Manga Copyright Laws

By David Carnes
Japanese Manga

Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Toronto, Canada

The term "manga" derives from Japanese and is loosely used to refer to the special style of comics produced by Japanese artists. There are no copyright laws that apply exclusively to manga comics. Nevertheless, since copyright law protects the distinctive features of copyrighted work, the application of copyright law to manga comics is worthy of comment.

Legal Standard of Protection

Copyright law protects expressions of ideas, but not the ideas themselves. For this reason, it is not a violation of copyright protection simply to produce a comic that looks like a manga-style comic. Furthermore, the "fair use" exception allows anyone to use a limited amount of a manga comic without obtaining permission or paying royalties. The standard that determines whether a particular use is fair or not is based on a four-prong legal balancing test. These parts include the purpose of the use, the nature of the portion used, the proportion of the work that was used, and the consequences of the use on the value of the work.

Purpose and Character of Use

If a copied portion of a manga comic is used for a socially beneficial purpose, such as teaching material in an art class, it is less likely to be considered infringing. If it is used for non-profit purposes it also is less likely to be considered infringing, although the mere fact of commercial usage does not automatically render the use infringing.

Nature of the Copied Portion

Whether a particular use of a portion of a copyrighted work is considered infringing or not depends on what is copied. For example, copying a list of compiled information is less likely to be considered infringing than copying something with a high degree of creative content. For this reason, copying mundane dialogue from a manga comic is less likely to be considered infringing than copying an image or persona of a manga character, because the latter two contain more creative content. Creating a new manga character that is obviously based on a copyrighted character may be found to be infringing.

Proportion Copied

The ratio of the copied portion to the entire work is also considered in determining whether the copying is an infringement. For example, copying two or three frames from a 100-page comic book, or a 10-second clip from a full-length movie, would be less likely to be considered infringing than copying the same amount from a 10-page comic book.

Effect of Copying on the Value of the Copyrighted Work

If the copying harms the manga artist by reducing the sales potential of the work, the use is far more likely to be considered infringing. If the copied work is distributed widely enough, for example, people may purchase or view the copy rather than the original. Nevertheless, it is possible for copying to be ruled an infringement even if it increases sales of the original work by providing free advertising.

About the Author

David Carnes has been a full-time writer since 1998 and has published two full-length novels. He spends much of his time in various Asian countries and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He earned a Juris Doctorate from the University of Kentucky College of Law.

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