Brian Wood on Comic “Piracy”

I don’t want to pick on Brian Wood here, because I know his attitude is understandably shared by many comic creators, but he gave this wonderful summation quote:

I went off to see how readily available my own work was, and was quite appalled that I could get an entire decade’s worth of my work in a single torrent – literally every page, and that’s money out of my pocket, Steve Rolston’s, Becky Cloonan’s, Rob G’s, Brett Weldele’s, Ryan Kelly’s, Kristian Donaldson’s, as well as the publisher’s.

I’m pointing this out because it makes a logical leap that may not be justified (and one may not naturally occur to creators, who wouldn’t like to face the implications): Someone who’s willing to read certain comics for free may not be willing to pay for them.

I’ve read plenty of stuff because it’s there that I would not shell out my own money for. If some kind of magical crackdown prevented those comics being available for free, then a significant part of the audience wouldn’t start spending money on them; instead, they’d move on to other free entertainment online.

However, not to be a negative nelly… All those readers may not be ready to put money in your pocket, but some might be. Wood goes on to make the most sensible choice, wishing for a legal alternative to be available. You can’t stop online comic reading at this point; best to give the users a reasonable choice with an easy-to-use system at a convenient price. After all, iTunes is reportedly now the third largest music retailer (not just online, but total), after Walmart and Best Buy.


64 Responses to “Brian Wood on Comic “Piracy””

  1. Nat Gertler Says:

    First off, it’s you making the logical leap, not Brian. At least in the quote you give, there’s no assumption that everyone downloading would otherwise be willing to buy; at most, it assumes that -someone- downloading would otherwise be willing to buy.
    Being unwilling to pay for a given work does not justify taking it without paying (as well as raising the question of how well one knows one’s self and one’s ability to judge what one would have done under different circumstances.)

  2. Jer Says:

    Hm. A lot of Wood’s work is available in the graphic novel section of my local public library. In fact, that’s where I first read anything by the man. I’ve only purchased a couple of his books but I’ve read many more of them. And I only purchsed what I did because I HAD read his work before, at my library.

    I know that the analogy isn’t perfect, but still, there’s a lot of eyeballs wrapped up in libraries. And it’s money that would never go to the creators anyway — my budget is fixed and the library supplements my entertainment dollar. If the library didn’t have those works, I certainly wouldn’t have bought them for full price just to read them sight unseen. Yet the creators only get paid for one copy that gets shared across the system. I’d like to know what the position that creators like this take on libraries. Do they like having their work in the library or not? And if so, what makes it so different economically from the download model that they don’t like?

    Personally, I like what Aaron Williams is doing with his ps238 comic book. He posts a new page from an old issue three days a week (he’s got 3 full issues up right now). I’d heard good things about the book, wandered over to his site and read the first few issues, and now I get it in my monthly pull and I’m buying the older trades as money permits.

  3. Thom Says:

    Just imagine how People Magazine is continously ripped off by people who sit and read it while waiting at the Doctor’s office or salon instead of buying their own copy at the super market.

  4. Sean B Says:

    There’s a lengthy and somewhat disheartening thread over at the Engine about this very subject.

    I agree that there is a basic assumption that folks who are reading your stuff for free are doing so INSTEAD of paying for it, which would equal a loss in sales. But if these people wouldn’t have purchased it anyway, the argument about lost revenue slides into the ether.

    However, downloading also touches on the morality of taking legally protected work for free. Someone made the analogy (and it may even have been Brian) that just because you can’t afford a new car doesn’t entitle you to go out and steal one just because you want it. We are talking about work that the creators intended to be product – merchandise. They worked hard at creating something for consumers to be purchased. I mean, just because I can’t afford to spend 200.00 collecting every Love and Rockets collection doesn’t mean that I have the moral right to just download it all.

    Yet – and not even touching on the library issue – back issues sales don’t go to the creator or publisher. It’s been purchased once and there’s an assumption that if it gets resold, the audience exchange is minimal. Which is why record companies don’t give a damn that a CD passes through one or two people past the person who plopped down their cash for it.

    Having said that, I think a new business model is called for. Some companies are trying to figure this out, but you will always have people who think “Sure, .99 a download is cheap, but free is cheaper!”

    A friend of mine in the music business and I were discussing how the music industry shot themselves in the foot years ago by not partnering with Napster for a flat fee/monthly download service. I mean, if you had an option to pay an extra ten dollar a month as part of your internet service, as part of a bundle package like they do with cable, and this fee entitled you to unlimited downloads of music, would you turn it down? Same with movies.

    I don’t particularly see such a service working with comics, because it is such a niche market, but I’m sure some savvy business person could think of a way to make the technology work. The issue would be getting the publishers to play ball.

    Which begs this question – are the publishers themselves concerned about this? Has downloading really affected sales? I look at Marvels numbers for the past few months and I wonder – especially consering that Marvel and DC are the two big publishers representing the bulk of the downloading product. Do they see it as a loss leader?

  5. Nat Gertler Says:

    Libraries: I won’t speak for creators and publishers as a whole, but speaking as a creator and publisher, and reflecting the creators and publishers I’ve talked to: love ‘em. Libraries buy a significant amount of graphic novels, and they replace popular ones when they wear out (talk to a librarian sometime about how often paperbacks need to be replaced; the wear out after many fewer readers than you may suspect.) This is very, very different than one person scanning their books and making copies for everyone, with each copy not only not adding to wear-out, but actually increasing availability of the pirated material. (And even this analysis is from the US point of view — for the EU, add in the fact that authors actually collect additional money based on libraries lending out their work.)
    Back issues: the sale of back issues has often been a major financial driver of the business. While it is less of a factor now than at its peak, many comics are still bought because of the potential to sell them on the secondary market.

  6. Sean B Says:

    “Back issues: the sale of back issues has often been a major financial driver of the business. While it is less of a factor now than at its peak, many comics are still bought because of the potential to sell them on the secondary market.”

    You’re right – I hadn’t even considered the impact these sales have on the Direct Market, which is the primary source of distribution of new comics as well. Selling back issues helps support the comic store, which allows them to keep buying more new product. Excellent (and, I’m ashamed to say, rather obvious) point I missed.

  7. Ed Sizemore Says:

    The problem with using either a library or doctor’s office analogy is that you don’t have a permanent copy of the book/magazine in either case. When you download a comic you have a permanent copy of the work. The best analogy would be checking out a book from the library and going home and either making a copy of the book or scanning the book into your computer.

  8. Sean B Says:

    “The best analogy would be checking out a book from the library and going home and either making a copy of the book or scanning the book into your computer.”

    Well, that brings up a whole other issue – do you actually own data? Hell, for that matter, the recording and motion picture industry argues that even buying a physical copy of something doesn’t give you ownership. The owner of the copyright owns the work. So, by that messure, even if I buy a comic, I don’t own it. I’m paying for the privilage of having physical possession of a copy of the original, with some limited rights as to how I choose to enjoy or use that work.

    Wood and a few others have argued that even reading the book at the store is stealing, which in one respect is correct, but my question is this – what exactly am I paying for? The act of reading the book, the feelings I get from reading the book, or the right to have a reproduction I can take and read anytime I want?

    This does have to do with downloading, as I see it. We need to establish a fresh way of looking at what exactly the consumer is purchasing when they buy something. In my mind, if I buy a CD and make a mix tape for my friend, that’s OK – but not according to copyright law. I don’t own the music on that CD – just the physical copy of it. The music itself, the data on the disc, I do not own. I spent 15 dollars on a CD that cost them 5 cents to burn. Which, to me, seems to diminish my pride in ownership, my sense that the things I buy with the money I earn are mine to do with as I please. And let’s be honest – you buy stuff to OWN it – people buy books, movies and CDs becuase you want to possess it – own it. The law, as it stands now, says that’s an illusion. You’re paying for stuff that you have no legal control over – you can’t have a party and show that movie on your awesome new entertainment system because that’s public exhibition. You can’t record that HBO series finale and watch it later with a bunch of people.

    It’s so murky, so nebulous exactly what you are paying for, that its no wonder you have people who are saying – look, even if I pay for this, I don’t own it, so why should I buy it at all? Because it’s the right thing to do? Granted, that should be good enough – but the issue of whether its even immoral to read a comic you haven’t bought is subject to debate, isn’t it?

    This isn’t a black and white issue, except as far as the law as concerned. And there are a lot of people who are saying, the law doesn’t reflect what the consumer expects or wants.

  9. Nat Gertler Says:

    “In my mind, if I buy a CD and make a mix tape for my friend, that’s OK – but not according to copyright law.”

    Not true (at least in the US) — making a non-commercial mix tape on cassette (or using a home music CD copying system that uses music-specific CD-Rs) has been legally protected for 15 years, via the “Audio Home Recording Act of 1992″, a rather ugly bill.

    “I spent 15 dollars on a CD that cost them 5 cents to burn.”

    Commercial reproduction of a music CD costs more than 5 cents.

    “my sense that the things I buy with the money I earn are mine to do with as I please. ”

    Do you feel that your car isn’t yours if you’re not allowed to drive it through the mall? That the gun isn’t yours if you’re not allowed to shoot hippies? Can you make and sell copies of that patented mousetrap? There are limits to what we can do with anything we own.

    “you can’t have a party and show that movie on your awesome new entertainment system because that’s public exhibition. You can’t record that HBO series finale and watch it later with a bunch of people.”

    Says who? Can you show me any case where non-commercial home exhibition, even to a gathering people, was ruled infringing?

  10. Johanna Says:

    Nat, language like “taking it” biases the discussion (although a bias one way or another is inevitable). Reading a friend’s copy doesn’t “take” anything from anyone; whether someone feels that is also true when the friend is known by email address and the copy is electronic is an exercise left up to the reader.

    Jer, the “free try” converting readers is a well-known phenomenon, and providing free tries under controlled circumstances is one way a creator can address this issue. I think it’s a great idea that Carla Speed McNeil, for instance, has put the first issues from most of her collections online. And in her case, it’s consistency with the physical world, because she used to give away single issues as “tastes” at conventions. (She may still, as long as the backstock holds out — I say “used to” because she doesn’t print single issues any more.)

    Another good question for creators might be “do you object to used book stores?” — I’ve seen at least one that did, wishing instead that people bought full-price copies that he’d get a cut of.

  11. Johanna Says:

    Sean B: Record companies at one point did “give a damn” about used sales, putting pressure on large stores with an active business in that field to try and stop it. That was another of their “the world is changing and we can’t keep up” flailing strategies.

    I got a lot of music in college through home taping of borrowed copies of CD and cassettes. I don’t see online music as all that different, which I guess is my way of saying that there will always be those to whom “free” outweighs “nice package, pay to own the original”. The goal is to convert as many others to purchasers as possible, through reasonable pricing, convenient purchasing, and not assuming everyone’s a criminal because they don’t give you money for every possible transaction/viewing/listen.

    Back issues, by the way, are a declining business for many stores. With ebay (no need to hunt) as competition, stores are finding that they take up an awful lot of floor space for the money they bring in, so they’re minimizing display, switching to alternate products (graphic novels, merchandise, or other), or just getting rid of them.

  12. Sean B Says:

    “Says who? Can you show me any case where non-commercial home exhibition, even to a gathering people, was ruled infringing?”

    You’re right – as long as the its in your home and a “close group” of friends, you can show a movie. If I want to show that movie on the wall of my home at a block party during the summer (which my neighbors have), that’s against the law and they would need to obtain a license for that.

    “I spent 15 dollars on a CD that cost them 5 cents to burn.”

    You’re right again. It isn’t 5 cents. Let’s see how this weakens my argument, which is what you are taking to task I assume.

    This site (http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/newsid_3980000/newsid_3980200/3980235.stm) puts it more about 90 cents, which is in the UK.

    And here are what some recording artists have to say about the economics behind it.

    http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,21741980-5006024,00.html

    http://archive.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/06/14/love/print.html

    So, my point was that the record industry is ripping me off and I have a problem with that. Apparently, so do some artists who are also getting screwed. My 5 cents reference may have been off, by my point still stands I think.

    “Do you feel that your car isn’t yours if you’re not allowed to drive it through the mall? That the gun isn’t yours if you’re not allowed to shoot hippies? Can you make and sell copies of that patented mousetrap? There are limits to what we can do with anything we own.”

    Hmm. Not sure about these examples. I mean, if I make all my car payments, I do end up owning the car. Same with a gun. True, I don’t have the legal right to break the law using my new property, but I’m not breaking the law by reading a comic I downloaded either – I’m breaking it through the process of acquiring that comic via the internet. I guess could argue I’m in possession of stolen property of my pal gives me a disc of comics he’s downloaded.

    Anyway, my argument was more about what compells people to buy anything. Ownership. You make car payments instead of taking a cab because you want to own a car. You make house payments instead of paying rent on an apartment because you want to own the house. It’s a psychological thing. People are hardwired in our culture to OWN things – if they weren’t the economy would collapse.

    “Not true (at least in the US) — making a non-commercial mix tape on cassette (or using a home music CD copying system that uses music-specific CD-Rs) has been legally protected for 15 years, via the “Audio Home Recording Act of 1992″, a rather ugly bill.”

    That’s being taken to task by the RIAA.
    http://www.campusdownloading.com/dvd.htm#

  13. Johanna Says:

    Nat, “Can you show me any case where non-commercial home exhibition, even to a gathering of people, was ruled infringing?”

    My high school (residential) used to allow floor movie nights, where they’d rent a video and show it to a group of the kids. They stopped because of just this legal concern. Now, I expect you to quibble that that’s not the same as home display, but it was my home.

    And your car/mall example is ridiculous. A more relevant analogy would be if the maker tried to prevent you from loaning your car to your friend.

  14. Nat Gertler Says:

    “Reading a friend’s copy doesn’t “take” anything from anyone; whether someone feels that is also true when the friend is known by email address and the copy is electronic is an exercise left up to the reader.”

    And any easy exercise it is to boot: you’re taking from the creator or other rightshold er the right to control copying, the very thing that they use to make a living. When I make a deal as a creator with a publisher or as a publisher with a creator, what I’m dealing in is generally exclusive reproduction rights within some context or another.

    Sean: “So, my point was that the record industry is ripping me off”

    Then that’s your illusion. They’re offering you a deal – it may not be a very good deal but you are free to say “no”, if you think the price is too high for what you’re getting. I’ve bought many an album, often getting my monies worth out of the hours of entertainment I get from the music.

    Johanna:
    “And your car/mall example is ridiculous.”

    Not in addressing that statement which was being addressed, no.

    “A more relevant analogy would be if the maker tried to prevent you from loaning your car to your friend.”

    An analogy to what? To lending your CD to a friend? I don’t know of any real effort to stop that. Or are you talking about making a copy of your car, violating every patent involved in its construction, and giving that to your friend?

  15. Sean B Says:

    “Then that’s your illusion. They’re offering you a deal – it may not be a very good deal but you are free to say “no”, if you think the price is too high for what you’re getting.”

    Well, millions of people are doing just that. And, instead of saying “Hey, millions of folks like our product but not enough to pay for it at the prices we want so we better change our business model,” they would rather enlist the RIAA to sue people – which, I might add, hasn’t resulted in one conviction but rather has made hundreds of people settle out of court out of fear of going through the legal system and fighting the Man.

    Here’s this article, which I referenced above in my conversation with my friend about this subject.

    http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/15137581/the_record_industrys_decline/print

    Bottom line – people are still listening to music, more than ever, they just aren’t willing to pay what the record companies want or buy it in the format they make the most profit from. Is that the consumers problem or is it a problem in failure to adapt to a new market?

  16. Nat Gertler Says:

    “Well, millions of people are doing just that.”

    Speaking from a business standpoint, if you’re not pricing your product so that at least some people think that the price is too high, you’ve almost definitely underpriced it.

    However, if you’re saying “millions of people are illegally downloading it instead”, then you get to the basic question of “what is the proper pricing to compete with ‘free’?” One doesn’t seem likely to win at that unfair game.

    “which, I might add, hasn’t resulted in one conviction but rather has made hundreds of people settle out of court out of fear of going through the legal system and fighting the Man.”

    And possibly paying the full price for their crimes?

    “people are still listening to music, more than ever, they just aren’t willing to pay what the record companies want or buy it in the format they make the most profit from”

    Plenty of people are still buying music. Now, who should the car companies treat as their customers: the people who buy cars, or the people who steal them?

  17. Travis Seitler Says:

    In 1790, the first Copyright Act in the United States specified a term of 14 years (with an option to request a 14-year extension). Honestly? That seems perfectly reasonable to me–OTOH, this “life of creator plus seventy years” stuff is light years beyond unreasonable.

    According to the original law, all Golden Age, most Silver Age, and even some of the Bronze/Modern Age books would all be in the Public Domain. What reasonable case is there for having moved from this model?

  18. Thom Says:

    I will say, I think the price for downloading something digitally, it should be at a discount from buying it “in the box”…whether we are talking software, music, movies. If I pay for an album through iTunes, I get the music, but I don’t get a jewel case, album art (except the cover as part of each song file) or the physical disc. I have to make all that stuff myself.

  19. Sean B Says:

    “And possibly paying the full price for their crimes?”

    Maybe you should read this: http://recordingindustryvspeople.blogspot.com/2006/08/eff-aclu-american-association-of-law.html

    “Plenty of people are still buying music.”

    Not enough to suit them, apparently.

    “Now, who should the car companies treat as their customers: the people who buy cars, or the people who steal them?”

    Not that I agree with your analogy at all, but by that argument, the record companies should just shut up about shrinking profits because of people downloading and enjoy the fact that there are still some people willing to cater to their old business model?

    Bringing it back to comics, many smaller companies are trying to address this new market, and the big two are considering ways to make it profitable. They should. While many of us enjoy having the physical product, there are a growing number of people who don’t mind reading it digitally. If companies offered an affordable package with a user friendly application, they might stand to gain some new business. Ideally, they would all partner for a service like iTunes where it would be one stop shopping for new titles and back issues. Heck, Marvel and DC could just download the backissues already up on P2P and offer them via the service too – no overhead and who the heck is going to accuse them of swiping their own product?

    There will always be people who download for free – there will always be people who steal candy bars and bicycles. Marketing to the new consumer base isn’t bowing to theives by acknowledging it needs to adapt – it’s catering to a new consumer base willing to pay for your product, so long as it meets their needs.

  20. Brian Wood Says:

    Not to pick on you either, Johanna, but you found a stray comment on a random forum by me talking off-the-cuff about something I’ve written out much better and more extensively elsewhere.

    Of COURSE some people who would happily read a book of mine for free would never pay for it in a million years. I know that not every download is a lost sale. But some are, and every one of those is money I’m not getting… a specific dollar amount I can calculate. So there does need to be an alternative for those willing to pay for what they consume (and I thank you for including that bit).

    And to that person asking me about libraries.. if I had a nickel for every time that’s been posed to me, well, I wouldn’t have to worry about theft. THis is also something I’ve posted about extensively, and others here have made comments that mirror my own, so I won’t repeat them. Except to point out that libraries are established legal institutions and online piracy is not. It is that simple.

    brian w

    b

  21. Sean B Says:

    “Except to point out that libraries are established legal institutions and online piracy is not. It is that simple.”

    And that really is the rub, isn’t it? Which is where I was trying to go with making a new distribution model that is legal that satisfies some of the people currently downloading work. Again, you’ll always have the pricks who want everything for free even when they can get it for a modest price, but I think there are a good number of folks who do want a LEGAL, workable way to get their comics on-line. With the shrinking number of direct market stores and the proven success of iTunes (people like that they can sit around in their robes and shop for music – its convenient), I think it really is just a matter of finding out a way to make the publishing end of it balance out with a program enough people will use to make it viable.

    I know this has been debated to death by other people, and I think the Big Two know that’s where things are headed, it’s just going to be a matter of working it out before the market shrinks too much as a consequence of people downloading. That article in Rolling Stone really hits home how dragging your feet can have dire consequences in the long term. The creators will pay the price more than anyone, as we saw during the collapse of the 90’s.

  22. Alan Coil Says:

    If someone is violating a copyright that you own, you have to vigorously defend your copyright, up to, and including, suing the dirty, rotten, smeely scoundrel who is in violation.

  23. Nat Gertler Says:

    “Maybe you should read this:”

    I have read that before — but it doesn’t ignore that some of the people being sued are guilty, and that settling the suits is not so much matter of giving in to “the Man” as it is getting off cheap for their infringements. (And note: my support of copyright does not mean that I support everything that the RIAA has done.)

    “Not enough to suit them, apparently.”

    Few industries wouldn’t like more customers.

    “Not that I agree with your analogy at all, but by that argument, the record companies should just shut up about shrinking profits because of people downloading and enjoy the fact that there are still some people willing to cater to their old business model?”
    No, not by that argument — there is some advantage to making theft more inconvenient. Going after infringers has value.

    “Bringing it back to comics, many smaller companies are trying to address this new market, and the big two are considering ways to make it profitable.”

    But we have to separate the interest in downloadable materials and the interest in free materials. There seems to be an assumption that if so many people are willing to steal it, that means that a significant portion would be willing to pay for it (even though it’s still available for free.) That is a curious assumption. While the emergence of iTunes has grown the sale of downloadable music considerably, it seems not to have had much damping effect on the downloading of pirated music; rather, it seems to have had more impact of prerecorded physical media sales.
    (This is not to say that publishers shouldn’t offer their product online; I’ve been offering comics online for more than a decade, and have been offering some product for sale through one of the multi-publisher sites for a while now. Hasn’t been vastly profitable yet, mind you.)

  24. Batum Schrag Says:

    “Being unwilling to pay for a given work does not justify taking it without paying”

    Interesting. Is there any objective harm, other than the loss of potential revenue, that is inflicted upon the copyright holder by someone who reads the copyright holder’s work online for free?

  25. Johanna Says:

    Nat, you’re demonstrating your famed ability not to see the forest for the trees. You asked a question (about home display), Sean and I both answered it, and you promptly ignored the point to nitpick something else.

    As for competing with free, iTunes has done quite well doing just that. Other musicians are providing extras or concentrating on live performances, to name only two strategies. Price isn’t the only important factor; it’s value that’s at the heart of this discussion.

  26. Johanna Says:

    Travis, I don’t think there is a reasonable case for continually extending copyright — but I’m not a huge multinational who made my money on public domain works and is now using it to make political contributions.

  27. Johanna Says:

    Brian, as I said, your quote was convenient, and it summed up something I wanted to talk about. I’d love to read your more fully written-out opinions you mention — where can they be found?

  28. Nat Gertler Says:

    “Nat, you’re demonstrating your famed ability not to see the forest for the trees.”

    Nice personal attack there, Johanna.

    “You asked a question (about home display), Sean and I both answered it”

    Yes, and you both apparently answered “no”, as you didn’t show where either event was “ruled infringing”, merely where folks had concern about it. But you made it clear that you’d consider not accepting your statement as meeting my question as quibbling, and I didn’t feel like dealing with that at the moment.

    “As for competing with free, iTunes has done quite well doing just that.”

    Has it? Has it drawn a significant portion of the audience willing to pirate away from the pirate path? Or is it merely competing effectively with legal physical distribution?

    If my paying attention to what is actually said and what is actually going on is a detraction from whatever big picture you think you’re painting, perhaps that big picture isn’t as realistic as you think it is.

  29. scott h Says:

    The funny thing is, its the retailers who should be bitching about downloading, not the artist. If retailers order 20,000 copies of DMZ, then thats what Wood gets paid for. If retailers only sell 19,000 because of piracy, Wood still gets paid for 20,000 copies.

    Of course the natural argument that immediately pops up is that if people weren’t pirating then the retailers would buy more. I find that hard to believe. In the limited circle of the direct market a smaller book like one by Woods is going to be ordered lower than Civil War or whatever no matter what. It is what the consumers are buying. Comic shops don’t have an infinite amount of money to spend on their books every week. I know my shop sometimes has to reign in orders on something they are pretty sure they will sell because it just isn’t in the budget.

    Suppose 20,000 people all downloading DMZ all of a sudden decided to buy it instead. Guess what? There wouldn’t be anywhere near enough copies to go around in any way shape or form other than digital. Yeah sure, the companies will always print for demand, but how long does it take? I worked at a comic shop where unless it was a regular customer with an account asking for a reorder the owner would not reorder it, because in his experience by the time he got it the person lost interest and the owner was stuck with it.

    The reality of the direct market is that a comic debuts at a certain level based on a number of factors, and 95% of the time its all downhill from there until inevitable cancellation. There are only so many people buying comics these days and only so many of them have any interest in a vertigo or indie title.

    Blame piracy all you want, the real culprit behind someone not making as much money off their work is an outdated distribution system that has been in place for years and refuses to embrace change. Sound like the music business anyone?

    Which brings up pricing. Three and four dollars a pop is just to expensive for comics. They are way overpriced. DC wants me to buy countdown and follow their whole universe for a year? Thats a thousand bucks easy. I realize thats the cost etc…, and I pay it for the really good books, like DMZ (Brian I have never DLed one of your books :)), but seeing some of these price tags, its like going to a music store and seeing 17 – 20$ CDs. Only the best of the best of the best makes it home with me. The rest is DLed, mostly legally.

    It is a fascinating subject to me, one on which i have lots of opinions but few concrete facts. I find the comics market interesting and have followed it closely for the last few years. It will be interesting to see what the future brings.

  30. Sean B Says:

    “If retailers order 20,000 copies of DMZ, then thats what Wood gets paid for. If retailers only sell 19,000 because of piracy, Wood still gets paid for 20,000 copies.”

    Yes, but you immediately explain how that does effect Wood and Co in the long term later – fewer copies sold = fewer future orders = less money to publisher and, depending on royalties, to creators. If sales drop significantly, that also effects the perceived interest in a trade , which also robs Brian and Co of revenue.

    “Which brings up pricing. Three and four dollars a pop is just to expensive for comics. They are way overpriced. DC wants me to buy countdown and follow their whole universe for a year? Thats a thousand bucks easy. I realize thats the cost etc…, and I pay it for the really good books, like DMZ (Brian I have never DLed one of your books :)), but seeing some of these price tags, its like going to a music store and seeing 17 – 20$ CDs. Only the best of the best of the best makes it home with me. The rest is DLed, mostly legally.”

    I totally agree the price point of comics is high, far too high to follow all the titles I’d like. However, again, its like this – just because I want a plasma screen TV and I can’t afford it, doesn’t give me the right to just take it. Poverty, it can be argued, is the source (notice I didn’t say excuse) for most crime in the world. Downloading comics isn’t like stealing bread to feed your family, though.

    Having said that, you do bring up the value for your money argument and I think that’s valid. People need to feel they’re getting something for their money. I know my pull list is small for just that reason – no offense to the creators, but a comic that takes me three minutes to read and gives me no sense of enjoyment or anything to think about doesn’t make the cut – and that’s alot of the product out there. Judging from Marvel’s sales lately, I’m in the minority. In fact sales are UP from last year for Marvel, so a lot of fans do think the event comics are delivering – which is why they keep poopin’ ‘em out. But if the comics are crap, I don’t see why you’d waste the time reading them on-line much less buy them – which brings me to your point about downloading the stuff that isn’t good enough to buy. It’s not good enough to pay for but, as you said, in some cases, it is good enough to “own” and enjoy?

    Not attacking you, Scott, by any means.
    I just know my time with family and friends, and time spent enjoying the media I do love, is so limited I really can’t imagine wasting it on stuff I didn’t think was worth paying for.

    And Nat, I’m so done discussing this with you. You are a creator who has looked at this from your own economic and moral vantage point, and any argument that doesn’t jive with your perception of reality is obviously not going to pass muster with you. The thing is I agree with you that illegal downloading comics is a problem and that it hurts the business, but I guess the fact that I’m not calling for all these guys to be thrown in the pokey means I’m no better than the ‘criminals’ themselves. That’s cool. I’m letting it go.

  31. Johanna Says:

    Nat, it’s not a personal attack, just a statement of why I cringe every time I see you’ve commented. I appreciate your detailed knowledge, but I do wish that you’d participate more openly in discussion instead of appearing as you do: focused on demonstrating your knowledge in ways that shut others down, being right above all, and missing the bigger points to nitpick. I want to encourage discussion here, and your participation too often prevents that; I believe it keeps others from wanting to get involved or even drives them away, as Sean’s post demonstrates.

    Scott, great way to connect the two discussions, music and comics, thanks.

  32. scott h Says:

    “Yes, but you immediately explain how that does effect Wood and Co in the long term later – fewer copies sold = fewer future orders = less money to publisher and, depending on royalties, to creators. If sales drop significantly, that also effects the perceived interest in a trade , which also robs Brian and Co of revenue.”

    You didn’t really address my point regarding how in the current business model those copies you refer to, except in terms of possibly long term tpb sales, affect the actual number of copies of a book like this that are going to make it into circulation. Because of the current market setup, they are not going to ever be printed.

    As far as comics not good enough to buy, the reason i have to be so choosy is because of the price point. If comics weren’t so ridiculously priced i would buy more of them. I would get the issues of Teen Titans and Blue Beetle and Atom that x-over with countdown ( although honestly, countdown has 2 more weeks to get its act together or IT is gone, but thats another story), but i cant afford them so maybe i would DL them so I can follow the whole story. Suppose I am reading WWHulk and can only afford to buy The Incredible Hulk as a x-over, but I want to read all the x-over issues? I cant afford to buy close to forty books to do it. So maybe I DL them. If I cant get the whole story maybe I don’t buy the main books and there is a lost sale. I’m not saying I do this mind you :) Purely hypothetical.

    The continued x-overs really illustrate to me how desperate Marvel and DC are to get you to buy their products only. They know there are only x amount of dollars in the pie. By making the universes and their main stories so intertwined the readers are really being asked to commit to one or the other, except for the few minority with infinite resources to spend on new comics.

  33. Aj Says:

    I’ve been downloading comics for awhile. and I can tell you that it has not taken one red cent out of anyones pocket.

    the comics I download aren’t the comics I buy. they are the comics I used to thumb through at a friends place, or on the rack and throw back. I have found and downloaded some pretty good stuff, that of course led me to actually purchasing the stuff that I liked.

    without downloading I never would have started my she-hulk obsession, or my walking dead collection. I would also not have purchased the sandman graphics. My comic collecting probably would have died out completly after college, instead it’s more diverse than it ever was.

    Now that’s not to say if the comics company offered some sort of flat fee subscription service so that I could read all of their stuff online I wouldn’t take it. I would snap it up quickly. Maybe 20 dollars a month. That would be a fair price considering there is no printing/shipping cost at all, and to ad it to my collection I would still have to buy the hard copy.

  34. STWALLSKULL » Interesting Links: June 29, 2007 Says:

    […] Brian Wood on Comic “Piracy” from Comics Worth Reading […]

  35. Nat Gertler Says:

    “I appreciate your detailed knowledge, but I do wish that you’d participate more openly in discussion”

    I’m not sure in what ways you want me to be more “open” — I address the points that interest me or I have some insight on. (Or at least some portion thereof, my available time being quite finite.)

    “and missing the bigger points to nitpick.”

    I correct misinformation and address weak logic, because I don’t like to see people be misinformed. Accuracy is valuable.

    But your claim that I am –missing- the bigger points doesn’t have much basis. I may not have much to say of depth about the supposed bigger point, or I may feel that the bigger point is built on such a shaky foundation that addressing the flaws in that foundation is showing the problem with the point as a whole.

    “I want to encourage discussion here”

    You show a funny way of showing it at times. You seem specifically trying to discourage discussion on my part, for example.

    But hey, my participation in this thread by posting the first post has killed it so thoroughly that here I am, responding to post 30.

  36. Nat Gertler Says:

    “My 5 cents reference may have been off, by my point still stands I think.”

    Been meaning to get back to this.

    You see, as a publisher, I deal in a product which has a similar marginal reproduction cost (the cost to make one additional copy more when placing a large reproduction order.) My latest book, with a cover price of $14.95, had a marginal reproduction cost a little over a buck.

    First off, the difference between how 5 cents and how 90 cents translates into the final price can be large. Markup along the distribution chain is often done in percentage. In my case, even the shipping costs are generally done as a percentage of cover price. As such, I end up getting paid about 35-38% of that cover price (although music companies get a higher portion.) Even going with the higher of those, for that $14.95, I’m getting $5.68. That 90 cents is certainly not an insignificant chunk of that.

    But of course it’s certainly not the last expense. I have to pay for not only the copies that sell, but also for the copies that don’t — setting print runs is not an exact science, and often it’s best to risk printing a few too many than too few. And as I (like music companies) deal in the returnable market, I’m paying to print copies which may end up getting returned by the stores, which means I’m not only giving the store (or the wholesaler) their money back, I’m paying my distributor to handle the return. Again, that’s a percentage.
    Then there’s the first copy printing expense (the cost it would be if I told the printer to go through the full standard production, but only make one copy), which admittedly in my case weighs a lot heavier than for the big music companies, as they have much bigger print runs than I do.

    But all that is just printing and distribution expense. There’s the content expense — the money put into making or getting the rights to the music or comics (including royalties), and the design costs. And there’s significant promotion expense. And after you take care of all that, you have profit.

    Or you don’t take care of all that, and you don’t have profit, which means that losses need to be made up for off of other projects. And from the profit on the various individual projects, one has to cover all the general business expenses that don’t go with a particular release. And you’re aiming for money beyond that, to grow your business and reward your shareholders (or, in my case, to buy new pants for the rapidly-growing Allison.)

    None of this is to say that the current retail prices for CDs are optimal (the music folks know their market better than I, but they have not always been perfectly wise, to put it gently.) But yes, there is a significant difference between what 5 cents and 90 cents contribute to the price, and no, there’s nothing inherently a rip-off charging $15 for a non-commodity product with a marginal production cost in that range.

  37. Sean B Says:

    “Now that’s not to say if the comics company offered some sort of flat fee subscription service so that I could read all of their stuff online I wouldn’t take it. I would snap it up quickly. Maybe 20 dollars a month. That would be a fair price considering there is no printing/shipping cost at all, and to ad it to my collection I would still have to buy the hard copy.”

    And that’s the thing – once you get your basic system in place with a profitable model, you incur some slight increase in cost in scanning and putting the material on-line, but you aren’t going to lose the folks who want the hard copies. Those people are your collectors. Collectors do what is in their nature to do. They collect things. Those people will still buy hard copies – TPBs or hardcovers. I know I bought the three hardcovers of Runaways and I already had some of the digest size. Absolute Sandman? That price point is way to high for the guy who is just curious about Gaiman’s comic, but it obviously moved enough with collectors to warrent a second volume coming out soon. People who want to own nice product will pay for it. People who want to just read some good stories and don’t care about the physicality of the product should have the LEGAL opportunity to have that experience. Again, it’s a price point and configuration issue – the publishers know there’s a market, but they haven’t hit on a profitable model yet.

    And you address the use of downloaded comics as a way to sample material – well, it seems DC looks at it in this way too, or at least Dan Dido does. And there’s some merit in that view. Someone who downloaded World War Hulk and dug it might be more inclined to purchase a copy for their shelf or long box, or they might go out and seek out Pak’s other work. There really hasn’t been a decent study done on how downloading effects sales – it’s all hearsay and theory. For every guy who admits he downloads because he doesn’t want to pay for ‘em, there’s another who says he’s bought MORE product as a result of sampling work. Is that true? Are they just trying to cover their asses? We don’t know.

    The industry is relatively healthy (if you look at the Big 2, which are also the biggest victims of downloading), but as Scott H points out, a lot of that may be due to tying their comic universes up to such a degree that people feel left out if they don’t buy titles that are tangently connected to the main events. It does seem fewer titles are taking up the bulk of sales, though, with the smaller guys all scrambling for a smaller piece of the pie – which may be where creators such as Brian Wood are coming from – a publisher takes a risk on material like DMZ and if the sales aren’t decent, or they slide too far off into the ether, they would just as soon throw that money into another Countdown spin-off that will show a profit. It just makes more business sense.

    I find it hard to believe Marvel and DC haven’t looked at the market and gauged how downloading is effecting sales, and part of me thinks that if they were taking that big of a chunk out of profits, there would be a bigger push to address the situation. Other than Joe Q coming out and saying “hey, this stinks guys,” and some ramblings that the Big 2 are working on digital formats (see Bendis’ recent comments to that effect) we really don’t know exactly how the economics break down. People keep falling back on the morality of the issue because there’s no solid stats about the real fiscal cost of downloading. Not that morality is moot, but we’re talking business here.

  38. Paul Worthington Says:

    Nat –
    You are making the same “mistake” I often do in group discussions: most people argue from feelings, and stating facts only angers them. They don’t / can’t counter the facts, and so attack you for “nit picking.” And then tell you to not be defensive or take it personally.

    That said, while I agree with your facts, my main take on this issue is an emotional one:

    If a creator [or publisher] wants to freely distribute their work, they can: it clearly is not beyond their capabilities — no one putting out a comic cannot upload a scan or PDF, or at least get someone else to do it for them.

    If they have not done so, it is because, for whatever reasons, they do not currently WANT to do so.

    Everyone else should respect that FEELING.

    All talk about no physical and/or economic loss, the benefits of sampling [unarguable in light of radio driving pop music sales for decades], the too-high price of printed material etc — are all just rationalizations for those who put their own FEELINGS above those of the people producing the work.

    Again, I am not arguing that digital distribution does not hurt or benefit creators, publishers, or readers — I just don’t think that any of that is the primary issue.
    That primary issue is the desires and intents of the creators [or those to whom they have legally sold control of the work] to see their work appear as they want — not as someone else wants.

    — Paul

  39. Thad Says:

    Johanna: “As for competing with free, iTunes has done quite well doing just that.”

    Nat: “Has it? Has it drawn a significant portion of the audience willing to pirate away from the pirate path? Or is it merely competing effectively with legal physical distribution?”

    Peer-to-peer downloads are unreliable. Connection speed is inconsistent, file quality is questionable — the file you’re downloading may not even be what it says it is, and it may be bundled with malware.

    So given the choice between that and iTunes, I’m going to have to agree with Johanna — there are some people who prefer to spend a couple bucks on something for the convenience factor, just to avoid that laundry list of pitfalls.

    There are 3 reasons I don’t use iTunes: the first and simplest is that I’m a Linux user. The second is that I oppose DRM — it doesn’t prevent piracy, it only inconveniences legitimate users. Treating your customers like criminals is a pretty piss-poor business model. (Apropos of the current conversation: I sure hope the comics publishers are listening; I won’t pay for any DRM’ed comics, either.) Now, they’ve started offering DRM-free music downloads, and I really hope that catches on; I think, in keeping with my argument above, people are willing to pay a little more for the convenience.

    But that still doesn’t fix problem #3, which is that I no longer feed the RIAA. I mean, I suppose I do a little, as I go to a concert here and there and they’re getting royalties when I buy a movie ticket, but I don’t buy new albums anymore. If they want to take my money and turn around and use it to sue 12-year-old girls, well, they’re in for yet another rude awakening as to the realities of the market. I’ll still buy used albums, but no new ones.

    Bringing this all home: there’s always going to be piracy. But it IS possible to compete with piracy — because piracy is inconvenient. You just need to find a fix on what convenience is worth to the average consumer.

    And you also need to remember that DRM is also inconvenient.

    A closer: Brian, since we’re on the subject, I’ve got the splash of Tempe High School from Local #7 sitting at the top of my website. It’s properly attributed and sourced (well — to Ryan Kelly; I didn’t put your name on it as there’s no text) and I think it falls well within the domain of fair use, but if you’d rather I shrink it, move it to a less prominent spot, put the phrase “from Local #7″ somewhere other than the image alt-text, add your name, or otherwise change its presentation, I’d be happy to do it.

  40. Johanna Says:

    I know, Nat, you’re never wrong. And you argue like a long-time netizen, even picking apart sentences to respond only to certain clauses that you want to contradict.

    Thad, good for you, starving the RIAA. I’ve never seen a more entitled group, thinking that because they once made XX% profit, they’re always due that, regardless of changes or technological developments.

    Sean, the part I worry about is this, as you say: “It does seem fewer titles are taking up the bulk of sales, though, with the smaller guys all scrambling for a smaller piece of the pie”. The market for truly mainstream, non-superhero comics has moved to graphic novels in bookstores, which entails much more economic risk: higher up-front costs, the possibility of returns, more publicity needed, and so on. It’s no longer as easy to get one’s work out there. But I suppose that’s now what webcomics are for.

  41. Nat Gertler Says:

    “I know, Nat, you’re never wrong.”

    I’ve never claimed that, Johanna… but if you want to show where I’m wrong, you might try actually showing where I’m wrong. Instead of addressing what I say, you take petty shots.

    “And you argue like a long-time netizen, even picking apart sentences to respond only to certain clauses that you want to contradict.”

    Why, yes Johanna, I pay attention to what is said, and quote the specific portion I’m addressing to make it clear what I’m addressing.

  42. scott h Says:

    i just wanted to jump in on the iTunes thing real quick. Sure, there are tens of thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands world wide for all i know that are computer savvy enough to find torrent sites and use them.

    however, for the hundreds of millions of non computer savvy people out there they think iTunes is a bargain.

    Yeah, you dont need to be a brain surgeon to DL, but I am a techhie and I help friends and family with their computers all the time and 95% of them are totally clueless about computers. I have put iTunes on quite a few peoples computers and shown them how to use it to buy 99 cent songs and the jump with glee. they love it.

  43. Sean B Says:

    “But I suppose that’s now what webcomics are for.”

    Yup. It’s a great way to market yourself if you know how to do it, and there are new creative ways to push your work into the public eye all the time. Heck, Warren Ellis is the master of web-presence, bringing in folks from all over the spectrum to read his works. Just look at his MySpace and LiveJournal pages to get an idea of the variety of folks who read his work who wouldn’t have walked into a comic book store before they were exposed to him via the web…exposed as if to a one-man meme.

    My concern is that the number of professionals who can make a decent living off a webcomic are few and far between. While I think the web is a great publishing tool for people who are doing comics on the side, unestablished voices have a really hard time making the medium work to support them completely. It usually takes years to build up a web presence strong enough to move you into a decent income – and I mean decent enough to afford you the luxury of doing nothing else but your own comics. For every success story, there are huundreds if not thousands of people who can’t pull it off. you could argue that’s a quality issue, but in some cases it’s more about people being unwilling to pay for a comic they read on the web (see how I brought this back around?) They see webcomics as less professional than their print counterparts (which seem to have this air of respectability by virtue of the fact that someone published it) and therefore are unwilling to pay for it. Which is why major publishers getting into the digital market would be a whole different beast than a traditional webcomic – they have already won the perception of professionalism battle, regardless of the quality of their product.

  44. Sean B Says:

    And just to touch on what Scott says above, he’s absolutely right. my mom doesn’t have a clue how to use a P2P, but iTunes? That application is very user friendly.

    And the truth is, most people who read comics don’t post on message boards or haunt the comics sites – the creators and publishers have said that we are a small but vocal minority. YET, most people do own a computer and given a simple, easy-to-use application for a reasonable price, I bet quite a few people would subscribe to a comics service on-line. Put an ad on the back cover of your comics advertising the service. Let the causual readers who go into a comic store once a month to get the newest Spidey see that the service exists and that they can get whatever they want for a flat fee. Heck, offer a free month trial. They can sample your other books and, who knows, become fans of an artist or writer or character they never knew about because all they got was Spider-man before. It could translate into sales of the hardcopies.

    Again, Scott’s right. Ease of use is the key. P2P is kinda tricky for the uninitiated and it also has the stigma of illegality (I say stigma becuase there are legal uses for the applications themselves that we tend to ignore in this debate) which most folks just don’t want to touch.

  45. Nat Gertler Says:

    I’ve talked with one guy who posited the iTunes/iPod combo as actually a “gateway drug” toward privacy, not so much for the youth but for the older generation. His view (and I don’t recall how much data he had to back it up) was that middle-age folks and up were getting the iPod because it was so easy to use and iTunes offered such easy access… but then they would go looking for things from their youth which weren’t in the iTunes catalog, and then the P2P would be calling. I felt it an interesting theory, at least.

    Thad:
    While I can certainly respect your choice not to support RIAA members, I hope you’re not locking out all labels because of that. RIAA boasts that 90% of all legit sound recordings in the country come through them… which means that 10% of them don’t. And considering the RIAA represents most of the stuff that sells the big numbers of units, then the number of different albums represented by those unaffiliated label is likely a good multiple of that 10%. I’m not saying that you give up buying some band you like, used, and instead buy some band you don’t like, new… but there is a lot of good other stuff out there.
    If you’ve never checked out eMusic, last I saw (admittedly, a fair while back) their lineup was mainly made up of unaffiliated stuff, including some very enjoyable material (to my tastes)… and they’ve been offering DRM-free music since, well, before they were called eMusic.
    Purchase-based advocacy works best when you don’t just take money away from the folks who don’t support your goals, but when you give money to those that do. (Unless, I suppose, it helps a teeny label grow so big that they think they should join the RIAA, I suppose.)

  46. Alan Coil Says:

    MY GUESS

    My guess is that 90% or more of the people stealing comics from the web would not buy all of DC’s/Marvel’s monthly output for $20 if they could. Nor $10.

    Their reasoning would be, “Why should I when I can get it free?”

    Whether a person admits it or not, it is stealing. That is where all the arguing falls apart. Theft is theft.

    One may not think the current status is fair, but that is no justification for theft.

  47. Nat Gertler Says:

    Batum:

    “Is there any objective harm, other than the loss of potential revenue, that is inflicted upon the copyright holder by someone who reads the copyright holder’s work online for free?”

    (Oddly, the email for this post arrived after the email for post 44.)

    I’m not sure what you consider “objective” harm. There is the control that is being taken from the legitimate rights holder. I’m not sure folks who aren’t emotionally connected to their creative work would understand this, but there can be a sense of violation in situations like this — much as one might feel violated if someone snuck into your house and looked around, even if they didn’t take or break anything.

    And when a scan is distributed, it’s also taking away control over presentation. For some works (and to some creators), this might not make much difference; for something like, say, Howarth’s WRAB Pirate Television or Spiegelman’s Open Me… I’m a Dog, the effect can be quite tied to the paper, to the physical presentation. Altering the experience of the work can alter its reputation and the repute of the creator. It’s understandable that one might view that as either minor or as simply another impact on “potential revenue”.

  48. Tim O'Shea Says:

    “One may not think the current status is fair, but that is no justification for theft.”

    And Coil is the Kurt Busiek of this thread. Alan Coil wins!

    Seriously though, any rationalization of downloading comics for free that I read annoys me. (The system is flawed, so I can’t be really in the wrong…) When I read these defenses, all I can think of is seeing how many of these folks would consider going up to a creator at a con and taking one of their books for sale and just walking away without paying. When confronted, your defense? “I was just taking this one to see what it was like, but I may come back and BUY one of your other ones. I might even pay for this one, too, if I like it enough.”

    On another note, without agreeing with everything he’s saying, I’m glad to see Nat continuing to comment here.

  49. Johanna Says:

    Copyright violation is not the same as theft. Theft takes an object from the owner, preventing them from use of it. Copyright violation makes an unlicensed copy; no object is taken. The effects are different.

    We can discuss this topic with the proper terms, instead of using incorrect equations meant to shut down anyone disagreed with.

  50. Tim O'Shea Says:

    Rationalization of copyright violation sounds so much better…

    The only person who can actually shut down comments is you, Johanna.

    I doubt Nat means to shut anyone down literally, and I am somewhat bewildered by the seeming vehemence with which you’ve taken to replying to him. But hey, this is your house.

  51. Johanna Says:

    Tim, don’t be so literal. I find rape/mugging comparisons equally erroneous. Copyright violation is not theft; they’re two separate categories of laws. The people who call copyright violation “theft”, I’ve found, are generally those who want everyone to respond “oh, of course it’s a terrible crime” instead of actually thinking about the situation.

    And I was actually responding to Alan’s “theft is theft”, not Nat.

  52. Kurt Busiek Says:

    >> Copyright violation is not the same as theft. Theft takes an object from the owner, preventing them from use of it. Copyright violation makes an unlicensed copy; no object is taken. The effects are different. >>

    Not all categories of theft are about taking a physical object, though.

    Theft of services, for instance, does not require that an object be taken — it covers the illegal obtaining of services, rather than goods, without proper compensation.

    As such, copyright violation is the theft of something — it’s a theft of control. As Nat pointed out earlier, control is the essence of copyright, and it’s what authors and musicians and filmmakers and publishers truly deal in. Copyright is a limited monopoly on control of work one creates, granted by governments as a way of enriching the public good — the way the theory goes, if people create stories, songs, paintings and such, it enriches society, and thus compensating them for that by allowing them to profit by doing so gives them more reason to do it. [Patents are another version of the same thing, but they’re of shorter duration because it’s considered better for the public good for, say, a medicine to be available to all sooner than a novel. Novels can be waited for longer without it being a serious deprivation.]

    Control is what creators sell — whether it’s a temporary and limited license, like when Stephen King sells the right to publish his books but not ownership of them, or a sale of all rights, like when someone writes an entry for an encyclopedia under work-for-hire terms. And use of that control is how publishers make money. When someone duplicates a creative work and publishes it online without permission, what they’re doing is taking that control, and asserting their own control over the work, even though they’re not entitled to it. And once that control is taken, it’s almost impossible to get back. You can recover a stolen car, but a stolen copyright can propagate forever, simply because it’s not a physical object.

    That’s “theft,” at least in the way the term is used in the concept of theft of services. So it may not be as improper a term as all that.

    But more to the point, and in the spirit of not missing the forest for the trees, Coil’s point is pretty solid, whether you quibble about his use of a particular noun or not. Call it “theft,” “theft of control,” “copyright violation” or “bleem,” it still seems to be a telling observation that doing something you have no right to do is still doing something you have no right to do, however you try to justify it.

    Paul Worthington’s point seems even more central. Even if online piracy is actually helpful to publishers and creators (a concept open to debate, on both sides), the people doing the pirating don’t have the right to “help” in that way. If putting comics or music or movies or TV online for free will help sales, then that’s a choice the owner/controller of the material should be able to choose — or to not choose. And sure enough, some of them do choose to do that sort of thing, and some don’t. And those that do choose which material they want to distribute free and which they don’t.

    And no, simply owning a comic book or DVD or whatever does not come with the right to republish it — and that’s not peculiar to publishing. I own a Honda, but I’m not allowed to duplicate it and sell it. I can’t even sell T-shirts with the Honda logo on it, even if I scan it directly from the object that I own. I own a house, but there are lots of bits to it — windows, locks, even the underlying blueprint design — that I can’t simply duplicate and sell, because what I own is the object, not the design. That it’s much harder to build a Honda CRV from scratch than to republish a Harlan Ellison story explains why the latter is more common, but it doesn’t alter the principle that yes indeed, it’s common to own things without owning the right to reproduce them.

    That’s the heart of it — the right to reproduce them, control of the right to copy. A library pays for books, loans them out, replaces, sells or trashes them when they get beat up. A friend who loans you a DVD is loaning you the object he or she owns and (presumably) paid for, or someone did. Back issue sales are the sales of physical objects that have been paid for (in most cases, but if they haven’t been, there’s usually a theft or other violation involved somewhere). In each case, the copies involved were at least theoretically purchased at some point. Online piracy is not loaning, it’s republishing — and that’s what makes it different from those other examples. New copies are made without them being purchased or licensed. Call it “theft,” “theft of control,” whatever — it’s the republishing that makes it different from the legal transfer of objects bought and paid for.

    So I think Brian’s absolutely right when he says that he sees those downloads and know they’re money out of his pocket (and his collaborators’ pockets). He may not know what percentage of downloaders are people who’d have bought the work, and what percentage are in essence saying, “Not wanting to pay for it entitles me to copy it for free,” but that percentage, whatever it is, is not only lost income on that project, it represents a devaluing of future projects. If BOOK X makes less money due to piracy, then the next book isn’t as valuable to the person paying for the rights to it, to the control that the online pirates appropriate.

    And that represents more than a minor financial hit for millionaire publishers. Pirating movies won’t hurt Mel Gibson, but Paramount may make up the lost revenue by not raising salaries for grips, makeup artists and others. In comics, the dwindling sales of the initial releases have already resulted in letterers and colorists seeing their rates cut or frozen, and they generally don’t get back-end money on the TPBs. How much of that is due to piracy is unknown, but it’s not unreasonable to assume some is, given how widespread piracy is. Putting Trish Mulvihill’s face on it may better get the idea across that yes, it hurts people than putting Paul Levitz’s face on it, and there’s more of an argument that it hurts Trish than Paul.

    I agree that publishers need to adapt to new media and new distribution methods, and find a way to make the Internet better work for them. For that matter, I think letterers and colorists should get royalties, if we’re moving more substantially to a royalty-based revenue system. But that doesn’t justify the piracy, or support the arguments that piracy has some arguably positive effects, so it’s okay.

    Sorry for the long-winded post.

    kdb

  53. Johanna Says:

    Wow, lots there to read, thanks for participating.

    I appreciate the detailed law lesson, but in colloquial usage, I suspect most people would call “theft of services” something more like fraud. When you say something’s been stolen, they don’t think in the fine distinctions you’re making, they think about taking objects. Which doesn’t apply to online copying.

    Similarly, just because the law says something isn’t right doesn’t mean the majority agree with that law. Speeding is the most obvious example — people have “no right to do it”, according to the law, but just about everyone does. Another example: last time I read up on lie detectors, they said that they ask “have you ever cheated on your taxes?” and if someone says “no”, they use that as a baseline for a lie.

    So as to Alan’s point, whenever someone asserts “this is wrong, no discussion required”, I start automatically thinking of exceptions, which exist for everything, even murder. Reductionist thinking doesn’t get very far with me.

    I think copyright violation is near a similar tipping point as speeding, something almost everyone does in some form, whether it’s viewing an alternate region DVD or copying a track from a friend’s CD or reading a comic online or asking a friend to tape a TV show for you. At some point, this discussion becomes academic, because it’s no longer possible to stop it, so the best question is “how do we cope with the new world?” We may not have gotten there yet, which would account for the vehemence of the battle in some cases.

    Trying to put a face on it may play on audience feelings of guilt or sympathy, but the alternate metaphor is, to use the cliche, buggy-whip makers. If one’s industry changes such that one can no longer make money the way one used to, then one needs to find alternate methods, not beg users to act contrary to their own interests out of emotion. (And I know you’re not doing that, but your comments reminded me of the movie industry PSAs, which I thought did.)

  54. Nat Gertler Says:

    But the discussion on speeding hasn’t become academic – anti-speeding campaigns of various sorts do have an impact. Nor has it been decided that because some speeding is common, we should give up on enforcement, because enforcement does have a real impact on the amount of speeding (not just on how many folks speed, but on the degree to which they speed.)

    And appealing to people’s better side does not prevent an industry from also evolving; it is not an either/or situation.

  55. Kurt Busiek Says:

    >> I appreciate the detailed law lesson, but in colloquial usage, I suspect most people would call “theft of services” something more like fraud.>>

    It’s not actually a detailed law lesson — I pretty much only skimmed the surface of the concept. But if your point was that “theft” is the wrong term, then it certainly seems like you’re arguing for something more specific than colloquial usage.

    >> When you say something’s been stolen, they don’t think in the fine distinctions you’re making, they think about taking objects.>>

    Unless they’re talking about stealing cable, a common colloquial usage, or other such ideas — stealing my look, stealing his act, her idea, etc.

    But my intent wasn’t to get off on a semantic sidetrack on te proper use of the word “theft.” It was that whatever erm is used, the practice still amounts to the taking of something (in this case, control) without permission. And that does does apply to online piracy.

    >> Similarly, just because the law says something isn’t right doesn’t mean the majority agree with that law.

    True. Which could set us off on a discussion of the purposes and effect of copyright in principle, but I’m not sure that’s really at issue here. I think the majority would agree that if Stephen King writes a book, it’s his property and he should be able to sell the rights to it, to publishers, movie studios, whatever.

    So do the majority disagree with the concept of copyright law? Or, given the number of times people compare online piracy to library loans, is it more that they don’t seem to understand the difference between borrowing and republishing? Most people do seem to get the idea that they’re not allowed to print up a few thousand copies of LISEY’S STORIES and sell them or give them away, but they don’t see that putting it online amounts to the same thing. So I’m not sure it’s the law they’re disagreeing with.

    There are people who do flatly disagree with the whole idea of copyright, but they don’t seem to be a majority.

    >> Speeding is the most obvious example — people have “no right to do it”, according to the law, but just about everyone does.>>

    And it’s not that great a comparison, to my mind, because people do recognize issues of scale in speeding. They may not seem to care about speeding, but it kicks in at the point the consider it a hazard, and really kicks in at the point that it causes damage — at which point, they will argue vehemently that that car shouldn’t have been speeding after all. Even if they don’t see the problem going 50 in a 45mph zone.

    People take office supplies from work, too, but that doesn’t mean they don’t agree that there should be laws against stealing.

    The issue of scale seems to be central to attitudes about what’s “harmless” and what isn’t when it comes to the law, but it doesn’t seem to be as central to arguments about online piracy — it’s regularly compared to minor infractions, while stealing a computer from the office wouldn’t as regularly be defended on the grounds that, “Well, Pete takes paper clips, what’s the difference?”

    >> So as to Alan’s point, whenever someone asserts “this is wrong, no discussion required”, I start automatically thinking of exceptions, which exist for everything, even murder. Reductionist thinking doesn’t get very far with me.>>

    I’m not sure I’d agree that’s what Alan said — and to some degree, you do have to get at the principle of things if you want to discuss them in principle, which involves some level of reduction. And you haven’t actually challenged the point he made, so much as the term he used. The exceptions you’ve discussed are exceptions to other laws — and certainly, there are exceptions to copyright, and many of them have been debated over the years, from the principle of fair use to archival copying and more. But rather than dismissing his point by calling it reductionist thinking, it seems to me to make more sense to address the point. Is online piracy the taking of something without authorization? If so — and given that there are cases where using copyrighted material without authorization is considered acceptible — is there a justification for it in this case?

    >> I think copyright violation is near a similar tipping point as speeding, something almost everyone does in some form, whether it’s viewing an alternate region DVD or copying a track from a friend’s CD or reading a comic online or asking a friend to tape a TV show for you.>>

    Even if it is, we’re back to that difference in scale — there’s a difference between a friend taping a TV show for you and publishing a bootleg movie on the internet, just as there’s a difference between going a few miles above the speed limit in light traffic on a highway and barrelling through school zones at 90mph at the end of the school day. Even people who commonly break the speed limit aren’t opposed to the idea of traffic safety laws, or the concept that speeding may be harmless in some situations but not in others. But the online piracy community regular defends broad distribution with the kind of comparison you give right here.

    So why the disconnect in scale? I don’t think it’s because people are opposed to copyright any more than they’re opposed to traffic laws — I think it’s because online piracy is so easy that it feels small-scale even when it isn’t.

    >> At some point, this discussion becomes academic, because it’s no longer possible to stop it, so the best question is “how do we cope with the new world?” >>

    I don’t think so — or rather, I think the question you ask is salient and should be addressed, but I don’t think the issue of piracy is academic, any more than the issue of speeding is. To pick a different analogy, a farmer storing grain is going to lose some of it to rats, and whatever safeguards he takes, he’s always going to lose some of it. That doesn’t make the issue academic — it means that some losses are unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean there’s no point in defending against them. If you don’t, you’ll only have even more losses.

    >> Trying to put a face on it may play on audience feelings of guilt or sympathy, but the alternate metaphor is, to use the cliche, buggy-whip makers. If one’s industry changes such that one can no longer make money the way one used to, then one needs to find alternate methods, not beg users to act contrary to their own interests out of emotion.>>

    There’s a point there, too — though I don’t think the buggy-whip analogy works that well either, since the problem with buggy whips wasn’t that people wanted them for free and could easily get them that way. They didn’t want them at all, for the most part, so the market for them shriveled up. But it’s not as if the online piracy community wants Trish Mulvihill to go into another business — it’s in their interest for her to keep producing comics, because they want to read them. As such, at least one argument against online piracy is that the pirates are actually acting contrary to their own interests by making it less attractive to produce the material they want, but they don’t realize it. In that case, the solution (on that front, at least) is education; getting the idea across that people make these things, and if they don’t get paid (or don’t get paid enough) then the things won’t get made to pirate.

    The reason to put a face on it is because the other side so often does, talking about sticking it to the RIAA or “The Man,” without taking into account who else gets stuck. That’s less an attempt to engage sympathy or guilt (though they’re in there, as surely as the flipside is engaging feelings of bravado and rebellion) than it is to communicate information — that there is a system here, and breaking the system won’t just result in just as steady a stream of free comics anyway. Creative work is made by people, and if the people aren’t compensated, fewer of them will do it.

    So getting across the idea that everyday people — not just rich fatcats, who are easily dismissed by the argument that it doesn’t hurt them anyway — need an income to produce what the audience wants to consume doesn’t seem like an unworthy goal.

    kdb

  56. Johanna Says:

    To take only your last point, I find that a problematic argument in comics. Some of the best comics out there are produced by those who aren’t making enough of an income to live on, whether we’re talking about webcomics or small-press creators or superhero writers who only write for one title and so have to keep their day jobs. If people who are paying attention know that comics are made with such flexibility (even though things should be different), the argument that other comics creators deserve their income protected becomes more questionable.

    I suspect another of your arguments — putting items online will eventually make fewer comics available — also won’t sway those who aren’t publishing (scanning and releasing issues) but simply sampling what’s out there to read for free. Someone who just wants to read stuff may feel that it’s out there whether they look at it or not. Personally, I don’t have a good guess what motivates those who release online copies.

  57. Kurt Busiek Says:

    >> To take only your last point, I find that a problematic argument in comics. Some of the best comics out there are produced by those who aren’t making enough of an income to live on, whether we’re talking about webcomics or small-press creators or superhero writers who only write for one title and so have to keep their day jobs. If people who are paying attention know that comics are made with such flexibility (even though things should be different), the argument that other comics creators deserve their income protected becomes more questionable.>>

    I’m not, of course, merely arguing that full-timers deserve their income protected, but that all comics creators deserve the benefit of copyright — that those who choose to can release their work online, but pirating the work of a part-timer struggling to make ends meet isn’t actually better than pirating the work of a full-timer. The point is the same for part-time actors or musicians or authors — the fact that they’re not making a living at it shouldn’t be used as justification to make what they do make off their efforts worse.

    >> I suspect another of your arguments — putting items online will eventually make fewer comics available — also won’t sway those who aren’t publishing (scanning and releasing issues) but simply sampling what’s out there to read for free. Someone who just wants to read stuff may feel that it’s out there whether they look at it or not. >>

    I don’t expect it’s going to sway many of them either, but that doesn’t mean it’s an invalid point, any more than the arguments that do sway them — “It’s free and easy!” — are valid justifications of piracy. But since P2P technology works better the more people are doing it, then each instance of it is helping other people pirate stuff, and the less it happens, the less convenient it is to do so.

    And of course, “other people steal stuff, so I might as well too” isn’t much of a moral justification. And that does seem to be what we’re talking about — it seems pretty well agreed upon that whether rightly or not, it’s illegal, so what’s left is moral or ethical justification.

    I do think the point that if you’re looking at something on your computer, you’re not just “looking at it,” you’re making a copy of a file on a server somewhere, is a fairly abstract point, but it’s part of the process. I hope it convinces some people, at least. I don’t expect it to convince many, but I think the lures of ease and low fear of reprisal are tough to overcome. Which doesn’t justify piracy either — it just acknowledges that people are more likely to swipe stuff if they’re unlikely to be caught, and it’s right there for the taking.

    >> Personally, I don’t have a good guess what motivates those who release online copies.>>

    I would assume it’s the idea of communal effort and benefit. If Pirate Joe buys 4 books a month, scans and publishes them online, and he’s part of a network of P2P file-sharers, he’s chipping in “his” books, and getting in return the ones that Pirate Pete, Pirate Sally and the the others in the network scan and publish that he now doesn’t have to pay for. His return on time and money spent ain’t bad.

    It’s not as good a return as the people who don’t upload anything, and just read the stuff others pirate — but their advantage to the system is that the more of them there are, the faster the files download, so the core network benefits even from them.

    There may be other motivations as well, but that’s the one that seems most likely to me.

    kdb

  58. Tim O'Shea Says:

    Sorry Alan Coil. Kurt Busiek is the Kurt Busiek of this discussion. It’s almost like his Busiek Sense (imagine a TM after this phrase) told him his name was potentially being used in vain. :)

  59. Kurt Busiek Says:

    >> It’s almost like his Busiek Sense (imagine a TM after this phrase) told him his name was potentially being used in vain. :) >>

    I’m like Beetlejuice that way. Or the Candyman.

    But it’s your fault, O’Shea. Yours! My Busiek Senseâ„¢ is actually called “Google Blog Search”…

    kdb

  60. Johanna Says:

    Kurt, I thought about the contribution aspect, but the majority of comic downloads I’m familiar with (and the type often discussed) are big bundles… all the DC for the week, for instance, or in the example that kicked this off, all of Wood’s work. The “I kicked in 1 or 2″ motivation doesn’t work in that case.

  61. Kurt Busiek Says:

    Did one person do all the scans in those bundles, or are they collective, um, works?

    Could be several people contributing to the bundles, and then one person bundling them up to get everyone the benefit of the added download speed of combined demand.

    kdb

  62. Sarah Says:

    Chipping in late, but under most (though not all, and the industry is trying to make it more) circumstances, copyright infringement is not a crime. It’s a tort–an infringement of the law which incurs civil liability. You don’t go to jail for torts. You pay the person against whom you committed the tort money, or that person gets an injunction against you to stop what you’re doing.

    A little precision goes a long way in this kind of conversation.

  63. Johanna Says:

    Excellent point, and a much better way to get at a significant distinction (and one the industries are trying to change, as you point out).

  64. childofriot Says:

    well the thing is this, i would gladly buy comics but the fact is that in my country(romania) i can’t do that simply because there are no comic bookstores, there is only one shop (in bucharest) and it’s not a comic bookstore it’s just a bookstore that has some comics so for me it’s great that i can find torrents with comics, specialy since i go to art school. o… the fucked up thing about it is that comics in america or any other place where there are comics are like cheep like 2$ and something…as far as i’ve seen, here a normal comic book is like 50$ or more, not to say about the graphic novels, and the fact is that the majority of the people cant aford them. so for me it’s a great thing with the torrents. anyway sorry about my bad writing skills, i haven’t practiced for some time.o yes, theres another thing…the real problem is that a thing that is not sopesed to be capitalized is, and that thing is art, i think it’s a really stupid thing to pay for art, art should be free and belong to everybody, i think that moust people fell this way but it’s just something trigerd by economic forces simply put how can you survive as an artist if you don’t capitalize you’re art? but i think that leads to really bad art, made for money. i think this is a much more important issue. again, please pardon my writing skills.




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