(Last updated: January 20, 2023)
As the global impact of Japanese popular culture has grown over the years, it is not surprising in the slightest that certain legal issues surrounding this area have arisen as well. The primary one among them is pervasive illegal copying and unauthorized distribution of manga and anime, both in Japan and in the U.S. This has led to several scholarly examinations of Japanese and American copyright law, and to discussions of fair use and moral rights specifically with regard to anime and manga appearing in law reviews with increasing frequency. Other related topics that have been addressed by legal scholars include an instance where charges were brought against a comic-shop owner for selling an issue of a pornographic manga to an adult customer, the legal status of anime music videos, and the controversy surrounding a Japanese lawsuit against a book-length critique of a right-wing manga.
This list was assembled primarily via searches in subject-specific legal databases, using keywords ‘manga’, ‘Japanese comics’, ‘anime’ and ‘Japanese animation’. The results will be of particular interest to non-legal scholars who are interested in anime/manga, but generally only familiar with the literatures of their own disciplines – the humanities, liberal arts, and area studies. Major multidisciplinary databases, such as Academic Search Premier, the MLA International Bibliography, the Film Studies Index and the Bibliography of Asian Studies cover a significant percentage of the current literature on anime and manga, but by no means the totality of it. Gaps in their coverage are particularly prominent in the fields of business and the law.
The scope of the list is limited to articles in law reviews and peer-reviewed legal journals published in English, whether in paper and electronically, or online only. Several of the articles listed were written by professors, while the authors of others were law students. Each features a discussion of anime/manga related topics in some detail in the main body of the article. Entries are arranged in reverse chronological order, from the most recent to the earliest. At this point, all citations are in APA style, rather than Bluebook, since the target audience of this document will be scholars of the humanities and popular culture, rather than of the law.
Ed. note: Several court decisions in the U.S. have dealt specifically with issues related to Japanese visual culture in general and Japanese comics in particular. In U.S. v. Whorley, 550 F. 3d 326 (2008), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a defendant’s conviction on child pornography charges for, among other things, downloading “anime-style” images that appeared to depict underaged characters engaging in sexual behavior with adults. U.S. v. Handley, 564 F.Supp. 2d 996 (2008) involved a defendant charged with the same crimes after receiving actual manga volumes containing child pornography images. Several of the charges were dismissed, but ultimately, Handley pled guilty to one count each of ‘possession of obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children’ and ‘mailing obscene matter.’ U.S. v. Koegel, 777 Supp. 2d 1014 (E.D. Va. 2011) confirms that certain “Japanese anime cartoons” can be considered obscene, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1466A, “Possession of obscene visual representation of the sexual abuse of children”. Most recently, the defendant in U.S. v. Eychaner (326 F.Supp.3d 76, 2018) was convicted on charges including “Attempted receipt of visual depictions that depict minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct and are obscene” for attempting to receive “obscene anime cartoons”. However, the court in this case reversed the conviction on charges of “committing a felony offense involving a minor” while already previously required to register as a sex offender because cartoon depictions of “imaginary minors” or “fictional cartoon character with no relation to any actual person in the real world” cannot be considered to “involve a minor”.
Some of the articles in this bibliography specifically discuss these decisions.
- Cederblom, Michael L. Attack on antitrust: Preventing a grim future for anime streaming. Hastings Business Law Journal, 19(1), 59-70.
- Boman, Timothy. Defamation, social media, and the limited purpose public figure doctrine. South Texas Law Review, 61(2), 233-269.
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- Landers, Sydney. “Gotta catch ’em all”: The National Diet’s inadequate attempt to control manga pirates. University of Miami Law Review, 76(1), 251-309.
- Morgan, Rachel. Conventional protections for commercial fan art under the U.S. Copyright Act. Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal, 31(2), 514-573.
- Powell, Richard, & Kumaki, Hideyuki. Images and narratives of law and order in the manga KOBAN. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, 32(4), 895-921.
- Pelc, Yoshimi M. Achieving the copyright equilibrium: How fair use law can protect Japanese parody and dojinshi. Southwestern Journal of International Law, 23(2), 397-421.
- Schendl, Emily. Japanese anime and manga copyright reform. Washington University Global Studies Law Review, 15(4), 631-652.
- He, Tianxiang. What can we learn from Japanese anime industries? The differences between domestic and overseas copyright protection strategies towards fan activities. The American Journal of Comparative Law, 62(4), 1009-1041.
- Lee, Tiffany. Fan activities from P2P filesharing to fansubs and fan fiction: Motivations, policy concerns, and recommendations. Texas Review of Entertainment and Sports Law, 14, 181-198.
- April, Keisha. Cartoons aren’t real people, too: Does the regulation of virtual child pornography violate the First Amendment and criminalize subversive thought? Cardozo Journal of Law and Gender, 19, 241-272.
- Greenberg, Marc. Comics, courts & controversy: A case study of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review, 32, 121-186.
- Rembert-Lang, LaToya. Reinforcing the Tower of Babel: The impact of copyright law on fansubbing. American University Intellectual Property Brief, 2(2), 21-33.
- Madhavi, Sunder. Bollywood/Hollywood. Theoretical Inquiries in Law, 12, 275-308
- McKay, Patrick. Culture of the future: Adapting copyright law to accommodate fan-made derivative works in the twenty-first century. Regent University Law Review, 24, 117-146.
- de Zwart, Melissa. (2010). Japanese lessons: What can otaku teach us about copyright and gothic girls. Alternative Law Journal, 35, 27-30
- Noda, Nathaniel. Copyright retold: How interpretive rights foster creativity and justify fan-based activities. Seton Hall Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law, 20, 131-163.
- Zangellini, Aleardo. Underage sex and romance in Japanese homoerotic manga and anime. Social & Legal Studies: An International Journal, 18, 159-177.
- Daniels, Joshua. “Lost in translaton”: Anime, moral rights, and market failure. Boston University Law Review, 88, 709-744.
- Noda, Nathaniel. When holding on means letting go: Why fair use should extend to fan-based activities. University of Denver Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, 5, 64-104.
- Trombley, Sarah. Visions and revisions: Fanvids and fair use. Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal, 25, 647-685.
- Lambert, Karla. Unflagging television piracy: How piracy of Japanese television programming in East Asia portends failure for a U.S. broadcast flag. Texas Law Review, 84, 1317-1746.
- Muscar, Jaime. A winner is who? Fair use and the online distribution of manga and videogame fan translations. Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law, 9, 223-254.
- Port, Kenneth. Trademark dilution in Japan. Northwestern Journal of Technology & Intellectual Property, 4, 228-254.
- Greene, David. The need for expert testimony to prove lack of serious artistic value in obscenity cases. Nexus: A Journal of Opinion, 10, 171-178.
- Hatcher, Jordan. Of otakus and fansubs: A critical look at anime online in light of current issues in copyright law. SCRIPTed: A Journal of Law, Technology & Society, 2, 514-542.
- Leonard, Sean. Celebrating two decades of unlawful progress: Fan distribution, proselytization commons, and the explosive growth of Japanese animation. UCLA Entertainment Law Review, 12, 189-264.
- McLelland, Mark. The world of yaoi: The internet, censorship and the global “boys’ love” fandom. The Australian Feminist Law Journal, 23, 61-77.
- Dulh, Gregory. Old lyrics, knock-off videos, and copycat comic books: The fourth fair use factor in U.S. copyright law. Syracuse Law Review, 54, 665-737.
- Lessig, Lawrence. The creative commons. Montana Law Review, 65, 1-13.
- Kirkpatrick, Sean. Like holding a bird: What the prevalence of fansubbing can teach us about the use of strategic selective copyright enforcement. Temple Environmental Law and Technology Journal, 21, 131-153.
- Mehra, Salil. Copyright, control and comics: Japanese battles over downstream limits on content. Rutgers Law Review, 56, 181-230.
- Mehra, Salil. Copyright and comics in Japan: Does law explain why all the cartoons my kid watches are Japanese imports? Rutgers Law Review, 55, 155-204.