Anime, Copyright and Censorship

References and homages are inevitable part of art, media and culture. While winks and nods to other works seem harmless, some are viewed as violations of a creators’ rights to their own works. Here are two examples of anime struggling with references and copyright.



The show Osomatsu-san caused a stir when its first episode was removed from its DVD/Blue-ray release and taken off of legal streaming services. Its first episode had a huge amount of visual references to other works in it.


Crunchyroll complied with this removal from streaming on Nov 11th 2015. The show has also been subject to censoring in later episodes. Leaving fans asking why?

The answer is in one of the ways Japan’s copyright laws greatly differ from the United States’. In Osomatsu-san’s case the issue was its references and parodies which violated copyright by resembling the other works too closely without permission to do so. Japan has no protection of parody, unlike the US where parody is protected as a form of criticism and free speech. Parodies in Japan have to get permission from the creators of what they want to parody. The intent is to protect creators from having their work loose integrity due to others slandering it through making fun of it.

Many creators don’t mind parody and their leniency for it might make things seem as though parodies operate under a similar system as they do in the US. However, with the sheer amount of references in its first episode, there was likely no way for Osomatsu-san to easily gain proper permission for each and every one. So instead they just went all out and then suffered the consequences.




The show Shirobako, faced a similar issue with its 6th episode that heavily referenced the show Space Runaway Ideon. However, the episode isn’t actually making fun of Ideon but instead paying homage to it by having characters resolve conflict through their love of the franchise. But the show didn’t seek the proper permission for the references even though they changed the name to Idepon and slightly tweaked the mech designs. Despite the loving context of the episode these references also violated Japanese copyright laws.


This episode was also pulled from Crunchyroll until the show asked permission to use the Ideon references and were then given the go ahead and the episode was returned to streaming. In order to avoid the same situation a later episode was heavily censored by pixelating visual references to copyrighted works.


This type of self censoring is common in anime where pixelation or bleeping out names is used to avoid violating copyright but still gets across the intended reference.



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[This post was originally posted: Nov, 18th 2015 on the Otaple 1/2 Tumblr]

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