The Hypocrisy of File Sharers

Via the Icarus Publishing blog (maybe NSFW) I found this story. Simon says:

Writer/editor/publisher Robin Bougie learns that Cinema Sewer, his comic/magazine hybrid about porn, cinema, and porn cinema, was recently torrented en masse. … The creator intended for his art and writing to be experienced with the smell of paper and the smudge of ink. Uploading scans not only infringed upon Bougie’s rights as a publisher, but the very act of moving print to digital usurped his creative control as an artist.

Yet when I followed the link to Bougie’s angry post, I saw this:

On the one hand, downloading rare out-of-print movies that no one can get otherwise seems to be a perfect use of the technology. And music downloading makes a whole hell of of sense. Bands make all of their money from touring so giving the music away and getting lots of new fans is brilliant marketing.

But what the f**k do I get out of someone else giving away everything I do? Nothing. It’s not “free advertising” for my next big tour or something.

That seems like a pretty big contradiction. The maker of that “rare out-of-print movie”, if they’re not currently working on a new film, similarly doesn’t get any “free advertising” benefit. So if you’re going to bitch and moan about people giving your stuff away — although the issues torrented include some that are out of print, just like the movies he mentions, and he has since had the torrent removed — maybe you shouldn’t say in the same post that you think it’s fine to do the same thing in other media.

Also, when someone suggests that maybe Bougie could put out some digital material to satisfy the apparent demand, he says he wants his work only in print. To many modern readers, that’s the equivalent of saying “I only want my music heard on record albums” — whether that’s what you want or not, customers are going to take your content where they want it, in a format that satisfies them.

Bougie later softens his stance to admit that if the torrent had only been out of print issues, he wouldn’t have had that much of a problem with it. Also, after some small-band musicians point out that they’re also being harmed by downloading, he apologizes for that comparison in his post.

Comic creator Alex Robinson also comments:

Eventually I told myself that as someone who has copied plenty of CDs from the library I couldn’t really take the moral high ground. I also realized that my book was several years old and a little on the expensive side so maybe there was something to the “free advertising” angle in this case. Still, it does seem an ominous sign of things to come.

In short, I think many people’s opinion on the subject boils down to this: Getting stuff I want for free? Cool. People getting something I’m involved in for free instead of paying me? Sucks.

That’s selfish human nature, but it would be nice if people thought through this a little more before getting outraged in public.

Update: (11/19/2009) This is one of those rare yet wonderful online discussions where people actually talk through things and come to better understanding of each other’s viewpoint, as can be seen in the comment thread at Bougie’s original post. Unfortunately, the torrent site admins aren’t nearly as mature. They’re now trying to encourage people to spread the download because they got mad at Bougie expressing his opinion.

And Jason Marcy is a really cool dude. You should check out his comic.

Similar Posts: The Digital Future of Comics § Caliber Cuts Online Comic Prices § More Thoughts on Online Books and Downloading: A Sampling § Marvel and DC Target Comic Torrent Site § Viz Manga Android App Gives Away Shonen Jump Issues With Offers


12 Responses to “The Hypocrisy of File Sharers”

  1. Alex de Campi Says:

    I’ve thought a lot about this with VALENTINE, and it’s one of the reasons we’ll be releasing the book under a creative commons licence. I’ve stolen enough stuff in my life that if someone decides they can’t afford or don’t want to pay the 99 cents per episode, and they want to put in the time to torrent it or search out a free version, they can have it. If they like it, maybe they’ll put something in our tip jar on the website (that I still haven’t gotten around to building yet).

    The ePub versions will be fairly easy to rip; the iPhone app versions a little harder.

    Ironically: you know that the most-torrented non-superhero comic is… Freakangels? You know, THE FREE COMIC.

    People want things in a portable electronic format. And print comics are still hard to find – many of us don’t live near an LCS or if we do, it doesn’t handle indie comics.

  2. Thom Says:

    I only torrent from people who get irate about it. Stickin’ it to the man and all that. You complain about someone torrenting your product? I download it. You say it it doesn’t matter to you? I buy it. ;)

    (I kid, I kid)

  3. Simon Jones Says:

    >Getting stuff I want for free? Cool. People getting something I’m involved in for free instead of paying me? Sucks.

    Yup, that’s why it cannot be rationalized.

    I can’t wait for the day 3D printers become the norm. Then everything would become “intellectual property.” Oh, the mess we’ll have then…

  4. Johanna Says:

    Thom, that’s an accurate version of how some people react, supporting people who agree with them. Funny!

    Alex, I think you’re right about the portability. Even when something is online or digital, people want it convenient for them without restriction. I’ve occasionally downloaded a movie I own on DVD just because it’s easier to put it on computer or iPod that way. (And I’m not going to pay again just to use a different screen.)

  5. Robin Bougie Says:

    Thanks for the words, but I really don’t think what I said about downloading rare out-of-print movies as compared to downloading what I’m involved with was a contradiction.

    *Torrenting something that is readily and easily available from the creator (who has no other means of making a profit outside of selling it) is a dick move — no matter how you justify it.

    *Torrenting something that has, for all intents and purposes, been abandoned to the sands of time and is not readily available in any home format is a fantastic way to keep that thing alive and enjoyed by a whole new generation.

    Saying I’m hypocritical for standing up for one while decrying the other seems kinda unfair to me.

  6. Brian C Payne Says:

    I think Robin Bougie has every right to be outraged that someone made his work available for free online without his permission. I also think that if he meant his work to be a print only product as it’s creator that is his prerogative and although it may seem archaic and quaint to some even they have to admit that the printed page requires an entirely different set of aesthetics than that of the computer screen.

    As to your hypothesis on Robin’s hypocrisy and human nature in general I’ll leave that to you all to argue among yourselves. I myself have never downloaded anything for free or without permission. However,didn’t Bougie just ask readers of his journal for some friendly advice and there own views on this subject? So, in my opinion, it would have been better for you to have offered your own views on the matter there rather than “getting outraged in public” yourself. Two wrongs don’t make one right and that applies to illegal downloading as well.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Brian, I don’t comment on LiveJournal posts because I don’t have an account there. And yeah, it’s natural for him to be upset, and I did appreciate the way he changed his opinion based on feedback.

    Robin, I find your distinction a very fine line to draw, and I suspect it won’t work for many users, who just want what they want the way they want it (which often includes “cheaper than it’s being offered for legitimately”). It’s a tough subject, all the more so when your work is directly involved. Thanks for coming by and clarifying.

  8. Anthony Says:

    Not sure if the last post posted…

    >>I’ve occasionally downloaded a movie I own on DVD just because it’s easier to put it on computer or iPod that way. (And I’m not going to pay again just to use a different screen.)<<

    It'd probably be easier/less risk of some nasty lawsuit letter from the MPAA/RIAA to also rip the DVD to your computer using a program like Handbrake (Mac, Windows and Linux versions available).

  9. Journalista – the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Hov. 18, 2009: Their level headed best Says:

    [...] also looks at a bit of file-sharing hypocrisy, while Matt Blind offers a lengthy examination of digital piracy [...]

  10. Ben Towle Says:

    “Bands make all of their money from touring so giving the music away and getting lots of new fans is brilliant marketing.”

    I spent several years on and off as a touring musician and I’ll never figure out where people get ideas like this. There were many, many nights where the sales of as few as two or three CDs at a show meant the difference between sleeping in the van and getting a real hotel room, for example. If it is in fact the case that recorded music is now just some sort of a promotional tool, it is this way precisely because people will no longer purchase it. It’s not “brilliant marketing”; it’s a state of affairs that exists whether musicians like it or not.

  11. Robin Bougie Says:

    It is a very fine line I’ve drawn… because like you say, it is a tough subject, and a subject with a lot of shades of gray and a lot of room for personal stances. People taking a hardline black-or-white approach to it are justified to do that as well, but I think it is shortsighted.

  12. Thad Says:

    I think any illegal downloading must come with some measure of rationalization and subjective morality. (Unless it’s not done knowingly, I suppose.) And I include myself in that.

    Frankly I’m not sure how I’d react if I contributed to a product that was pirated — frankly I’ve never worked on anything anyone was that interested in. I like to think I’d consider it just the nature of business at this point, and try to focus on the people who WERE paying for it.

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