Information is more readily available than ever. For users, this is great, but for content providers, this has proven to be a headache of the highest order. For many companies, providing content with poor translations, delayed translations, or no translations at all has led to their work being modified or stolen outright. Sometimes, fan translations can integrate with legally purchased content. The question is, “How badly do fan translations hurt the bottom line?” Well, it kind of depends. Let’s take a look at a couple of cases:
1) In August of 2007, a French teenager released their own translation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a full two months before the official translation was released. The teenage translator was subsequently arrested, but the damage had already been done. French fans felt slighted since they were not given the opportunity to read the book at the same time as the English-speaking world; they had to wait more than 3 months. I myself read the book within two days of the release out of fear that someone on social media would spoil the plot for me. The film industry generally avoids this risk by releasing localized movies worldwide within a few days. (That’s not to say that the film industry doesn’t have its own piracy problem.)
2) Netflix has agreements with content providers for certain regions. Rather than worldwide coverage, media outlets only want their content to be viewed by people in certain countries. However, thanks to easy-to-use proxies, users have been able to access Netflix from anywhere. Recently, they’ve cracked down and are starting to block IP addresses associated with proxy servers. Users now have the option of pirating content (especially Netflix Originals) or buying DRM-protected episodes of other shows at exorbitant prices. Netflix did expand its service to many countries in the past year, but the content library is significantly smaller for non-Americans and so users are still finding ways around the region blocks.
3) After a year of waiting for an English version of the game Final Fantasy Type-0, a fan translation group announced it would create an English patch for the game. They released it 2 years later, 2 weeks before Square Enix announced its release of the game for the PS4 platform at the E3 conference. Some people speculate that the re-release was just in response to the success of the fan translation, which was downloaded 100,000 times in 4 days, and that they originally had no intentions of releasing a localized version for English-speaking audiences. Square Enix had planned on releasing the game for the original PSP platform, but they ultimately shelved the localization. It seems very coincidental that the company magically decided to release a game 3 years after the fact on a new platform for no apparent reason. The choice for fans was to learn Japanese and buy Japanese hardware or to simply pirate the game and apply a patch.
The reality of the situation is that power has shifted from providers to tech-savvy consumers, thanks to the Internet. Content providers need to be willing to localize products for consumers or accept that their products will be stolen. No amount of DRM has been able to protect content so far and consumers have shown their willingness to disregard it. I’m not saying that I support piracy; I’m just saying that piracy is the new reality. This is why it’s important for content providers to localize their content and schedule releases in a way that encourages legal sales rather than piracy. It’s basic supply and demand; except these days, you can supply it or the fans will supply it.
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