Open Art

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jan 9, 2008

Filed under: Anime 27 comments

Steven sums up a debate between Author and Avatar. Omo is also involved. The discussion is talking about Open Source, Anime Fansubs, and copyleft issues. Read Steven’s post if you want the proper chronology and context for everything.

I can’t really comment on the central issue in the debate – about the usefulness and legality of anime fansubs – because I don’t know much about it. I don’t watch fansubs and I’m not a prolific consumer of anime these days. I’m a casual fan and often rely on the more avid fans (see my blogroll) to do my filtering for me.

At any rate, Steven points out that the Open Source model doesn’t really work outside of software. Or at least, it works far better when applied to software than it does to other things which may be produced. The reason for this is pretty obvious: If I release the source code for something, everyone else can change it to suit their needs. Improvements will be made to the software by others. They will do things that I lack the knowledge or the time to do myself, or they will simply see a better way of doing things. If their changes suit me, I can use them myself. Both parties are better off as a result. Assuming I’m writing the software for free anyway (because I want to or because I need it) then all parties are richer under the open source model. Me, the other coders, and even the guy who comes along later and uses the software without contributing any of his own. We all benefit.

But this doesn’t really work in other creative mediums, such as the case with anime in the discussion above. Let’s lay aside the thorny issue of how people get paid, and assume artists can produce animation for free and give the results away, Open Source style. What would that look like? It wouldn’t be nearly as helpful as OS software. If I had the “source” to Cowboy Bebop – the scripts, the music, the vocal performances, and the animations, it wouldn’t be very useful except to produce other versions of the same show. I couldn’t very well take all of those assets and make a show about teenage girls who have superpowers and fight giant robots that continually threaten Tokyo while at the same time trying to sort out their feelings for various boys in their school. All I could make was… more Cowboy Bebop. And not much more, because I can’t create new vocal performances or new visuals. Unlike software, I can’t make new stuff, I can only re-cut what’s already there. I can take the source for the system’s TCPIP interface and make it more secure (well, I not me, but somebody could) but nobody besides Steven Blum can edit Steven Blum’s performance to make it more brooding, or comical, or whatever.

Which is not to say that Open Art couldn’t yield some interesting results. In fact, I’ve produced quite a bit of derivative art. DM of the Rings is my most famous example. My book is another example along similar lines. I produced both for free and released them for free. I created them not to make money, but because it was fun to do so. In an ideal world, these sorts of derivative works would simply exist without copyright concerns, although in practice the truth is that anyone can stop you from making derivative works if they have enough money. Some people are more prone to abuse this than others. I’m glad New Line Cinema never came in and spoiled my fun.

Open Art can’t work the same as Open Source, although I do wish the laws were less stringent and (much more importantly) that large companies weren’t so fearful and litigious when it comes to derivative work. It’s not the same as Open Source, but it’s still amusing and generally harmless to the original copyright holder.

UPDATE: And what the flaming crap is up with this YouTube I’m trying to embed? WordPress is suddenly inserting paragraph end tags in the middle of the embed code, making a hash out of it. Dangit! It’s never done this before…

LATER: That was really pointless and stupid. I’m not sure what the deal was, but the embed would fail unless I put it inside of a <div> tag. Never had that problem before. It’s still positioned stupid in IE7, but it works fine in Firefox. I’m calling it “good enough for now”.


From The Archives:

27 thoughts on “Open Art

  1. ShadoStahker says:

    WordPress’s post editor doesn’t play nice with embed code sometimes. Try out one of the video plugins, maybe?

    I use this one:
    syntax: [youtube *youtubeid*]
    (*youtubeid* being the part after “v=” in the url)

    So for this one, it would be [youtube zuMtH8fw4d4]. The plugin then converts this to embed code when the post is called from the database.

  2. Vegedus says:

    Copyright laws are a bitch. Corporations are bitches.

    There is that nice initiative of the Creative Commons Associations, but I doubt it will ever be used by actual firms.

  3. icekatze says:

    hi hi

    I’ve seen quite a few examples of open art working much like open source. The ones that spring to mind are: A, Line art. Many artists will often release line art from their work so that other people can color them, sometimes producing an entirely different effect. B, Rifftrax and Mystery Science Theater 3000, which can take any movie and make it funny. C, Remixes of music are everywhere these days.

  4. Darin says:

    I have seen the end of Hollywood, and it is Open Art. CGI is getting very good at presenting realistic characters. And maybe you don’t even care how realistic they are. What happens once we get to CGV? Computer Generated Voices on the par where they sound “close enough”. And if computer power keeps increasing, I say that we’ll reach a point where someone will create a movie software package. Design the actors (CGI & CGV), write the script, gather the CGI scenery, and plot the movements and camera angles. Turn the crank and out pops your “movie”.

    At that point, release the source code to your “movie” and an internet full of editors goes to work. Tightening here, rewriting there. Someone has a better scenery file, somebody else tweaks the voice parameters. Eventually, all the edits come back in and you release your movie. And it is good, and gathers a following, and everybody goes to your website to see it. Or download the source files to make their own version.

    Hollywood may still survive, but I don’t think it’ll be the machine it is today.

  5. GWvsJohn says:

    any thoughts on the OGL and how it compares to the Open-ness of the modern market?

  6. Gregory Weir says:

    Counterexample: ccMixter. Open source + music = good things.

  7. ScottS-M says:

    Do you have the autop filter still active in WordPress? If your embed links has returns in it, that might be what’s doing it. Does it happen if you delete the returns?

    I ended up just disabling it on mine because it was more hassle than it was worth:
    (remove_filter('the_content', 'wpautop');)
    but then you have to put the <p> tags in yourself (if that is in fact the problem).

  8. Mari says:

    The problem comes from the fact that we distinguish between “commercial” art and art for its own sake. It certainly alleviates “starving artist syndrome” among those who create “commercial” art but it prevents many who produce art for its own sake from borrowing from the new vistas opened up by commercial artists.

    Personally I can see both sides of the copyright issue. On one hand, if I were to create something salable, I would certainly want to be the only one allowed to profit from my own vision and hard work. On the other hand, I find it laughable that we can consider any idea in this day and age “original” or even hold a pretense that thoughts could be considered limited in use like goods. It’s a quandry, to be sure.

    On the original issue of fansubs in anime, I have better formed opinions, FWIW. I like the way some fansub groups do things where they’ll only fansub works that are not licensed for North American release currently. It would make me immensely sad if fansubs went away entirely as close to a dozen of my current favorite animes aren’t available commercially in the U.S. Then there are the ones that fall into the cracks somewhere like Sailor Moon. There are five seasons of that show and only two were ever released in the U.S. On top of that, the two that did make it to our market were….painfully altered. I couldn’t watch Sailor Moon in its North American form because frankly it hurts to do so. But I do enjoy watching it in the Japanese form with fansubs when I’m in the mood for mind popcorn (light, fluffy, and utterly unfulfilling). So, personally, I’d hate to see the fansub community shut down due to copyright issues.

  9. Avatar says:

    Mari, I personally worked on uncut, subtitled DVD box set releases of the first two series of Sailor Moon. (Not too much, as I cannot stand the show. ;p)

  10. Jeff says:

    I don’t know the context, but the Naruto fansubs are infintely better than the dubs they commercially put out.

    This is because the American broadcasting company executives are full of crap, and need to be smacked.

    The Japanese jokes are all missing their references, translated into silliness, the voices sound… odd. They’re bloody kids. The old Ash (Pokemon) voice would be more suited. Of course, the snippet of Pokemon I saw, Ash has this deep baritone now as well. WTF.

    Of course, pronouncing the names wrong is also plenty dumb.

  11. scragar says:

    I hate dubs, subs are always so much better, the problem is that it is very hard to find commercial subs, almost anyone who releases an anime in the UK will dub, but not sub(or you’ll have to change both audio and sub options before you can play the DVD), so I tend to watch fansubs a lot more than commercial episodes.

    The only thing I dislike about fansubs is the array of formats you find the eppisodes in(I have one series saved to my HD with episodes in everything from avi to mp4 and mkv, most of which have been converted to ogg so they play properly). On the other hand the speed of the releases are fantasic, I was able to watch the entire of deathnote subbed before they even sold UK distribution rights).

    Personaly I don’t see a problem with it, if funimation or whoever stops doing commercial subs the japanesse are not going to stop releasing anime for japanesse TV, and thus we are still going to get the fansubs regardless…

  12. omo says:

    >> There is that nice initiative of the Creative Commons Associations, but I doubt it will ever be used by actual firms.

    OK, yeah, “actual” films as in stuff you can see across theaters in America? Of course not. But films? Yes. FFS, has a post on it on their front page.

    I like how this discussion that I’m “also involved” in is really showing me how many people familiar with open source aren’t really familiar with why it came about. And the difference between, say, a GNU GPL, and CC. They are similar but very different.

  13. kamagurka says:

    Yeah, well, IE users don’t deserve any better.

  14. kamagurka says:

    That aside, when I used to watch anime it was pretty much all fansubs. Why? Dubs are poorly, poorly done nearly all the time, and even when not still inferior to subs (to me, anyway), and come out very quickly. I’m sure there’s a whole moral argument here, but realistically, if I can get pretty much what I want right now for free, does anyone really think I’m going to wait more than half a year for the privilege to pay for an inferior product?

  15. Solka says:

    One area where the Open Source are actually useful, is RPG games like D&D, where third-party sources can create pc-generator and distribute them (like pcgen).

  16. Nixorbo says:

    I stopped dealing with fansubs when they translated Vash as saying “Love and passion” instead of “Love and peace.”

    And let’s face it, Bebop, Trigun, Outlaw Star and the R.O.D. series all had above-average to excellent English casts.

  17. Trekker says:

    I’m a diehard fansub fan. That’s pretty much the only way I’ll watch anime. Even when compared to commercial subs, I find fansubs (on average) to be higher quality translation. Not only that, but I don’t have to worry about anything being edited or changed to “better relate to American audiences” or anything like that. Heck, one of my favorite parts of fansubs are the translators notes – instead of “Americanizing” things, like the commercial versions would, fansubers explain Japanese customs, traditions, play-on-words, etc. in on-screen notes.

    Of course, as my knowledge of Japanese grows (I’m studying at a university), I’m starting to pick out more differences here and there between the dialog and subs. Not necessarily errors, just. . . discrepancies. Overall, though, I still much prefer fansubs. I don’t even consider the licensed versions to be the original product.

    Note: The major exception to commercial American releases would be Studio Ghibli, which is very, very strict with foreign licensing. As far as I understand it, foreign companies (in America, this would be Disney [mostly]) are forbidden by contract from editing, deleting, on in any way altering a single frame of any Ghibli movie. Also, dubs and subs are approved by Ghibli, and have to be pretty much a literal translation of the original dialog, edited only for grammatical correctness (they’re a little more lenient with dubs, though). Summary – Ghibli is pretty much the only anime that is guaranteed to be the original product.

    Edit: “Love and Passion.” Wow. That’s amazing. Heck, that line is IN ENGLISH in the show. To mess that up – that’s special. I hope they weren’t a major fansub group.

  18. DKellis says:

    Tangent: I tend to watch fansubs because otherwise I’ll have to find a way to watch R2 Japanese DVDs on a player locked to R1 US-released anime in a R3 country.

    Region-free players are, if not actually illegal here, then oddly discouraged from being sold in the open.

  19. Viktor says:

    I am a big fan of fansubs, simply because if it weren’t for them, I would never watch anime. The dub jobs are generally poor(Naruto, e.g.) and if the option is either I don’t pay and don’t watch, I pay and hate it, or I don’t pay and enjoy it, realistically, which will I go with? If the companies would release subs that are easily available and unaltered from the original version, I would buy them, but as it is, why spend money on an inferior product, after waiting years for it to come out legally. Not to mention that most anime is never released over here. Sorry, the costs to the company are minimal as I wouldn’t buy it under these conditions, and my benefits are much greater.

  20. Mari says:

    DKellis, region-free players are hard to come by in ANY region. That’s the whole reason the hubs and I have a home theatre PC instead of a DVD player. Sure, we’ve found other great uses for it, but it started when certain R2 DVDs weren’t being released for R1 and we NEEDED those shows.

    As far as subs vs. dubs, I don’t agree with some of the sweeping generalisations made here. There are some high quality dubs out there. There are also some pretty crud-tastic dubs (case in point would be going back to my Sailor Moon…my CHILDREN won’t even listen to the English dubs…that’s bad right there, folks)By the same token, there are good and bad subs, even among fansubs. I must have gotten hold of the same subbed version of Trigun as Nixorbo originally. I have a much better sub now, but I still shudder.

    There have been others, too. The most recent season of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is pretty rough, too. I got my hands on a fan-subbed version. There’s a whole scene in there relating to a minor plot point where the subbers translated “oniisan” as “mister.”

    I just can’t see missing out on some great anime because I refuse to watch subbed OR dubbed versions. I’m pretty intensely grateful that the fans do step in, though, to help make many shows accessible to those of us that don’t speak or understand much Japanese.

  21. Author says:

    Regarding the opening of Mari’s comment, I saw RJTech RJ-1000 at J-list 5 minutes ago (don’t ask). You can’t buy a region-free player from Sony, that much is true, but they are not “hard to come by”. I saw them in retail, too: in ethnic food stores in San Francisco.

  22. icekatze says:

    hi hi

    There’s obviously more then one school of thought on what is important in translations. Rather then focus on the purity of the narrative’s form, I am generally more concerned with the purity of the story teller’s intentions.

    Foreign films are usually not created as a means of learning about that culture. They’re made for people who are already part of that culture. When the teller puts in sayings that don’t translate directly, I highly approve of “americanization.” The teller put them in so that they would evoke a certain response from the viewer. By making that response accessible to foreign viewers I see that as remaining closer to the story’s original form then if it were translated directly.

  23. Cho says:

    Free-software-like licenses do make great sense for the raw materials of CGI film and games: texture images and 3D models. Far too often, CG artists get stuck spending hours recreating some mundane everyday object like a Coke can rather than creating novel art, and one side effect is that large CG houses get increasingly far ahead of independent creators because they can maintain in-house content libraries.

  24. Jeff says:

    I disagree.
    Look at Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. That did extremely well, with a foreign audience, without butchering the language in translation.

  25. I think the problem is that you’re not looking at the model correctly, ‘Cowboy Bebop’ isn’t an open source project, something before it is; like the storyboarding software, or the audio-mixing software, etc.

    Think of it like your blog here, you’re using WordPress (an open source project) but the product you’re making (‘Twenty Sided Tale’) isn’t. As a derivative user of the FOSS project, you’re not expected to provide everything you’ve ever used to the community, just the changes you make to the project itself.

    Like, the image of dice at the bottom here: you’re not expected to provide the initial photo file, Photoshop/Gimp file(s), as well as the image as it appears on the page.

    The Open Source model really can be applied to more than software (but here it doesn’t really lend itself well). Some things translate easily, like food (think recipes), furniture (diagrams, plans), sewing/cross-stitch, etc.

  26. rayen says:

    why is that embed even there? I mean cowboy bebop is great and the opening sets the right mood while real folk blues brings you back down after the high that is the show. It’s a great preformance of the song BTW i have no idea what they’re saying but somehow the emotional depth comes through and it is the blues in the way it makes you feel the heartache/pain that the blues is meant to convey. A very emnotional song…

    what was i talking about? oh yeah why is that there?

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.