Yesterday, Anime News Network reported that the Japan Patent Office and the Agency for Cultural Affairs is kicking off a new anti-piracy campaign. The new push is a collaboration with the production companies behind the upcoming Captain Harlock film adaptation. Roughly 40,000 posters featuring Harlock will be posted in public facilities, including colleges, junior colleges, and high schools. The posters, which feature the catch-phrase “Even space pirates don’t forgive pirating!”, ask citizens to not purchase pirated and bootlegged goods.

Before we go any further, can we take a moment to admire just how cool the new film looks?

Fantastic! Now, let’s carry on.

Harlock Anti Piracy PosterOn the surface, it’s pretty obvious that the posters primarily target the sale of bootlegged merchandise. This includes items like cam-shot DVDs, knock-off merchandise, and the like. The implication that this targets digital piracy is there, though the message isn’t stated quite as bluntly. And, overall, the campaign is pretty clever! It stays in the character of Harlock, who’s claimed that thieving pirates dishonor the occupation. Overall, it’s fun, it’s clever, and it’s generally harmless to most potential customers. However, by the reaction we’ve been seeing on forums and social media, one could infer that this was a slight against every anime fan to walk the earth.

Before I go further, I’m going to say that I generally don’t condone the illegal downloading of anime or films. Many legal avenues now exist, which allow for more legitimate means of acquiring and consuming video content.

However, I’m not going to play blind and say that, in any perfect world, that it won’t exist. Piracy is a by-product of an uneven demand situation. Barring a non-existent perfect market, there will always be actors in the market, to whom the price of a good is too high for its perceived value. While a group of players in this set won’t buy the product, there will always be a contingency that will simply claim it for their own without paying. Even in the case where a product is offered for free, there will be a group that will still go the black market route. If anything, modern media is a delicate balancing act. Companies consistently aim to keep as many customers happy as possible, to the point where the value is high enough to get the largest possible group to purchase.

With this in mind, though, it’s kind of funny to see a simple poster spark such a harsh reaction in western anime fandom. Whether it’s the pro-piracy groups or the anti-piracy groups, we’re seeing the lines get drawn in the sand, and the straw-men getting erected. The same tired arguments are being flung, and the same tired flame wars are being fought. Really, after all of these years, all I can do nowadays is sit back and watch in amusement. After so many years of evolution and change in the industry, it’s the things like this that are a stark reminder of just how much they stay the same.