The FUNimation Alchemist Debacle Take II: Copyright Sucks!

Copyright law is touchy, isn’t it?

So Aniplex of America, aka the North American distributors of Aniplex-licensed anime, made a shocking and controversial decision recently. Essentially, the Fullmetal Alchemist IP, which includes both anime shows and any movies/OVA tie-ins, is to be permanently discontinued in North America this year. So far this has only effected Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, but Fullmetal Alchemist is also slated to be pulled come July 31st. This is part of a series of license expirations along the AoA board, many of which have angered fans immensely. And since this is becoming increasingly worrisome as the date of expiration draws nearer, I figured I might as well talk about it.

Let’s back up so I can give you some history on American copyright law. Despite gaining its roots in England in the 15th Century with the introduction of the printing press, American copyright law didn’t gain its footing until 1790, roughly 14 years after independence and 3 years after the initial draft of the American constitution. Since then, it’s been revised and updated several times to reflect the state of intellectual property law, most-recently as far back as January 1st of 1978. There are plenty of subsets and legislations that go into applying for a copyright license, but the one most-relevant involves how long the copyright claim lasts. According to the American copyright document, the criteria is as follows:
“In General. — Copyright in a work created on or after January 1, 1978, subsists from its creation and, except as provided by the following subsections, endures for a term consisting of the life of the author and 70 years after the author's death.

Joint Works. — In the case of a joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire, the copyright endures for a term consisting of the life of the last surviving author and 70 years after such last surviving author's death.”
In other words, if I wanted to copyright a tune I’d made, under the current rules I’d have 70 years past my death to hold the patent. Should I, God forbid, pass away tomorrow, my estate, i.e. my family, would hold the claim I’d created from the day of my death until the exact same day in 2086. Additionally, should I have composed that tune with a fellow Infinite Rainy Day writer, the copyright would expire 70 years to the day of that person’s death. Sounds simple, right? Well, that’s not factoring in a renewed patent from my successor of an additional 67 years, whether or not I end up getting married and my spouse acquires custody of my tune after I die, or if I’d bought the rights to my tune from another licenser and modified it for my own needs. In short, it’s complicated.

To use an example, assuming we adjust it to the update of January 1st, 1978, Disney’s copyright on Mickey Mouse will expire permanently in the next 20 years. This is because Walt Disney, the creator of Mickey Mouse, will have been dead for 70 years in 2036, meaning that his estate, The Walt Disney Company, will forfeit the rights to the character forever. Once this happens, Mickey Mouse will be public domain, and anyone who wants to use the character will no longer have to pay Disney directly. But I’m sure Disney’s already thought of that.

One other point of note about copyright is that the holder can do with the property, in this case the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise, as they so please. This includes deciding not to sell it anymore, as is the case with Aniplex of America, and force the licenser to acquiesce, this being FUNimation Entertainment. It’s a frustrating situation for us long-time fans of both shows, but since we don’t have the final say…well, c’est la vie! It’s unfortunate, but as of July 31st of this year, the date of the yank, we won’t be able to find or purchase anything Fullmetal Alchemist-related online or in stores. In other words, cherish it while you can.

The question then becomes, “What now?” It’s tough, but, save region importing, I can make several suggestions.

First and foremost, there’s piracy and illegal streaming. This is a bit of a slippery-slope, especially since piracy hurts the anime industry by robbing it of sales, but it’s an option. Considering that the internet doesn’t play by the rules anyway, it’s also a pretty easy solution. There are dozens of illegal streaming sites, all of them with Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood already available, so if you’re that desperate and don’t care about breaking laws, that’s there.

Second, hope and pray that AoA makes the property public domain. I’ve heard they already did that with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and if that’s true, then who’s to say it won’t happen with Fullmetal Alchemist? Besides, public domain means that you can watch these shows without repercussions, which is nice. I don’t know if it’ll happen, but, unlike piracy, you’re not breaking any laws.

Third, assuming you’re sadistic, pray that AoA goes bankrupt and sells their license. This one’s dependant on whether or not they do go under, which, in turn, is reliant on other factors. Regardless, it’d allow the property to become readily available. It’d also, I suppose, cause a lot of employees to lose their jobs. It’s tricky, in other words.

Fourth, boycott or send a petition to Aniplex of America. The former might do more damage than good, but in both cases it’d send a clear message about the treatment of the Fullmetal Alchemist property. It also opens up a lot of doors as to how this’d be done, some of which might overlap with the first three suggestions by default. Either way, it’d make your voice heard, which is always good.

Fifth, buy the remaining stock while you can. Even though Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is no longer being circulated, I’m sure there are still copies floating around sites like Amazon. Fullmetal Alchemist, on the other hand, is more readily available, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Regardless, purchasing the shows means that you own them and can watch them whenever you want, so you win either way. It’s not like they’re ridiculously expensive, so…

Sixth, catch up on the shows before it’s too late. Ever wanted to watch them, but didn’t get around to it? Well, now’s your chance! I know it’s rushing, but given that your window of opportunity is really small, it might not be such a bad idea. Besides, there are still places to watch both shows legally at the moment. I know, for a fact, that Netflix is one of them.

And seventh, do nothing. This is the least-proactive suggestion, especially since it’s equivalent to giving up altogether, but it’s a suggestion. Besides, chances are most of us who are upset have already seen both shows, perhaps even more than once. I know that, personally, I’ve seen Fullmetal Alchemist 4 times, soon to be 5 once I get my hands on the Blu-Ray release. In other words, while this is a defeatist suggestion, it’s still a suggestion, and one that’s viable for those who don’t care to try anything else. Conversely, you can always wait for the license to expire naturally anyway.

But above all else, remember that, even with these suggestions, it’s not the end of the world that this property is going obsolete. Does it suck? Absolutely. Is it completely and utterly shameful on Aniplex of America’s part? Again, absolutely. But there are far worse issues out there than this one.

That having been said, Aniplex of America are still jerks.


  1. You forgot option eight: wait to see if Aniplex of America puts out one or more swanky new box sets at anywhere from two to four times Funimation's prices. I gather there's a precedent for them doing that sort of thing.

    At any rate, I already have my copies of the 2003 series, as well as The Sacred Star of Milos. I'll see if I can get Brotherhood sometime this year in a good quality used copy if at all possible [before the prices on the secondary market go *too* high]. I can afford to skip out on owning Conqueror of Shamballa.

    "I’ve heard they already did that with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood,"
    Source of rumor please? Because I've not heard any such thing.

    "But I’m sure Disney’s already thought of that."
    You're probably right. If they start lobbying for yet another gratuitous extension of copyright term lengths, then we'll know for sure.

    1. I can't verify that rumour 100%, so I guess the only way to know is to wait for an announcement. I just remember hearing it from someone at some point.

      As for option eight, I don't know anymore. Aniplex of America is weird with their business policies, so it could happen and it might not happen. That said, given that my copy of Fullmetal Alchemist has a badly scratched disc, I should probably get on buying that Blu-Ray release soon...


Post a Comment

Popular Posts