I remember when Napster first came out. It was a revelation. The fact that you had access to any song you could think of at a simple keystroke and could download it to your home computer to burn onto a CD was mind blowing at the time. For me, it was the first glimpse into what the wacky Information Highway could provide.
It was also the first instance of what havoc the internet and technology could do to people as well. Folks attitudes toward music and other forms of media changed. It went from a product you purchased at a store to a bunch of ones and zeroes you captured in the ether. People began feeling entitled to entertainment since they could obtain it so easily. The main argument you’d hear is that downloading some music would allow them to try a band out and if they liked them, they would buy stuff from that artist. Yet before you knew it, you had that artist’s catalogue on your hard drive without so much as a poster you purchased of that band anywhere in your possession.
Fast forward twenty years and thanks to amazing advancements in technology, we’re at a point where all forms of entertainment are obtainable with electronics, including comic books. And the attitude that was prevalent when Napster debuted is still around today.
Sites on the internet allow you to either download your favorite comics or read them directly on the site itself, albeit while having to fend off virus laden ads that pop up on your screen. Some folks have no problem with this because they’re convinced that just because they cannot afford a particular comic at any given time, they still have a right to read that comic.
These people are stealing from the artists and writers they claim they love. They’re not pirates, they’re crooks. If someone used the same excuse they use towards downloading comics illegally towards stealing a car, people would not share the same laissez faire attitude people have towards stealing an intellectual property.
An independent publisher who’s comics I have reviewed here, Alterna Comics, recently had some of their comics unleashed on some of these sites. Worse, it turned out that the issues in question were copies that Alterna provides to reviewers like myself in order to generate interest in sales. Alterna Comics is a great publishing house putting out some great comics. But they’re no Marvel. They’re not DC Comics. They’re a publisher that gives chances to independent artists and writers who may not otherwise get that attention. Comparing comics to music, they’re an indie label showcasing new talent.
Peter Simeti, the President of Alterna Comics, had this to say:
"We've discovered that these pirated copies are getting thousands of views. Now, that doesn't mean that if there wasn't pirating that those views would equal sales. It would be ignorant and arrogant to assume that. It does affect our bottom line though but it's difficult to measure. What worries me more is the breach of trust between reviewer and creator/publisher. Most people that are reading comics on these sites don't necessarily mean any malice towards the creators. In fact, they most likely love the books and don't see anything different than if they borrowed a library copy or shared a copy from a friend. The worst part about these sites, other than the obvious theft aspect, is the fact that they are also asking for donations to continue to host the stolen books. These donations that are given are ironic when you consider that a comic book is one of the most inexpensive forms of stolen media, especially in digital form. But it speaks to the ignorance that the readers of these comics have. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if many of them are assuming that the books are free WITH the permission of the content creators. These readers aren't criminals and I'm not looking to shame them, as I said above most of them are reading these books because they love them. But when everything is boiled down, it's a personal responsibility issue of the individual to not support pirating sites or pirated material - from the reviewer that breaks the trust, the reader, the site runner, etc.. That's what makes this situation so difficult. There will always be pirating on some level, I'm confident in that, because there always has been. But that doesn't mean we have to stay silent about it."
There are some clever rationalizations out there for these actions. One gentleman on Twitter proclaimed that due to comics being expensive, he has no problem reading them on websites that post the comics on there. He also stated that he felt he was not stealing since he did not download the comic directly to his computing device.
Wrong. While some folks don’t get it, an intellectual property is just as much a product as a can of peaches, a car, or an iPad. It is a product that the creators of the piece want you to purchase. It doesn’t matter how you go about it, if you are viewing their product without paying for it, you are stealing that product. You can claim that viewing this material online is comparable to reading a comic at a store and putting it back on the shelf all you want but guess what, that too is stealing! You are using a product that is meant for sale without compensating the creators.
At the end of the day, if you’re not paying for the comics you’re reading, you’re stealing. When companies are not getting properly compensated for the product they put out, they’re going to make less product. And when less product is being made, fewer artists and writers will be able to entertain you with their stories. When that happens, the world will be a sadder place as a result.
As Peter Simeti stated, piracy will always be around in one way, shape, or form. There will always be someone out there who feels they shouldn’t have to pay for the content they consume and will steal from hardworking creators no matter where they work. Similar to the music industry, the comics industry is adjusting to the digital age with a la carte services like Marvel Unlimited, Comic Blitz, Comixology Unlimited, and other apps that give you a smorgasbord of material to view for a reasonable price per month. It gives you a chance to explore a vast array of material you might not otherwise have given a chance to. As a personal example, I’ve come across some great comics like Ms. Marvel from Marvel Comics, Holy F*ck from Action Lab: Danger Zone Comics, and Corktown from Alterna Comics. They were not choices I would have picked up cold at my local comic book store but damn if they’re not some of my favorite comics out today. Even if I come across a comic I don’t particularly enjoy, no one loses. The creators still get their money.
The comic book industry is not a charity. They tell some great stories, from the big companies to the small ones, but to keep creating those stories, they need to make money. The more folks consume their comics in a way that keeps the creators of the stories from getting paid, the more you’ll see these companies put out less product to sell. If you are a fan of a particular comic, you have to support them with your money. Even if that is getting a library card and checking them out from the library, there are much better ways of reading a comic than stealing it.