Should You Steal Comics?

If you're a regular comic book reader, or even just someone who pays attention to the industry, you've probably heard something about the ongoing piracy debate. It's odd really that the word "debate" is even used, because we are all taught from a very early age that stealing is wrong. In this case stealing refers to the illegal downloading of comic books.

The books are either scanned in manually after being purchased (most likely from a comic shop, but not necessarily), or from using some kind of technological knowhow and removing the Digital Rights Management (DRM), and re-posting a digital version previously uploaded by the publisher, legally and with the aim of selling the material.

Torrents are what's hot nowadays, what the "kids" are doing. You can find torrents of anything, maybe even the shirt you're wearing right now (go ahead and try, then let me know). Comic books get torrented like crazy, usually hitting the Internet the day of their actual publication, but also occasionally before that date arrives.

Recently, writer Mark Waid (responsible for the classic Kingdom Come, along with a huge list of other work) launched his website Thrillbent, where he publishes his and Peter Krause's comic, Insufferable. The comic is available to read for free, and is posted weekly. Right now the site is ad free, which is an important fact when reading what Waid wrote about his comic being pirated in a post titled "Marketing Through Piracy."

"It came as no surprise to me that, about 24 hours after we posted the first installment of INSUFFERABLE, the pages had been downloaded, zipped into a .cbr or .cbz file, and uploaded to various torrent and filesharing sites. The only thing that startled me was that it took 24 hours. Sure enough, installments two and three were similarly webripped, converted and uploaded with increasing speed. By week three, they were available for download around the world within hours. Taken straight from the Thrillbent site."

As he said, this isn't really surprising. Comic books are one of the easier art forms to pirate and distribute, mostly because they are almost no more than 24 pages stapled together, or 24 digital files on a hard drive somewhere, so the effort exerted in order to pirate a comic is relatively low. What is surprising, however, is Waid's reaction to the knowledge that his hard work is being distributed illegally, and moreover, his feelings regarding the word piracy.

Reacting to the news of seeing Insufferable available through illegal channels, Waid stated, "THIS IS A GOOD THING," those capital letters being his own. Also, at the beginning of his blogpost he states that he "...loathe[s] the use of the word 'piracy' in the context of filesharing..." and the rest of his post places that word in quotation marks more often than not.

Rather than railing against the files being shared illegally, or even railing against the idea of file sharing in general, Waid decided to embrace it. He placed PDF and .cbz files of the weekly installments for download on the site, allowing anyone to take them -- for free -- and do with them what they will.

Waid claims that he would still see the file sharing of his comic as positive, "...even if we were charging for it," saying, "...I'd still be happy because the exposure and promotion is worth more to me at this point than dollars and cents." At this point that statement is merely hypothetical, as Insufferable remains completely free to read.

Continuing though, Waid explained:

"But more than that... more than that... after having been hip-deep in the research for the past three years, I have seen zero conclusive evidence that, on the whole, 'piracy' removes more money from the system than it adds to it."

That... is pretty controversial, both as an opinion in general, but also for someone who is currently writing a book for Marvel Comics. It certainly is intriguing whether a company like Marvel would agree that piracy is a viable form of marketing (I have a good guess at their thoughts), or if Waid himself would see the file sharing of Daredevil as nothing more than "advertisement." It is a fact that Waid is being paid to write Daredevil, just like it's a fact -- based on his own statements -- that he is not being paid for his work on Insufferable. So when is file sharing okay? Is it only when the comics are free to begin with?

Waid's argument is that file sharing can and often does lead to purchases of the material being "sampled." He also points out that many of the torrents of Insufferable still contain an advertisement page for his website; "Judging by what I've seen around the web, the digital file that's most in circulation is the one I myself provided..." Again, however, this argument is somewhat null here, as Insufferable is not for sale.

Asking yourself if you would steal comics is maybe not high on your list of moral imperatives. Let's say you have thought about it, or maybe you even have done it before. Did you then go forth and buy a copy of what you "sampled?" Were you really just seeing if you'd like the art that you would one day pay for? Was it even stealing at all?

Many questions about piracy have been bouncing around the creative minds behind comics, and almost every other entertainment industry, at an ever-increasing speed, and will no doubt continue to do so. You might think the answer to the question "Should you steal comics?" is an easy one, and you might even have good reasons for or against doing so. There is a far more important question to ask, however, one that is the kernel which gives forth the seed of comic piracy: Should you buy comics? The answer to that is a resounding and emphatic yes. Whether you pirate them or not, you should absolutely buy comics.