Our good friend, Kenneth See, sent us a question recently about watching anime through unlicensed means. My response, edited here for clarity and with some additional insight, might be helpful to other Christians who are struggling with this question.
I want to pick your brain on something: anime piracy. Is it a sin to watch anime on a pirate site? What about anime that is no longer distributed? Finally, do you think that if one were to pay the Japanese outlet for the anime being pirated, that it would be okay since you ARE paying for access to the media? I’m trying to wrestle through this and want to hear others’ opinions and what scripture has to say.
Those are great questions, Kenneth. A few years ago, I would watch anime mostly by legal means but still pirate what I didn’t want to pay for (with a somewhat guilty conscience), episodes of new series that hadn’t yet been licensed (feeling somewhat less guilty), and those no longer in distribution (feeling hardly any guilt at all). But since then, I’ve been convicted not to watch anything pirated, and we as a staff are committed to only develop content when we access it through legal means.
It starts in scripture, as you alluded to. Romans 13:1-2 is pretty clear about following the law of the land:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
In the U.S., that’s fairly easy to follow, and the same can be said with Japan and much of Europe. If those countries indicate that the media you’re watching, reading, or playing is illegal, we can almost turn our thinking caps off and just follow the law. Other countries are a little more, shall we say, lenient on allowing piracy. So maybe this verse doesn’t quite apply in the same way, though you would then need to think through international copyright law if you’re focusing specifically on the Romans verses.
Speaking of the law and breaking it, digital piracy is also linked to organized crime. Yes, really! This is something I knew from youth when I had friends buying bootlegged VHS copies of movies currently in theaters and Seinfeld was showing Kramer and Jerry being intimidated into recording such copies, but I had forgotten. This type of crime is still on-going, and as Interpol notes, organized crime groups “can use the proceeds to fund other illegal activities, such as illegal online gambling, online sexual exploitation, drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms smuggling, and money laundering.”
But for all these negatives, I ultimately look at the heart, at what’s behind the law of God, at his fairness, justice, and love for others. When we pirate in any way, we are stealing from the ones who made the content. We are taking what’s not ours. That’s violating others and breaking the moral law given to us through the Ten Commandments. So the heart of this issue goes beyond simply following the law of the land; it’s about obeying God and loving others as he loves us.
And we really are loving the creators of anime when we’re investing in their work. If we pay for legal copies, streams, and rentals, we’re doing our small part in “honoring” the animators and others who made these series. We’re showing gratefulness for the wonderful work that they’re doing.
And as for your third situation (finding a different way to pay others)? I would say that if you could reach out to the content creator, secure permission, and pay what they want you to pay, then you’re probably okay, although then you’re still feeding the piracy machine, which is not okay for the above reasons. So, even in this case, you aren’t quite doing the right thing.
And then one final item you didn’t cover: I don’t know if you’re like this, but the reason I pirated back in the day was because of my love for anime in general and sometimes for specific anime series. I was willing to break the law because of my passion for those shows. I later came to realize that I was idolizing them. And strangely enough (well…maybe not since God knows what’s best for us!), when I made the hard decision to stop pirating (mostly manga in my case), after a little “withdrawal,” I ended up being just fine. I discovered that I didn’t need these series in my life after all. More importantly, I was freed from a sin I didn’t even realize had taken hold of me.
Making that shift from taking anime by any means to paying for it also makes your consumption more meaningful. You can think about whether it’s worth the sacrifice to purchase a series, for many anime, even older shows, are either available legally or have been in the past and likely will be again (a lesson I’ve learned over and over during the past couple of decades of anime collecting). You can consider whether it’s worth the cost to pay to access or own an anime. If that answer is “yes,” then pay it and support the artists. If “no,” then I guess it wasn’t worth it to you. If so, was downloading that content worth sinning over?
Being intentional with our resources goes hand in hand with both living a life of worship and avoiding sin. Anime is no different from anything else in our lives—it allows us to become closer to God or, when approached in the wrong way, throw our relationship with him out of whack. If God is the desire of hearts, let him guide every decision—even when it comes to pirating anime.
40 Day Challenge
We encourage you to take a 40-day challenge of avoiding all anime, manga, and light novels that you would be accessing and consuming illegally. Instead, use this time to pray for a heart more focused on God and your resources—time, energy, and finances—in ways that are legal. At the end of the 40 days, see if your heart is turned more on the things of God. My hope is that it will be and you won’t miss those illegally procured series all that much at all!