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Several years ago, very little anime was available in the US from authorized distributors. This lead to fans taking the raw Japanese shows and adding subtitles of their own. Now that anime popularity has dramatically increased, it is very important to make sure that if you are buying from a fansubber, the title is not already available from another company! Fansubbing is still around however and it is important to understand it.

Strictly speaking, fansubs are illegal. They are, in fact, copies made by someone other than the owner of the series. However... Often, if they avoid making profit or too much of a scene, not too much attention is paid to them. Here is why:

The reason they exist is to bring anime series to the US that have not been brought over by a company. This gives the anime series exposure, which the original creators like, and if it gets enough exposure, the rights will probably be bought by a US company and produced commercially. The original creators like this even more. Thus, as long as the fansubber isn't making a profit, fansubs help the creators by getting companies to buy production rights. They are by fans for fans and are not to be sold or rented. Yes, fans "pay" for them, but the price is determined by the amount needed to produce the tape and no more.

There is no definitive price for what a fansub should be before it crosses the line from non-profit to profit since fansubs are available from very plain tapes to tapes with fancy labels, decorative cases and special shipping. Any extra features you can get are also a cost, so prices vary from distributor to distributor. The thing to remember is that it should never cost you more than it cost the distributor to make and ship it. In my experience, prices have varied anywhere from $5-$8 total for each tape (including shipping). Places like e-Bay and other auction websites are very very bad places to get fansubs since the price, through the auction, is driven up way past what it should be and whoever is auctioning it will make a profit. Often, auction site will remove fansubs from their listings because of the illegality.

After a series has been fansubbed, the series might be bought by a company to be sold commercially. Once a fansubbed series is bought commercially, all fansubbing of that series must stop!

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