06 March, 2009

Comics and copyright

Scans_DailyA fortnight ago, Marvel - acting on a complaint by one of its writers that his work had been unlawfully reproduced - requested that Livejournal close its popular Scans_Daily community, where members share scans of comic books.

Duly, a storm of debate broke out on the web about whether or not this was fair or nice. It was all a bit of a palaver, since Scans_Daily ceased trading for all of a week.

Tom Spurgeon rightly noted that the story was 'more an Internet culture story than a comics story' (or even a legal story), which says more about the chaos that the web has wrought on the area of copyright than anything else.

Small wonder that the web has given birth to its own copyright waiver, in the form of Creative Commons, with heavyweight intellectual support from Lawrence Lessig, Yochai Benkler and others. Creative Commons basically argues that people (aka users aka consumers) want to make and share more than they want to turn a buck.

This is a nightmare, from a commercial perspective. And here's the rub. The fundamental question is this: Are comic books, or scans of comics, products or texts or both?

To my mind copyright is fundamental not to creativity but to marketing. In this case, copyright 'infringement' affects a publisher's 'right' to make a profit. Potential (though by no means proven) knock-ons may be a saturation of the market with product, lowering its value and devaluing the creator's product.

Those are big ifs and copyright holders seem more concerned with prosecuting their rights than proving their case.

If the unwelcome posting of scans were merely a moral issue, the writer might have taken it up with the offending poster or the Scans_Daily community, in general.
The fact that Marvel intervened speaks to the commercial interests that were deemed to be threatened.

Let's face it, what internet users (aka people) want to do - at least as much as shopping or anything else - is to share and gossip. Scans_Daily is the equivalent of a bunch of comics fans sitting around and pointing out the 'good bits' to one another.

The issue is going nowhere fast. Nor, for now, is Scans_Daily.