Piracy: Bat featured

You remember those piracy commercials? That “you wouldn’t steal a car so why would you steal a television show?” ones. They were funny, right? It seemed like a ludicrous comparison. Pirating, say, FROZEN 2 is obviously in no way, shape, or form the same as stealing a car.

That’s true. There are distinct differences between stealing from the corporate-a-saurus Disney and taking Mrs. Jacobs 1976 Mercury Comet out for a joyride before stripping it for parts. I mean, it is still stealing, but definitely a different story.

However, different does not necessarily make it acceptable. Or excusable. Right? And what if we take it out of the realm of movies and apply that idea to comics? Can we still overlook pirating? At what point does it stop being ok? Let’s consider it.

Piracy- Starjammers
(Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

Piracy: The Issue at Hand

While I cannot find the exact tweet that started it all, this weekend Twitter became the defacto host for a long discussion/argument about pirating comics, the acceptability of it, and the cost to creators and to corporations.

The arguments for are, more or less, as follows. (If I miss any, please feel to correct me below or reach out to me and/or ComicsVerse on Twitter).

One, we are talking massive corporations here. We can treat them as we see fit because they are monsters destroying our world anyway.

Two, I end up buying the stuff I pirate that I like anyway and usually more too. So no big deal.

Three, I don’t live somewhere where I can access a local comic book store and the place I go to buy other things — food, magazines, books — stock almost no/literally no comics.

Four, I can’t afford comics (or all the comics I want) right now. What am I supposed to do?

They all have a kneejerk appeal to them. Yes, corporations are bad! And they do overcharge us for good and services!

Piracy? More like sampling! If I don’t try something, I won’t know if I like it. If I don’t know if I like it I won’t buy it.

I live in a rural place, a small town, overseas, etc? Do I not deserve entertainment?!

I’m cash poor. Do I not deserve entertainment?!

Piracy: Captain Fear
(Courtesy of DC Comics)

Piracy Is Ok, Argument the First

Yes, Marvel and DC Comics are part of large corporations and would be pretty big corporations on their own. When it comes to comics though, that’s pretty much where you can stop labeling the companies as “big corporations”.

Even your next largest producer of comics in the United States, Image Comics, lacks both the structure, number of employees, and profit margins to lay claim to that kind of title. So unless the only titles you pirate are DC and Marvel, you are not stealing from massive machines of capitalist evil. You are taking money away from relatively small companies with, often, incredibly thin profit margins. Your assertion that they are big enough to absorb theft without issue is, in reality, a bit of a fiction.

Just because a company makes a product does not, inherently, make them a mega-corp. Most comic book companies are small in budget and size. They lack the structures to absorb piracy and their typical numbers are not high enough to paper over the fans who opt to read comics without paying for them.

Ok, Fine, But Big Corporations Can Take the Piracy

The other problem is you are right, corporations can take the blow of piracy. Corporations can handle a lot of loss before they feel it. A big reason for that is they spread the loss down to the workers and boost prices on the consumers. The fact is while your pirating of STRIKEFORCE #3 does not make much of a difference to Marvel, you can bet the creators feel it. Moreover, there is a not insignificant chance your fellow fans will too.

When it comes to creators, they get hit two ways. First, at the two major companies, royalties do not kick in until you hit a certain threshold of sales. So if the latest issue of Sir Monkey the Magnificent moves, for instance, 45000 units and that falls short of the threshold, the creators only receive their standard rates which are, sadly, typically pretty low. The 20,000 people that checked the book out on a piracy site? None of that helps the creators at all.

The second impact comes from how companies decide to continue a series or not. If a book is not selling well, it gets cancelled. If it is cancelled, the creators no longer get paid because, well, they are not working anymore on that book, are they? Enough cancelled books under your belt and you seem like you are not a creator that people are interested in. If you aren’t interesting to readers, corporations will quickly feel the same.

Corporations Should Treat Their Employees Better!

Absolutely they should. And corporate greed still does not excuse stealing.

The fact is that, unless there is a massive explicit campaign of boycott with the intention of forcing corporations to do better, the piracy of comics will not register as a protest of workers’ conditions. And if it doesn’t register, even if it is 100% the real and true reason one is pirating their comics, corporations will not alter their behavior.

If anything, as noted above, they’ll treat their employees worse. They’ll drop rates, make less books, restructure royalty agreements, and so on. Because a loss of revenue is never going to read to a corporation as a reason to treat their employees better unless people make it damn clear that’s what’s going on.

So both, ultimately, can be true. Corporations should treat their employees better AND you should pay for your comics.

Piracy: MLP
(Courtesy of IDW Publishing)

Piracy is Ok, Second Argument

First off, let’s say all the people who make this argument are being honest. Everything they like that they pirate, they buy. That still means that some of what they pirate they don’t.

One can make the argument that a person will try out more stuff via pirating than they otherwise would. That could be true. However, more or not, it still means reading comics that haven’t been paid for. I will sometimes buy a comic, a movie, a book, a show, an album I do not end up liking. It is the price of trying things. I have still provided some amount of money/feedback via my buying power. Pirating offers neither.

The Pirate Who Pays

The other issue comes from the fact that every person who says they buy the stuff they like after they pirate it, assuming they are totally being honest, does not equal everyone who pirate things. Even if you and your friend and your friend’s friend who download their comics for free online are good and virtuous people who eventually do buy what you’ve read, there are plenty of people who do not fit into this category.

Of course, perhaps your piracy leads you to buy more than you would otherwise. This increase might, then, increase sales overall to the point that even if there are non-virtuous pirates out there, your follow-up on pirating more than makes up for their failure to pay.

The problem there is we have no idea if that is true. No one has produced a scientific study to verify that theory. Plus, given the nature of piracy, it is highly unlikely we will ever see a study that seeks to prove that point. So all we are left with is hunches and declarations. Those, alas, do not prove the power of this argument. Without proof, any of us can declare or assume anything to justify our actions.

Finally, we can’t have a law that says, “It’s cool when Brad steals because he eventually pays for it but not when Cheryl does because you just know she never will.”

Piracy: The Thing
(Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

Piracy is Ok, Argument #3

Living somewhere without easy access to a comic book store or a place to buy comics is no fun. I have a tremendous amount of privilege in this area. I have been lucky to enough to live within 10 minutes of a comic book store my entire life and, currently, can drive to four in a half hour or less. So I have been very lucky.

That said, we no longer live in 1986. Hell, we no longer live in 2000. There are a vast array of options to get comics available now that do not involve walking, riding, or driving to your local store. ComiXology is easily accessed through apps or your computer or even via Amazon.

Plus, unlike your brick and mortar stores, ComiXology will never sell out of a book. If you forget to pre-order a book with a small print run or didn’t get to the comic book store in time to snag a copy that is suddenly in high demand due to spoilers revealed earlier in the day, you might be out of lock when it comes to a physical copy. However, ComiXology never runs out of digital versions of those books.

If there is a specific company you are all about, several of them also offer services to get comics digitally and regularly. Marvel Unlimited is the current gold standard with a flat monthly fee and new comics added to the service on a weekly basis. It means waiting a little longer than others to read them, but everything new gets on Unlimited after about six months of being in the world. DC has a similar service now as well and their back-issue library continues to expand too.

Let’s Get Physical, Please

Perhaps you hate digital and demand physical. That would be weird considering how you are pirating books digitally, but let’s say so for the sake of argument. The internet also offers an array of mail order comic book stores. You’ll have to pay shipping but, depending how far the closest but still far comic book store is, chances are you’ll make up a lot of it on the gas saved.

Piracy: Black Freighter
(Courtesy of DC Comics)

Piracy is Ok, Argument IV

First off, of course you still deserve entertainment even if you don’t have much money. And the good news is that you can access a lot of comics, totally legally, without spending a dime.

First, there is your local library. They already have comics, trades, and graphic novels. I can basically guarantee it. Now they may not have everything you want. However, libraries are notoriously good about ordering things for enthusiastic patrons. You show up a lot, you check out the stock consistently, they’ll be happy to order different books, further volumes, and so on for you. Plus the more you know, the more they’ll appreciate your input in improving what they offer. You’ll get your entertainment and be able to help other fans in the community. Pretty great.

Of course, even the best of libraries can’t order everything. For the moments where they just can’t get you what you want, there is also the Hoopla app. Run through your local library, this offers a digital library more expansive than most physical ones meaning just because you can’t pick it off the shelf does not mean you can’t, necessarily, read it.

Still Not Complete

The fact is, even with these resources, you may not be able to access all you want for free. That sucks. Truly it does. Unfortunately, we all have to deal with that. We all deserve entertainment but that doesn’t mean we deserve ALL the entertainment. Some of us have to miss movies in theatres and settle for it when it comes to the Redbox or our library. Many of us have to settle for Hamilton on CD or streaming until it comes to our local theatre or we win the lottery. Others of us can only watch our favorite football team on TV because tickets are exorbitant.

It is not great. It may even be unfair. But it does not justify us stealing that entertainment. In the same way being entitled to good, safe shelter does not mean we all get to live in mansions, being entitled to entertainment does not mean we all get to read every comic we want to read the moment we want to read it. I’ve had to scale back my pulls because of school, grad school, underpaying jobs, kids, etc. It never feels great but it is reality. We all have to make choices, live in our means, have budgets. We all deserve things but none of us deserve all the things.

Piracy: Marauders
(Courtesy of Marvel Comics)

Back to the Car

You wouldn’t steal a car but that is not the same a pirating a comic. Absolutely true. The impact is smaller as is the violation.

However, smaller does not mean non-existent. Pirating comics still harms creators and consumers, not just corporations. It is still unnecessary in a world where digital has made everything accessible for money and libraries exist if you lack the funds. Pirating comics may lead to someone buying more but it definitely does lead to some people buying less (or none).

Missing out on things is lousy, be it for location, money, or principles. But something being lousy does not justify just electing not to follow a rule or a law. There are good reasons to break the law, don’t get me wrong. Wanting more comics, sadly, is not one of them.

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