When “Pirate” Comics Are Ethical

I’ve got a busy couple of weeks coming up for travel, a few days away and then a business trip, so I’ve been pondering the virtue of digital comics. I’ve also been inspired by this edition of the NY Times Ethicist, in which a reader asks for the columnist’s opinion on downloading a “pirate” copy of a book he has already purchased in order to avoid lugging a three-and-a-half-pound book on his trip. The answer given begins as follows:

An illegal download is — to use an ugly word — illegal. But in this case, it is not unethical. Author and publisher are entitled to be paid for their work, and by purchasing the hardcover, you did so. Your subsequent downloading is akin to buying a CD, then copying it to your iPod.

Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform. Sadly, the anachronistic conventions of bookselling and copyright law lag the technology. Thus you’ve violated the publishing company’s legal right to control the distribution of its intellectual property, but you’ve done no harm or so little as to meet my threshold of acceptability.

The columnist, Randy Cohen, goes on to acknowledge that those in the book business disagree strongly. But I find myself greatly sympathetic to the situation. In the case of our comics, it’s not due to weight, but to condition.

My husband, an old-school comic fan, is a fanatic for keeping the periodical comics in near-perfect shape. Me, I’m not quite so careful with them (since for me, they’re to be read and probably forgotten before the next chapter comes out). My graphic novels are sturdier and hold up better to sloppy handling. So to keep the peace, and avoid having an unhappy husband, I’m contemplating downloading versions of the comics we have already bought. That way, KC has the paper objects, and I have versions to read without worrying about what condition they’re in or if I’m stacking them too high or piling things on top of them. Plus, I can take comic books with me while traveling, something I’d otherwise never do with individual issues. (I read them too quickly to justify the space in packing them.)

Let me reiterate: we’ve paid for these issues (and these days, since we frequently buy without preordering, that’s often cover price, which seems excessive). When I brought this up on Twitter, Ed pointed out that, while he hates scans, he could see the logic, elaborating “that’s a true grey area. You could just scan in your own comics. Instead, you let ‘a friend’ do it.”

I know, this is self-indulgent of me. If I wanted to be truly legal, I’d buy two copies of each comic, perhaps, and trash one when I was done reading it away from home. (What a waste of money and paper!) Or I’d buy those few that were available for pay digitally, even though some of them, I wouldn’t be able to download and could only access them when I had internet access on the road. I know it’s legal to make backup copies of your own CDs and DVDs, but has that ever been adjudicated to extend to print works? And does it matter whether I do the scanning myself or use someone else’s? Should it?

Since I’m outing myself as sometimes looking at pirate comic sites, I’m also going to note that it’s a bad sign if a particular comic isn’t available on the net within a week. That means no one cares about the book. The big, popular franchises are the first to hit, with other books trickling out. Sometimes copying isn’t the threat; obscurity is.

101 Responses to “When “Pirate” Comics Are Ethical”

  1. Thad Says:

    “I know it’s legal to make backup copies of your own CDs and DVDs”

    It’s actually not legal to make a backup copy of any Hollywood DVD; that requires breaking the encryption, which is illegal. The judge in the RealNetworks case pointed out the Heller-esque absurdity of the situation, saying that he law explicitly states you ARE allowed to make a backup, but it ALSO explicitly states you’re not allowed to make the decryption software NECESSARY to create such a backup.

    Anyhow, on the “When is it ethical?” front, I’d add situations where a book is out of print. Steve Bissette has said that 1963 will never be collected; if I find it in a back issue bin, then my local comic shop gets that money, which is nice, but Moore, Bissette, Veitch, Valentino, et al don’t get any more money from a resale than from an illegal download.

  2. sci-guy-jim Says:

    “Buying a book or a piece of music should be regarded as a license to enjoy it on any platform.”

    so, if you purchase a DVD, should you be able to download a HD version of the same movie?

    This is ignoring the simple fact that there are distinct advantages and disadvantages for the various media formats. Consideration of that fact is usually baked in to the price. (blu ray costs more than DVD)

    I would love to see a universal license type purchase option that would allow for this type of behavior. but I don’t believe we have it currently. (not that I don’t rip CDs and DVDs for use on other media – but I know it probably is not legal)

    In my near-perfect world, a hard copy – be it comic, dvd, whatever, would include a single use code to give you a universal media license.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Thad, at the end of July, a judge ruled that breaking DRM for legal purposes (such as a personal backup) is not illegal. I’m still waiting for that decision to become applicable countrywide, but it’s a positive start.

    You bring up an interesting point, though, in terms of out of print works. A lot of people who otherwise object to the process find it ok to read books online where that’s the case and the back issue prices are sky high (such as Miracleman issues). Of course, how high is too high is a personal judgment.

    SGJ, the question of different media formats is a difficult one. Similar to Thad’s point, we own record albums that have never been released on CD or digitally. We’ve made rips of them, using one of the USB turntables now available, just because otherwise it’s near impossible to listen to them anywhere.

    But your suggestion won’t fly, since media companies want you to pay again and again and again for the same content.

  4. Marc-Oliver Frisch Says:

    I’ve bought CDs that required me to rip them so I was able to listen to them, because the same “copyright protection” mechanism that made it illegal for me to rip them also prevented my PLAYER from playing the damn CD that I had paid money for to be able to listen to legally.

    These days, I’m shopping at Emusic and Amazon for “DRM”-free music files that let me play and copy them wherever I like, without restrictions.

    Yes, it’s a content issue. You pay for content, you own content. That’s why a lot of vinyl labels include free USB drives or download codes for the content with their releases — they seem to think that’s good customer service, and I agree.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Unfortunately, the content industries seem to want to mimic the software companies, where you pay money to them and yet own nothing, only getting a license to use their product so long as they deem appropriate.

  6. Caanan Says:

    That argument that the creators no longer receive money from out of print books reminds me of abandonware. People were uploading entire computer games from, say, 6 years and older because they’re no longer selling in stores. They didn’t last long before being torn down. It’s a logical argument, sure, but there isn’t always logic in law.

    I’ve seen tons of second hand book/comic/music stores, etc. close down around me so I buy second hand as much as I can these days. The creators may not be getting anything, but the small business owner is. If we stop buying second hand comics, they will stop stocking them.

  7. spuffyduds Says:

    I have to admit that when I saw the title of this post my first thought was, “Why WOULDN’T comics about pirates be ethical?”


  8. Is there such a thing as an ethical pirate? | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    […] Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson makes the argument that it is ethical to download “pirate” comics if you have already […]

  9. Johanna Says:

    Ha! If you’re looking for pirate comics of that kind, try One Piece or Captain Blood: Odyssey.

  10. Piracy and ethics. When a plus b equal 4 | Martini Lab Blog Says:

    […] this goes a long way to justify piracy and I just don’t buy […]

  11. John Says:

    You know, no matter how you dress up your argument, theft is theft. You’re not “entitled” to an electronic copy of that book you bought, any more than you’re entitled to a DVD just because you shelled out cash to buy a movie ticket. You don’t get to decide how a particular product should be produced or distributed, the copyright holder does, and if they don’t want to distribute in electronic form, that’s their right. Your convenience, or your collector’s mindset, is not an issue.

    It is indeed legal to make backup copies of electronic media, a right the courts have upheld. It’s also legal to make copies of pages from a book or magazine or journal for personal use (such as research). However, it’s not legal to distribute those copies, which is where the pirate sites fall afoul of the law. By downloading content as you do, you’re supporting those sites, and are as guilty of wrongdoing as someone convicted of receiving stolen property. They may not have stolen the material, but they knew it was stolen when they took possession of it. By supporting these sites, you are doing harm, in that you are encouraging them to steal and illegally distribute more.

    We live in a world where people often confuse their desires with their rights, where “I want a thing” becomes “I’m entitled to that thing.” It’s wrong when we’re talking about physical property, and it’s wrong when we’re talking about intellectual property. We seem to think that our convenience supercedes the rights of creators, and that just isn’t so.

    Joanna, I’m sure you’re as much an advocate for creator’s rights in the comic industry as anyone. Why, then, would you intentionally slap those same creators in the face by illegally downloading their material? I’d think the comic’s community, with their emphasis on the rights of creators, would be more sensitive to this matter, and I’m depressed every time I find that’s not the case.

    Once you really start researching the area of intellectual property, you find that there aren’t as many “gray areas” as the general public seems to think. Creators have certain rights, rights that include methods of production and distribution. When you contravene those rights, you’re in the wrong. Period.

  12. Andrew Farago Says:

    But isn’t downloading a pirated copy of a book that you own still supporting the pirates, who are profiting off of material that they don’t own? Yeah, it can be a pain to dig through longboxes or try to figure out where I stored a particular West Coast Avengers comic book, but it’s rare that I absolutely “need” immediate access to something that won’t wait long enough for me to move a few boxes around.

    On the portability issue, a few trade paperbacks and a couple of real books are generally more than enough to keep me occupied on a round-trip cross-country flight. I suppose it frees up some space in my backpack if I get an iPad and download 20,000 comic books for the road, but people make it sound like carrying a couple of novels and a Batman trade around with you is some sort of nigh-impossible chore.

  13. David Oakes Says:

    “You’re not “entitled” to an electronic copy of that book you bought, any more than you’re entitled to a DVD just because you shelled out cash to buy a movie ticket.”

    Of course not, that would be silly. As silly as equivocating the purechase price of a product with the rental price just to make an argument.

    “You don’t get to decide how a particular product should be produced or distributed, the copyright holder does”.

    For most definitions of copyright holder. I have talked to plenty of authors who would like to reissue their work in one format or another, but are denied that right by their publisher. (Yes, more an argument for Creator’s Rights, but since you brought it up.)

    And then there are all those computer programs I own that were issued on 3.5″ or even 5.25″ disks. Or ran on Windows 98. Or all my VHS tapes. The Creator didn’t choose to specifically limit access, they published it in what was available at the time. Nor did they ask for technology to make them obsolete. (If in fact they even still exist.) If I have a legally obtained original that I have been enjoying for personal use, and I then modify so I can continue to enjoy for personal use, why is that suddenly unethical? Because I don’t wish to pay the copyright holder twice?

    The idea that I “support” pirate sites by downloading their products, even if I have already paid the legal Copyright holder has some merit. But what if I scan the scan the book myself? And use it only myself. If a Creator’s “rights” include being able to tell me that I can’t place their words in an e-reader because they don’t want me to, then why stop there? Why can’t they tell me I can’t read their book in the tub? Or during a month with an “r” in it?

    The Creator has been paid a Royalty for their efforts. The Publisher has been given recompense for the costs associated with producing and delivering the item. What happens after that, as long as it stays within my personal sphere, is no longer up to them. They have no moral right to tell me not to place an image on my computer or a file in my mp3 player, any more than they have the right to demand that I finish reading the book even though I didn’t like the first chapter. Once I buy it, it is up to me to use the product – or not – as I see fit. (Accent on the “I”, no sharing.)

  14. Johanna Says:

    John, copyright violation (if that’s what I’m describing) is not theft. That’s why we have two different terms and legal categories for them. And coming up with analogies is difficult, because while I expect to pay again for a DVD if I liked seeing the movie, I don’t expect to pay again for the right to copy that DVD to my laptop for personal viewing. (I know the law might disagree with me. That’s why we’re discussing the topic in terms of ethics, not law.) Since your argument depends on not supporting pirate sites, does your opinion change if I’m only talking about making my own personal scans of the comics I have purchased? (I brought up this topic for discussion and sharing of views, so I appreciate the contributions of you and others, and that’s why I’m asking the question.)

    By the way, it’s because I support creators rights that I understand that what’s legal may not be what’s ethical. There are too many cases of publishers treating creators shoddily for me to support what a publisher wants (buying things two or three times) just because they want it. Consider, for example, reprint collections that pay the original creators nothing.

  15. Charles Knight Says:

    But why you are downloading, you are providing a ‘free’ copy to someone else who doesn’t own it, as pull it from your share.

  16. John Says:

    David: You’re right in saying that as long as a copy you make stays within your personal sphere, then you’re operating within the law. You’re also right in saying that once you legally purchase a copy of a book or movie or DVD or whatever, you can do with it what you will (within the limits of the law). You can read it, sell it on the secondary market, set fire to it, or eat it. I don’t think you and I disagree on any of that.

    Pirate sites, however, don’t just copy, they distribute, and that’s where the problems lie. By downloading material from those sites, you encourage and support them in their illegal activities, which is also a problem.

    As a writer, my words are my living, so I’m particularly sensitive to this issue. I support copyright laws that value the rights of creators, and I wish others would, too.

  17. Johanna Says:

    Charles, that’s only the case if you’re using torrents — comic piracy also occurs on direct download sites (rapidshare, etc.), in which case there’s no sharing, only one-way transmission.

  18. Johanna Says:

    John, interesting you should bring up “doing with it what you will”, since publishers are attempting to remove those rights with digital copies. There is no way to resell a digital copy legally that I know of, nor can you lend it to a friend. Or eat it. :)

    I too support copyright laws that value the rights of creators, such as moral rights. As someone who’s always made copies for personal use, though, across all kind of changing technologies, I don’t feel like I can say (for example) “you should never share music with your friends”, since all my home taping in the 80s would make me a hypocrite.

  19. Andrew Farago Says:

    If you scan a work that you purchased for your own use, you’re not putting it out there for thousands of people who may not have (and almost definitely did not) purchase the item in question. Buying an item for personal use doesn’t give you a license to ignore the copyright holder’s intent, and it’s distressing to see how many excuses people offer for doing it.

  20. Steven Grant Says:

    Regardless of the legalities of pirating comics – and I have no interest in trying to justify the behavior – Johanna is certainly right about one thing, and I said it myself in my now-defunct column a few years back:

    In today’s climate, if your comic ISN’T being pirated, you should take it as a HUGE flashing warning sign. If we’re making the argument that piracy is bad because comics are worth something and piracy undermines that worth, not being pirated means not even the pirates think your book is worth anything.

    And the cold, cruel fact of the modern comics industry is that nobody promotes. Illegality aside, piracy is usually the most promotion most comics get. That’s a much more severe problem for creators than piracy is.

  21. Andrew Farago Says:

    But who cares if people who don’t think your work is valuable enough to support financially feel that it’s worth the time to spend reading a download that you’ll never earn a penny from? Artists can’t pay rent on warm, fuzzy feelings, and the artist whose work is illegally downloaded a million times is still seeing the same profits as the artist whose work is illegally downloaded once.

  22. Steven Grant Says:

    First of all, there’s the general assumption that “piracy” means people simply taking and not supporting. Study after study has shown that’s not generally true with music, though the RIAA has done its best to ignore this – many downloaders are more likely to buy physical copies of what they like – and there’s no reason to believe the same isn’t true for comics. (I have anecdotal evidence that downloading pirating comics has turned a least a few people into BUYING fans of books they’d never have even looked at otherwise, but no idea whether the phenomenon is widespread, and doubt anyone will ever spend the money to find out.)

    But the main point is that, in this industry at this time, pirating seems to be a pretty good indicator of general response to material. I realize this isn’t germane to the legality of pirating – and the legality a side issue to Johanna’s comments anyway – but the question isn’t so much whether people have abandoned buying the hard copies because they can get the digital piracies for free, but whether they’d ever have bought them in the first place? The argument that they’re keeping artists from making a living assumes they would have, but in most cases there’s precious little evidence of that, and I continue to suspect that in many cases, certainly with less well-known titles, downloading represents not robbing the artist of a sale but an exposure that otherwise NEVER WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IN THE FIRST PLACE, because comics publishers in general have a very bad habit of not bothering to let anyone know a book is being published in the first place, not doing anything to encourage retailers to stock it and recommend it to customers, and the vast majority of comics publishing consists of what basically amounts to income-free vanity press for most artists anyway, since many publishers not only don’t bother to pay upfront but they KNOW the books will never make a penny, for reasons having nothing at all with Internet downloading.

    Making, as I said, Internet downloading the ONLY promotion most comics and most talents are even likely to get, because that’s the way the comics business works today, and that’s nothing to do with pirates or downloaders.

  23. Bruce Says:

    Andrew Farago says, “…the artist whose work is illegally downloaded a million times is still seeing the same profits as the artist whose work is illegally downloaded once.”

    That is a rather limited view, as it’s likely that some of those people who do download a scan of a comic might end up buying a physical copy, or a copy of a later issue, or the collected version of the series, or go to the movie based on those characters, etc. Speaking not from a moral or legal standpoint, but from a pure economic stance, there is no hard evidence that downloads of comics (much less music or movies or books) result in lower sales. In fact, there is some suggestion that it increases sales, and there is no way to measure how overall impact on properties that are “transmedia” and exist as toys, movies, clothing, etc.

  24. Johanna Says:

    That’s a great point. It’s more anecdote, but I buy what I like. (I like to own favorites for repeated viewing, reading, listening.) There have been cases where I’ve borrowed something from a friend or the library or elsewhere, only to enjoy it so much that I bought my own copy.

    The flip side of that is that, yes, if someone tries your comic for free and doesn’t like it, they’ve had it confirmed not to spend money on it.

  25. Steven Grant Says:

    Johanna, when I was a kid, that was the way comics fans got made. Your best friend, or his brother, or your brother, or sister or your uncle, or whoever, let you read his/her comics. The ones you liked you started buying (or, rather, pestered your parents to buy for you). Comics were routinely passed around, and very often numerous people would end up reading a single copy. Was everyone stealing from the publisher and the artist by not buying their own copies? No, because publishers EXPECTED the passaround and even somewhat encouraged it because they knew at least a few of the recipients would become new regular readers, and a revenue source.

  26. Johanna Says:

    And they even make money from those pass-along readers, incorporating a multiplier in their sales figures to increase circulation numbers to get better ad rates. That is, they assume that every comic is read by an average of three people, allowing them to claim more readers and make more money on ad sales.

    I’m surprised someone hasn’t tried this with free online, ad-supported copies, except that the pirates strip most of them from the issues, I’m told.

  27. Andrew Farago Says:

    I’ve heard every possible pro-piracy argument, but all the free advertising in the world doesn’t change the fact that publishers are having a harder time turning a profit in today’s economic climate.

    What concerns me the most about piracy is the increasing disconnect between consumers and the notion that an artist’s work and efforts are worth compensation. Top-selling creators are still doing fine, but I’ve seen outright hostility on the part of supposed fans when struggling creators politely ask them to stop distributing works without their consent (this comes up every time a manga torrent site is shut down, for example). I’ve read angry rants from pirates railing against greedy creators who aren’t content putting in every waking hour at the drawing board in order to just scrape by.

    If the pirates were just limiting themselves to single-issue samples (which most creators and publishers do themselves), it would be easier to look the other way, but when it’s all 40-something volumes of a long-running manga or 700 issues of Batman or the current issue of X-Men? It’s not like anyone really needs all of that to make an informed decision about whether or not to purchase a comic.

    The genie’s out of the bottle on this one, I guess, but “I need to be able to read every single comic book, watch every movie and listen to every album that comes out every week in order to decide if any of them are worthy of supporting financially” attitude is disturbing. I can barely keep up with the handful of new things I buy every month and re-reading things I own as it is without downloading a few dozen new things every Wednesday.

  28. Andrew Farago Says:


    But your friend’s copy or your library’s copy have been purchased, and are only being loaned out on a one-to-one basis. A pirate site is working more as a publisher than as a friend, and is theoretically handing out a million copies at a time.

    Most publishers are more than happy to offer up free samplings of their comics online to anyone who wants to check them out, but that’s the decision of the copyright holder, not someone with three bucks and a working modem.

  29. Johanna Says:

    Sure there are greedy fans, Andrew, and pirates who download one of everything without ever being able to read/watch any of it. (If you don’t pay with money, you pay with your time and attention.) But those publishers that we should worry about struggling (not the same thing as creators, regardless of how you blur the distinction) aren’t going to get my money even if they managed to shut down every pirate site out there if I’m not convinced to buy their work. That’s the flaw in this reasoning. “If we remove free online alternatives, then we’ll make more money” is a fallacy, because those customers have already decided the work isn’t worth paying for. They might be convinced otherwise, once they’ve seen it and it impresses them, but trying to force customers to pay for what they don’t want to buy is extremely old-school thinking that’s been circumvented by the net.

  30. Steven Grant Says:

    Oh, I’m not arguing that comics piracy isn’t misguided, but I don’t know of any pirate sites doing it for money and I’ve scanned enough of my own comics to know what a seething pain in the ass it is, so I assume that for those who do it regularly it has to be at least something of a labor of love. Presumably, as well, they at least paid for their own copies, and, really, how much difference does it make if the same comic reaches a million (or even a thousand) people one by one or all at the same time?

    I don’t have a lot of sympathy for most publishers, since most desperately operate on a business model that went all but defunct by 1996. I’m not saying that to excuse piracy, but the problems of publishers are largely of their own making, have nothing to do with piracy, and if every comics pirate vanished tomorrow those publishers still wouldn’t make any money, and they’d still be using their own incompetence as an excuse to fleece the talent producing work for them. Again, I’m not trying to justify piracy, but it’s nowhere near the worst problem facing the comics business today.

  31. Bruce Says:

    Andrew says, “…all the free advertising in the world doesn’t change the fact that publishers are having a harder time turning a profit in today’s economic climate.”

    Correlation does not imply causation. Which publishers? Marvel, DC, Oni, independents? Are they all having a hard time today turning a profit? And even if they are, there’s no actual evidence that piracy is a cause. My guess is that the vast bulk of comics piracy is of the Marvel/DC super-hero titles, yet they still sell a lot of those books and are still making *very* profitable movies and toys from them.

    What I take from your comments, however, is far more a strong dislike of what you imagine to be the attitudes of the downloaders.

    “What concerns me the most about piracy is the increasing disconnect between consumers and the notion that an artist’s work and efforts are worth compensation.”

    Fair enough, but really, the amount of work on the part of the creator has never been very germane to the perceived value of an item. I’m guessing Jonathan Franzen spends more time on his novels than Stephanie Meyer, but they still cost the same amount. People generally are willing to pay what they think something is worth, and there is a disconnect for many people today about paying for infinite goods, like the digital scan of a comic book. You can argue about the morality and legality of such a notion, but it does have an economic logic that may trump them practically.

  32. Andre Says:

    “There are too many cases of publishers treating creators shoddily for me to support what a publisher wants (buying things two or three times) just because they want it. Consider, for example, reprint collections that pay the original creators nothing.”

    And yet condoning using a pirate site is totally treating creators right. A publisher having an iffy track record doesn’t make what you’re doing entirely acceptable.

    It’s a flimsy justification, and reminds me of when you said “Some artists give their art out for free” as an answer in a debate about scanlations involving me on twitter.

  33. Steven Grant Says:

    “What concerns me the most about piracy is the increasing disconnect between consumers and the notion that an artist’s work and efforts are worth compensation.”

    If anyone started the notion that an artist’s work and efforts aren’t worth compensation, it’s publishers, many of which, once you get beneath the Marvel-DC strata, are essentially using artists’ labor to underwrite their own underfinanced publishing ambitions while either refusing to pay talent while trying to claim all rights to the material for themselves, or making promises of payment to talent that then aren’t kept because paying talent simply isn’t a priority for them. Why does talent go along with this? Because they want to be in print… and always somehow convince themselves that they’ll be the exception that makes sales and gets paid…

  34. Andre Says:

    Steven, artists are grown adults capable of making their own decisions, regarding work for hire. I don’t really think it’s fair to them to bring this into an argument about something completely unrelated, namely people scanning and posting their works online without their permission. A publisher has a contract with them that they signed and agreed upon of their own free will, some contracts being better then others. This acts as the permission, and is something the people running pirate sites don’t have.

    I think it really devalues artist’s rights to bring up how publishers treat them as a defense for the crappy way some fans treat them. It’s also somewhat unsettlign to play artists as people getting the carpet pulled under them- I remember the Tokyopop contract debates, and yes, TP didn’t treat some artists well, but it’s not a free ticket for everyonelse to treat them horribly.

  35. Andre Says:

    An artist signing onto a project knowing they’ll just get an upfront fee, or knowing they’ll be working for royalties or knowing they’ll get X amount for digital and overseas sales is entirely seperate from this argument. They’re capable of making their own choices. There’s somethign sinister about defending your views on piracy with how a random publisher might be treating an artist or approaching digital works.

    If you want people to pirate your comics Steven, it’s your choice. That’s not the choice every artist makes, and they deserve to have their choices respected. Some are comfortable working for hire, some only self publish. People make their own choices with their OWN work, and they don’t deserve to have someone they never spoke with, never made a contract with, making decisions for them.

  36. Eric Says:

    One thing I want to point out that gets lost in this discussion a lot is that scanned comic pirated comic. It often is, of course. But there are also a lot of comics that have lapsed into the public domain, and THOSE are legal to distribute all over the place.

    Not sure why I feel the need to bring that up here, other than some people seem to feel any cbr or cbz file is automatically a pirated item. Probably because most people don’t care about the older books where it applies, but oh well…

  37. Johanna Says:

    Andre, perhaps the context of this discussion, that we’re talking mostly about superhero comics, not manga, wasn’t clear to you. In that case, those are NOT “their [creators’] works” — in most cases, the publishers own those stories, art, and comics. So “you’re hurting the creators” isn’t exactly an answer to much of this discussion. But I expect that nuance, as in the previous conversation you reference (when I was responding to someone who said that all pros get paid for their work), won’t satisfy you, because I get the impression that you’re an absolutist on the subject.

  38. Johanna Says:

    Eric, that’s an interesting point. I hadn’t thought of that before, but in the case you mention, that’s also a reason to read online instead of older, rarer originals.

  39. Andre Says:

    Johanna, as someone whose read X-men for 15 years, I know quite well what context you were talkign about. And whatever kind of comics it is, I still find it unsettling. How Marvel treats it’s creators isn’t a justification for an argument that treats creators horribly.

  40. Johanna Says:

    Sorry, how is asking “what do you think about having a digital copy of a comic I have paid money for already?” an argument against creators again? If I didn’t want to support the creators, I wouldn’t have bought their work.

  41. Andre Says:

    And I’m not an absolutist- if you want to scan your own comics for yourself, that’s your business. It’s the arguments you’ve strung around it, like tying the excuses to how publishers treat artists, that are undermining you. You can have your grey areas, but getting defensive and resorting to those sorts of ploys because someone like Andrew Farago calls you out on it being a grey area and having negative aspects, doesn’t work in your favour.

  42. Andre Says:

    Looking at only the positive aspects of it is something that does you and your readers a disservice. And honestly, pirating comics so you don’t wrinkle your comics is a pretty flimsy thing to be defending. As you say, it’s a grey area, and as such there’s a lot to question within it.

  43. Johanna Says:

    The question of how publishers treat artists was a side point in response to someone suggesting publishers deserve our support. Please read for context and quit jumping to conclusions about what I think — it’s quite frustrating to put up with.

  44. DanielT Says:

    This is such a non-issue.

    You can look at this from two perspectives: “Is piracy wrong?” and “Is piracy a problem?”

    I would say, yes, in the Platonic ideal sense, piracy is wrong.

    But is it a problem for publishers and creators? Hell no.

    As Johanna has pointed out, if pirated comics disappeared completely from the Internet now and forever, the majority of pirates are not going to rush to the comics shops ensuring prosperity for the industry for decades to come; they’re just going to stop reading. And as Steven Grant has mentioned, many of the problems publishers face now are the result of their own short-sightedness; piracy would probably be about 99 on a list of the Top 100 Problems.

    While I am truly sympathetic to the rights of creators towards the distribution of their work, c’mon! The piratical digital distribution of comics is now spilled milk and is something they’re going to have to accept, whether it’s just or unjust, unless the day comes when they turn off the Internet.

    Why don’t we discuss issues that are REALLY pressing right now, like rising price points, the Big Two overcrowding the racks with ridiculous numbers of titles and how to attract more new readers?

  45. DanielT Says:

    Or maybe I’m completely wrong.

    Do we even have a sense of how extensive comics piracy is?

    Looking at Demonoid, I see that Brightest Day #7, which came out two weeks ago, I believe, has 9225 completed downloads at that site. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily translate into 9225 persons and there is no way to tell how many persons are downloading it for free or just downloading a digital copy to supplement the physical one.

    Assuming it was 9225 persons, does anyone really think the sales of Brightest Day would go up anywhere near 9000 copies if piracy didn’t exist?

  46. Shaenon Says:

    I can’t buy groceries with your time and attention, Johanna.

  47. Johanna Says:

    I’m afraid you’ve come in late, since this was a discussion about comics I’ve already bought. But I’m not familiar with your print work, only your free webcomics, so I probably shouldn’t be commenting on your groceries. :)

  48. William Flanagan Says:

    “As Johanna has pointed out, if pirated comics disappeared completely from the Internet now and forever, the majority of pirates are not going to rush to the comics shops ensuring prosperity for the industry for decades to come; they’re just going to stop reading. ”

    Enough do that good publishers like Vertical have seen significant increases in sales when pirates have taken down their pirated copies (as noted in Today’s Comics Alliance interview), and there have been anecdotal evidence from comic book shops that sales of manga have increased since One Manga was taken down.

    The increase of legal anime simulcasts has made for a drop in the piracy of anime overall.

    When it isn’t available for free, there are a significant number of people who WILL buy.

  49. Andrew Farago Says:

    Quick question–how many creators or publishers are on here jumping up and down about how piracy is no big deal, and it actually helps their bottom line? I see no shortage of downloaders who defend the practice, but when it comes to people who actually make a living off of the content they create, the opinions are a lot different.

    And if the most vocal downloaders weren’t so insufferable about their right to download as much content as they’d like and weren’t so vocal in making asinine claims like “piracy isn’t a problem for publishers and creators,” I’d be give them credit for knowing what they’re talking about.

    The manga industry’s contracted severely in the past two years, while the manga piracy industry has exploded. Are these things completely unrelated?

    And pretending that this conversation is only about downloading comics you’ve already bought after Shaenon completely torpedoed your argument of “paying for comics with your time and attention” after forty-something comments about other piracy-related comments is…

    Aw, forget it.

  50. Steven Grant Says:

    Andre, since you were the one who brought “the artist deserves to be paid for his work” into the argument of why piracy is completely and utterly a bad thing, I was just mentioning that paying the artist for his work and effort has never been an especially high priority for the comics industry. If that’s the focus of your wrath, it’s (at least at the moment) better spent on publishers than pirates.

  51. Shaenon Says:

    The thing is, I put my comics online *voluntarily*. That’s the decision I’ve made as the person who draws the comics. Johanna, are you really going to pretend not to understand why it’s not okay to reprint a creator’s work in a way the creator hasn’t consented to, cutting her entirely out of any profits in the process?

    Yana Toboso, creator of Black Butler, put it succinctly.


    “We creators and voice actors will not eat; this is no joke, we will starve and die. This is not ‘lol.'”

    And that goes for obnoxious passive-aggressive smiley faces, too.

  52. Shaenon Says:

    “I was just mentioning that paying the artist for his work and effort has never been an especially high priority for the comics industry.”

    Oh, right, we’re used to being fucked over, so please fuck us over some more.

  53. Michelle Says:

    Yes, having bought a floppy comic does mean you may have bought it in that particular format. But why do people buy eBooks? Does anyone want to sit and scan page by page each of their comic books or books, convert it to a PDF, upload it to their Kindle/Nook/iPad? Some people actually do (I have met these strange amazing people)-BUT most of us people with not enough time on our hands don’t. We pay for convenience. A pirate has basically taken all the hard work away from us “busy” people-and put it up for our convenience. Whether one person reads a pirated copy or 20-it makes no difference. It’s still pirated. It’s just most of us are too lazy to do all that work on our own.

    So when I bought “Up” on Blu-Ray, did I bitch that I can’t watch it on my Mac? NO-I understand it’s Blu-Ray and my Mac doesn’t have a Blu-Ray player. I know I either have to convert it somewhere, or buy a version of it I can watch on my Mac. When I buy an LP, do I care that I can’t play it on an iPod? No, I go and buy a CD of that LP to put into my iPod. Or go to iTunes. Sure, ethically it may make sense in our minds that if we have bought a comic, we own that comic. But for our own use.

    If I scan an entire XMen comic and stick it up online for the entire world to read-that may justify my expense-but doesn’t justify those moochers reading my purchased comic. Me putting up ads to support those moochers using my bandwith means I’m essentially selling that book-but I’m keeping 100% of the profit-since I don’t have to support pesky publishers, artists, whatever. As a consumer, yes, I would love if my individual paper purchase meant I owned every single panel, word, figure-but I really don’t. It doesn’t happen with movies, it doesn’t happen with music, so how are books and comic books any different? If you want an electronic version you buy an eBook. Or you spend a weekend in front of your scanner, one by one, pulling those comics out of your longbox and converting them into PDFs. Yeah, I’m too busy for that too. But then you’re just using your “friend” as an excuse. And obviously thousands of people do this constantly.

  54. William Flanagan Says:

    “If anyone started the notion that an artist’s work and efforts aren’t worth compensation, it’s publishers, many of which, once you get beneath the Marvel-DC strata, are essentially using artists’ labor to underwrite their own underfinanced publishing ambitions while either refusing to pay talent while trying to claim all rights to the material for themselves, or making promises of payment to talent that then aren’t kept because paying talent simply isn’t a priority for them. Why does talent go along with this? Because they want to be in print… and always somehow convince themselves that they’ll be the exception that makes sales and gets paid…”

    Sorry for the long quote, but…

    That’s how I got into the industry. The first company I translated for a publisher whose owner had a reputation for not paying the help. I didn’t know it when I first signed on, but I was warned about it soon after. I made sure that I didn’t do more work for him until I was paid for the previous work. That insured that I wouldn’t be paid for the final installment…and in the end, I wasn’t.

    But the thing is, that was my choice. I did it, as you say, to get published. And, although I didn’t get paid for that final set of books, I did use that published work to get jobs at better companies. Other comics and manga companies that are interested in paying their talent for their work. There are plenty out there.

    But I consider the guy who ripped me off so much better than pirates since I knew what I was getting into. I went into it with eyes wide open (I could have quit after receiving my previous work’s paycheck). You can parlay work for a shady company into work elsewhere.

    You can’t parlay piracy into anything. It’s work that is stolen for the pirates’ profit in some cases and the pirates’ prestige in others — and none of that helps the talent.

    So my anger is reserved for pirates who not only break the law, but devalue the work that I and other freelancers in the industry do.

  55. Steven Grant Says:

    I’m very happy that you find something to parlay out of working for crap publishers, but ever consider what effect it has on other freelancers? The willingness of freelancers to work for, effectively, nothing, or even to subsidize publishers, has encouraged more than one publisher to drop or negate rates, to put payments on the never-never, and to what amounts to pirate talents’ work (and often then claim they control all the rights to it, even in supposed “creator-owned” deals) (more often than not, the creators learn the hard way that the contracts are worded so it’s just the name of the shop) because they have concrete evidence (far more concrete than any evidence that pirating, at least so far, costs freelancers anything) that freelancers will put up with it. I know of discussions to that effect in some pretty high offices in the business, and even if those discussions haven’t been acted on, believe me, they’re ongoing. What you see as parlaying work for a shady company into work elsewhere, I see as working to cut everyone else’s throat. I’m not accusing you of the intent, but if you think Internet piracy is a problem, you’re ignoring an even bigger one that’s likely to have a LOT worse effect for a lot more freelancers. Especially those just breaking in or recently entered, because they’re a whole lot more likelier to end up with much crappier pay for the same work no matter who they end up working for.

    I get that piracy isn’t exactly a good situation, but in terms of how freelancers are treated or compensated it’s hardly the biggest issue of our time. Except for self-publishers; there I can see it being a major problem.

  56. John Thomas Says:

    William Flanagan’s “crimes” are neither criminal nor do anywhere near the damage that piracy does to the industry.

    Freelancing is a dog-eat-dog business, as there is always someone who will do the same job for less than you. Now if you can make a name for yourself and be a desired name, then you can name your asking price. But the number of brand name translators is shorter than the list of brand name music producers (though clearly the stakes are different).

  57. Johanna Says:

    Shaenon, I put up the link you quote as part of a review yesterday, so I’m aware of the article, which is why I was clarifying that this discussion wasn’t intended to become a referendum on piracy overall. I know you were dragged into this late, so you only saw the conversation after that point. Of course I support creators getting paid for their work — in whatever way works for them, whether from publishers who then own it, ad-supported webcomics, or more traditional self-publishing.

    And I’m sorry that you saw my feeble attempt at humor to lighten the mood once the thread turned as “passive-aggressive”. I was hoping that my saying I wasn’t aware of your print work would lead you tell me what of yours was available in that format, but I should have asked a clear question instead of assuming you’d see the opening.

  58. Johanna Says:

    An alternate view on the piracy subject that won’t satisfy anyone: copyright doesn’t have to be linked with “how I get paid”. (And avoid the comments.)

  59. William Flanagan Says:

    “I’m very happy that you find something to parlay out of working for crap publishers, but ever consider what effect it has on other freelancers?”

    None. The company folded directly after publishing my final translations. There was no more chance for them to stiff other freelancers. And after that, I’ve worked for some ten-to-fifteen companies in my near-20-year tenure, and never since then have I come out unpaid.

    So exactly who are you talking about, and where is the documentation to back up your stories of industry abuse? I’ve heard of stories like that from the ’80s black & white boom, but since then, I haven’t heard much, and I certainly haven’t experienced it. If your examples are from years and years ago or are so isolated as to turn into he-said-she-said arguments, then your position is really not significant. Are your stories current? Post a few links.

    Another strange thing is I had almost the exact-same argument with someone on a different forum a few days back. She was suggesting that the Japanese companies abused their labor to such an extent that it made piracy look tame by comparison. I certainly don’t think there is any collusion between you two, but is this the “argument du jour” on forums where apologists for piracy gather these days?

    In any case, the argument doesn’t hold water. Piracy is a huge negative to the industry (actually industries) which is why they are now combatting it. And it doesn’t matter what other things may be worse, piracy is bad. The industry itself has plenty of worthy players, and the bad one get bad reputations fast. A little research and nobody has to be taken in. On the other hand, pirates have to be beaten in other ways. I hope they are soon.

    “Now if you can make a name for yourself and be a desired name, then you can name your asking price.”

    I hate to disagree with you, but on this point… The competition from free labor has forced all of the freelancer translators to drop their rates. All of my rates have fallen, some by more than half. This recession/piracy blow has been a hard one. (Note, this isn’t “abuse,” I am offered work and I have every right to refuse or do other types of translation. What translation I do, I do with full knowledge.)

  60. William Flanagan Says:

    I can’t edit my comment, so I just want to say that the “forums where apologists gather” comment was out of line. I apologize.

  61. Johanna Says:

    Thank you, William. I know passions run high on this subject, and it’s easy to lump more nuanced positions into either “pro or anti piracy” when what people are saying may not be so simply reduced. I appreciate you setting an example for us all.

  62. Gilles Poitras Says:

    The argument that most of those who read pirated copies would not buy them anyway does not matter. If they would not buy them they are not customers and therefore don’t matter.

    Piracy is disrespectful of the creators and publishers.

  63. Alexa Says:

    Still, even if sales go up after piracy sites are taken down, how many people would have bought them if they hadn’t been able to read them in first place.

    I proudly raise my hand as a comics reader who started off reading Sandman, Alan Moore, and 3 very indie ongoings, to someone who reads (and BUYS) books from nearly every single company and is well-versed in the Marvel and DC universes simply because I discovered pirated scans and was able to splash around in the vast pool of offerings while I was still getting used to the medium and figuring out what I liked. Now I haven’t downloaded a comic in almost two years because I don’t have to. The idea of piracy-as-promotion is not a bullshit one– I wouldn’t be here without it.

  64. Andre Says:

    Steven—- pointing to evil monkey A because you want to avoid taking about evil monkey B, and get people away from talking about evil monkey A isn’t something I appreciate. Both monkeys are still pretty evil, and desever our anti-monkey wrath.

    And Piracy tends to be more consistently evil than publishers. Why is it fans more consistently get hateful at a publisher that refuses to pay, and act more neutral to an equally evil thing like say, One Manga?

  65. Andre Says:

    BTW– To clarify, I mean things like a publisher not agreeing to pay someone for pencils, or what Pat Lee did conning artists by offering them jobs then not crediting them.

    That’s something different from an artist who signed a contract knowing he wouldn’t get overseas royalties for workforhire drawing AwesomeDude.

  66. Johanna Says:

    Perhaps we started out talking about a particular jungle and its inhabitants, and Steven and I were talking about exotic birds and those bigger birds who prey on them, and you want to talk about monkeys? Only we just talked about monkeys last week, and we’re tired of monkeys right now, but you keep insisting we can’t talk about any part of the jungle without talking about monkeys? We’ve acknowledged the monkeys, we just want to talk about birds this time.

    Ooh, animal metaphors are fun. And happier to contemplate. I adore the phrase “anti-monkey wrath”, great wording.

    More seriously, the answer to your last question is that fans get value out of reading free manga, evil or not, while fans get no value from publishers that act like jerks. It’s easier to get mad at something that doesn’t give you any value.

  67. Andre Says:

    Alexa– That’s anecdotal- you’re defending your personal piracy, not piracy as a whole. Not everyone is a good fan, and there’s lots of fans who would buy a book if they couldn’t find scans of it online.

    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/anncast/2010-08-20 This week’s ANNCast touches on a lot of the issues people have talked about here- drop in “Comics” for “Anime/Manga” and you get a lot of constructive conversation on the issues creative industries face.

  68. Andre Says:

    Them smuggly getting enjoyment out of ripping off someonelses work is just as horrible as the publisher who rips off the artist and enjoys the profits from it.

    Some “fan” reading comics [be they Marvel,DC, Kodansha or a torrent of something published on say, Kindle] online without the artists permission is just as much of an asshole as a “publisher” who rips off an artist, and both deserve my wrath.

    Telling me that fans are less worthy of my wrath because ” fans get value out of reading free manga, evil or not,” doesn’t answer any of the issues Johanna, it just avoids them.

  69. Johanna Says:

    Andre, you’re jumping to conclusions again. I wasn’t making a value judgement about what you should or shouldn’t get angry about — clearly, based on history, that’s going to be useless. I was answering your specific question. You asked why fans get more upset about one than the other. I answered, it’s because they don’t have a personal involvement in the one. That’s human nature. Just because you see them as equally sinful doesn’t mean others agree with you.

    Also, I’m not saying which I do or don’t agree with. Please don’t assume that because I say “some people think X” that *I* think X. It’s possible to do analysis of behavior or attitudes without having a horse in the race or revealing your own opinion (although difficult). These hypotheticals appear to be where you get angriest at me, because you’re assuming everything I talk about, I agree with. That’s not always the case.

  70. Steven Grant Says:

    In answer to Andre’s question, I tend to get a lot more incensed over palpable damage done to freelancers, like by publishers (and, William, if you were the only such case it wouldn’t mean beans, but multiply your case over scores of publishers and hundreds of freelancers and it becomes significant, and increasingly damaging to the futures of many freelancers because these patterns don’t go unnoticed), than over theoretical damage to freelancers…

    I thought One Manga packed its bags and fled…

  71. Andre Says:

    Johanna, being vague about your personal opinions will just lead people to assume that your hypotheticals are your beliefs. Maybe those who had issues w/your post would of been less offended by it if you were more clear about your stance.

    Stuff like “But I’m not familiar with your print work, only your free webcomics, so I probably shouldn’t be commenting on your groceries. :)” can be taken in a very insulting way if you are vague about your stances on the issue.

    And just because others don’t agree with me doesn’t make me any less right- a small crime is just as much of a crime as a bigger one, and just as worth of punishment. How much punishment depends on the crime, which is why you see HTMLComics getting closed down by the FBI. I think having to defend their actions, and being constnatly confronted with the moral issues by other fans and the creators whose work they’ve stolen, is a punishment fans who steal comics deserve. They probably deserve worse, but there’s not really much you can do outside of taking down the big guys doing the most pirating, and sticking to your principles.
    Sorry if sticking to my principles offends you.

  72. Jake Forbes Says:

    Johanna, going back to your original point about about the ethics of an honest person downloading only what he or she has legitimately purchased in print, much of your logic hinges on the assumption that the content is the same, whether it be print or digital. I would argue that that’s not the case and the differences are growing every day. Some “fan” with a scanner and some free time is providing a service that you’ll take advantage of. Soon, if it’s not already happening already, some fan can also add panel recognition, transcribe bonus content, and replicate other features that differentiate digital from print. Does that count as part of the content you paid for? Clearly you are interested in reading comics digitally, and in your DVD reviews in particular, you have high expectations for presentation — then wouldn’t you want to support those parties who are working to make the digital experience better? By supporting digital publishers and creators, there’s also a good chance more of your investment will go to the creators of the “content” as opposed to the publishers. I definitely see where you’re coming from as a consumer rights advocate, and certainly there are plenty of cases where publishers of media try to wring out as much from fans as possible by trying to resell the same content, but at the same time, it seems a little silly to expect all media to come with a lifetime guarantee of access. In any case,with things shifting increasingly to a media-as-service model instead of flat purchases, this will become less and less of an issue as time goes on. Back to your original point, I think advocating for digital download codes with print purchases is great, but I agree w/ Shaenon and others that supporting unauthorized editions is unethical.

  73. Johanna Says:

    Jake, that’s my assumption because I’m only interested in the print content. What small amount I’ve seen of current digital “improvements” (panel scroll, animation, sound effects) either don’t interest me or actively turn me off (motion comics, ugh). I don’t see any way that the digital experience becomes better and stays a comic. Certainly, my opinion may change in the future, when someone comes up with something new I haven’t thought of. :)

    As a contrasting points, ways that do improve reading comics online for this user, such as RSS feeds for webcomics or aggregators, have had mixed reactions from creators, especially when their interests (showing as many ads as possible) contradict those of users (wanting to read the comic as simply as possible). But that’s wandering away from the original point as well.

    You’re right that no one should expect “lifetime access” — but at the same time, industries that expect to keep making profits based on reselling the same content in different formats (I’m thinking here of recorded music, where the CD kept them afloat and then they killed DAT because it made sharing too easy for users), well, that seems like something I don’t want to enable either. It’s a fascinating time to be observing all this, until I add up my monthly Amazon/TV/DVD/comic spending. :)

  74. Andre Says:

    You know what Johanna,I’m going to look at this from a different angle- If I didn’t want to wrinkle my comics when I went on vacation, I’d just-
    -not bring my comics with me, do somethingelse
    -bring some digest sized trades as they are easy to transport
    -buy some comics/manga while I’m on vacation
    -if I had a digital reading device, I’d just download some legal offerings or read some webcomics

    I probably wouldn’t take some comics off a pirate site, and I probably wouldn’t turn around and promote that or try to justify it on my blog.

    And if you’re reading comics at home and you don’t want to wrinkle them [that seems so trivial to me- is your husband that picky about your comics conditions? Back issues are worth nothing nowadays unless they’re from the 40’s 0_o They’re really just meant for reading nowadays], well, just try being more careful with your comics and ask your husband to me more understanding then downloading them off some pirate site and telling us all about it and explaining why it’s so totally easy/conveient/ethical so you don’t feel bad about it.

  75. William Flanagan Says:

    Steven, then welcome to our side of the argument. Because I have been palpably hurt by piracy. Not theoretically. The recession caused a lot of manga fans to migrate to free pirated versions (re: declining sales for legit publishers vs. rising hit rates for pirate aggregators), and that has not only caused what was once my good-paying regular translation job to turn on a dime into a rough scramble for the few jobs left. As I said, the unfair competition has reduced my rates by more than half in many cases, and my family has eaten through a good portion of our savings to keep afloat during the hard times. I’m sure that translators with fewer connections and less of a reputation than I have were basically forced out of their jobs. Manga publishers have collapsed or been shut down by their parent companies. The fact that all this is occurring while some pirate sites were booming is no coincidence.

    You may say that may-or-may-not be cause/effect, but trends support the “piracy as a direct competition to legit publishers” as a real phenomenon. I already mentioned the rise in hits to aggregator sites concurrent with a decline of sales at the legit publishers, and now Vertical reports that sales went up directly as aggregator sites closed. Piracy is direct, unfair competition that is forcing freelancers out of work they otherwise would have enjoyed.

    Real freelancers are in real pain because of this.

    On the other hand, I’ve worked for most of the publishers who produce products in my field, and aside from that one short-lived early ’90’s exception, all have been good places to work for. I also ran the editorial department of one of the biggest publishers in my field, and we fought to keep our rates decent for freelancers. We were not plotting or even discussing non-payment as an option.

    If you are the Steven Grant of the Wikipedia article, then I assume you have been bitten by the abuses by the industry in the ’80s and perhaps early 90s. As someone who was also ripped off, I sympathize. But since the sales crash in the ’90s, most-if-not-all of the abusive companies have gone under. Aside from a one-sided contract to OEL artists by TokyoPop a few years ago (and no one complained that they were never paid), I can’t recall ever seeing any evil publisher behavior in the recent past. Please point me to examples. I would like to be educated on this if it is still occurring.

    If there are no recent examples, then let’s work on trying to educate people who are presently doing things that are destructive to the comics industry (pirating and reading pirated copies), and crusade against evil publishers when it’s actually deserved.

  76. Johanna Says:

    Andre, thank you for clarifying that you don’t understand why anyone would be bothered by the problems I’ve described in the original post and you don’t agree that they’re problems anyway. No wonder we have no common ground! I guess it’s fruitless for me to point out that bloggers often write articles with exaggerated stances on hot-button topics of current interest in order to create discussion. The only thing I’m trying to “promote” here, to use your word, is thought.

    William, there are any number of abusive comic companies currently operating. You may not be familiar with them because they’re mostly in the periodical comic field these days, not manga. One was unfortunately profiled in the NY TImes in the last couple of months with no mention of how they were succeeding based on not paying freelancers. That’s just one example of ridiculous abuses over the past 2-3 years. They’re still out there, because there are always aspiring young creators to prey on.

  77. William Flanagan Says:

    Johanna, then I will not attempt to downplay Steven’s cause anymore. If he is the same Steven Grant as the Wikipedia article, then it seems quite likely that he, himself was a victim of these practices multiple times. Therefore his passion is understandable, and I sympathize with it. I was ignorant of the present existence of these companies.

    However, that doesn’t excuse his attempt to downplay the hurt that piracy is doing to freelancers in both the manga industry and the comics industry. This is a very real, very troubling threat that the publishers are late to start combatting.

    Although many (if not most) people know reading pirated comics is wrong, rationalizations abound for people doing bad behavior. They don’t need support from someone trying to change the subject to his own cause. Both are bad. One does not need to be a rationalization for the other.

  78. Steven Grant Says:

    William, I was never much victimized by publisher’s practices because I always made it easier for them to treat me as promised than to have to suffer through the holy hell I’d put them through if I didn’t. But I did see an awful lot of freelancers taken advantage of and still do, by dripping golden promises and crap followthrough. (Things like “Just stick with me, kid, and when we’re the most powerful publisher in the business, you’ll be right there on top with us… but if we never get there, it’s your fault.”)

    This is going to sound very bad, but I read considerable amounts of manga (so did Johanna) and I’m not convinced scanlations are really responsible for your current straits, though I don’t doubt they’re a contributing factor. As near as I can tell, what really killed the manga market – and it wasn’t hard to see it coming – was way too many publishers pumping out way too many really crappy manga in translation and milking the audience. There were a few years there when the average manga published here was of pretty good quality, but by the time the boom fell publishers, esp. TokyoPop, had flooded so much repetitive, ugly, unimaginative, formulaic crap onto shelves that the manga audience just lost interest. People do that when they recognize their interests are being abused. It’s not unlike what happened to American comics c. ’94. As I said, I don’t doubt scanlations are involved in there somewhere, but I suspect it has more to do with fans becoming much less adventurous and trimming down to the manga they were really interested in rather than wasting their time with new product they had been trained to assume from jump (no pun intended) was substandard and not worthy of their interest. From what I understand, Naruto is still selling pretty well in translation…

  79. William George Says:

    I don’t have a lot of sympathy for most publishers, since most desperately operate on a business model that went all but defunct by 1996. I’m not saying that to excuse piracy, but the problems of publishers are largely of their own making, have nothing to do with piracy, and if every comics pirate vanished tomorrow those publishers still wouldn’t make any money…

    I wanted to emphasize the the truth of what Steven said there.

  80. William Flanagan Says:

    Steven, yes it does sound very bad. And I think you are ignoring the facts stated above (about the rush to piracy and the return to legit sources when some of the piracy is taken away) to cling to your opinion.

    The fact is that very few of the titles you vaguely reference are, in fact, crappy. The worst of Japanese manga is never licensed, so Sturgeon’s law does not apply exactly here. I was instrumental in bringing some big successes to Viz and some failures. The failures weren’t because the manga was “crappy,” since every book was analyzed, read ahead of time, and gone over by numerous people both inside the company and out, to determine if it had a market. Sorry if some of them didn’t appeal to you, but maybe they weren’t supposed to. And in some cases, despite good art and storytelling, they did not connect with the readers. That happens in every entertainment venue.

    Of course, subjectively, everyone agrees there are crappy titles, but no one can seem to agree on which titles are crappy. The “crappy” in this case are always the titles that don’t appeal personally to an individual. For example, one title I translated, Mermaid Melody: Pichi Pichi Pitch, about a group of magical girls, has both been panned and praised by people whose opinion I respect. So is it crappy in an objective sense or just crappy to you?

    The cutback in manga company output wasn’t a natural development of the industry, but a result of the recession. The coincidence of events is a perfect match. Odds are that the industry wouldn’t have grown at the excessive pace shown in years like 2006 & 2007, but had the economy not tanked, it could probably have held its own.

    And as the legit industry, where you have to pay your way, sank, the illegitimate industry of piracy boomed. You can’t deny it! One Manga was ranked near 1000 of the top-visited Internets sites by Google when the publishers decided to band together to do something about it. That was basically the wakeup call. Before it closed, it peaked a couple of times in the top 100. That’s of overall Internet sites in the world. All that free, illegal manga, and you’re saying its effect can be negligible? And when there’s an uptick in legit sales when pirate sites come down, you still think the effects aren’t significant? You’re saying that piracy isn’t a factor? This is not normal logic you seem to be using.

    As many fans, if not more, are still reading manga as they did in the biggest boom years manga has had in the U.S., they’re just not paying for it anymore. And even though One Manga is down, it’s trained its readers to search for other free manga. One or two victories won’t bring back the manga market. The problem is not over.

    People have been predicting the “crash of the manga industry” many, many times before. Yes, the crash of the industry may have been foreseen, but it’s been wrongly foreseen far more often. There have been crows sitting by manga’s empty grave since manga first appeared in the U.S.

    No matter what has happened to top-of-the-heap titles like Naruto, B-list titles that may have excellent art and story can no longer compete after they’ve been discovered, scanned, and read by most of the people who would have bought them otherwise. If all you want are Shonen Jump media blitzes, them keep downplaying piracy. But if you want something that is actually appealing to you and a few thousand of your fellow readers to be legitimately brought to America and have the creator supported, then probably downplaying piracy isn’t the best decision.

    So as I freely admit, I am not an expert on the U.S. comic-company abusers, please admit you are not an expert on the manga market. Please stop downplaying something that has had a devastating effect on honest people trying to pay their rent.

  81. DreamTales Says:

    Sorry for joining late. I’m a self-publisher and sell my comics only via digital download. I sometimes get the reverse situation, where my previous buyers have lost my comic files (hard drive crash, etc.) and ask for another download. As they paid for the rights previously, I always give it to them.

    The pirate sites do post my comics, which is a problem. I have succeeded in getting them removed, but only after jumping through their legal hoops. Yes, I suppose it’s a good thing that people ask for my comics on these places (it shows there is demand), but each illegal download is a direct loss, as I don’t sell physical copies.

    What is very rewarding is that readers will often notify me of an illegal posting – they understand that if I can’t recoup my costs I can’t continue to make new comics.

    I don’t want to be absolutest here, but I do think it’s fair to note that any support given to pirate sites – especially by well-meaning and well-regarded bloggers – can undermine the efforts of legitimate comic makers to combat piracy.

  82. Johanna Says:

    William F, correlation is not causation. The manga industry tanked, yes. Piracy became more widespread, maybe (or did it just become more visible?). But those two things happening at the same time doesn’t mean one is entirely responsible for the other, especially since all print industries are tanking, even those that aren’t pirated (such as newspapers). They might be related, but we don’t know that as a fact. We can also come up with other negative factors, as Steven as suggested one, or that library budgets have been drastically cut.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have many solid facts about this possible connection, because no one wants to accurately study the situation. One indicator we do have is that those who share music widely are also some of the best customers. Does the same apply to print “pirates” or does the different characteristics of the format mean something else? Does the effect of free availability on sales change depending on the age of the target audience? (That is, is Bleach being available similar to or different from reprint works of Tezuka being available?) Who knows? It would be nice to have some independent data, but it’s not going to happen, because people are comfortable relying on their assumptions and don’t want the possibility of the actual answer being different.

    Your experience at Viz is very enlightening, but when we’re talking about crappy manga, I’m not sure it’s representative, because Viz has mostly been outside that category. Other publishers, on the other hand…

    PS Yes, that is Steven Grant, writer of the Punisher in the 80s, American Flagg, Whisper, and the excellent Permanent Damage column. He knows whereof he speaks regarding the comic industry.

  83. Johanna Says:

    One last addition, in case someone mistakes my analysis questions for argument: William F, you are probably right. More people are likely reading for free what they might, in flusher times, have paid for. But no one’s yet demonstrated that in objective fashion, that’s what I was trying to say.

    Personally, I think there’s always some freeloading (people getting copies or otherwise taking in entertainment they don’t pay for, in a variety of fashions). It’s just when an industry is doing well, there’s plenty of profit to make up for that, so people don’t bother with it as much. When times and belts get tight, then every dollar counts, and we get attacks on the free riders as an easy target to blame. (And related cutbacks, like fewer review copies available.) That’s the same attitude that causes companies to attempt to restrict used sales of promo copies, for example. They’re all attempts to stick a finger in the dam to prevent leakage when every drop counts.

  84. William Flanagan Says:

    Johanna, if this were a court of law or a scientific review board, then you could argue that correlation is not causation. But we are people of varying degrees of experience with our respective industries discussing a point, and we needn’t hold ourselves to the same standards. Correlation is not necessarily causation, but usually, it is. And it’s safe to assume that it is except in the presence of evidence to the contrary.

    “Piracy became more widespread, maybe (or did it just become more visible?).”

    Prior to March, 2010, One Manga was not in the top 1000 Google world-wide websites. Afterwards, it was, and there is was a chart spread on Twitter today (Yesterday, your time?) that had it rising into the area of the top 100 in the weeks before its closure. This is not a rise? In the case of the Internet, more visible means a rise.

    So we have a demonstrable rise in piracy and a demonstrable fall in manga sales. Now, with One Manga closed (thus indicating an, at least temporary, fall in piracy), we have a reported immediate rise in legitimate manga sales.

    Under what logic can you assume that these are not connected? Why is assuming a connection here a reach? It seems to me that the most reasonable thing to do is assume that they are indeed connected until there is some greater evidence that they are not, and to act accordingly. In our case, that means making efforts to protect the legitimate industry with our words and support.

    To your point that other print media have been falling too, I would state that those other print media have been falling since the early 2000s. In fact, nearly all print media have seen falling sales during that period…except manga. Manga was one of the bright spots in the industry until this confluence of events happened. The drastic U-turn of manga should be evidence that it is, in some way, more effected by the downturn (in other words, had the added push of piracy) than the rest of the print industry.

    So to your point that no one’s demonstrated in an effective way to prove that piracy is a significant drag on the industry, my response is, they shouldn’t have to demonstrate it with absolute, irrefutable proof. They simply need to make convincing arguments that take into account the facts that are available and add logical assumptions to come to a reasonable conclusion. I think we’ve done that. And to tell the truth, I’m a little baffled by the resistance to it. I haven’t heard any evidence to the contrary that matches the evidence for.

  85. DeBT Says:

    William Flanagan Says: “…there have been anecdotal evidence from comic book shops that sales of manga have increased since One Manga was taken down.”

    Sorry to slightly derail what’s been a very heated debate about the ethics of scanned comics, but I was wondering if you could elaborate on where you heard these ancedotes from. I’d be very interested to hear their responses.

    If they’re nothing more than rumors without evidence, it’s hardly a smoking gun. A link or two to someone who supported the closing of OneManga would be appreciated.

    Interestingly, when Manga is googled, OneManga is STILL the top ranked choice, even though it’s closed its doors three weeks ago. That’s some devoted loyalty right there.

  86. William Flanagan Says:

    DeBT, sorry, it was on a podcast that I heard recently and second-hand at that. That’s why I said it was anecdotal evidence — which never really qualifies as hard evidence anyway.

    The better evidence can be found here in the Comics Alliance discussion with three manga publishing representatives. Check the third paragraph of Ed Chavez’s first statement.

    For those who don’t want to click the link, the quote is as follows,
    “Others have argued that scans can be used to promote lesser known titles. Well in our case when pirates start scanning our books, we immediately see drops in sales. And in two cases where we got scan sites to comply with our cease and desist requests, we have seen sales go up to their previous numbers in the months after the pirated pages were removed from the web.”

  87. Andrew Farago Says:

    Getting way back to the original question again (and apologies if someone brought this up already), but now that most companies are in the practice of offering digital versions of their backstock, your purchase of a hard copy of a comic definitely doesn’t entitle you to a free/pirated copy of the same book.

    If Marvel or DC or Viz want to include a coupon or code or something that entitles you to a free download of a comic with purchase, that’s great, but my purchase of an Avengers comic book doesn’t give me license to bypass Marvel’s online sales system to score a pirated digital version of that comic.

    That’s akin to buying a movie ticket and going home to download the movie from an online pirate site since I’ve already given money to the studios and it’s too inconvenient for me to go back to the theater every time I want to see the movie again.

  88. Johanna Says:

    I wish someone who had more patience than I did would do a month survey of DC and Marvel and determine just how many of those current releases are available online within a month of release. Because my guess is that it’s only about 10%, maybe up to 20%. Certainly “I can’t buy this even if I wanted to” is no excuse, but it does shed light on why someone may want to look elsewhere for digital versions.

  89. DanielBT Says:

    Found some recent essays about people wanting an end to scanlation:

  90. James Schee Says:

    Johanna, is that through their stores or on pirate sites as well?

    If the first, the really that doesn’t require too much patience as near as I can tell DC and Marvel only have 1 each D&D release. With the occasional exception for a one shot or preview of new direction. (DC put first story of JMS’s Wonder Woman and Superman Grounded up soon after issues hit)

    Everything else is months, most time YEARS behind. (Marvel’s Captain America just had the issue where Bucky became Cap)

  91. Scott Says:

    I haven’t been paying too much attention to digital comics, but – for fear that it was only going to be available digitially – I was watching Spectacular Spider-Girl’s availability on-line and in-print. The digital version came out a week or so ahead of the print version.

  92. DeBT Says:

    One more link about scanlators & their entitlement mentality:

    Something that explains a lot;

    “For those complaining on why Toboso took so long to complain, here’s the thing. In Japan, it’s considered really rude to talk back to someone publicly. Unless it’s something seriously important, then they usually don’t say anything. The culture in Japan is totally different from other countries. I’m sure you understand this if you consider yourself to be a Japanese culture aficionado.”

    “Toboso’s speech has a deeper meaning beyond just complaining about scanlations and fansubs. It’s also a harsh reminder of the society we’re currently living in, where we take things for granted and not many people truly appreciate a hard day’s work. Unless society emphasizes a greater need for impulse control, the crazy conflicts & debates will never end & EVERYONE will lose.”

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  94. Hsifeng Says:

    Johanna Says:

    “…in which a reader asks for the columnist’s opinion on downloading a ‘pirate’ copy of a book he has already purchased in order to avoid lugging a three-and-a-half-pound book on his trip…”

    A similar case could be downloading a copy of a book someone already purchased from an online retailer (especially if his or her only brick-and-mortar LCS is still too far away, a place where she or he got treated badly, or whatever) in order to read it on the release date, after she or he pays for it and before his or her print copy arrives.

    What if online retailers would provide encrypted access to digital equivalents (no extra features like animation or the ability to search text) of the print copies, and only show you the password/code/cookie/etc. for an issue when you pay for the print copy?

    sci-guy-jim Says:

    “…In my near-perfect world, a hard copy – be it comic, dvd, whatever, would include a single use code to give you a universal media license.”

    Something like this, but with the code included on the receipt instead of in the hard copy, so you don’t have to wait for the print copy to arrive to read the digital copy.

    Johanna Says:

    “…Perhaps we started out talking about a particular jungle and its inhabitants, and Steven and I were talking about exotic birds and those bigger birds who prey on them, and you want to talk about monkeys? Only we just talked about monkeys last week, and we’re tired of monkeys right now, but you keep insisting we can’t talk about any part of the jungle without talking about monkeys? We’ve acknowledged the monkeys, we just want to talk about birds this time.

    “Ooh, animal metaphors are fun. And happier to contemplate…”

    You’ve just reminded me of the giant harpy eagles of the Orinoco, Venezuela. Do check out both videos – the 2nd’s in a smaller screen :/ but it’s longer too. :)

    Now back to your regularly scheduled monkey discussion. ;)

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  97. Harlan Says:

    Joanna you keep doing what you are doing. I write for a living. If everybody bought a copy of my work and then read a pirate copy on their ipad etc that wouldn’t bother me in the least. I was already paid. Plus my readers can read it without having to lug it on an airplane etc–which equals happy readers and happy readers want to buy the next book. The ‘industry’ needs to catch up or shut up.

  98. Does Anyone Understand Deprivation Any More? Piracy Because You Want It » Comics Worth Reading Says:

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  99. Pachilles Says:

    Before the internet, this was still how things were. Comics are art. How many people have seen the Mona Lisa? Did they pay to see it? Maybe, they were charged to get into the museum. How much does it cost to OWN it though? How many people recorded off of the radio when a song played? Did the song artist get paid every time that happened? The artist frequently paid money to get in ON the radio. They knew it increased their recognition, and knew they’d get paid later when a physical copy was sold. The difference is the medium… the form. Stan Lee makes money without relying on comic sales.

    The internet brought a shift into the market. People wanting to see something shouldn’t be thrown in jail. Anyone ever wanted to read Action comics #1? Do you really expect to pay the thousands of $ to read it? How many people want to hold and own a comic in paper format? Well, that should cost them, just like owning the Mona Lisa painting. What needs to shift is not human nature of wanting something for free, but figuring out how to charge for a wanted premium or format.

    Can you download a song for free? Is it available on iTunes for a charge? Does it still make money? Why? Maybe it’s convenient to find. Maybe it’s a better quality. Maybe it comes with extras you don’t find with a free download. Does a CD still sell because of that song? Maybe people want to hold that form of media, with the extras, how it feels, the convenience, how it adds to a displayed collection. People still go to concerts to see the artist perform, and the atmosphere that comes with it.

    The internet brought a shift, just like the radio, just like newspapers, and just like TV. The difference is the access is a broader scale. I’ve seen The Avengers in the movie theater, in a “pirated” digital format, and I will still own it on Blu-Ray. I’ve owned and read Avengers comics, and I have “pirated” Avengers comics. Theaters give atmosphere and large scale. Digital gives the story. DVD/BR give you the commentaries and side content.

    All the companies and artists have received a share of money from me, sometimes multiple times. It’s simply a matter of scale and format.

    If a company wants to continue making money in this current day and age, stop trying to make your customers out to be the ‘bad guy’ for wanting it. Start figuring ways the make the product worth purchasing over the shared version. People will always want to OWN it, FEEL it, DISPLAY it, and get EXTRAS that are not commonly (or able to be) shared.

    The answer to comic “piracy” is easy. Companies need to change the way they make their money, bu keeping up with the times. Who really wants to go into a comic store to buy their first comic in years just to be lost from it being in the middle of the story-line? Don’t you want to see how that story-line started? Maybe you want to know how the Avengers are missing, say Spider-Man since you last read it. Maybe you want to know why the characters themselves are different than they were when you were a kid? Maybe you want to see all the branches of a particular character’s comic life? How does the customer solve these problems? He/she COULD figure out how to get the free “pirated” versions, figure out the software required to display it, figure out how to organize them all, figure out how to store them conveniently. OR the comic companies could provide all that, the service, and the convenience, for a reasonable fee. Make it obvious by printing a web address and maybe even a cell phone scan-able link. Give the customer a selection of back stories from that comic on, or throughout that universe. Show them how and what to do to keep them reading. The comic companies can even make use of the already “pirated” files on the internet for free. Hire someone to go through those old files and make them better. Update the ads, better quality scans in some cases, run them through OCR software, etc. Keep the actual scanned comics free, and maybe sell a simple software that uses them to make common terms hyper-linked. The companies have just saved themselves possibly millions of dollars in employee hours of scanning old issues. Who wouldn’t want to be able to click on “X-23″ (for example) to find the origin, and/or the related stories? Like a particular artist? Click on his name displayed at the beginning to see what he’s done in the past. MAKE A PRINTED COMIC SALE A WINDOW INTO A UNIVERSE OF IMAGINATION AND ENTERTAINMENT! Stop making them feel guilty for wanting more than what is easily available.

  100. Bobby W Says:

    I just wanted to add in my two cents, because I have been searching the internet all day for a digital comic book solution I am happy with, and it is beginning to look like one does not exist. I love my physical comic books, I really do, but recently I have discovered the joy of reading comics on my ipad. Now when you look at legal options for digital comics, they fall very short of illegal, pirated versions. This is because when I buy a digital comic book, I essentially only get the right to read that book on the terms of the publisher. You have to read the book through their application. What happens if the company ditches the plan? What if they go out of business? What if I want to read it on another device, and there is no app for that service on that app? My issue is that I don’t really feel like I own the item. So my options right now are to either buy a physical copy, or essentially rent a digital version with limited use for the exact same price. I understand why they are limited right now, and if they want to handle it the way they currently are, the issues should be a lot cheaper. For me to buy digital for the cover price, I would really need the ability to back it up on my computer, or store it on my hard drive.

  101. Steve Ditko Says:

    Johanna getting a digital copy of what you already bought is fine. There is nothing wrong with it. A copy of what you already have is not unethical. The law needs to catch up with ethics if it disagrees.
    You are NOT doing anything wrong.




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