- Posted by Johanna on February 13, 2012 at 4:51 pm
- Category: Digital and Webcomics
David Brothers has written the latest discussion piece about piracy and file-sharing, asking the question, “When is piracy understandable?” I’m sympathetic to this point of view (as can be seen from this essay I wrote a year and a half ago along similar lines, justifying free digital copies when you’ve already bought the print comic). However, I found myself taking the alternate viewpoint, just for fun, when reading some of David’s examples.
-You’re allowed to have a copy of your media for personal use. Does downloading an mp3 or cbr count as a copy? If you get a copy created by someone else, since creating your own backups can be time consuming, is that still valid?
-What if what you want a copy of isn’t available commercially? If the scan is the only source of it, barring back-issue bins? What then?
-Should you be able to pirate something you have already paid for? I’ve definitely bought Nas’s Illmatic several times now across several formats. Tape, CD, MP3, and then vinyl.
These are only a few of his sample cases, but they’re ones that all have the same thing in common: downloading is easier. You don’t have to hunt for back issues or pay high collectible prices or spend your time making a media copy yourself.
I’m now going to sound like a fogey: Why should it be easier? Why should you get a copy just because you want one? Why should “it costs more than I want to pay” be a justification? Once upon a time, there was such a thing as doing without. If you missed seeing that movie because it didn’t play your local theater or you had to go out with your family the night it ran on TV, you were out of luck. If you wanted a copy, videotapes were $80 or $100. You made choices based on priorities, and you didn’t feel as though you had the right to see a film just because you wanted to. If you couldn’t find a copy of that comic you missed from the newsstand, you did your best to keep on reading the series, and maybe 20 years later, you finally found a copy and realized how Wonder Woman got out of that pyramid death trap.
That’s a long time ago, now, and I know how old-fashioned it all sounds, but there is an upside to deprivation and not having everything you want as soon as you want it. You appreciate what you have all the more, and the thrill of the hunt may give you more pleasure in the final result. When I can hear about a book, click to Amazon, and have it at my door two days later, I don’t value that reading experience as much. When I had to hunt used bookstores, never knowing whether a dusty old set of shelves in a store in another town would hold that last volume, it added to my memories of enjoying a series. I love the books I read back then much more than I love anything I’ve read in the last decade. (It also helped that owning fewer books meant that I re-read them more often.)
Today, people laugh at the idea that “you can’t have that”. Maybe the owner can’t come to terms on a release (such as with the Batman TV show) or maybe the limited number of items make prices prohibitive (Miracleman back issues). Those interested say “ha!” and share it all. They can have anything that crosses their minds, regardless of price tag or availability. “I want it” is enough justification. But maybe that’s not a good idea for more than just the “you’re wrong and immoral!” usual name-calling.
I’m not the only one pointing at the issue of demand/desire as key. A recent study about movies concluded that “there is no evidence that BitTorrent piracy hurts US box office returns…. International movie piracy losses are directly linked to the delay between US and foreign premieres. In other words, the longer it takes before a movie is released internationally, the more box office revenues are impacted through piracy.” So you better satisfy that customer demand quickly, or you’ll hurt your own revenue. Good thing most comic publishers have gone to same-day digital release.