Photo/Illutration A pirated manga website shows titles and images.

Despite the takedown of a notorious pirated manga website, publishers are now suffering the worst financial damage from similar sites that offer popular comics for free without permission, an industry group said.

“There is no silver bullet, and all we can do is continue doing what we can to stop them,” said Atsushi Ito, who is in charge of anti-piracy measures at Tokyo-based leading publisher Shueisha Inc. “If you give up, the game is over right there.”

Ito also heads the public relations and legal department of Authorized Books of Japan (ABJ), a Tokyo-based general incorporated association working to crack down on pirated manga editions. Its members include publishers and telecommunications carriers.

“Things are even worse than when Mangamura was at its heyday,” Ito said.

Mangamura was Japan’s largest manga piracy website, gaining up to about 100 million views a month, according to a tally by ABJ. The website was apparently easy to use for viewing manga on smartphones.

After publishers filed a criminal complaint against the site operators, Mangamura was shut down in April 2018. The suspected mastermind of the site has been sentenced to three years in prison and fined for violations of the Copyright Law and other offenses.

Damage to the manga industry temporarily fell after Mangamura was closed.

But an increasing number of piracy websites were either set up again or established around autumn 2019.

“Many websites were created one after another to offer manga in an easy-to-read manner,” Ito said.

And now, the number of views on the piracy websites far exceeds that during Mangamura’s peak, according to an ABJ survey.

“It may have resulted from ‘stay-at-home lifestyles’ under the coronavirus pandemic,” Ito said.

ABJ has confirmed that about 750 piracy websites were operating. The 10 most popular websites had a total of about 240 million hits in a single month.

In addition, views of the top three websites surged by about 14 times from January 2020 to April 2021.

The Asahi Shimbun

However, ABJ has yet to confirm the total damage from copyright infringements because manga titles are also illegally shared on video streaming websites and other platforms.

When Shueisha finds its manga works available on piracy websites, it submits a request to the site operator to remove the titles.

With the help of a specialty contractor, Ito checks piracy websites countless times to identify the URLs of websites that are illegally providing manga.

Shueisha submits up to about 120,000 requests a month to websites, server operators and other related parties, demanding the deletion of copyright-infringing content.

It also files about 10 criminal complaints a year.

“Previously, I was the only one sending takedown requests. I even developed tendonitis because I used the mouse too much,” Ito said.

(This article was written by Hidemasa Yoshizawa and Senior Staff Writer Tatsuya Sudo)