A37-year-old man who drew a spurious "final" episode of Doraemon and sold more than 10,000 copies of it in his fanzine without proper authorisation recently apologised and handed over part of the profits to the two companies that hold the rights to one of the most popular manga titles in the world.
The case shed light on possible copyright violations by manga fanzines, most of which carry parodies of, or homage to, popular titles.
The man, using the pseudonym Yasue T Tajima, had been selling his 20-page fanzine, which was priced at around ¥500 (Bt132) a copy, at bookstores and fanzine exhibitions since October 2005.
In his version of Doraemon's last episode, Nobita, one of the main characters in legitimate editions of the manga, has grown up to be a robot engineer who aims to revive the catlike robot Doraemon, which is shown as having broken down due to battery exhaustion.
His fanzine carrying the story has sold about 13,000 copies after gaining popularity on Internet fan sites due to the striking resemblance of its pictures and narrative style to those of the late Fujio F Fujiko, Doraemon's creator.
Publisher Shogakukan Inc and Fujio F Fujiko Production, the creator's agency, became aware of the existence of the man's fanzine and sent him an e-mail warning last year. He is said to have made a written pledge to refrain from further plagiarism and paid part of his fanzine's sales to the agency.
The Doraemon series started in kids' magazines published by Shogakukan in 1969. The series was continued and later compiled into 45 volumes, which have sold a total of 120 million copies so far. It has also been translated and published in 13 countries and regions and has sold 23 million copies overseas.
Yet the series remains unfinished due to Fujiko's death in 1996.
"His fanzine's binding is so similar to the original one that some people mistakenly thought it was genuine," says Tetsuro Daiki, head of Shogakukan's intellectual property rights protection section.
"Since Doraemon has become a widespread part of the culture [and the creator left it unfinished], not just any individual can take the liberty of finishing it. We also can't overlook the number of copies sold - 13,000 was too many."
The publisher settled the issue through negotiations, without suing the man for violating the copyright.
"This fanzine was apparently over the mark," Daiki adds. "But we don't categorically reject fanzines in general as a base of manga culture as long as they remain within reasonable bounds."
Observers have long pointed out possible copyright violations by fanzines carrying parodies of or homage to popular manga titles. Fanzines don't usually cause many problems as long as they are sold only at one-day exhibitions.
However, some fanzines now sell in the thousands because they can be bought on the Internet and bookstores have also started stocking them.
Even after the man stopped selling it, the fanzine carrying Doraemon's "final" episode continued to be sold on Internet auctions, sometimes going for several tens of thousands of yen.
"The Internet society is helping the violation of copyright," Daiki notes.
Naoto Misaki, a freelance writer familiar with fanzines, says that the content of the man's fanzine was too similar to the original Doraemon. "He should have published his version of the final episode in a way that everyone could recognise it as a parody at one glance."
Social critic Yukari Fujimoto adds: "If publishers basically approve the existence of such fanzines, the creation of a new rule should be studied, which would require fanzines selling more than a certain number of copies to pay part of their profits to copyright holders."
It might be time for fanzine publishers, who are supposed to expand the horizons of manga culture, to seriously face one rule of the real world - respecting copyright.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Asia News Network