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What does 無断転載 (“mudan tensai”) mean (and why is it there)?

For those who enjoy dabbling in the doujinshi community and even the amateur comics community,  無断転載 (read as “mudan tensai”) is a familiar phrase easily found on various works, both original (ichiji sousaku) and transformative (niji sousaku). Nowadays, it is also easy to spot this phrase translated into English as “no reprinting without permission” or “unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.” What does it actually mean when it comes to manga and doujinshi, and why is this phrase even needed?

 

Etymology

Mudan tensai (written as 無断転載) is a phrase comprised of two words: 無断 (“mudan,” which can be translated as “no permission”) and 転載 (“tensai,” which literally means “reprinting”). The word “tensai” in this phrase refers explicitly to the act of copying, reproducing, or taking someone’s copyrighted work to publish or upload to another platform. As such, mudan tensai is a phrase that means copying, reproducing, or taking a copyrighted work to post or upload with no permission from the person who originally created the work.

 

Brief History

Within the doujinshi community, the phrase “mudan tensai” is often plastered on niji sousaku works. The “mudan tensai” label on works of art, particularly derivative works such as doujinshi and fanart, functions not only as a warning. It is also one of the small ways a niji sousaku (transformative works) artists can exercise authority over what they have drawn and written. While some doujinshi artists profit from their work, most don’t and are merely doing it for their own and readers’ enjoyment. The idea of not knowing where their doujinshi can go or have gone when uploaded to the internet can be unnerving, considering that certain series have stringent rules when it comes to transformative works and how they are distributed.

As the ease in transferring and sharing over the internet grows over time and the internet usage grows by the late 1990s, it also became easier to find manga and doujinshi scans on hosting and aggregator websites in Japan and English-speaking parts of the internet community. Outside of Japan, the scope of manga translations and its distributions also changed quite rapidly until scanlations became what we know today. The use of “mudan tensai” on works indeed reminds readers that copyright infringement is something that can have legal consequences. However, more than that, it is mostly also an effort by creators to protect their authority over their works and their livelihood in most cases.

 

Mudan Tensai: Modern Usage

While some might argue that doujinshi can be a gray area of copyright infringement itself, copying or uploading any work by an artist or writer to another platform is unethical and can also hurt the artists and writers. Even if they started with good intentions, scanlations and distributing them on multiple platforms on the internet do precisely this. For doujinshi, since some series have strict rules on how fanworks should be created and distributed, reposting and reuploading fanworks without an artist’s permission takes away control and an artist’s ability to comply with a series’ rules. Also, aggregator websites can gain ad revenue from reuploaded doujinshi (and original works) that don’t go back to artists.

The phrase “mudan tensai” is not simply a warning; it is also one of the efforts meant to protect what creators have: copyrights and other rights they have as both creators and humans. For niji sousaku writers, it means taking their already limited authority over what they create out of their hands where they cannot control their work’s distribution. For ichiji sousaku writers, it also means taking away their income most of the time. This is the main reason why manga artists have been speaking up against scanlations and manga aggregator websites.

 

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