“When is it not pirating?” and/or “When is piracy understandable?”

February 12th, 2012 by | Tags:

-You own several comics, movies, and compact discs. You find yourself quickly running out of space, so you decide to box up all that stuff and switch to digital.

-Do you have to re-buy these works in a digital format or should you be allowed to download them for free?

-You’re not going to share your downloads. They’re strictly for your use, because you are a lazybones and/or out of space.

-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?

-Is this piracy? I feel like it probably definitely is, but it’s a type of piracy that I’m okay with.

-What are you buying when you buy media? Are you buying the Blu-ray disc with Redline or are you buying the experience of watching Redline?

-I would argue the latter. I don’t care about a disc or floppy. I care about reading a story or watching a movie. The comics or movie industry would argue differently, of course, and the law is on their side.

-My gut feeling is that it’s piracy, but it’s not the type of piracy I’d get mad at someone for. Yes, it’s wrong, but I think it’s the type of piracy that’s… I hesitate to say reasonable, but that’s probably the exact word I mean. For me, the delivery system doesn’t matter much at all, unless I’m buying something specifically for that delivery system, like an Absolute edition or tricked out special edition. Does that make sense? I’m not buying anything physical. (Though that does raise questions about medium vs message, but let’s table that for now.) Does that change the conversation at all?

-Is buying something secondhand more legitimate than downloading something you own? In both cases, the original rights holders don’t get paid for the new twist, but were paid for the original purchase. There’s a difference in legal legitimacy here, obviously, but if your piracy position is all about the creator being paid, then they feel like they’re both in violation (which is why video games companies have been going hard on the used games market and punishing consumers for buying used over the past three or so years).

-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. I wanted to listen to one of my favorite albums on whatever device I had handy at that point in my life (and the ritual of listening to one of the best albums of all time on vinyl was irresistible), and the purchases were several years apart. At the same time, I have several bootleg versions of Illmatic that I didn’t pay for. I’ve deleted a lot of them since, but at the peak, I had two different instrumental versions (one was legit, the other a recreation I believe), a piano instrumentals version, an Al Green mash-up, a version with a few demos from the original sessions or something, a live version, and another version where other rappers recreated the songs. Am I out of line? Where do my rights stop, as “dude who bought the album?”

What’re your feelings on this one specific aspect of the piracy debate? Once you buy it, do you have a license to more of it, or should you have to pay? Legally, I think the answer is clear, but… morally, ethically, how bad do you need to feel about yourself if you bootleg Amazing Spider-Man 121 because you’re too lazy to dig Spider-Man: Death of the Stacys out of storage?

Couple notes for the comments because I hate how people use any post about piracy as a chance to talk about how piracy is totally, 100%, a-okay: piracy is not a revolutionary act in any way, shape or form. You aren’t fighting the power. You’re listening to stuff for free. Seriously, I don’t care. You should pay a fair price for the stuff you enjoy. You shouldn’t pirate books you hate just so you can hate them. Piracy can help, but it can also hurt. It’s obvious that the person who created the work should get to decide how it’s used. People pirate because they want something for free more than they want to kick somebody else some cash. Something something it’s illegal so go kill yourself for pirating you filthy pirate something. Blah blah information wants to be free blah. Use common sense. Use protection. Don’t do drugs. Piracy funds terrorism and therefore pirates should be drawn and quartered. Never trust a big butt and a smile.

Please don’t be annoying in the comments, is all I’m asking.

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27 comments to ““When is it not pirating?” and/or “When is piracy understandable?””

  1. I definitely agree with some of these, in that they might be considered piracy, but I have no problem with them. A few years ago, my wife transferred her CD collection to her computer and boxed them all up. This year, she had a hard drive crash. She has since downloaded some of those albums, just because it’s easier than actually digging the cd out and ripping it again.

    The experience I’ve had the most is in getting things that are not commercially available. I lived in China for a year, and you bet I bought a bunch of pirated DVDs of TV shows. There was absolutely no way I could obtain those legally where I was otherwise.

    There are also a lot of books I like that aren’t in print anymore, like the Tabletop Role-Playing game 7th Sea. It’s been gone for a while, and a lot of the secondary books are either not available to buy used or they cost $50+ for a paperback. I did buy some of them, but others I just got online.

  2. I agree with you that it should be “okay,” that we should value the product more than the format. I mean, it wasn’t long ago that the anti-piracy crusaders of today were furious – furious – that you could trade a mixtape (our childhoods!) or tape something off the TV. And you know, we always cite that stuff for proof that those guys are full of shit – and they are – but, you know, mix tapes kinda WERE piracy? You didn’t pay a licensing fee.

    So what exactly IS personal use? If you scan up your comics and don’t distribute them, the argument is, you’re using your media – the thing that DRM prevents, even though you paid for whatever the DRM is on. But… what if your bro comes over to visit and he reads your scanned comics on your computer? Is that different than lending your hard copy? What if you e-mail the pages to your friend? Is that distribution now, just because he never came to your house? What if, despite saying he wouldn’t, your bro torrents it? Are you culpable? What if your friend sells the hard copies you lend him, because he’s an asshole and needs money?

    The problem is, the discussion’s unbalanced because they guys with the lawyers would, if they actually could, would prevent you from lending anything to anyone, anytime – because to them it prevents a sale (which isn’t necessarily true). And, you know, on the other side the worst of the pirates feel entitled to scan everything that ever existed and hand it out to candy, even if they CAN afford it.

    You know, Roberto Bolano talked about how when he was young he would steal literature that he couldn’t afford, and that was a big part of his literary education. And we all sorta find that charming and bohemian. I wonder sometimes, in some parallel universe where the only stuff pirated was “classic” and “great” stuff, if we would be quicker to defend it as getting “True Art” to the people who can’t afford it – whereas for us a huge chunk of it is stuff that might not actually be worth what is charged for it. I’m not trying to stick up for that POV though.

    Wow I got really off topic.

    Yes, I think that when we’ve actively paid for something, we should have a right to do with it as we damned well please (you know, without getting into some bullshit hair-splitting where we pick obvious exceptions, like handing really adult stuff to toddlers or whatever). The artist’s intent for my comic is to read it. If I want to cut it up into individual panels and make wallpaper, that’s certainly within my rights, so why isn’t scanning it to read on my PC?

    The argument, I guess, is that if you’re downloading those scans from somewhere else rather than going through the tedium, you’re supporting a site that does real piracy. And I guess that makes sense, but what if your friend did the scanning, and sent it to you? You both bought the book. Is it the anonymity of the internet that shifts it to being “wrong” and/or “illegal?” If that’s the POV, it argues that these guidelines are less about the Bad Piracy and more about “We don’t know what to do with the new rules of the world,” and I don’t mean everything should be free.

    Piracy has fucked a lot of shit up, and I do think it’s wrong, and it’d be lovely if it went away and all, but I think a lot of this stuff comes down to the system being fundamentally flawed – I don’t just mean the middlemen and corporate and blah blah, but a system that places monetary value on physical media, and uses that as the primary means of supporting artists and keeping them financially secure. I don’t have an alternative (these past few weeks have shown some amazing things when it comes to “donations” and “patronage,” but only for well-established people with fanbases), but I think the rot in the tree is further at the roots than we think sometimes.

    Did that all come off as nonsense? It’s 2am here and I only woke up a few hours ago.

  3. My biggest problem with laws against online piracy is the penalties for it. You could be ruined financially for it or even imprisoned for up to 5 years for it. Yet, the man that left me hospitalized for two weeks and was charged for attempted manslaughter for it was given 3 years probation.
    I’m not saying there should be no punishment for piracy, but to be charged many thousands of dollars for it and possibly go to jail for it is a bit extreme.

  4. I wrote a really long comment, so I killed it and I’m starting over. You’re welcome.

    I think there’s a couple of important things, here. One is that “dude who bought the album” has a responsibility whose most important feature is that it ends somewhere. Copying for your own use demonstrably doesn’t have any kind of “inherent badness” to it: if I sit down and hand-copy The Lord Of The Rings so I can hang penmanship examples on the walls of my living room, it just doesn’t fucking matter, and nobody cares, and more importantly they can’t stop me. Put these three things together and it’s fine, the law shouldn’t have anything to say about it…in fact the law doesn’t have anything to say about it. The law says, pretty firmly, that people who sell things sell those things: books and records are just books and records, copyright isn’t for numinous ideas but for concrete physical expressions, and no one sells an “experience” because if they did they’d have a hell of a time collecting on it. I can give a book or a record to somebody if I no longer want it, and especially if it would cost me a hassle to get rid of it otherwise then who would fault me? If they were inclined to fault me then secondhand bookstores and record stores could have been made illegal very easily at any time in the last few hundred years, and yet they’re still not illegal. So that’s legitimacy, right there: society at large is absolutely cool with the resale of copyrighted material, so to worry about it is like the sin of scruples: when God forgives you your sins, it’s not your place to wonder if the forgiving was good enough. And after all, nothing that can be held in a library can be claimed to be sold on a per-reading-experience basis…

    But there is something that I think people maybe aren’t aware of, that’s important here too, which is that if there’s one thing that ISN’T true for copyrighted material, it’s that “the price is the price is the price”. The size of payments differs a lot by use, the manner of payment does too: in music, performance and mechanical royalties are different, there are drastically different royalty rates that are applied within the category of mechanicals, etc. etc…so none of these standards is THE standard, but they’re all negotiated separately by rightsholders, retailers, governments, and REALITY. An example I always keep coming back to is the levy on sales of blank audio cassettes, that was then redistributed to musicians in the 70s and 80s. This policy was settled on because it was plain that copying couldn’t be policed — and it was overwhelmingly for private use anyway, there was no money being made, but there was a slight possibility that it had an effect on proper mechanical payments, so a way of producing payments was found that a) worked, and b) was proportional…it was a smaller price than the record-store price (as the iTunes royalty is smaller than the record-store royalty today, even though iTunes takes a record-store-sized slice for itself GRRRR), but then that was proportional too, since at that time to have a copy meant having something different from having an “original”. Yeah, well what’s the appreciation of old cassette copies, vs. the appreciation of old original vinyl? And yet to hear a serious difference in quality at that time required a major stereo-system investment, and cassettes were massively more portable anyway, even more massively if the only place you could hear the difference was inside a Hermetic Listening Chamber. So it was use that made the difference, not abstract philosophical principle, and I can’t think of a good reason why we shouldn’t assume that’s still the case. To say “piracy is wrong” is like saying “stealing is wrong”: it’s a tautology. To steal is “to take something wrongfully”, so of course it’s wrong. But to take isn’t always wrong, because it isn’t always stealing. Well, that’s a tautology too, but you take my meaning. To my way of thinking it’s a lot harder for people to claim they’re being ripped off if they’re also getting paid-per-unit-sold. Every busker in the world knows “Rocket Man” brings the coins to the guitar case, but Elton John doesn’t complain about the billions he’s losing to buskers…and do we really think we need to mail Elton John money every time we hear some guy outside the liquor store bashing it out?

    Short answer: the RIAA (to name one) has done a beautiful job of framing all this in such a way that out of your very natural desire not to rip people off you have worried about not paying for Illmatic enough. But I think at some point “dude who bought album” has to be let off the hook. I can’t say it better than Andrew Hickey: “I think Paul and Ringo have probably been adequately compensated for the half-hour it took them to record “Love Me Do” several years before I was born”…yeah, those dudes are probably fine, we should probably not worry our heads about them so much.

    Sorry, I could make this even shorter but that would take another hour. Anyway thanks for asking this, I literally think about this stuff every day.

  5. The way I see it, the penalties for piracy will never fit the crime because money is involved, and big companies losing potential money (even when they aren’t) is always taken personally. If corporations lost money over human life being taken, you can bet your @$$ the laws would be stricter so they can collect.

  6. I agree that there isn’t a compelling legal argument in favor of bootlegging stuff you already own. 

    I agree that companies are right to look the other way for small-time bootlegging which likely centers around personal use and consumer-made redundancies.

    I was going to make a point about X-Force because why would I talk about comic books on the Internet if it’s not about X-Force. Then i checked and the issues i wanted to download are up for legit purchase on Comixology. I want to have a copy of Robert Liefeld’s X-Force one and two on my person at all times. This is a thing that I have decided that i want. “For reasons,” as the Internet saying goes. 

    …okay here is my real response. We have a cultural split due to a simple misunderstanding. Namely that the things being traded on the market are the same for the producer as they are for the consumer. You mention this yourself with your “Redline” example.

    Until the…1980s, pop culture arts/entertainment producers sold their goods to consumers. Electric Ladyland was a body of music to everyone. When homemade cassettes came to exist, suddenly consumer interest and producer interest discovered overnight that there were in fact TWO Electric Ladylands; there was the physical record which offset the economic production costs as well as paying everybody from the artist/estate down to the retail check out clerk. The second Electric Ladyland is the music itself, which was once inextricably bound to the physical record and the system which created it, now unbound by inexpensive cassette technology.

    It all ties to economic principles of scarcity. Bootlegging separates the consumer interest in a product (“information”) from its physical scarcity (“physical medium”). This is rightly labeled “piracy” because it interrupts the flow of normal capitalist trade.

    The part where I become confused and utterly stumped is this:

    1) should we, as a culture, remarry information to discreet formats in order to stitch together these two aspects of media that thirty-odd years of black market copying has torn asunder?

    2) should we, as a culture, move away from art/entertainment being subsidized by physical trade of media which stores the entertaining information. Should we accept that the genie is out of the bottle, that capitalism has decided that consumers will always favor the best price (“free” in this case), and say “goodbye” to media producing companies? Contrary to popular belief, there is a legitimate value to this viewpoint. It is a cruel value but as they say, the market has spoken: people want music and they don’t want to trade money for physical goods to receive it.

    3) iTunes successfully led the way to remarry information to goods. Consumers wanted no physical goods so files became goods. It worked. Many people still prefer the “free” versions of music but the efficiency and consistency of iTunes raised consumer confidence in the idea of paying money for discrete-yet-intangible goods. Everybody won.

    4) A continuation of item #2, if we as a culture vote with our dollars against paying for entertainment, the system which nurtured much of our treasured entertainment (and art) will obviously collapse. Since our economy is capitalist, industries need to remain profitable in order for persons to devote enough time and resources to creating work in said industries. The total collapse of the record industry would actually work against the creation of sophisticated work such as Illmatic. Interestingly enough, the collapse of a legitimate or mainstream business will also discourage the creation of amateur work such as hip hop “mixtapes” (note to audience: mixtapes are not usually literally tapes or mixes; they are often underground albums). Most mixtapes are free or cheap, even in the physical goods market. The reason is plainly aspirational. The hip hop artist is leveraging cheap or free music to build his brand and gain favor in the crowded economic market of music. Therefore, the collapse of the commercial market would also devastate the underground/amateur market. There will always be enthusiasts of the arts who will pursue creation whether or not it is a possible livelihood. However, most of the notable innovation within capitalist systems is encouraged by trade.

    4a) Trade keeps creative innovators on task. The capitalist motive encourages innovators (now we are going wider: artists, producers, scientists, engineers) to study aspects which are useful to consumers. Consumers are the largest segment of the population. Therefore, consumer interest is popular interest–human interest.

    4b) While capitalism, by this same token, discourages unprofitable innovation, there will always be underemployed producers who will pursue these less popular concepts on their own time. This will always occur, even after the total collapse of the capitalist trade system.

    5) the technology for creating comic books (as opposed to music or movies) is cheap. Paradoxically, the technology for copying comic books is individually expensive. Therefore, comic book culture never saw difficulties in bootlegging until the World Wide Web (Internet since 1991) combined with digital scanning to allow for inexpensive copying. Therefore we can see that the comic book industry has simply been unprepared by decades of smaller battles to understand or properly handle modern piracy.

    6) Consumers want the lowest possible price for the most amount of goods (“free, for all” in the case of comic books) and producers want to remain in business. There needs to be some corrective coursework on digital commerce. Comixology led the charge by simply copying iTunes basic outline and applying it to comic books. However, comic books, unlike music are not intrinsically digital. Image files are fundamentally different than audio files. They are large and cumbersome to even modern hardware such as Apple’s iPhone.

    7) Vision is our most dominant perception sense. Auditory is often passive. Digital comic books are large in file size as well as demanding in consumer attention since they require the use of our most active of the five senses. This is problematic because digital media culture often overlaps with Internet culture which often requires divided attention. Occupational hazard. 

    8) More vision problems: I believe that you, David, use an iPad for your digital comic book reading. Correct me if I am wrong. I use an iPhone. Comixology was originally designed with the iPhone in mind. Nobody expected the tablet computer to come to market so quickly after. The problem with tablets is that I believe that while there are more smartphones in the world, tablets are cannibalizing their marketshare. For this reason, comic book producers/innovators lacked incentive to rethink how comic books are produced. The comic book page is too large to be read clearly (or often, “at all”) on a smartphone screen. Comixology’s Guided Viewing technology sought to solve that problem by standardizing panel-by-panel viewing technology, but in retrospect that turned out to be only a stopgap. In the long view, tablets came to market too quickly for comic book producers to respond to the smartphone platform in any meaningful way. Comixology also had no incentive to maximize the stability of the smartphone application and as a result, it is Crash City, population: Ayo, the one iPhone user.

    9) Graphicly lives in an awkward position because it is based on an economic system that is entertaining but economically ridiculous. Based on YouTube but lacking in the ability to distribute whole material for free, Graphicly could have solved the size problem that Comixology presents, but instead, compounds it by adding layers to consumer entry.

    10) Largely due to their fundamental differences in form, comic strip digital services overcome the space problem and the file size problem. Daily Ink and GoComics are between an RSS feed and a streaming content service. They are simple, subscription-based, and lightweight. They are so cheap annually that I subscribe simply to have access. 

    11) Marvel Comics and DC Comics have existed in a small economy with their degree of dominance enforced by their ability to flood the market. Comic strips never had that ability–they are part of another market, the newspaper market. As such, Marvel and DC’s largest bludgeon, their ability to produce enough goods to force out competitors becomes an anchor which prevents them from providing their serialized entertainment goods (akin to television programs in many ways) at a reasonable subscription rate. Consumers of comic books are voracious readers. Many of them are habit readers who read to keep apace of a large narrative. Subscription services would benefit these consumers but it isn’t possible for Marvel or DC to offer this kind of service at a fee that would be reasonable to consumers’ needs.

    12) Downside to streaming: cannot access offline. Didn’t hurt YouTube but since comics are not historically native to the Internet, it is probably too great a cultural gap to require that consumers always have Internet access in order to read glorified image files.


    What I basically want: Lady Gaga.

    What comic book people never want to talk about: neither producers/innovators nor consumers is a fundamental and structural change to the comic book product itself. You, David, and Warren Ellis are just about the only persons that I have heard make arguments about evolving not only how comics are sold, but also how they are made.

    My favorite thing (personally) is Scans Daily. Not the site itself, but how pages are just stacked in columns of blog post links. I enjoy that format. Steve Wolfhard’s Cat Rackham website (defunct, offline) operated in a similar fashion. You click a link and it takes you to a stack of pages. All you’ve got to do is scroll. 

    If there was a way to make shorter comic books that were denser in story (6-12 pages; think 2000AD) which could be sold in stacks like that–I’d give that company all of my money.

    Musicians like Lady Gaga thrived in the new music market because they realized that every song had to be a “single.” The era of the “album song” is over. That format was wonderful but in iTunes’ single-driven, unbundled enjoinment the only way to sell an entire album is to make a product that is comprised of individually viable units.

    Comic books are stuck in the album era. Can you tell me about issue #29 of Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca’s Invincible Iron Man? Of course you cannot, it’s part of a product, not a discrete idea itself. 

    The key to digital success, particularly in a smaller marketplace like comic books is that each unit (since streaming is out of the question) needs to be worth the consumer’s time and money.

    The idea of DC Comics’ Smallville series is a step in the right direction: weekly episodes that are very short. I like that and formally endorse that plan as a compromise to the items listed above.


    Thank you for your post, it really encouraged me to think this stuff over.

  7. @Darryl Ayo B.:

    This is going to sound ridiculous, but have you ever read Homestuck? To me that’s the furthest I’ve seen anybody experiment with the webcomic format and it’s limitations, and it’s incredibly well written if you can get past the point where he stops crowd-sourcing “commands”. It’s an interesting dichotomy though because on the one hand, the updates are always short and pretty succinct, like you say they should be, but the product as a whole is thousands of “pages” (technically panels) long and the length is what turns most people off. Warren referred to the need for a “Cerebus of webcomics” and I honestly think that’s the closest we have at the moment, and well worth a look.

  8. I don’t have much to contribute to the actual discussion, but like some dudes above, with comics I pirate things I already own that I might need to refer to quickly (i.e. King City) or stuff that’s straight up out of print (i.e. everything by Moebius ever that’s not with Jodorowsky) because I want to read it and how else am I going to do it. Specifically though, I keep them on my iPhone, because to me that’s the closest thing to a physical copy: you can carry it around and bring it up and look at it whenever you want. And I can read The Airtight Garage while taking a dump, just like if I had a physical copy.

  9. “Has Darryl read Homestuck?” Hahahahaha Kevin Czap and I are laughing pretty hard over here.

  10. […] Piracy | If you have already paid for something — a comic, a movie — and you want a digital copy, is it OK to get a bootleg? David Brothers looks at this scenario and the question of whether you are obligated to pay for content more than once. “Legally, I think the answer is clear, but… morally, ethically, how bad do you need to feel about yourself if you bootleg Amazing Spider-Man 121 because you’re too lazy to dig Spider-Man: Death of the Stacys out of storage?” [4thLetter!] […]

  11. I think all that stuff is piracy, and maybe some people who are doing this small piracy (I don’t want to dig comics out of my storage space, so I downloaded it OR I downloaded MiracleMan because it’s not available any other way) get knocked around in the fight to stop major piracy.

    But the BIG issues is that with the internet, I can scan my copy of Amazing Fantastic-Man and send it to hundreds or more likely thousands upon thousands of people. And most of those people don’t own the issue. And will never buy the issue.

    Even if you eliminate the people with more legitimate reasons for downloading it, the vast majority stole it. And that’s because of piracy. And that’s the issue.

    I suspect if piracy was only being done on more legitimate stuff (long out of print material – only by people who bought the issues and the trade already and just want it on their phone/ipad) you wouldn’t hear as many complaints about it. Though you’d never hear any praise…. because as everyone seems to agree. It’s still piracy.

    But the truth is, the internet makes piracy too easy. Much easier then selling bootleg copies on a street corner, or ebaying video tapes, or any way it was done in the past.

  12. Wow, B.B.D. were advanced thinkers about digital piracy even back in 1992.

  13. What about libraries as gov. supported torrents? Over the years I’ve donated many trades, DVDs and CDs to my local library. Making products I legally purchased available, for free, to anyone and I received a tax credit for it. It’s not exactly the same as posting the content on a torrent, as only 1 person at a time can download/take-out the item, but from a legal standpoint is it that much different?

  14. “Is buying something secondhand more legitimate than downloading something you own? In both cases, the original rights holders don’t get paid for the new twist, but were paid for the original purchase.”

    Both are equally legitimate.
    However, downloading for free something that is currently on-the-market without buying the available product first (whether new or second-hand) is something I don’t do.

    However, if something is long out-of-print or totally-unavailable on the open market (for example, the 1966 Green Hornet tv series.), it’s a different story.
    If the original supplier isn’t interested in providing something I can and would, buy from him/it, there’s no reason to not acquire it in another fashion, since there’s no way to get it from the originator.

  15. Always a tough question. If I own something in one format I should, logically, own it in all formats, right?

    That’s the justification I used for buying a Japanese copy of Mother 3 and then downloading the ROM and the translation patch so that I could play it. I’m pretty sure I’m not in the clear, legally, but it’s the only way for me to feel morally ok with it.

    Have I had a CD get scratched/damaged and downloaded a copy because I felt like, “Yeah, I own it.”? Yes.

    Fuck some of these laws. I hate being treated like a criminal for trying to experience things that I own/have bought in the way I want to experience it.

  16. my point of view: my music purchases are 99% vinyl- i have bought three cds since 2008. when records dont come with download codes, i download em. if i already have something on cd and its buried in a closet, i download. when records go out of print in 48 hours, i download them (often times from the band or label themselves who post it since they knew the pressing of 300 copies was going to be gone instantly)

    i have all of ONE major label record i have downloaded illegaly without then buying it on vinyl…and thats because it isnt available. i also dont ever download any comics/movies/tv, period, so i may not be the person to ask about this stuff

  17. As long as the RIAA and MPAA have no issue with screwing consumers by using horrible pricing structures, and have no problems screwing content creators out of their cash, I have no problem screwing them.

    That said, I find it’s always best to give your business to the artists who give their creations away for free. Go see a band that encourages taping and sharing of their show, their music is better than the overproduced record company crap anyhow. Download a video game that a creator gives away for free, then kick him a $10 donation if it’s good. Screw the big corps, peer to peer art is where it’s at.

  18. I think the value of what is put out needs to be seen in a dynamic way. Or at least that’s the consideration I make when I download anything, piracy or legal. I would actually love a streaming-esque subscription service for comics because the reality is that sometimes I DON’T want to own a physical copy or the rights to a comic, or any other vast number of media. I think the experience you mention hits the nail right on the head there, and it’s frustrating that there’s often a lot of dissonance just to reach that experience. When that’s the case, I’m usually apt to not even want to pirate material anymore. This has especially held true to comics, as when I was adding up the cost of my pull list, my interest in the medium just wasn’t justifying the price. I don’t even like comics that much, but I feel like I want to? The price and system just make me not like comics in general. I don’t want to read the stuff, free or otherwise, because it feels like I’m not even being met half-way as a consumer.

    In that way I’d rather be a non-entity, compared to being either a thief or a sucker.

  19. This is on my mind a lot lately as I’m thinking about a switch in formats for both music and comics.

    I’ve been contemplating taking all my graphic novels to a used book store then putting the money towards buying the digital versions of the ones I really can’t live with out, but the thought of downloading them did cross my mind.

    The biggest problem I have with digital (music, comics, anything really) is that you lose the solidarity of your local shop (ie, no more talking with other music/comic nerds about what new CD/comic to buy that week and plunking your change on the counter…).

    While convenient, I’m still finding digital a sterile and lonely medium.

  20. I just realized my comment was pretty off topic.

    In terms of piracy, it doesn’t bother me at all to buy a vinyl then download the MP3 (if the vinyl didn’t come with it). In which case I can’t imaging being too bothered by buying a comic and then downloading the digital…

    I think part of it depends too on who you’re supporting (which is where it can get ugly). Using the music analogy, is it a local band you want to see succeed, so you’ll buy their album on multiple formats just to help them out or is it The Beatles and (like my dad) you’ve already bought Revolver on a gazillion formats and are sick of giving any more money?

  21. Allow me to complicate the thing further with the tired old story I always tell: I’m a music rightsholder who’s been uncomplicatedly screwed on royalties by a big record company — they called me up and said “if you don’t give us a kickback you’ll never see this money”, and I didn’t give them the kickback, and I’ve never seen the money. Record companies don’t have any of the ethical qualms we’re talking about here, you know! But I can’t afford to sue them and get back what they took from me, which is kinda why they took it in the first place, so I figure if anyone wants to get that stuff for free, as a creator of that work I am cool with it — why should I care about potential lost sales I’m never gonna get paid for either? And also, I happen to believe that downloading’s a good way to get the music out there anyway, so…how does that change the balance for you? It’s still illegal, and people still think it’s theft instead of copyright infringement (there’s a difference!), but if you downloaded it you wouldn’t be arrogating to yourself the right to pirate shit because big companies are evil, you’d be downloading it with the creator’s blessing because he considers the record company to have broken the agreement they made with him. And I, at any rate, wouldn’t call you a pirate.

    Does that change anything for anyone?

  22. […] 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? […]

  23. Wow. Some of the comments seem longer than the original post. I love the way you articulate the premise of “it feels like it probably is legally but not personally.” That to me sums up why this is such a pandora’s topic. I don’t like the term piracy, since it implies that you are making copies with the intent to sell/distribute outside the normal channels. The intent of the distribution doesn’t matter legally, but does personally/ethically.

    Because the correct term is “copyright infringement.” As I understand it, a copyright is the right of someone to copy something (duh!) which is restricted to a particular medium or expression. So you aren’t just buying a song, you are buying the DVD that carries the song (likewise you are not buying a story, you are buying the paper or pamphlet the comic is printed on.)

    The digital revolution changed this paradigm, so you actually could just get the song/story/whatever regardless of the medium.

  24. @plok: The hypothetical you posit is complicated by the fact that most record companies help the artist produce his song, creating a very convoluted mess about the “rights” for compensation (taking the issue about “evil corporate greed” off the table for purposes of this point.)

    By contrast, consider an author of a novel. The publisher only as certain rights to distribute the manifestation of his novel. Let’s say, first printing. If you buy the novel, you are buying that expression of it. When your only option was re-typing the whole novel via a giant Guttenberg-ish printing press, copyright and distribution was easy to distinguish and enforce. Later, with photocopiers, scanners, and now with first-generation digital files, this distinction is lost and opens us up to all kinds of legal ambiguities– and that’s BEFORE the issues of work-for-hire, copyrights, and multiple authors/producers.

  25. @Danny: just to be clear, that wasn’t a hypothetical. I really did get ripped off by a record company, who really did demand a kickback from me.

    I think there’s a better argument to be made for the publishing company helping the writer with his work, than there is for the record company helping the musician with his, but in either case it’s not right to say the “helper” company shouldn’t have rights in the product that they bring to market on the artist’s behalf, so I don’t want to say that. They incur a lot of costs, and do a lot of work: they’re not simply distributors, and I think the assignment of certain rights to them reflects that pretty well. As far as multiple authorship, producer share, and all the other ins and outs of who deserves a cut of what, I think…maybe it’s a bit of a tangle, but at least in the music business it’s a tangle where every law is founded in a fact, and is subject to the same philosophical treatment. So regardless of the state of the branches, at least you can always find the roots. But the problem of the moment is just as you say, that the copyright has become really really hard to enforce. So, to a degree, the fierce holding of the copyright has become decoupled from the ability of the property to bring money home to those who have a right in it. And all the new laws we’re looking at these days are kind of inadequate to the task of welding the right of copy back firmly onto the property’s ability to be monetized. The problem is, the laws can’t stop people from copying, and they won’t stop them. They can’t stop people from acquiring “free listens” of a song, or free readings of a book, because they never have been able to do that, only now the availability of the free listen is massively more widespread. So doubling down on the ferocity with which copyright is protected isn’t a strategy that’s going to do much to a) stop the practice, or b) pay the stakeholders, and therefore as I see it we’re just gonna have to come up with a different kind of solution that works better. Fortunately, as a rule people do like to pay artists whose work they enjoy, or this whole ship would be long sunk, so at least we’ve got that to work with…and to me it seems the answer must lie somewhere down the road of “okay, forget about defending the exclusivity of copyright to the death, it isn’t working and it’s costing money to not-work, so let’s focus on the money-making instead.” In this view, David’s copying of something he already owns would be totally A-OK, and we’d just be happy he liked us enough to bother replacing the record in the first place. It just doesn’t seem smart to call that “piracy”, when by doggedly defending the principle we might lose the economic benefit — if I’ve got a fan, the last thing I want is to lose him: not telling him he’s a piratical bastard seems an inexpensive step towards that goal.

  26. I watch a lot of anime, and this situation comes up constantly. Take one of my favorite series, the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I downloaded each fansubbed episode as it came out, because I didn’t feel like waiting six months for its release in the US. Legal? Eh. Fans have been trading and circulating tapes since the 70s. It was the only way to get it.

    Finally, Bandai Entertainment licensed the show and released it on DVD. I bought it. I’ve never watched it with the Dub, and their subtitles aren’t substantively different from the version the fansubers did, so other than the encoding and printing of the DVD and its case, I’m curious why I gave any money at all to Bandai. I’d hope that some of it went to Kyoto Animation for the production of the show, that Aya Hirano and Tomokazu Sugita got royalties for their voice work, etc., but I doubt it was more than a pittance if anything due to how licensing of foreign materials work.

    And what really kills me is how the US release fucked the show all up. It was intentionally released out of chronological order (broadcast episode 1 is episode chronological episode 11, broadcast 2 is chronological 1, etc.), and all the better for it. Watching it in chronological order is like watching Momento in the “right” order. It’s boring and it gives away all the plot way too quickly. There’s no climax, no tension, no ambiguity, etc. The show was meant to be watched in broadcast order. Guess which order Bandai released it in the US?

    So, my options are: swap my DVDs around after every episode to watch the show in the preferred order, or keep my fansubed computer files, which, in addition to already being in broadcast order, are easily reorderable with a few keystrokes. I’d of rather bought directly from Kyo Ani, but they don’t sell region 1 DVDs with English subtitles.

    Should I keep DVDs I don’t watch so I can keep computer files of my preferred version of the show? No one would sell me what I wanted in the first place…

    I don’t lose any sleep over it, but I do wonder sometimes how a better solution could be reached.

  27. […] “When is it not pirating?” and/or “When is piracy understandable?” Found via: Robot 6 – Original Source: 4th Letter […]