An Incoherent Rant Where I Complain About Both Pirating and Internet Culture and Don’t Even Bother to Distinguish Between the Two or Offer Any Workable Solutions

19 Nov

I spent all morning posting links about how OWS was awesome so nobody gets to call me a fascist. And this isn’t about that terrible Anti-Piracy bill, which was trying to kill flies with grenade launchers. This is just trying to make the “Free Culture” crowd feel a little bit guilty.

I can’t help but think that online piracy is the reason people in entertainment don’t take creative risks anymore. Every new movie is 3D-friendly to prevent piracy and if it’s a small indie movie, it had better be New York Times-approved or it’s going right to Redbox. Uber-pretentious or uber-stupid, with no middle ground. I don’t particularly care for From Dusk Til Dawn, but it started Robert Rodriguez’s career. Would that movie have made money these days, or would it just be a pirated sensation? (Or better yet, everybody’s favorite two-hour Youtube video?)

It’s the tragedy of the commons: there’s no good reason not to steal a movie, but when everyone does it the landscape shifts, and not for the better. I can’t pretend that this isn’t happening in comics anymore. The small-publishing boom of the eighties produced about the same level of quality as the current netcomics boom, but the difference is that the small-pressers could afford to keep doing it. People’s unwillingness to shell out a few bucks for an interesting piece of work hasn’t totally destroyed this, but it’s disingenuous to say that pirating “has actually helped artists”. You don’t get to steal stuff and then say that you’re helping the person you stole from.

In any medium there are always “little guys” who take risks and think outside the box. Most of them fail. But in the internet world, it is well known that your actual content is expected to be free: if you actually want to make money, you have to sell “merchandise”. Bands are in the same boat: “all the money is in touring” and whatnot. Money can still be made, people can still be successful. But somehow creative works and entertainment are seen as fundamentally different from everything else someone has to make. If you ran a candy store and people always stole your candy, you might get some good “word of mouth” and maybe you could make some of the money back on big corporate orders or something. But nobody could claim that that was the most effective way for you to be successful. Creative people who want to make money off their art are trying to navigate a landscape where the idea of selling the actual art is seen as “old-fashioned”. Sure, it can be done if you’re clever, but doesn’t anyone notice how convoluted all of the pro-piracy arguments are?

My stuff will probably always be free, because I like to share it and I like all of the opportunities the internet has given me to do that. My comics are probably so weird and off-putting to most people that I could never be the next Gilbert Hernandez or whatever. I’d be plugging away just the same, staying poor and doing it because it’s what I love. I doubt I’ve ever been directly affected by piracy in any negative way. And the reason I don’t steal music has a lot more to do with the fact that I can’t figure out how computers work than any high-minded ideals I might claim to have.

But stealing doesn’t become “sharing” just because it’s easy to do. Internet and “free” culture are based on stealing, and it’s naive to think that this won’t have any killing effect on creativity at all.


Posted by on November 19, 2011 in Misc.


11 responses to “An Incoherent Rant Where I Complain About Both Pirating and Internet Culture and Don’t Even Bother to Distinguish Between the Two or Offer Any Workable Solutions

  1. nicksedillos

    November 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Just to riff on your riff—
    For the information economy to evolve, it needs to come to terms with two realities: first, that technology has made transmitting and duplicating information a trivial matter, impossible to restrain without dismantling the Internet, and second, that the inefficiencies in our current economic system are ill-suited to take advantage of these advancements and distribute their rewards in an equitable or smart way. As long as real wages and job security are declining and the cost of food, shelter, formal education and healthcare are rising, arts and entertainment are going to be inhibited. While I don’t think that piracy accomplishes anything in itself and everyone should support artists to the best of their ability, the infinite global library is here and, until some Mad Max scenario unfolds, it’s not going away. The sooner we get used to it and figure out how to use it to our advantage while fixing our deeper social problems, the happier we’ll be. I think the future of art is in something more like a Kickstarter/commission/direct patronage model, but no new system can really take off until we reverse the overall trend of economic inequality that’s bleeding everyone dry.

    • robertbrudos

      November 20, 2011 at 12:29 am

      I don’t know if huge income inequality is going anywhere any sooner than the global library, but I see your point. I just think it’s crummy that creators have to rely on the kindness of readers who choose to support the stuff they like: cartoonists are becoming like NPR, providing content and then trying to guilt people into paying for it. Which, as you pointed out, will become marginalized as people have less money to pay for stuff with. You’re not wrong, decrying changes brought about by the internet is like complaining about how the rise of the printing press made your once-exclusive Bible lose its value. Kinda sucks though, I mean Dave Sim was able to buy and restore an antique house with the money he made on Cerebus and provided a legitimate alternative to the X-books in the process. Everybody who liked Cerebus paid for it, no guilt required, and I can’t help but think that he would’ve drawn ten issues then stopped in today’s culture (he’s not exactly the type to spend half his time marketing t-shirts). Every time I pay for online stuff I frankly feel like a sucker…

      • nicksedillos

        November 20, 2011 at 2:11 am

        I think you hit on something when you say you feel like a sucker paying for online stuff. The challenge is as much aesthetic as it is commercial. One big challenge for the next generation of artists is going to be the creation of work that feels *valuable* in a way that’s unique to digital content (as opposed to porting traditional art to digital forms, or rejecting digital and creating the exact same thing in analog form that you could have done more efficiently in digital—vinyl fetishism—or creating something gratuitously, self-consciously analog, like a book with a lot of meaningless fancy endpapers, which is how some modern art books feel to me). In the digital realm this probably involves some kind of dynamic or interactive content, but done more tastefully and seamlessly than what you normally see in video games. We should see some really weird cool stuff if we live long enough.

  2. weather vanes

    November 20, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Appreciating the persistence you put into your blog and in depth information you present. It’s great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed information. Fantastic read! I’ve saved your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

    • robertbrudos

      November 20, 2011 at 5:09 pm

      Great job weathervanes! Unfortunately you didn’t post this in the Spam Contest post, so I’m afraid you’re disqualified. I’m sure you’ll try again.

  3. Joe Annabi

    November 20, 2011 at 9:56 am

    also, if things are just getting ported to digital with no bonus content – like any comic download from comixology or the like – there should be a significant price break. paying the same price for a digital download as you would for the physical product makes zero sense. the argument could be made that they do that so as to not encourage the decline of brick and mortar stores, but if that heralds their ultimate decline, so be it. there is too much loyalty to antiquated systems of distribution.

    From Dusk till Dawn would totally have been made today. It’s a hell of a lot more commercial than Machete was. Rodriguez is no dummy. He finds the money, whether it’s his own, or a Weinstein.

    I don’t think it’s sad that creators are more and more turning to a loyal fanbase to survive. it’s no different than loyal Cerebus readers, except that these days there IS the option of just reading without supporting. makes everything more honest, and the quality of the work drives the fan support.

    studios / publishing houses / licensing companies are the devil. they stifle true creativity more than piracy ever will.

    PS – everything nick said.

    • robertbrudos

      November 20, 2011 at 8:57 pm

      I guess I can just easily imagine many cases where a good and marketable work would get readers but no support. In terms of comics, I’m just really nostalgic for the small press boom of the eighties and nineties, which seemed like the perfect balance between giving the finger to big corporations and actually making a living off one’s work. Anyone who saw an ad for Flaming Carrot and said “what the Hell is this?” had to spend three dollars on an issue if they wanted to find out. When they liked it, it set a precedent: “Okay, I pay money to get more Bob Burden storytelling. That’s totally fair, why would it be any other way?” It wasn’t exactly a FAIR fight (nothing against Marvel or DC ever is), but it was a fight, and a valid alternative.

      And obviously the big publishing houses do some pretty awful stuff, but they couldn’t stop Love and Rockets from being successful. I bet pirates could have.

      PS- also everything nick said, complaining about whether something is “right” or “good” is splitting hairs when the landscape is changing so much. I’m certain that the future of art will be very different than the past.

      • robertbrudos

        November 20, 2011 at 9:02 pm

        If it costs money to read comics, and most of that money goes to the creator so they can make more stuff, I just think that’s like the perfect system. I only think that free internet culture has unintentionally hurt creators, I don’t care how much people hurt Marvel or DC’s pocketbook. They will (unfortunately) be fine. If there was a system where people could just steal from evil corporations and were not able to steal from anyone else, that would probably be a really good system and I would support it.

        • Joe Annabi

          November 20, 2011 at 9:17 pm

          i just wonder where your feeling on this comes from? i can think of plenty of creators of comics / podcasts / music etc. that rely on fan support. from kickstarter publishing ventures, to monthly membership fees or whatever.

          the musician Girl Talk came onto my radar when he made his album free to download with optional donation a couple years ago. there’s no risk there, and ultimately i not only donated money, but spread the word about this guy & his revolutionary distro model.

          working with a publishing house may get you more visibility, but cuts into your profits severely. in new models of distro where you control the flow, there are no middle men to take the bulk of the revenue out of your hands. this doesn’t change whether it’s by mail order, or by download. if anything, web distro opens your market up.

  4. Joe Annabi

    November 20, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    oh, another thing about comic piracy– sometimes it’s hard to commit to buying a comic through it’s first arc or two. it often takes a storyteller some time to find their voice / footing. so if you’re reliant on investing in what you are ultimately unsure of, you may be more likely to give up on a book before it gets to a point where you would ultimately love it.

    i know my brother for instance never buys monthlies anymore, but he reads alot of scans. when he really loves a book he buys collections tho. i’d like to move into a similar place, but i’m having trouble transitioning from physcial monthlies. i think as soon as i get a good tablet reader i’ll end up making the switch tho. i don’t have room for all these stacks and long boxes.


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