An encounter with the FBI

UPDATE! A possible happy ending? As of the summer of 2002, a Region-2 DVD of dubbed Headmasters cartoons is being released in Europe. This is an exciting development, as it indicates that releases of all of the dubbed episodes are possible, assuming this first disc sells well. And if it does, I think it's a good bet that the dubs will eventually be released on Region-1 discs as well. You can see a listing for "Transformers: Takara" (the title which all the anime were aired under on Asian satellite TV) at Transformers - Takara. I imagine other sites have it for sale, too, so pick your favorite. This is the only one I bothered to find as an example.

In late 2000, I asked my pal Kendrick if I could host on my website the collection of TF episode reviews he had written several years before. He had all but disappeared from TransFandom in the opening weeks of 1997 after losing much of his joy for the fandom and, later that year, had a stressful run-in with the FBI, who had been tipped off that he was selling bootlegs of copyrighted videos through his website. KKC had already made himself scarce in the fandom, and at that point seemed to completely drop off the planet with no explanation other than a notice on his website saying something about "my agreement with the FBI".

Here, then, is the story in Kendrick's own words, which he asked me to distribute for him as a favor in return for the TF Weekday reviews he'd provided. I happily accepted, and here we are. Without further ado, Kendrick's tale:

During the summer of 1997, I had the brilliant notion of making a little side cash by selling copies of the Japanese Transformers episodes. TF:Headmasters, TF:Masterforce and TF:Victory never made it to the United States in any meaningful way, and with the whole 'collector-to-collector' VCR culture in the USA I thought that this would be a nice way to share and profit from it.

Foolishly, I set up a web site, did a little side advertising, and sat back and waited for the orders to roll in. Which they did, at a rate I could barely handle. It even got to the point where local Transformer fans were knocking on my door, cash in hand, eager to see their favorite toys of childhood in all their animated, badly dubbed glory.

One hot July evening, a couple of professional looking gentlemen in long black coats knocked on my door. Having gotten used to complete strangers showing up at my doorstep, I didn't think twice about opening the door and saying hi. Each man looked me over, held up a billfold with an FBI identification card proudly displayed and said:

"Good evening, Mr. Chua. May we ask you a few questions about your website and the video tapes you have for sale?"

I freaked. They were cool. I calmed down. To make a long story short, they weren't interested in me. Apparently, the FBI had started to crack down on Asian videotape bootleggers, and my name had gotten tagged as a possible distributor of bootleg American motion pictures. They very calmly explained to me that even though they weren't after me, that I should stop what I was doing and shut down the operation. Otherwise, they would be obligated to take action. They left. I changed my pants.

I did my best to return money to the people I didn't have a chance to make copies for. There's still one or two folks out there to whom I owe money. Most everybody else was sympathetic and understood. Nobody wanted to trade places with me and have a visit from the Feds.

The moral of the story, if you didn't guess, is be careful how you do things. If you insist on distributing copyrighted material, do so discreetly. But what I'd rather see people do is lobby Hasbro, Marvel, Takara and Kabaya to release the Japanese episodes officially. Pioneer is making a killing with DVDs that contain six, seven, or eight episodes of less popular Japanese TV shows because DVDs are so cheap to produce. And all the Japanese TF episodes already have been dubbed into English. If you were a voice actor, or an animator or writer, wouldn't you want your residuals and royalties if people are still enjoying these shows? Let's show them there's a market. The more people who are interested in going legal, the less chance that what happened to me will happen to anyone else.

Peace. I'm only human, but what makes humans special is the ability to overcome adversity and share knowledge. Learn from my mistake, and don't let a bump in the road keep you from enjoying the ride. See you around.

-Kendrick Chua, 6 September 2000

I must say that while I think it's very unlikely the TF anime dubs will ever be made commercially available, I do agree with Kendrick's notion that it can't hurt for TransFans to send letters to the relevant corporations and express their interest. An official set of DVDs or videotapes containing these episodes would be a fantastic boon to TransFandom; they don't even have to be fancy, with lots of special features and all that. Just stick the episodes on a disc, terrible dubbing and all, and let them loose. I would love that, and it's more than worth the cost of a stamp to suggest it to a few people.

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Last modified on 2002-06-26.