"The number one rule of thieves is that nothing is too small to steal."
- Jimmy Breslin
My friend and fellow columnist Peter David got himself into a bit of online fracas recently over his reporting a bit of copyright infringement to Marvel Comics. I think his mistake was giving what I will euphemistically call a rodent's posterior to the bleatings of those I most un-euphemistically call thieves, crooks, robbers, pilferers, stealers, purloiners, filchers, and, of course, pirates. You see, what Peter did in this instance, I do about once a month. Even when I have no vested interest in the material being stolen, pilfered, filched, and pirated.
Internet piracy concerns me as, I suspect, it does most people who make their living in the entertainment fields. However, there are fans who believe they have some technology given ownership to anything they can scan into their computer and send throughout cyberspace, regardless of whether or not the work in question has been legally copyrighted by the creator or the company for which the creator did the work.
Some of my favorite mailing groups exist for the purpose of allowing comic book and pulp magazine fans to share the covers of those publications with their fellow fans. I've yet to see anything posted to the groups that didn't fall within fair usage, that which the law allows to be circulated for educational and/or historical purposes. I've used cover scans in my own online columns and have no problem defending their use.
Where the problem lies for me is when fans determine they have a right to "publish" complete works, both comics and prose, online, sans permission from the owners. That's where presumption of fair usage becomes outright theft.
On occasion, I get embroiled in the online discussions of this issue. In going through old files, I discovered my half of one such discussion which I have edited into a faux-question-and-answer session for your edification.
QUESTION: Wouldn't your position make groups such as those you claim to enjoy completely illegal?
ANSWER: I can easily make the case that the cover scans which appear in these groups are fair usage for educational/historical purposes.
Q: What's the harm in sharing copyrighted works if they're currently out-of-print?
A: It's when works are "mass-produced," whether for profit or no, that the problems arise. If copyright owners don't protect their copyrights, they risk the works going into the public domain. The "I want it and that's all the matters" crowd tries to equate quiet, single-copy sharing with the larger "mass-produced" issue.
If you make one copy of the rare Tony Isabella's Mashed Potato Marauders to share with a pal, I'll pretend not to notice. But, if you start sharing MPM on a mass basis, then, much as I love you, I have to crush you until you're a pasty substance. Because I can't let you blow any future deal by allowing MPM to fall into the public domain.
Q: Whether works are in the public domain or not, why should we "respect" the current copyright holder, who is likely not even a relative of the creator and who probably has no plans to publish any versions of these works himself?
A: Works in public domain can be reproduced to your heart's content. Copyrighted works are someone's property and do not belong to you in any way, shape, or form.
Q: Even if my sharing the copyrighted works wouldn't hurt the current copyright holder's profits?
A: It's not your call as to whether something would or would not hurt the owner's profits.
Q: This is frustrating. It all comes down to greed, doesn't it?
A: Yes. Mostly yours.
It's even more frustrating for those folks who have to protect the copyrights from falling into the public domain. Most copyright holders won't get bent out of a shape over quiet sharing between friends. It's when sharing rises to the level of mass production that they have to take action.
Wanting something doesn't make "stealing" right. Being able to "steal" something doesn't make it right.
Q: Some properties have no value to their creators and owners and never will. Why should I respect their defending their rights to absurd limits?
A: Because you don't have the right to determine the value of any property to its creator or owner. It's not yours.
Many fans simply don't "get" why creators and copyright owners defend their property. I fear some of them won't ever get it until it's their work being stolen.
Q: So you report online pirates to the creators and publishers whose works are being stolen?
A: Yes, I do. I swore an oath on the skull of the pirate who first posted something of mine online without permission, an oath to fight pirates as long as I breathe. When I come across online piracy, or when someone e-mails me information on same, I forward the information to the copyright owners.
Even when I don't much like the copyright owners.
Q: Who appointed you protector of these creators and copyright owners?
A: Come on. I come from a career of writing about vigilantes in tights. Think of me as a short pudgy Spider-Man who, mercifully, doesn't wear spandex.
There are some things we can all agree on.
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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