I'm asking because I can't find a list of reasons why questions about where to read/watch fansubbed anime, scanlated manga online are illegal. I'd like this site to have a separate page on that, or at least short phrases in the help center that would explain, or link to appropriate SE policy documents with more detail.

So why are fansubs and scanlations illegal? As far as I know, they are alright unless some company is going to produce their own translation. I get it that not everyone might know right away when a certain anime or manga localization gets licensed in wherever the legal boundaries prohibit further distribution of fan-made translations, so it would be bothersome, or impossible to keep track of all such material (links to it) and delete in time. But there's so much stuff on Youtube that is not deleted yet. Why is that? Does Youtube has some kind of different policy than SE sites? I mean aren't corresponding laws the same for all sites?

3 Answers 3


I wish to address the situation that lead to this meta question rather than the topic of the question.

It seems after chatting with the user that this question is related to my meta question here. The OP of this question inserted in a comment on this question links to a manga page on a scanalation site and a YouTube video of a complete anime episode.

In this case, the link to the scanalation site was replaced by an image of the page in question, which was relevant. The YouTube video was removed. These actions were performed by a moderator after I flagged the comment explaining that the comment itself was helpful but the links should be changed or removed.

In the case of the scanalation website, I think this was actually an improvement to the quality of the comment. The current image is more stable (being uploaded to Stack Exchange's imgur account, it's immune to link rot except in very drastic cases). It also doesn't require users here to visit a site of questionable legality to see the content. Because the comment was just referencing the manga and had nothing to do with the scanalation site, there was no loss in content. For on-topic manga references, these can and should always be done via uploading an image with the upload feature and linking to them with [link text](https://i.sstatic.net/XXXXXXX). Even ignoring questions of legality, this style of manga references should always be preferred to linking to a page from a scanalation site for practical reasons, whether in questions/answers or comments.

The YouTube link was more questionable in my opinion. At first glance I could not see how it was relevant. I suspect there was relevant content there, but it was basically impossible to access because the video was too long. YouTube videos can be made to start at a particular point, which really would have helped demonstrate that the link was useful. Alternatively the user could give a screenshot of the relevant point of the video if it's a single frame. In any case, this link is more debatable than the other one, if only because YouTube is a more reputable site and the link was removed rather than being converted. I believe removing the link was an acceptable action mostly because it was not helpful in its present form (as a link to the beginning of the video rather than to the relevant point in the video). Another good option would be to find the relevant clip as a shorter video and link to that. If any of the above actions had been taken, I think the link could have probably stayed, but in its present form it was not useful and made us look unprofessional.

With all of that said, while the actions were justified, these are very understandable mistakes. Our policy on fansubs and scanalations is admittedly a bit hard to follow. As a general rule, links to scanalation sites should be replaced by uploaded images to imgur. Beyond that, so long as the links you post are in good faith, helpful, and aren't actively promoting copyright violations, they aren't really a problem in my opinion.

  • I'm almost sure the link to Youtube video had a timestamp, but then there really was nothing else I wanted to refer to in that video apart from a certain still frame, so I should have made a screenshot instead. Lesson learned, I think there should be a note somewhere saying that if any user wants to refer to a single still image, it better be a screenshot uploaded to imgur through the usual SE image uploading interface.
    – Hakase
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 20:42
  • I don't remember a timestamp on the video (though I could be mistaken), but yes, if you're referring to a single shot it's better to just screenshot it since I know that I couldn't immediately tell what I was supposed to be looking for in the video. I agree that this advice should probably go somewhere in the help center.
    – Logan M
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 20:49

Our policy is that we aren't lawyers, and won't prevent you from adding scanlated images or video links to episodes if your answer to a legitimate post can be improved by it.

As a general rule, Fansubbing and scanlation distribution is illegal on most countries (as well as the US, where SE is rooted). We just don't care if it's for the sake of making a post more high a quality, and no one seems to care (from the copyright holder's place)

We do care when someone deliberately asks for such information, because the answer itself, in its core, would be about something which is probably illegal.

Note that asking where you can read/watch manga/anime legally is not off-topic on this site.

  • Well then, I think help center's list of appropriate and inappropriate questions could benefit from a bit of those reasons.
    – Hakase
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 17:23
  • 1
    I don't see what's lacking on the current reasons. But tell you what, open a new feature-request about it, suggest the possible points that needs to be changed/removed/added, and see how the community reacts. If we get solid opinion that something is really missing from there, we'll change it. When writing, think this way: "No user should ever visit meta to understand what questions are on or off topic on this site". Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 17:26
  • I would if I could :) The reason I asked this question in the first place is because I don't fully understand any of it myself. So I'd rather somebody explain it all to me, and only then I could come up with all the right points to include in that feature request post.
    – Hakase
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 17:29
  • @user1306322: Do you still need help? It might be useful if you come to Anime & Manga Chat and discuss it directly with us (there's a bunch of us there almost at all times) Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 17:33

Addressing the OP question:

Why are fansubs, youtube videos and such illegal?

International Copyright Treaties state so. No matter what the fansubs think, a work does not need to be licenced in your country. The Berne Convention applies if your country is a signatary (Japan and USA are). There is an article at AnimeNews Network by George Phillips that goes in depth, but his conclusion, and I quote:

Legally, there is no difference between "fansubs" and "bootlegs". In the eyes of the law, both could be seen as damaging to the market. Regardless of whether or not a title has been technicaly licensed in North America, it is illegal.

(bold markings added by me).

There are also the wikipedia article on the subject, if you want more sources.

Bottom Line: Unless specifically authorized or licenced by the copyright holder, it is illegal.

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