The end of the world as we know it: crunchyroll deletes user-uploaded files.

January 6, 2009 at 7:24 am 6 comments

crunchyrollThe new year brought an unwelcome surprise to the 4.8 million people who belong to the on-line video streaming site crunchyroll.com, sometimes referred to as the Asian youtube (though it was founded by UC Berkeley undergrads and it’s based in San Francisco). Since its launch in 2006 until Jan. 1, 2009 the site had hosted music and games as well as literally thousands of films, anime, and Asian dramas. Almost all of its content was illegally uploaded by members, meaning that anyone could stream from a huge selection of material at absolutely no cost. As expected from such a massive, unrestricted site, depending on the source material and the skill of the uploader, image quality ranged from good to crappy.

For example, due to the ineptitude of the member who posted it, the site’s version of Exiled had Mandarin and Cantonese audio tracks running

Gratuitous Francis Ng pic, Exiled, 2007

Gratuitous Francis Ng pic, Exiled, 2006

simultaneously, which led to a surreal viewing experience to say the least. Other movies had serious sync problems or were uploaded from vcds, but almost all of the material had English subs and the streaming was fast and reliable, so it was a great place to indulge in a lot of no-cost Asian movie watching. (In contrast, watching a non-subbed movie on youku.com, the Chinese-language streaming site, is slow torture. Aside from the language barrier, the site streams like cold molasses and a ninety-minute movie can take twice that to get through.)

Free is always a good price and I can attest to crunchyroll’s addictive quality–it enabled my Francis Ng binge from last month and I was able to watch at least a dozen of his movies, including a couple not yet available in the US on dvd such as Shamo and One Last Dance. I was also able to wallow in all 35 episodes of one of Francis’s turgid HK melodramas, The Great Adventurer, wasting a week of my life wending through its labyrinthine storyline.

Crunchyroll’s dilemma began when the site started offering higher quality streams for members who “donated” six dollars per month. Because of its legal murkiness, this opened the site to potential licensing lawsuits, as it began profiting from copyrighted materials it didn’t own. Suddenly it wasn’t one big happy filesharing family—with nearly 5 million members someone was making some coin, and the site recently made moves to correct this possible legal sinkhole. No doubt realizing the thin ice such flagrant copyright violations implied, at the start of 2009 crunchyroll purged its entire stock of non-licensed programming and began to host only legally licensed shows. Gone were all of the Korean, Hong Kong, and Japanese soap operas, the extensive library of films and anime, and everything else that made the site imperative for obsessive Asian media-watchers. As expected, most of the membership let out a collective shriek, but in order to further cover its ass legally, the site will likely not add back those titles. It’s instead instituted a subscription system that, in cooperation with anime distributors, will allow paying customers to selectively view whatever shows the site can license.

As for those of us who gorged on free movies and dramas, the ride is over. Of course it was too good to last—I’m glad I was able to enjoy it while I could. Here’s hoping another similar site crops up soon.

UPDATE: Oops, busted! Looks like Huayi Bros, the big-time Chinese film producer and distributor, is going after several Chinese-language sites for illegally hosting the brand new Mainland China film, If You Are The One, which was released on Dec. 18 and has already hit the intertubes. Named in the lawsuit are Sina.com, Sohu.com, Youku.com, Tudou.com and VOC. Maybe crunchyroll pulled out of the illegal filesharing game just in time.

UPDATE 2: Interesting analysis here about how China’s latest crackdown on Internet smut may be a harbinger of larger things to come. Good discussion of the issue in relation to the recession, politics and the social compact of China’s economic boom.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. rami  |  January 7, 2009 at 3:28 am

    i just knew this site a mount ago , and this happen!! 😦

    Reply
  • 2. valeriesoe  |  January 7, 2009 at 5:41 am

    I can’t believe it myself! I was there every night for a month & now it’s gone
    : (

    Reply
  • 3. rainm  |  January 7, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    c’est la vie.
    I joined them last summer, and I even created a Group.
    It didn’t take long though, to grow weary of the inexcusable CRAP passed off as translation. (Does anyone know basic grammar anymore?)
    Not to mention the overwhelming idiocy of the uploaders that repeated episodes, had no sense of timing, and didn’t know what the f*@% they were talking about with their descriptions.
    Check out mysoju.com or aznv.tv if you need another ‘free fix’.

    Reply
  • 4. Charles Liu  |  January 15, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    Yet Xinhua China 25(XFI) got a strong buy recommnedation from Jim Cramer on CNBC yesterday:

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/28657637

    Reply
  • 5. Rex Saigon  |  February 13, 2009 at 6:50 am

    I sincerely hope more of these hosting sites get threatened with lawsuits. While I love the idea of streaming everything you want when you want it, I ALSO believe that the content CREATORS deserve to be PAID for their work. Under Crunchy’s new model, an individual creator/artist might only get a fraction of a penny from a particular user’s $7 monthly fee, but multiply that by the nearly 5 million users (and former thieves) who registered with Crunchyroll) and suddenly that creator/artist/studio/network has more money to keep cranking out new product. The DVD market for this stuff is dead, in part due to the high cost of U.S. DVDs and in part due to the very thievery that Crunchyroll encouraged before its owners got threatened into legitimacy and got rich in the process. The television market isn’t much better off. North American media companies (TV/DVD) don’t want to invest in packaging and marketing content that will then have to compete against and a platform–free internet downloading–that an entire generation now feels entitled to simply because, well, simply because.

    When all is said and done, though, Crunchyroll HAD to be a SUCCESSFUL illegal operation before studios were gonna wake up and realize the potential goldmine they were peering into (especially after Crunchyroll started CHARGING people for content they didn’t own and the studios undoubtedly knew they had can’t lose lawsuits on their hands).

    I hope the new Crunchyroll sticks around a while, although I’ll always remain appalled at the methods they used to get there, and at the people who so eagerly consumed all their goodies without once worrying about how it was affecting the bottom lines of the people who actually made the stuff in the first place. Anime creators are not millionaires. Neither are a lot of people who work in the Korean, Japanese and Hong Kong film industries (which were also hugely RIPPED OFF by Crunchy), so hopefully if Crunchy starts streaming feature films from these countries again, they’ll do so legally and the creators will benefit from the monthly fee.

    And yes, I watched Crunchyroll in its old format, though not very often as I have several years worth of accumulated DVDs that will keep me busy for a long, long time before I gradually sell/trade/donate them off (save a core collection that I’ll always need to see on a nice big TV screen) and make the unfettered leap to routine, affordable buying and streaming of newer material I’ve yet to see, which I do know is inevitable. And which I have no problem paying for if a reasonable monthly fee is charged that I know will benefit the makers.

    Great article, Valerie. Hope you will continue to use Crunchyroll in the future. Not sure I’m in agreement with the folks here recommending other “free fixes” though. That still won’t benefit the people we want to keep making this material for us for many years to come.

    Reply
  • 6. valeriesoe  |  February 13, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Hey Rex,

    Great points throughout–free downloading is taking over the world & the entertainment industries need to figure out how to deal with it. The genie ain’t going back in the bottle–it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    v.

    Reply

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