The Dangers of SOPA, The Stop Online Piracy Act, to Comic Books and You [Op-Ed]
By Aaron Colter
If you spend any amount of time on the Internet that doesn’t involve asking someone younger why you can’t get Google to work, then you’ve probably seen a united and unprecedented team of companies and creative professionals — including ComicsAlliance’s parent company AOL — coming out against the proposed legislation referred to as SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act.
The debate over the bill has caused Get Your War On creator David Rees to start a new webcomic, seen above, called Get Your Censor On. Popular aggregate site Reddit is going dark on January 18 to protest the bill, as is Wikipedia. The video game industry is split over the issue, although most major corporations seem to still be supporting the underlying notions of SOPA.
As both fans who love the comics and critics who believe that the open exchange of art and ideas is essential to the vitality of the medium and its distribution, here’s why we think proposed laws like SOPA are damning to both comic books and the creative industry generally, and why there has been such a conflicting response — or lack of one — from comics publishers.
SOPA came to the forefront on the comics blogosphere recently when Marvel Entertainment and its parent company Walt Disney, along with DC Comics owner Time Warner, were named on a list of SOPA supporters released by congress and publicized online. Seeing the ostensible support of the bill from the two biggest publishers in comics prompted a variety of responses within the comics community, including some pointedly negative ones from creators like Steve Niles.
The internet has become an essential tool for the distribution of comic books and discussion about them. Fans and pros alike promote both individual comics and the medium itself by creating and sharing art on forums, websites, and social networks, practices that are directly imperiled by these laws.
By Laura Hudson
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) spurred controversy in the comics world recently when a list of companies that support the bill hit the internet and named both Marvel Entertainment and DC Comics parent company Time Warner as pro-SOPA. Comics writer Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) spoke out against the apparent Big Two support for the bill today in a series of tweets, criticizing both the legislation and the lack of outrage he perceived from both comics fans and professionals. Marvel Comics declined to comment on the topic to ComicsAlliance, and a request to DC Comics is pending. Stay tuned for more coverage to come, and learn more about what the disturbingly far-reaching bill could mean for the internet and you at Cnet, Kotaku, and Gizmodo.
‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ Pirate Sentenced to One Year in Prison
By Andy Khouri
A man who’s confessed to uploading an early cut of X-Men Origins: Wolverine to the Internet a month before the film was to debut in cinemas has been sentenced to a year in federal prison. Deadline reports that 49-year-old Gilberto Sanchez pleaded guilty in March to one count of “uploading a copyrighted work being prepared for commercial distribution,” a charge which United States District Judge Margaret M. Morrow described as “extremely serious.”
The early leaking of the DVD-quality workprint of Wolverine created quite a commotion back in 2009. The pirated cut was downloaded at least four million times, which according to Reuters could have translated to $28.7 million in lost ticket sales if the downloaders opted out of seeing Wolverine in the theater. Compounding fears, the leaked copy was missing final special effects shots and other material, and the advance spoiler-filled reviews were incredibly damning of the X-Men sequel, which cost $150 million to produce.
Sanchez bought a DVD of the Wolverine workprint from a street corner bootlegger. It’s unknown who actually leaked the film, but it was reported at the time that while critics’ early copies of films are carefully tracked, security during the post-production process is relatively lax.
In any event, Sanchez was described by prosecutors in language that suggested something of a piracy supervillain who shared other people’s intellectual property without restraint. He “uploaded the workprint more than one month before theatrical release, he has a prior conviction for a similar offense, he had been regularly uploading pirated movies for four or five years, and did not appear remorseful after charges were brought,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. Additionally, Sanchez promoted his actions on several heavily trafficked websites, posting links to the Wolverine print using screennames that were variations on the word “skillz.”
“The federal prison sentence handed down in this case sends a strong message of deterrence to would-be Internet pirates,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “The Justice Department will pursue and prosecute persons who seek to steal the intellectual property of this nation.”
In addition to the one year federal prison sentence, the judge sentenced Sanchez to a year of supervised release and has also imposed “numerous computer restrictions.”
Despite heavy proliferation of the pirated film and the memorably bad word-of-mouth that resulted, X-Men Origins: Wolverine earned $85 million in its first weekend. The film currently holds the record for 16th highest-grossing opening day, and Box Office Mojo lists it as having made over $370 million worldwide, numbers that fuel debate over whether Internet leaks can actually enhance sales.
Everyone is Bleeding: Brian Wood on Dark Horse and Digital Comics
By Andy Khouri
Dark Horse Comics announced last Thursday that it would begin offering digital versions of its comics and graphic novels on the same day they go on sale in comics shops and bookstores. The plan, which goes into effect December 14, brings the publisher up to speed with Marvel and DC Comics, but Dark Horse’s plan was distinct in that it was to offer those digital products for as little as $0.99 to $1.99 per issue, which is less than their print versions.
The announcement proved controversial for some members of the comics retail community, prompting Dark Horse Publisher Mike Richardson to issue a statement Monday night clarifying the reported pricing as a “miscommunication.” The writer of Dark Horse’s upcoming The Massive and Conan, Brian Wood confirmed in a thoughtful blog post that retailers reacted extremely badly to Dark Horse’s digital initiative as originally put forth, and offered more food for thought on the digital market as it concerns him as a creator.
“I have access to the CBIA, a retailers forum, and the pushback [against Dark Horse’s plan to sell digital comics for less than the print counterparts] was intense, and included overt threats of drastically lowered orders and even total boycotts of the line,” wrote Wood. The writer indicated that Dark Horse was consequently “compelled” to “clarify” its pricing plan, which breaks down thusly:
All new single-issue comics will be released digitally and in print on the same day. Digital comics will be priced at $2.99 for the first month, dropping to Dark Horse standard digital pricing of $1.99 after that.
Everyone I know loves comic shops. Everyone I know who makes comics, especially creator-owned comics, is hurting, financially. EVERYONE is bleeding, its a bad time. So to what extent does digital as a publishing format represent an additional revenue stream, one on top of print sales through shops, one that can ease some of the suffering?
Don’t know. No one knows, because we aren’t seeing true sales numbers yet. No one’s figured out what the magic price point is, because none of the big players have taken the risk and offered a 99-cent comic, or a $1.99 comic, etc., in a meaningful way. The price point is being kept artificially high out of deference to our retail partners. The price that fair-minded readers WANT to buy digital comics at is starkly different from what’s they are currently set at.
Wood’s remarks jibe with the sentiment of many digital comics pundits and proponents, whose most common criticism of the market seems to be the high cost of entry for the consumer. While many publishers like Archie, DC, Marvel and Image have or will soon be offering their new wares digitally on the same day as print, the prices for those items often remain comparable or even equal to those of the comics store product, which would seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom — at least, conventional wisdom as defined by other industries like digital music and television.
As Wood reported, many comics retailers consider the growing digital space in threatening terms, but the writer of such titles as DMZ for Vertigo and Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha and Omega for Marvel spoke not just for himself but indeed many creators when he wrote that digital comics represent not a replacement for traditional retailers, but rather a glimmer of hope that writers and artists can maintain a full-time comics career in the shrinking economy.
I’ve had series cancelled recently. I’ve had pitches rejected for financial reasons. I’ve seen my editors laid off. I’ve taken page rate cuts (a LOT of us have). My income from royalties have dropped. Most comic shops don’t carry my books. I have very good reasons to suspect my career in comics may be drastically reduced in the near future. Things just plain suck, but I’ve taken these hits, figuring that everyone else is having hard times too. I don’t mind bleeding a little, and one ray of hope has been digital, the potential it has to maybe, just maybe, keep some of us going through these lean times. But like I said, we can never explore that potential to even just see if its there, as long as current pricing stay locked in.
Wood continued, zeroing in on what most publishers have proposed in all their digital announcements: the market has the potential to bring new readers to comics, as opposed to merely moving the existing (dwindling) numbers to a new form factor.
No sane creator, or publisher, wants to see comic shops hurt. We all have emotional connections to them, to the idea of them, and we count owners and employees as personal friends. We aren’t looking for digital to steal customers away from shops, but rather to be an additive thing, to be an additional source of income. To simply switch a current print consumer to a digital consumer does not solve any problems! It benefits no one at all. It will not save us.
Fellow creators on Twitter have affirmed Wood’s remarks. Gray Horses and Chiggers cartoonist Hope Larson said she’s “no longer making a living from comics,” and frequent Wood collaborator Ryan Kelly (New York Five, Local) indicated he’s begun contemplating a life outside the industry. Wood himself Tweeted that he “took a 30%-40% hit last year,” and that he is “planning an exit strategy” from comics, echoing a point he made quite memorably in his blog post about the digital market’s deference to traditional retailers:
I’ll have to bleed a little more so that others can bleed a little less. The problem with that, to really keep abusing this metaphor, is that eventually I’ll just keel over and die from it.
For more digital comics commentary and news, stay tuned to CA’s regular Digital ComicsAlliance feature.
Top Shelf Hits iBooks and Google Books, Launches Two Digital Comics Apps
By David Brothers
Top Shelf Productions is one of those companies that the comics industry needs, with a wonderfully diverse line-up of books, from children’s books by Andy Runton and James Kochalka to more adult fare by Alan Moore and Jeff Lemire. Starting today, Top Shelf is increasing their digital presence, with the introduction of two dozen books on Graphicly and ComiXology and dozens on Google Books and Apple’s iBooks (iTunes link) in addition to their already considerable catalog on iVerse’s Comics+. The icing on the cake is thelaunch of two iOS apps, Top Shelf and Top Shelf Kids Club, which are powered by ComiXology and aweek-long sale on select titles.
Barnes and Noble’s Nook Tablet to Launch with Marvel Graphic Novels
Barnes and Noble has unveiled its new Nook Tablet, a new touchscreen device designed for, among other functions, reading digital books — including comics. The Nook Tablet will jump out of the gate with a selection of Marvel Comics titles that the publisher said will grow to become the largest collection of its graphic novels (or collected editions, if you prefer) available on any digital platform. Titles available on launch will include Civil War, Invincible Iron Man and Marvels.
Nook Tablet users will be able to purchase Marvel’s digital products through the Nook Bookstore. The same titles will also be available on Barnes and Noble’s Nook Color. Prices for Marvel titles have not yet been released.
“This is a huge opportunity for Marvel-and the entire comics medium-to reach a wider audience than ever before thanks to Barnes & Noble’s exciting new NOOK Tablet,” said Peter Phillips, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Marvel Digital Media Group in a press release. “Barnes & Noble is committed to offering customers a broad array of Marvel graphic novels, both digitally and through their massive in-store selection, which can only help bring fans into our exciting world of Super Heroes and unparalleled storytelling.”
Featuring a 7-inch screen, 1GB of RAM,16GB of storage and retailing for $249, the Nook Tablet offers a cheaper alternative to users without the need for the vast functionality of Apple’s $499 iPad, but the new Barnes and Noble device is more specifically targeted at Amazon’s recently announced Kindle Fire. Also on sale next week, the $199 Kindle Fire is to be, at least for a time, the exclusive home of digital DC Comics graphic novels, a move that prompted Barnes and Noble, as well as Books-A-Million to remove all of DC’s print books from its traditional stores.
Marvel graphic novels have been available on the publisher’s comiXology apps for iOS and Android since September, and include titles that will be available on the Nook Tablet upon its launch. While such products will continue to be available via the Marvel app on other devices, Marvel.com Editorial Director Ryan Penagos, who live-tweeted the Nook Tablet unveiling in New York, said that the B&N presentation claimed the Nook Tablet will have the “largest collection” of Marvel graphic novels “than any other tablet”.