this stuff illicit bootlegs, these apps are popular because they allow access to pirated manga. Every single one of these apps advertises itself on the App Store with screenshots of browsing popular titles that have US publishers: Manga Storm shows Fairy Tail, Manga Rock shows Fairy Tail, Air Gear, and Negima!, and Komik Connect shows Bleach and Naruto. And the users use these apps precisely because of their illegal nature: the one-star reviews on Manga Storm don’t complain about it ripping off artists, but because it lacks US-licensed titles (due to its dependence on MangaFox and friends), and because it’s a paid app.

And speaking of the paid versions…

Apple gets a 30% cut of every sale of the full versions of these apps. That makes Apple a direct beneficiary of copyright piracy.

Everyone who stood up to say Apple does more to support creators than Google and its cavalier attitude towards IP rights, you can sit down now. So long as these apps are available on the App Store, Apple is complicit in piracy.

It’s fair game to criticize Apple for these, when the company has such a stringent review process. When it’s so careful to consider what it will and won’t sell, approval of an app has to be considered an explicit endorsement, particularly considering Apple gets a cut of the sales.

And that’s what makes it all the more galling:

The last of these may be the most galling. Erica Friedman again:

I went on a rant about why is it okay with the those of you who like shiny things that Apple just told DMP to take their BL off the iPad app? WHY?!? If the TV hardware manufacturers told you what TV stations you could receive, you’d be enraged. When your work blocks sites, you find ways around it. So why the hell is it okay will all you Apple fans that Apple censors content? I cannot understand why you are not screaming at all, much less loudly? APPLE CENSORS CONTENT. Especially LGBTQ content. Why are you still giving money to a company like that? People boycott BP and Chik-Fil-A and Target…but are absolute sheep about Apple’s censorship of content. ARGGGGGHHHH.

It’s as if Apple is saying “we won’t let anyone sell you gay manga for your iPad, but we will sell you tools to help you steal the stuff.”

This has to stop.

If nothing else, these apps are in obvious violation of section 22.4 of the iOS App Store Review Guidelines:

22.4 Apps that enable illegal file sharing will be rejected

Apple apparently won’t listen to third-party criticism (people have been calling attention to these bootlegging apps since at least 2010: 1, 2, 3), but there are channels that aggrieved parties can use. Viz and Yen Press have legitimate iOS apps for their manga titles. Since Manga Rock 2 makes bootlegs of those titles available (I saw Viz’s Fullmetal Alchemist and Yen’s High School of the Dead), these companies could use Apple’s dispute policies to at least have Manga Rock 2 taken down.

Beyond this, it’s hard to see what will work. Via Twitter, Erica noted yesterday that most US manga publishers are too small and operating on margins too thin to follow up with DMCA takedowns, and Apple may be technically in the clear on DMCA because they’re not themselves hosting the offending content.

However, since Apple’s making money off the sale of the apps used to pirate this content — in clear and obvious violation of their own policy — another option is that the Japanese publishers might want to sue Apple directly. They would presumably have more legal resources to stick with a lawsuit, and with Apple deaf to criticism, maybe it would take a few subpoenas to call their attention to the fact that making money off piracy is an awfully dirty business for one of the world’s largest and most prestigious companies to be involved in.

For the sake of Apple and the creative community, these apps need to disappear forever.

Comments (15)

  1. gigades

    Hello. Just want to tell you that those apps you are talking were taken down once around mid-end of 2010 in the copyright war by co-operation of US and Japanese publishers. I heard that after a while, they could agree on something and those apps can be sold in App Store again. That’s why Apple currently allows them on the App Store. Maybe you can find more detail on google.

  2. gigades: I have found no articles on Google that substantiate your story.

    Verifiable facts or GTFO.

  3. gigades

    cadamson: here is a link to news at that time.

    You should be able to find more if you know right keywords. I was a user of those manga apps and websites so I followed them closely since they were removed until they were back.

    There was also time when US publishers were friended with scanlation sites as well. It’s a complicated relation. You can find more in Wikipedia with keyword ‘scanlation’.

  4. gigades: That link only announces that Japanese publishers are going to unite with US licensees to try to stop unauthorized scanlations. It in no way indicates that they gave any kind of approval to scanlation apps. Indeed, a few months after that announcement, sites like Manga Fox pulled titles that had been licensed by US publishers:

    Still, you have provided nothing to back up your claims that:

    • Scanlation apps were ever removed from the App Store
    • Scanlation apps were then returned to the App Store with the explicit blessing of Japanese publishers

    It shouldn’t be up to me to “know the right keywords” (and obvious queries like “scanlation apps removed” pull up nothing relevant). You’re the person making this rather extraordinary claim, and the only evidence you’ve provided thusfar doesn’t substantiate any of your claims.
    Verifiable facts or GTFO.

  5. gigades

    OK, kid. it’s just me giving you some information. If you are not interested in it, it’s fine. I’ll just GTFO. No need to be rude.

  6. gigades: You’re not giving me information; you’re putting unverifiable and likely false information on my blog. Asking you to provide sources isn’t rude, it’s common sense.

  7. gigades

    Asking for my source is not rude but you should do it more politely. The rude part is ‘GTFO’. As a user, I’ve followed this information from description of their apps and their support sites for over 2 years and just want to share with you since your blog seems interesting to me. However, I will just ‘GTFO’, bye.

  8. […] meraup keuntungan bila hasil kerjanya didistribusikan secara gratis?Mengutip sebuah sumber di, mereka menemukan, bahwa di app store milik Apple terdapat aplikasi-aplikasi berbayar yang menjual […]

  9. subtosai

    interesting … so you are saying that apple should take down these apps … but why ? and on what grounds ? all you have said in the article may make sense but it is an argument that has been going around for decades … and till this day sites like manga one , fox , Eden … still exist and there is no real attempt from the Japanese and other publishers to stop it. Or are they too weak to remove a small app like manga rock from the app store. that is costing them maybe huge amounts in damages , Don’t make me laugh. In your previous comments you were attacking a commenter that he/she is giving unverified information while your whole story is nothing but unverified theory that fan scanlation and translation of unlicensed manga is illegal. Why don’t you present us with the legal documents and court cases and suits that have been made in this issue … and also provide us an explanation why they didn’t take any action against a legitimate company like apple , that according to you , is hurting their business ?

  10. […] is widely available on the web, but most of the web sites and apps offer copyrighted material and are illegal. Sites and apps such as Manga Rock, Manga Stream, Manga Fox, and others rely on user scans to […]

  11. G** a** hoēs

    Just saying glad that there is bootleg because do you know how expensive manga
    Is? Ofcourse after I read the whole manga I buy it soonafter.
    However,I just want to say most mangas on these websites usually say something along the lines of,” All rights go to manga artist and writers.” Or ” buy a copy when available in your country”.
    Now its not really fair to the author in any case, but its oh well.

  12. Roran

    Before I say anything I would like to start with a disclaimer, what I’m saying is an opinion and backed by nothing other than my own thoughts. I can see that you feel strongly about the subject of manga scanlations lowering the likelihood of the legitimate sale of translated manga in the United States. Though as much as some may dislike it, its highly unlikely that it will ever be stopped without major legal battles which will be far more damaging to the original publishers than the possible loss of sales caused by the scanlations. Simply put, it’s just not worth it to fight mangafox, mangahere, manga rock, etc.

  13. John Ripper

    Just found this post, but wow. You’re a douchebag for how you replied to Gigades. For someone attacking Apple for their lack of respect for content creators, you sure are a hypocrite. You expect facts from someone commenting on your blog, but over-exaggerate on your own post. Apple isn’t in the manga piracy business as you claim, but they are responsible for controlling what is published in their app store. Stop mixing the two. You’re taking things out of context. It’s like saying Apple is also a pharmacy, because there are apps that sell prescription medicine. It’s obvious you and every commenter here is just speculating. We don’t know the whole reason behind their lack of attention towards those apps. There may be some confidential information they can’t share, because of legal disputes. We don’t know. Instead, maybe focus your energy on actually taking them down rather than pissing on random commenters.

  14. Update

    Haha. Its been a couple of years, but this still pops up when Im trying to search for manga details, but here is my reply to this; Its been fixed :D. Well, not necessarily fixed, but some of the developers of these apps are removing manga that are licensed or by the request of the developers/authors. Some authors/ developers are even using the application (saw a pic of an author doing a selfie with their manga on manga rock).

  15. aganoryu

    those bootleg manga aggregators may seem harmless but they are basically just stole and monetize em with ads what a manga scanlation groups translated.

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