Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

The Doctorow Doctrine and Other Techno-Tectonic Upheavals – Part 2

First This

Yesterday, I took issue with Cory Doctorow’s “dandelion” theory. Cory says: “Dandelions and artists have a lot in common in the age of the Internet.” He believes that spreading your digital content for free across the Internet like zillions of dandelion seeds scattered by the winds helps sales of physical products. It seems to work for him. However, I said: “Now, about how Cory’s marketing advice applies to most creative people and the comic book business—it doesn’t. Or I don’t see how. Maybe he’ll set me straight….”

Maybe he already has.

Check out these passages from his book CONTENT – Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future:

“Technology giveth and technology taketh away.”

Here’s one of his examples:

“When radio and records were invented, they were pretty bad news for the performers of the day. Live performance demanded charisma, the ability to really put on a magnetic show in front of a crowd. It didn’t matter how technically accomplished you were: if you stood like a statue on stage, no one wanted to see you do your thing. On the other hand, you succeeded as a mediocre player, provided you attacked your performance with a lot of brio.

“Radio was clearly good news for musicians — lots more musicians were able to make lots more music, reaching lots more people and making lots more money. It turned performance into an industry, which is what happens when you add technology to art. But it was terrible news for charismatics. It put them out on the street, stuck them with flipping burgers and driving taxis. They knew it, too. Performers lobbied to have the Marconi radio banned, to send Marconi back to the drawing board, charged with inventing a radio they could charge admission to. ‘We’re charismatics, we do something as old and holy as the first story told before the first fire in the first cave. What right have you to insist that we should become mere clerks, working in an obscure back-room, leaving you to commune with our audiences on our behalf?’

“Technology giveth and technology taketh away. Seventy years later, Napster showed us that, as William Gibson noted, ‘We may be at the end of the brief period during which it is possible to charge for recorded music.’ Surely we’re at the end of the period where it’s possible to exclude those who don’t wish to pay. Every song released can be downloaded gratis from a peer-to-peer network (and will shortly get easier to download, as hard-drive price/performance curves take us to a place where all the music ever recorded will fit on a disposable pocket-drive that you can just walk over to a friend’s place and copy).”

So…maybe we comic book creators are the new vaudevillians. Technology hath taken away from us.  Other media, more suited to the Digital Age have eclipsed us, left us in the dust. It seems difficult to impossible to exclude those who don’t wish to pay. So, we’re going to be out on the street, flipping burgers and driving taxis.

Or not.

There are ways we might yet pull survival from the jaws of technology.

But first, some other, relevant techno-tectonic upheavals.


Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is explained thus by Wikipedia:

“Digital rights management (DRM) is a class of access control technologies that are used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals with the intent to limit the use of digital content and devices after sale. DRM is any technology that inhibits uses of digital content that are not desired or intended by the content provider. Copy protection which can be circumvented without modifying the file or device, such as serial numbers or keyfiles are not generally considered to be DRM. DRM also includes specific instances of digital works or devices. Companies such as Amazon, AOL, Apple Inc., the BBC, Microsoft and Sony use digital rights management. In 1998 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed in the United States to impose criminal penalties on those who make available technologies whose primary purpose and function is to circumvent content protection technologies.[1]The use of digital rights management is controversial. Content providers claim that DRM is necessary to fight copyright infringement online and that it can help the copyright holder maintain artistic control[2] or ensure continued revenue streams.[3] Those opposed to DRM contend there is no evidence that DRM helps prevent copyright infringement, arguing instead that it serves only to inconvenience legitimate customers, and that DRM helps big business stifle innovation and competition.[4] Further, works can become permanently inaccessible if the DRM scheme changes or if the service is discontinued.[5] Proponents argue that digital locks should be considered necessary to prevent “intellectual property” from being copied freely, just as physical locks are needed to prevent personal property from being stolen.[6]Digital locks placed in accordance with DRM policies can also restrict users from doing something perfectly legal, such as making backup copies of CDs or DVDs, lending materials out through a library, accessing works in the public domain, or using copyrighted materials for research and education under fair use laws.[6] Some opponents, such as the Free Software Foundation (FSF) through its Defective by Design campaign, maintain that the use of the word “rights” is misleading and suggest that people instead use the term “digital restrictions management”.[7] Their position is that copyright holders are restricting the use of material in ways that are beyond the scope of existing copyright laws, and should not be covered by future laws.[8] The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the FSF consider the use of DRM systems to be anti-competitive practice.[9][10]

DRM? Cory is ag’in it.

Cory explains his position in CONTENT, in which he publishes the text of a talk given to Microsoft’s Research Group in 2004 and a few subsequent essays. Start on page eight. He says:

1. That DRM systems don’t work

(They’re easily thwarted or circumvented.)

2. That DRM systems are bad for society

(Honest content buyers trying to make legitimate use of content, like personal back-up copies, are the only ones thwarted by DRM, which bad guys easily circumvent.  So, honest users eventually go to the bad guys for their needs.)

3. That DRM systems are bad for business

(It engenders “closed hardware interfaces,” i.e. copyright holders’ content can only be accessed on their, or approved devices like their proprietary DVD players or audio devices.  The costs of anti-competition drive up prices tremendously.)

4. That DRM systems are bad for artists

(They’re good for big companies not individuals so much, he says, but I don’t really get why he thinks they’re not good for individuals. I’m guessing here—but it seems that he’s saying that no DRM will cause big media to develop new business models and individual creators will be better off because in an unrestricted digital environment there will be “wider reach” and “bigger pies.”

5. That DRM is a bad business-move for MSFT (Microsoft)

(Microsoft should forsake DRM, ignore current copyright law and make capable devices that can “play everyone’s records.”)

The above parentheticals are all my nutshell summaries of the thoughtful and well-explained positions Cory takes.  I apologize if I have mischaracterized them.  Please read what he says.


CONTENT on Amazon

I am not educated enough on the subject of DRM to pontificate.  I will say this, though. Cory’s descriptions of the Draconian measures being taken (or proposed) by Amazon, AOL, Apple, the BBC, Microsoft, Sony and others, and the consequences thereof, is chilling.

The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, is a law under consideration by the U.S. Congress that is intended to help law enforcement fight online intellectual property theft.

SOPA? Cory is ag’in it.

His position is well-explained here:


Says Cory, SOPA is censorship, simple as that. And it puts power and control not in the hands of the government, but in the hands of media giants like Disney, Viacom, the Motion Picture Association of America, the American Association of Publishers and the Recording Industry Association of America, any one or any member of which could, with a complaint, shut down any infringer “without due process” and with it any site that so much as had a link to an infringing site.

Sounds scary. This blog would be toast for sure.

Cory Doctorow. photo by Jonathan Worth, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Cory Doctorow’s Web Site – Craphound

BoingBoing – A Blog Cory Doctorow co-edits

Cory Doctorow on Amazon

NEXT: The Fate That Awaits


Shelly Moldoff


The Doctorow Doctrine and Other Techno-Tectonic Upheavals – Part 3


  1. Jim, off topic, but maybe a new topic, I was reading Marvel Vision #26 from Feb 1998 and it mentions a story that was never completed…it was a graphic novel written by you and Alan Zelenetz (who?) and drawn by Larry Lieber! It was a game-changing Spider-man story where Peter gets married, kills Kingpin, joins the New York Knicks, and gets shot! Can you tell us about this story, why it was written, and why the change of heart?

  2. Anonymous

    Thank you, JayJay!


  3. Hi kgaard,

    I think I found it and un-spammed it.

  4. Anonymous

    Hm, I posted a comment here yesterday and it looks like Blogger's spam filter ate it.


  5. Anonymous

    Here’s the real-world effect of what would happen if Sarah’s perpetual ownership theory actually happened, and here I am going to talk about patents because that was the kind of example she used: Imagine company X invents a drug that cures AIDS. Let’s say then that company X charges $15,000 a year for this drug (R&D is expensive!). In the U.S. and Europe and much of Asia, this is not a big problem. Some people will not be able to afford it, but most will, or insurance will cover it. But in the developing world, especially Africa, where average annual salaries are much, much less than $15,000, it is a very big problem. So company Y in India reverse engineers the drug and sells it for cheap: $100 a year. Except no, thanks to perpetual ownership, company X sues and forces company Y to stop manufacturing their cheaper generic. Sorry. And this would never change, ever, because patents now never end.

    This is, of course, until the very end, a simplified version of what actually did happen in the AIDS patent fight (See http://www.avert.org/generic.htm, for some reason my usual linking technique is failing). Fortunately, generics have in reality brought prices down enormously and many thousands of lives have been saved or prolonged. Work continues on trying to make drugs available to save the lives of the very poorest in the world.

    Obviously, the stakes are not nearly as high in copyright. No one will die if Mickey Mouse never enters public domain. But the principle is much the same. Everyone—everyone, creators included—derives benefits from our common culture. The law is a trade-off: it says that we will protect your work, and allow you to make what you can from it, and in exchange at some point—28 years, 75 years, 150 years, whenever—this protection will end and everyone can benefit from the work: the public domain. The reason this is different from personal property (used here in the sense of tangible)—and the reason the laws are different with respect to their disposition— is because it is different. For example, I own a copy of Moby-Dick. My friend Ted comes over and steals my copy. Okay, I need to pick better friends, but the point is I no longer have my book, it’s gone. But what if instead he came over, memorized all of Moby-Dick, and went home and wrote out his own copy, including all the boring whale shit and the bits from Star Trek II (hmm), like, “From hell’s heart I stab at thee!” Not only is Ted impressive, I still have my book. I haven’t lost anything. This is “intellectual property.” This is the shared culture we live in, and the reason to have limits on copyrights and patents. It’s how high schools can put on plays by Shakespeare and the local philharmonic can play Beethoven without having to clear the rights, and how Disney can build an empire on the works of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm (themselves just collectors of folk tales). It’s how to prevent the large-scale development of a rentier class, hoovering up resources with no production to show for it. The public good matters because everyone has skin in this game, assuming they participate in the culture at all.

    I’m not dogmatic about 28 years, that would be goofy (not Goofy, please don’t send me any letters, Disney lawyers). The Supreme Court doesn’t consider regular extensions of copyright to constitute perpetual copyright (which would violate the Constitution). I don’t agree, but John Roberts isn’t taking my phone calls. I would consider lifetime fair (too long, but fair). Unfortunately, I don’t see things moving in that direction anytime soon, so in reality the defenders of infinite copyright have the upper hand. More's the pity.

    Finally, I actually do work in publishing.


    P.S. After writing this I came across Lawrence Lessig’s helpful Wiki page summarizing the Against Perpetual Copyright argument (http://wiki.lessig.org/index.php/Against_perpetual_copyright); it echoes, expands, and advances on what I’ve written above.

  6. Anonymous

    Sure, I understand the concept of fair use. I just found it ironic that she was using all (or mostly all) public domain quotations to support her argument for perpetual copyright.

  7. Anonymous

    "Did you get permission to quote the writings of Voltaire, Adams, Jefferson, Lee, Rand Blackstone, von Mises, Chesterton and Spencer?"

    [MikeAnon:] There is such a thing as "fair use" doctrine. If your quoting falls within certain guidelines (e.g., for educational use, not for profit, not lowering the value of the work itself) you don't have to pay for the use.

    I read an interesting article about how the creators of Trivial Pursuit lifted at least half of a book called "Super Trivia" to fill their question cards. The author of the book sued and was able to prove that they had plagiarized him (because he had sneakily put a wrong answer in his book on purpose, which they copied), but the judge still dismissed the case because all they had copied from the book were facts, and facts can't be copyrighted. [–MikeAnon]

  8. Anonymous


    Did you get permission to quote the writings of Voltaire, Adams, Jefferson, Lee, Rand Blackstone, von Mises, Chesterton and Spencer? If not, then why are you stealing from their children? And what about that "Author Unknown" quote? Did you make a diligent attempt to find out who the author was, or did you just go ahead and post it?

    Maybe you just pulled these from a book of quotations? If so, why are you stealing from the publisher of that book?

  9. Excellent quotes, Sarah Salari!

  10. Dear Mike,

    RE: "…what would it take to get back the rights for KNIGHTS ON BROADWAY? I just reread the three issues that were published, and I think that out of all the Shooter titles that have seen an all-too-abrupt end, this is the one that grieves me the most. SO much potential here. Would love to see it continued someday. What would it take to do that?"

    Classic Media controls the rights. There would have to be a licensing deal with them. Not expensive, I would guess, thousands or a low ten-plus advance, small guarantee, reasonable royalties. Getting major creator/contributor Joe James would be the biggest expense. He's good and he's busy. And me, if you wished. I work for food. The cost of publishing? Online, not much, in print, substantial.

  11. I will, however, leave everyone with a few of these:

    A witty saying proves nothing.

    Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.

    Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung.

    Common sense is not so common.

    I know many books which have bored their readers, but I know of none which has done real evil.

    Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.
    -Samuel Adams

    To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father's has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association: 'the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.'
    -Thomas Jefferson

    The Right of property is the guardian of every other Right, and to deprive the people of this, is in fact to deprive them of their Liberty.
    -Arthur Lee

    Just as man can't exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one's rights into reality, to think, to work and keep the results, which means: the right of property.
    -Ayn Rand

    So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property, that it will not authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community.
    -William Blackstone

    If history could teach us anything, it would be that private property is inextricably linked with civilization.
    -Ludwig von Mises

    Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.
    -G.K. Chesterton

    An argument fatal to the communist theory, is suggested by the fact, that a desire for property is one of the elements of our nature.
    -Herbert Spencer

    No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.
    -Author Unknown

  12. Speaking of copyright infringement – oh, and another popular subject here, namely decompressed storytelling – I happened upon this: Justice League #1 edited from 24 to 16 pages.

  13. MikeAnon,

    Nice to see some "saner heads" in the discussion. You said many of the things I've been trying to get across, and said them better than I. But I'm a fiction writer, not an economist.

    As a result, I think I'll bow out of further contributions to the discussion because one more equipped than me has taken up the battle. I'm better off writing stories, I think, than blog posts arguing with those who think they have more right to my work than me or my children.

  14. Anonymous

    "I said it causes stagnation. Do you think stagnation is good or bad?"

    [MikeAnon:] I don't think whether stagnation or evolution is better is the point. What matters is whether the principle of inheritance is a just principle. I think it is because I believe in private property rights. [–MikeAnon]

    "And from what principle does this arise, OTHER than Noble Right? Where do you get this notion? How can we forget a 'fact' that is nothing more than mere assertion?"

    [MikeAnon:] Biology is fact. And that children are the natural organic extension of their parents is biological fact. When a man and a woman (and only that, nyah) come together to form a family, they two become a biological unit of humanity that reproduces/extends itself in the form of its children. So what belongs to the originators belongs as well to the extensions. [–MikeAnon]

    "And you're arguing that a parent has no say in where his property goes after his death. You can't be disowned, and your father cannot leave you out of his will."

    [MikeAnon:] I was actually going to mention something about that but thought it wasn't immediately relevant. No, I'm not saying that parents can't make a will that supersedes the normal order of inheritance. I'm just saying there *is* a normal order of inheritance to be respected and not usurped by socialistic policies like estate taxes and progressive income taxes. [–MikeAnon]

    "How does it help human advancement for wealth to stay with your bloodline? Why should tomorrow's generation enter our economy with all of yesterday's wealth already pre-owned via inheritance, which severely limits their opportunities?"

    [MikeAnon:] Again, whether the principle of inheritance helps or hurts human advancement is beside the point. Your money is not my money. I have zero claim to it. Your children, being the organic extension of you and your wife, do have claim to it. So they, not I, and not society at large, should get your money when you die.

    You're also misunderstanding the concept of wealth. Wealth is not a fixed resource of which there is only so much to go around. The total wealth of the human race has increased enormously over the last several centuries. The objective here should be to create your own wealth, not covet the wealth of others.

    I do think there are policies that could and should be changed to reduce wealth inequality in America. For example, I think that the mortgage interest tax deduction should go away, and I think that the payroll tax cap should be altogether removed. But I don't believe in the general principle forwarded by many proponents of wealth redistribution that says, "The more you have, the less you need it, so you should be forced to give more of it to us." Confiscatory practices also stifle innovation by removing the incentive to do more when doing more isn't going to pay off for you. If you tell me you'll give me $100 to run one mile, I'll run one mile. If you tell me you'll give me another $10 to run a second mile, I'll run one mile. [–MikeAnon]

  15. Anonymous

    Dan, you are making an awful lot of assertions yourself, buddy.

    Gay marriage is awesome.

  16. Dan

    MikeAnon said: "So allowing children to inherit the house their parents lived in or the farm animals and/or tools their parents used to make a living is wrong?"

    I said it causes stagnation. Do you think stagnation is good or bad?

    MikeAnon said: "I think some people have lost sight of the fact that children are supposed to be the natural extensions of their parents, not merely separate individuals."

    And from what principle does this arise, OTHER than Noble Right? Where do you get this notion? How can we forget a "fact" that is nothing more than mere assertion?

    MikeAnon said: "The children inherit from the parents because the children are organic extensions of the parents — they are flesh of the parents' flesh (or are considered such in case of adoption) and therefore have a share in all that belongs to the parents. I, for example, am the living natural extension of my mother and father — biologically, they are me and I am them, all part and parcel of the same organism that is our family.
    Therefore what they own is (or will be) mine."

    WOW. You're saying you have an entitlement to what you did not earn yourself.

    Sounds like you're making the same arguments that you're trying to defeat–that you have a right to that which you did not create yourself.

    And you're arguing that a parent has no say in where his property goes after his death. You can't be disowned, and your father cannot leave you out of his will.

    MikeAnon said: "And if *I* don't have a right to what is theirs, certainly no one else does, seeing how no one else has more of a connection to them than I do."

    How does it help human advancement for wealth to stay with your bloodline? Why should tomorrow's generation enter our economy with all of yesterday's wealth already pre-owned via inheritance, which severely limits their opportunities?

    MikeAnon said: "The reason that we have copyrights and patents is so people can profit from their inventions, thus providing an external impetus to invent."

    Yes, for a limited time. NOT in perpetuity.

    What you don't understand is, by limiting copyrights and patents, we push the inventor to keep inventing in order to keep profiting.

    MikeAnon said: "Copyrights and patents give inventors the financial incentive to invent — not only for themselves, but also for their children's sake."

    You're just making up the second part. There is nothing to base that on.

    MikeAnon said: "And if you were to say now to inventors that their children will not see the financial profit from their inventions, you would be jeapordizing their children's security, and maybe these inventors would find something more profitable to do for their offspring's sake."

    Society does not benefit in any way for a child to simply receive money from an in-family entitlement system. There is no incentive to innovate.

    If you studied world history, you'd know that the Nobles on the whole were typically uninterested in innovation. They preferred to sit on their Noble-Right inheritance system. Those who did not inherit the family wealth, and all those non-nobles looking for wealth, used their talents to invent, innovate, and build their way to their own wealth.

    History is against your position, I'm afraid. Passing wealth directly along the bloodline has not worked well for society in the past. It only worked for the top 1-2%.

    When Adam Smith defined capitalism (a.k.a. Classic Liberalism) he was speaking of democratizing property ownership. He was demonizing hoarding property (done by manoralism and mercantilism). He promoted spreading ownership amongst as many people as possible. Unfortunately, the words of Smith have been cherry picked to support vast accumulations of wealth (which inheritance enables), but Smith spoke against such wealth as counterproductive to the free economy he wanted.

  17. Anonymous

    [MikeAnon:] Speaking of property rights, what would it take to get back the rights for KNIGHTS ON BROADWAY? I just reread the three issues that were published, and I think that out of all the Shooter titles that have seen an all-too-abrupt end, this is the one that grieves me the most. SO much potential here. Would love to see it continued someday. What would it take to do that? [–MikeAnon]

  18. Anonymous

    "Why does anyone 'deserve' to make money off a character after the original creator has died? What did his children contribute to the concept?"

    "Allowing a family to own a property, any property, in perpetuity is to cause stagnation in the evolution of human achievement."

    [MikeAnon:] So allowing children to inherit the house their parents lived in or the farm animals and/or tools their parents used to make a living is wrong?

    I think some people have lost sight of the fact that children are supposed to be the natural extensions of their parents, not merely separate individuals. The children inherit from the parents because the children are organic extensions of the parents — they are flesh of the parents' flesh (or are considered such in case of adoption) and therefore have a share in all that belongs to the parents. I, for example, am the living natural extension of my mother and father — biologically, they are me and I am them, all part and parcel of the same organism that is our family. Therefore what they own is (or will be) mine. And if *I* don't have a right to what is theirs, certainly no one else does, seeing how no one else has more of a connection to them than I do.

    The reason that we have copyrights and patents is so people can profit from their inventions, thus providing an external impetus to invent. Not every inventor will invent from sheer passion alone. How many of us do our jobs because we'd be doing them anyway given the choice? More often than not, we do it for money. Inventors are no different. Copyrights and patents give inventors the financial incentive to invent — not only for themselves, but also for their children's sake. And if you were to say now to inventors that their children will not see the financial profit from their inventions, you would be jeapordizing their children's security, and maybe these inventors would find something more profitable to do for their offspring's sake. [–MikeAnon]

  19. Dear Art Monkey,

    RE: "Jim, one site you might want to read deals a lot with the issues raised by Doctorow and the whole SOPA/PIPA/ACTA circus. It's called Techdirt.com and they have an article about this sort thing every now and again. Here's one that stuck in my head:

    http://bit.ly/c159qb "

    Very interesting. Wait'll you read Part 3 of the Doctorow rants.

  20. Came back from John Carter, in 3D IMAX, and very excited. Forgot just how wonderful it all was. Disney did a good job with the character, staying true to Edgar Rice Burrough's creation.

    What a contrast. Edgar Rice Burroughs vs. Jack Kirby. Perhaps, some might say there is no comparison. Some might say that Kirby was not the "creative spark," but merely a skilled craftsmen who emboldened other people's ideas.

    One thing is for sure, Burroughs protected the rights to his creations. How did he do that? How was he able to ride that promotional tiger, to keep control over the property? I suppose, he was the undeniable creator, as it was his words that carried the initial popularization of the characters.

    Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc enabled this. He ultimately was able to carry the ball across that goal-line.

    2012 marks 100 years since "Under the Moons of Mars" was first serialized. Tarzan, too, will be celebrating 100 years this year. "John Carter" is a great tribute to that legacy, and to the power of the creative idea, to which this blog is a fine upholder of the faith.

  21. Urk

    I agree with Doctorow & others about DRM & SOPA. Bad ideas. At the best, bad executions of decent intent, tho I have my doubts there.

    On the other hand, I'm not so fond of the dandelion theory either. Or at least i'm not fond of how I see similar ideas being used by people to rationalize not paying for anything produced by working artists.

    David Lowery, of Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven, & who also teaches a class on the music biz at the University of Georgia, argues that the new digital distribution model is actually much worse for musicians even without rampant piracy, & this is not from someone nostalgiac for the old days of the music biz by any means. You can read him here:

  22. Man with rights to "fire" traded them away for "tobacco." Okay, that didn't happen, or did it?

  23. Dan


    What you're defending is the "Noble Right" concept–that a person deserves something simply because of the accident of their bloodline.

    Allowing a family to own a property, any property, in perpetuity is to cause stagnation in the evolution of human achievement.

    I shudder to think of the devastating effect modern copyright and trademark laws would have had if they existed when the first man harnessed fire, or build the first wheel. Can you imagine a family monopoly on the most significant ideas of human history? It would be tyranny. They would control everything, and they would not necessarily have been improved upon (why improve if you don't need to?).

    Our Founding Fathers understood clearly that a society grows when ideas flow. The creator gets to benefit exclusively for a time, but then that idea becomes available for others to add to it. Why did they believe this? Because they fully understood the development of the Scientific Revolution and the developments of the Enlightenment–we are ALL better off if you can't exclude others from building on preexisting ideas.

    In a truly democractized economy, each individual should have to build their own fortunes by their own skills and talents. Large scale inheritance isn't theft, but it's still unearned.

  24. Anonymous

    Jim, do you have any thoughts on DC changing Captain Marvel's name to SHAZAM? Do you think this insults the history of the character?


  25. Sarah ,

    Why does anyone "deserve" to make money off a character after the original creator has died? What did his children contribute to the concept? What did the current executives at Disney or Marvel do to create the concepts that earn them their paycheck? Can you imagine what the world would be like if Aesops Fables were property of someone's estate with lawsuits issued over the telling of them? I guess wisdom would be copyrighted and we'd owe someone money to quote it. I just just think the world you envision is shit. Coarse words or not, that is the most accurate assessment I have of your opinion. I'm sickened that Disney had enough money to get the laws changed to extend their protections.

    Everyone, and I do mean everyone borrows ideas and concepts from previous generations. To quote Paul Hewson's lyrics "Every Artist is a Cannibal,every Poet is a Thief. All kill for inspiration and sing about their grief."

    Why does a some guy who was hired by people after Walt Disney died "deserve" a paycheck from something they had NOTHING to do with? In the south that's called a "Good ole boy network" or more properly "cronyism".

  26. I have mixed emotions whenever a new Apple product, like the New iPad is launched. They go through their sales spiel showing the enticing virtues of its new products.

    They say, connect with your friends, and share your latest adventures.

    The major problem is there is an ownership bubble around the Apple Universe. The same is true of Google and Facebook, and so on. I guess it's fair to add the Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Valiant worlds amongst them

    Ultimately, things may seem fine in the illusionary world of the sales pitch, but all is not well in the practical nuts and bolts.

    Apple, in particular, has blurred the lines of what is ownership. When you "buy" their products, do you buy the right to "publish" the product of all that digital wonderfulness?

    It's very ambiguous. If you use Apple iPhoto's filters to enhance an image, is the product still within the Apple sphere of influence, or can it have an independent, and profitable-life outside of that sphere, or some similar sphere, aka sites on the internet?

    True, one licences use of the software, and it would be stupid to sue your own customers, unless they were netting megabucks on the enterprise. It also creates nightmare copyright-infringement scenarios, where who-knows-who has licensed who-knows-what, for whatever obscure purpose?

    Then, there are straight mash-ups. We live in a super-saturated culture. In most mash-up cases, it's ridiculous to license use of the separate components, but what happens when it becomes a legitimate art-form. Although, it probably falls under "fair-use," there are inevitable points of contention.

    Even then, putting a different filter, or new context on a subject, changes it. Intellectual property is a very subjective matter. So what is a straight-up swipe, and what can not be undermined as "derivative?"

    Ultimately, people have no control over the filters people use on their property, privately, and only limited and expensive control, publicly. Considering the selective ways that matters become viral, it becomes even harder to define the "owner" of any new phenomenon.

  27. Defiant1,

    The coarse language does nothing to strengthen your point.

    Sure, I expressed a personal opinion that copyright should never end.

    But current law is life plus 70 for individuals like me and … whatever it is for corporations.

    Rolling it back to a standard that didn't even exist when I was born is more of a losing argument than my personal opinion that it could be extended further.

    But even if we imagine a world where copyright ownership WAS eternal….

    Who is more deserving to make a living of Spiderman? Marvel, or some nobody writer who can't think up his/her own ideas?

    Who is more deserving to make a living off Superman? DC/TimeWarner, who've spent decades reinventing the character to appeal to new generations, sunk billions into coming up with new comics, movies, cartoons, etc., for people to enjoy? Or someone who can't think up their own character, but is more than happy to come up with a half-wit Superman story the moment it falls into public domain?

    And heck, set aside corporate ownership for a bit here.

    What about the individual authors? If a family lineage is blessed with one genius like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once in their history, they are blessed. As the creator of Sherlock Holmes, I suspect Sir Arthur would prefer not to see his great grandchildren fall into poverty because his copyright ran out and no one gave them any cut of any action anymore, while making tons of cruddy Sherlock ripoff stuff, because they no longer had to.

    I know I'd rather my descendants benefit from what I create; it's the only legacy I'll ever have to pass on to them. I was not born to wealth, and have not achieved it yet, but if I work hard I might come up with some books that will make sure my descendants don't have to be quite so hard up.

    The chance to strike out on one's own, pull oneself up out of poverty and make something of oneself used to be the great American dream.

    Now, "get rich quick" and "rip off someone else's hard work" is quickly taking the place of real ambition.

    If I wanted to write a Spiderman story, I'd work for Marvel and know that I'm work-for-hire and I don't really own it, I'm just contributing to something Marvel owns. Maybe doing that draws attention to my other work.

    But if someone wants to use my characters, they need my permission, and to cut me in on the action. They don't get to steal them just because they like what I created.

    Your ideology reminds me of the worst lawyer I ever head argue a case.

    He was defending two thieves. They had come across an "abandoned" farm house, backed their truck up to it, and starting loading stuff up from inside it.

    The owners who lived on adjacent land noticed this going on, called the cops, and the guys got arrested.

    At trial, cross-examining the property owners, the defense attorney asked, "Isn't it possible my clients simply didn't know that farm house belonged to you?"

    I loved the witness' response.

    "That doesn't matter," she said. "They didn't have to know who owned it. They already knew the most important thing. They knew it didn't belong to them."

    If a world where people can't steal other people's property is so bad, you're destined for a frustrating life. It's the world we live in.

    And if you're imagining that having to ask for permission, and cut the owner in on your profits in a licensing procedure, is so bad… well, you just don't understand anything then. That's how it IS.

    If you'd rather live in a world where blatant theft is allowed… share your address with me. I need a new cell phone, and I'm sure yours is better than mine.



  28. Jim,

    A lot has happened even since 2008. That's ~four years ago, and just after the Kindle was introduced.

    Facts of the current market are: millions of people own Kindles, Nooks, and other eReaders, and use them regularly in place of print.

    Even for comic books, now that the Nook Color, Nook Tablet, and Kindle Fire are out.

    As a futurist, Doctorow leaves something to be desired, I think. He apparently never foresaw John Locke, who has sold over 2 million novels across 10-12 titles on Kindle alone.

  29. Anonymous

    Your great-grandfather built the house that has been passed down to you. Do you own it?

  30. Sarah Salari,

    You propose a shit hole of a world to live in. The creators of the alphabet want their past due royalties for you using the symbols they created. What in the hell does current Disney management have to do with the "creation" of Mickey Mouse? Why the hell should people be able to say they own the creation of a dead person. That's BS.

  31. I've been reading Order of the Stick for a long time. I'm not too surprised that it has done well. It's good stuff.

  32. Ralf Haring

    This is an interesting article in which Rich Burlew talks about his recent Kickstarter success: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/book-news/comics/article/50797-rich-burlew-talks-about-his-1-million-kickstarter-book-project.html

  33. The Art Monkey

    Jim, one site you might want to read deals a lot with the issues raised by Doctorow and the whole SOPA/PIPA/ACTA circus. It's called Techdirt.com and they have an article about this sort thing every now and again. Here's one that stuck in my head:


    It's from a filmmaker's standpoint, but I feel the gist of the argument intersects the current and some previous articles you wrote on this blog. For example, the post about Marvel and DC being "dandelioned" not helping their physical sales. For another, some of your reviews where you feel the comics Marvel and DC are putting out currently could be higher quality.

    The article I link to argues that piracy only hurts the bad and mediocre, which probably explains the lack of sales for Marvel and DC despite their comics being pirated digitally. From the sample issues you reviewed here I'd say a large portion of their lineup may be less than adequate. If others are copying the style of those comics believing them to be successful examples of storytelling, the problem would only compound itself and lead to people determining their $2.99 or $3.99/issue (or however much comics cost nowadays) would be better spent elsewhere.

    So maybe the idea should be to make better comics, and see if those better "dandelions" improve sales of the print versions.

  34. Ralf Haring

    Sarah, eternal copyright is a bizarre and extreme minority viewpoint. It's very hard to take it seriously.


  35. Anonymous

    Hi Sarah, my point was not about what or for how long someone's stories belongs to them. Simply that some stories are derived from others. Period. I don't know what the perfect solution would be. Probably create what you feel you should based on your contract and current laws.

  36. Dear Craig,

    RE: "But yeah, my main reason for posting was to point out his "facts" are not only dated, but severely outdated."

    CONTENT was published in 2008, so Cory apparently thought what it contained was still relevant then.

  37. Anonymous/kgaard,

    You're free to disagree with me all you want, but your comments are spoken from someone with no "skin in the game," per se.

    Personally, I don't think Marvel should ever lose control of Spider-Man; that Disney should ever lose control of Mickey Mouse; that DC should ever lose control of Superman.

    And I don't think me or my descendants should ever lose control of my creative properties.

    Why? Because they're mine. My creations. My effort. No one else's.

    No one else has any sort of claim on them. I do. Because I created them.

    And frankly, I include my descendants because I'd much rather my children and grandchildren and such benefit from what I did because they're MY blood kin.

    Strangers, be they some uncreative authors who can't come up with their own ideas… or corporations looking to capitalize on my success… are even less welcome.

    If they wanna play with my creations, they pay me for that right. The can't just do it because they got a hankering to do so.

    This is hard for folks outside the creative arts/publishing to understand, I know. But citing 28 years maximum, a long-dead standard, is not convincing, since that's not been the law even before I was born. When I was born, it was twice that (28+28, I believe) and a few years later it was changed to life plus 70.

    How to help non-writers understand? Hmmm…

    Let's say you owned an apple orchard.

    A lot of your day is spent processing apples. Peeling, sectioning, coring. All the tools to do it with are really old and clunky.

    But you're an inventive type, know your way around metal shop and such.

    So you start noodling around. And after a year or so, you come up with an all-new tool that cores an apple perfectly, peels the skin off with virtually no waste, and sections it into 12 equal wedges, perfectly cut, every time. And does all this in one smooth, effortless motion.

    It's a huge time-saver and a unique deal, unlike any other apple-processing tool ever thought up.

    So you use it can your neighbors eventually see you having free time you didn't have before and you show them this thing you invented. They ohh and ahh and compliment you on your genius.

    Maybe you even sell a half-dozen units to friends. You think about making a bunch of them for sale, but you're an apple grower, not a factory-guy.

    A couple months go by. Suddenly one of your neighbors drives by in a Masarati. You ask him what's up one day when he stops by.

    "Oh, that's easy," he said. "I loved your apple processor, and it's not like you were doing much with it. These guys from Acme got all excited when I told them about it. I have a pretty good memory for how stuff's put together. They just paid me six million for the idea. And I'll get more every time someone buys one, for the rest of my life."

    "Well, that's great, Freddie," you say. "But that wasn't your idea to sell. It was mine."

    See, you can justify theft all you want… talk about the public good, etc… but if you didn't create it, it doesn't belong to you.

    The books and characters and stories I write… they're mine. I created them. They don't belong to anyone else. If they want to do anything with 'em, they have to come to ME and at least give me a cut.

    And if I say, "No," it's my property, not someone else's, so the "no" sticks.

    Get it now?


  38. Anonymous

    "If Shakespeare hadn't been able to use Romeus and Juliet as the basis for his slightly differently named play … well, he probably would have come up with something else. He was a genius. But it's no shame to the descendants of Arthur Brooke or Matteo Bandello that he didn't have to."

    This spurred me to read the Italian wikipedia entries on Bandello. "Romeo e Giulietta" was "inspired" by Luigi da Porto's story "l'Istoria novellamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti" who in turn was "probably inspired" by a story by Masuccio Salernitano, Mariotto e Ganozza. Found it interesting. 🙂 It's hard to say at times where the origins of stories lie.

  39. Anonymous

    @ Sarah Salari:

    I'm glad you raised the issue of copyright terms, because while the conversation about digital media is interesting and important, there are elements of copyright law that would be contentious even if we were writing these comments longhand and sending them to each other by U.S. Snail.

    To wit, I respectfully disagree with you almost entirely! (I guess I agree with Cory Doctorow, then, though I haven't read that part of his writings.)

    Here's the Copyright Clause of the U.S. Constitution: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." (This is also the basis for patent law, but I'm going to ignore that here.) Somewhat unhelpfully, it doesn't establish what that limited time should be. Originally, it was set at 14 years, with one extension allowed for another 14. After that, public domain, baby! Over time, of course, it has been extended to its current state of, as you note, lifetime of the author plus 70 years. Why that length? By the most amazing coincidence, it just about covers (with 5 years to spare) the first appearance of Mickey Mouse.

    But the point of copyright, as the Constitution says, is to promote "the useful Arts". To that end, giving creators a monopoly for a limited period makes sense. (Indeed, Thomas Jefferson did propose adding a specific time period to the Bill of Rights, though obviously that didn't happen.) Incentive to create might be reduced if the ability to sell it was immediately undermined by copyists. Charles Dickens was certainly unhappy with lax U.S. enforcement of international copyrights.

    But lifetime+70 years is an awfully long time. Does it really promote "the useful Arts" to ensure that J.R.R. Tolkien great-grandchildren will benefit from his work? To put it another way, is it likely that Tolkien would have not written The Lord of the Rings if he had thought they would not?

    Indeed, 28 years seems like plenty of time for a creator to reap the benefits of their creation. J.K. Rowling, George Lucas, and Paul McCartney would all still be immensely wealthy even if the latter two's works were in the public domain and the former were halfway there. Works that are less successful are highly unlikely to suddenly become so after so long (although I am sure some examples exist).

    In other words, yes, I wish your brother, or Jim, or anyone who wants to, could make their own Spider-Man or Superman comics or movies or origami or whatever. Some of it would suck, but some of it would be great! If Shakespeare hadn't been able to use Romeus and Juliet as the basis for his slightly differently named play … well, he probably would have come up with something else. He was a genius. But it's no shame to the descendants of Arthur Brooke or Matteo Bandello that he didn't have to.


  40. Bobby P.

    Great to see you back Jim and hope you are feeling better. 🙂

    Great links and topic, I didn't know about Cory Doctorow's writings before, but I agree with his views.

    Technology has changed the industry. Remember when people were paid to letter comic books by hand? Or color it by hand?

    Now both fields are all but digital and done on computers. And what has happened to the old school letters and colorists? Most of them, if they cannot adapt, are obsolete sad to say.

    With the rise of individual comic book issue prices, at $3 now and even $4.

    Plus continuity and issue numbering meaning little these days? As in the big two and their numerous series resets numbers wise, and continuity being pick and choose by creators.

    For many series from Marvel or DC I collect the trade paperback or hardcover book. I can buy it with discounts online or on sale at a convention.

    Plus the trade market sales numbers wise, I heard was a growing market for comic books.

    In that sense, I think the collected editions are a positive for the comic book industry. And one of the ways companies will make future revenue.

    But as you says, it's all about quality. Look how many times DC has successfully sold their Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns paperbacks?
    (Putting aside the Watchmen ownership and copyright issues topic in regards to Alan Moore.)

    It's the same issues repacked again and again. Financially that is cost effective.

    Yet if the quality stunk? It wouldn't be worth it to reprint again, as the stores wouldn't be buying it again.

    As for SOPA yes, it's a case of the big media giants wanting control of content.

    Thanks to the Internet writers can self publish books. Musicians can self publish music. And this goes for other creative fields.

    The middle man of a corporation is no longer needed to gain an audience or distribute your work.

    Do you think the book and music giants like this notion? That they are no longer needed? And that they can no longer determine who makes it and who does not?

    The power has shifted to individual users who now have a say and can gain their own audience.

    The government, just like the media giants, do not like the notion of the people being free to communicate with each other and spread information.

    That's why think like SOPA are happening. Cause they want a form of control and to be in charge of us.

    Least that's the way I see it. 🙂

  41. Anonymous

    Digital comics are eventually going to work. I am convinced of that. All it will take is three things:
    Except reading comics on a screen is pretty lousy, especially a screen smaller than an actual comic book like a Kindle Fire.

    i despise it.


  42. Ralf Haring said…
    "DRM is like a door lock … if it's my house, you're the one with the key, and I need you to get in my house every time."

    And–due to region conflicts–it won't let Chinese people through. And lockmakers want laws that let them decide you're an intruder in your own home without due process. And sometimes they install cameras and termites in your home whenever they install a lock.

  43. So there is no economically viable model for performing your craft?

    That's what I'm getting from all this.
    Find another means of making a living.
    I don see how selling 'merch' is different from flipping burgers. And that's assuming you have the skills to be a salesman, or if your work lends itself to it.

    Are people who want to create something other than a Trademark to be milked screwed?

  44. Anonymous

    Hi there Moochava … ALL freelancers have to hustle to make a living — self-promotion is not just restricted to people who make webcomics and syndicated strips.

    Everyone who works for him or herself has to 'hustle'… electricians, carpenters, actors, authors, retailers, restaurateurs, musicians, entrepreneurs of every stripe….

    Nor is it 'humiliating' or 'shilling'to have to promote oneself. It's just harder than working for someone else and drawing a steady salary, although it can be far more rewarding (and challenging).

    — Pete Marco

  45. Hey Mr. Shooter,

    I'm an indie novelist, too, and I make ~$250 – $300/month currently (and growing) on my writing and an indie novelist.

    I agree with Cory Doctorow about SOPA being bad law.

    But I don't agree with his conclusion that copyright is bad and only benefits corporations.

    I look at it this way: As an indie novelist, I get to keep complete ownership and control over the copyrights on my work. Yay, me.

    I'm the one putting her blood, sweat, and skin into the game. My books exist because I wrote them; they succeed because readers embrace them and are willing to pay reasonable prices for them.

    As the law currently stands (which Doctorow opposes) I believe current copyright keeps MY works benefiting ME and MY descendants for as long as I live, plus 70 years.

    In some of Doctorow's other ramblings, he would undo all that.

    And I'm in firm opposition to any such changes.

    My work should benefit me. The characters I create should continue to benefit me and my descendants, not some uncreative "republisher" or someone who wants to steal my characters and use them in their own work.

    I mean, I have a brother who wished he could grow up to write comics, when he was a teenager. He didn't follow through and never got a break into the comics field.

    Does that mean he should be able to write his own Spider-Man stories? Or Superman stories? And make money off them?

    No. Those products belong to Stan and Steve/Marvel/Disney, and to Kane/Finger/DC/TimeWarner, respectively.

    In the same way, I don't think anyone has a "moral right" to make money off my work without reaching some sort of agreement with me, or my agent(s) working on my behalf, and coming to some sort of arrangement.

    That's a big area where Cory and I part ways. Copyright laws protect companies, sure.

    But they protect hard-working writers like me, too. Whether my work only makes me $100s per month, or eventually take off and get licensed and such and generate scads more money far beyond my dreams… copyright laws ensure it'll be me (and my descendants) benefiting, at least to some degree.

    But no one should be able to pick up one of my books, decide they can do it better than me, and use MY characters and stories to make money for themselves without me seeing one thin dime.

    SOPA isn't good law. It's too fuzzy on definitions, too broad on enforcement powers.

    But copyright laws should be enforced somehow.

    Because if Paramount wants to make a movie out of one of my books, they should never be allowed to just do it because they decided to, without ever talking to me or giving me a cut of the action.

    Copyright laws prevent that, too. So Cory Doctorow is all wet.

  46. Jim,

    Reading your excerpts from Cory Doctorow is like stepping into a time machine. Although it seems like most of his data for his arguments come from relatively recently (2004/2005), so much has changed in even the last THREE years that he just sounds outdated and out-of-step. Some of his assumptions are downright laughable.

    According to your two entries on Doctorow:

    1) He presumes that reading content digitally will "never catch on."

    That's amusing, but an understandable presumption for someone writing most of his thoughts down in 2004/2005.

    Because in 2007, there was this (Wikipedia):

    "Amazon released the Kindle First Generation on November 19, 2007, for US$399."

    And then there's this (Wikipedia):

    "In the last three months of 2010, Amazon announced that in the United States, their e-book sales had surpassed sales of paperback books for the first time."

    We're now two years past that tipping point. eBook sales in late 2011 were the only growing format for books, increasing rapidly with the release of the latest-and-greatest Kindle product, the Fire Tablet.

    Borders has completely disappeared because they didn't move fast enough into the eBook space.

    Barnes and Noble ALMOST went the same way, and their Nook and PubIt initiatives were the only things that saved the company… for now. But there's plenty of talk about the "anchor stone" their "brick and mortar" stores have become around their bottom line, and even talk of spinning Nook off into a separate company so their brick-and-mortar stores can go away and not weight down Nook profits.

    It hasn't taken much time or history to prove Doctorow wrong on that assumption.

    In the spring of 2011, despite garnering $2M in sales as an independent author, indie novelist Amanda Hocking was courted by several publishers and eventually signed a $2M deal … for the production of a single trilogy of books, at a time when the Big 6 publishers in New York are shrinking the size of their advances to most folks. The indie book scene is quickly becoming the way the Big 6 find "the next big thing" by waiting to see which indie novelists find an audience on their own first.

    Oh, and she made her indie $2M by charging only $0.99 and $2.99 per copy with nine books released in the space of about a year.

    So that knocks some holes in Doctorow's grim warnings against self-publishing.

    In fact, were it not for the indie marketplace that spring up because of Amazon's ePublishing program for indie novelists (KDP), I would not currently have a way of making money.

    I currently support myself on a combination of indie novel sales of my own, and doing contract editorial work for others in the same field. I'm not making a lot, yet, but it's better than collecting unemployment, or worse, running out of unemployment coverage. Or flipping burgers.

    Doctorow, it seems to me, comes by his arguments as a defender of the traditional publishing model, because that's where he is and he doesn't want it changing… much.

    The advantage of indie novelists is we can sell our work for far less than traditional publishers without all their overhear, beat them by a mile on price… and still make a living.

    My first 30-35 years of writing was met with little success landing my creative works with a traditional publisher, for many of the reasons you, Jim, described.

    So Doctorow can take his dandelion theory on digital content and hope it continues to work for him.

    I suspect it won't, if it ever did.

    But yeah, my main reason for posting was to point out his "facts" are not only dated, but severely outdated.

  47. Marvel and DC should offer online subscriptions to everything they have for $20 or $25 per month. All current issues, full back issue library, all of it. I'd subscribe to that and I barely have time to read a comic now and then anymore. Every friend I have who has ever been a comic book fan would subscribe at that price and the publishers would make a killing. The collectors who want the hard copies will still buy whatever hard copies are out there, while those who want to read and not keep a copy can just pay their $20 or $25 per month for x number of new titles, plus everything that came before. The back issue market for modern comics is essentially a $25c to $1 per book market anyway for reader copies.

  48. Blok 4 Prez

    My two cents on the future of digital comics…

    What about streaming comics instead of selling them for download?

    DC, Marvel, or Image could charge you $10 per month each for the ability to stream all the comics from their entire libraries rather than download them. And after the you turn the cover page, and every ten or twenty pages or so there is commercial that you can't skip (selling stuff comics fans would like — sci-fi movies and TV shows for example) You go through the pages as fast or slow as you like (as with a comic reader.)

    They could have their entire libraries on there, and maybe charge an extra $10 a month to read any book from the last 6 months (all of which will eventually be available in the regular less-current library.)

    I think MANY comic fans would pay $20 a month for the entire Marvel and DC libraries. Or give the subscriptions to their kids/nephew/nieces as a gift. Marvel could combine the Disney library too. (Archie could make a deal with one of them as well, I'm sure.)

    And if they had enough ads on there (targeted ones that you couldn't skip but wouldn't mind too much as it would be trailers for movies and TV shows you love) they could probably afford to not charge at all to stream the old books. Except for the cost of scanning them and some servers, once its set up, how much could it really cost anyway?

    The paper books would still be printed for the market that wants them, but for the rest, it would be a digital world.

  49. Ralf Haring

    DRM is like a door lock … if it's my house, you're the one with the key, and I need you to get in my house every time.

  50. DRM is like a door lock.

    My door lock does not mean that I assume you personally are a criminal.

    The existence of sledgehammers does not mean door locks are meaningless.

    The solution to the existence of sledgehammers is not "don't own anything worth stealing".

  51. Digital comics are eventually going to work. I am convinced of that. All it will take is three things:

    (1) the price has to reflect the fact that the book does not need to be printed, distributed, sold at retail, etc. You could give away a #0 "intro" issue on Facebook the way to get people interested and then charge a buck for each successive issue. The price point has to reflect an attitude of pure consumption and cannot appeal to the collector mindset. These need to be comics for people who want to read and have no interest in collecting – like the people who spend $10 to see a great movie in the theater or $2 to watch an episode from iTunes but won't spend the extra money to own it on DVD because the DVDs have no collector value.

    (2) Each issue needs to be released regularly, and at intervals short enough to keep people interested in the ongoing saga. Maybe do a #0 "origin" issue for new stories and give it away for free on Facebook and elsewhere online to get initial audience share.

    (3) Each issue has to be good enough for people to want to read the next one, or pick up the prior ones at a buck apiece if they like the issue that is their jumping off point.

    What I have described is really no different from what works in comics and has worked for decades. The artwork does not have to be hand-drawn, hand-inked, or hand-colored anymore. Just do as good a job telling the stories and get the artwork up to competent cartooning standards.

    I doubt Marvel or DC will get it until someone else creates the model that will ultimately work. Dark Horse is still charging way too much for digital comics as well.

  52. Dear Mike,

    I'm not a big Timewalker fan, since it totally ignored established continuity and ultimately made no sense, but I have always been a bug fan of Unca Donald's. Nice piece.

    Hi, Don.

  53. JIm,

    thanks for sharing that! Neal has inspired me for decades.

  54. Dear cesare,

    RE: "Ever work with Neal?"

    Among Neal Adams' first jobs at DC Comics was creating covers off of my sketches. His interpretations were brilliant, as if he was seeing the images in my mind, rather than my crude sketches. That was the only work we did together.

  55. Dan said: "Funny. People will pay for ancillary items, but not the item itself. Why? Because it's just too easy to get free. So they only pay for what they have to pay for.

    Well, even that has an expiration date."

    This is almost certainly true, and at that point, creators really only have two avenues left: 1) Kickstarter/Ransom (you pay me up front and when I have enough money I release my thing) and 2) Patronage/Charity (come on, man, I entertain you and I'm a pretty nice guy; leave a tip). A lot of old-fashioned creators have problems with #2, even though it's been around for a long time. But I don't know how sustainable it is, especially as 3D printers allow people to create their own merchandise…after all, even if I have money to spend, and honestly like a webcartoonist and want him or her to succeed, what can they offer me that my Star Trek-style replicator can't?

    Of course, by the time we have 3D printers, webcartoonists and their 3D-printed Ferraris and unlimited pizzas probably won't care much about money-patronage, and will probably focus on abstract popularity (which Cory Doctorow, of course, predicted, with the Whuffie.)

  56. Anonymous

    I just looked at the kick starter page. Doesn't it show the way forward in quite a revolutionary way? For low circulation periodicals, such as independent comics, the creator(s) should garner a group of backers who pay in advance for the next issue. Only when the required amount of copies have been pre-sold is the money taken and the issue released. There will probably need to be some loss leaders to begin with, so the readers know what they are getting, but otherwise it would work, as there would be nothing to pirate until after the creator(s) achieved their margin of acceptable profitability, by which time all the readers who want a copy have already got one. Any pirates would be forced to put in the hard work of building their own illegal audience for the book, which wouldn't be worth their while.

    Is there a flaw in this system that I haven't spotted?


  57. JT Kirk

    Sorry for the back-to-back posts, but as for DRM, Doctrow is right on the money (pun intended) – I have worked in the online world for 16 years now, and seen the rise and fall of DRM in real-time. Looking at Louis C.K.'s recent non-DRM experiment, he proves that the balance can be found without DRM, he made a million bucks off his video by charging $5 a piece and cutting out the middle men so that the potential customer would have no faceless greedy monsters to steal from.

    DRM is expensive and requires outside parties to control your content. The state of e-books has been essentially handed over to Amazon because of all the infighting over which DRM and which format was going to reign supreme, leaving entire purchased libraries unusable when their DRM companies went under, or when a DRM system had to upgrade to keep trying to thwart pirates but really just locked out honest readers instead.

    I personally refuse to buy any songs from Apple's store, but I'll buy MP3s from Amazon or Google or even the artist directly as long as I can just easily get the music and put it on my various devices.

    My mom has to own 2 e-reader devices to use her massive e-book library now thanks to companies that sold books via a certain DRM system going out of business or getting bought and changed so they wouldn't work on the device, and even has to switch operating systems in her old e-book to read some of her books. She now almost exclusively reads her Kindle mainly because Amazon's DRM is unobtrusive and they've made an environment that is easy for readers to keep using, but even there her books on her Kindle will soon require rebooting because of an upcoming change in their entire DRM system. Amazon has also been forced to alter content from time to time without the user's approval via their DRM system due to the publishers' demands – though now I think they've finally been able to curb that – but you could wake up one day and find the book you've been reading has been changed substantially or removed, that is a dangerous place for media to be.

    Ultimately, DRM and SOPA and the like are changing the way the consumer buys and owns products. If you buy a car, it's yours to do with as you like. But if your car has software, now you're only licensing part of your car and you are limited in what you can legally do. Same with media, you no longer own a DVD, you own the right to view the content on that DVD at the company's discretion within a limited nature, and they "allow" you to resell it under certain circumstances. SOPA was/is trying to do the same thing with internet access, giving media companies the right to control how websites are available to customers — look already at how consumers on Cox Cable internet cannot access Hulu, imagine that on a much larger and more intense scale, and now every website is automatically responsible for the content put on it by its users.

  58. JT Kirk

    Here's the thing, movies and tv, no matter how much CGI they throw at the screen, cannot convey a level of artistry that a good comic book can. A comic book is the edge of the imagination envelope, while moving pictures crosses that edge. Comics use the artists' imaginations to tell great stories, but they also use the reader's imagination to fill in the spaces between and beyond panels; moving pictures on the other hand do all the heavy imagination lifting for you, using only the show's (production staff and on-screen talent) artists' imagination to give the viewer the entire experience. If they're very lucky, the viewer's show is made by people who leave compelling clues as to a wider world just outside of lens view, but it's still not the same because the reader has the advantage of carrying more of the in-image acting in their heads, while the viewer is stuck with whatever they're shown — that is ultimately why TV is seen as a mind-vacuum. That's not to say moving pictures don't have a lot to offer when they are good, but it's a different experience than other entertainment media like books, audio, and obviously comics.

    So my point is that the comics industry has to stop trying to be something it's not – stop trying to be more dramatic than moving pictures and more extreme than video games – and get back to doing what it does best, telling compelling stories with unique artistic visions. Until then, it's going to remain a gimmick-driven buggy-whip factory angrily flailing about at everything it perceives as threatening its place in the universe.

    Also, something else that makes comics different from moving pictures, comics at their best are the expression of a singular or singular pair of distinct vision – Shuster & Siegel, Kirby & Lee, Frank Miller, Adams & O'Neil, Chris Claremont, Alan Moore, etc., – each vision produces a distinct experience for the audience largely by asking themselves "what would I like to see, what would I like to say?". Moving pictures these days are all about corporate product, getting as many cooks involved in the broth so as to ensure a maximizing of return on an investment, singular visions in moving pictures are too often rare and wear down from fighting to carve out their own niche in order to get their ideas onto the screen their way.

    There's too much money involved in making moving pictures to risk trusting it all in the hands of one or two voices – that's partly why Robert Rodriguez only works on mid-budget films, so as to avoid corporate interference by not risking too much parent company cash – comics are losing that battle too right now, I suppose, succumbing to the Garfield effect of churning out product that fits the goals of the publisher and what the publisher thinks the audience wants rather than nurturuing talent into becoming strong enough to take those risks and reap those rewards. That's ultimately the point of failure for this Doctrow argument though, I think, "ars gratis artis", art for art's sake is fine and good for a self-published comic where the passion of the singular vision drives the production forward, but without some level of financial reward – that statement by readers which says "we want to reward you for your continued quality by continuing our patronage, and since we can't each feed you and house you, so in exchange we give a little of what we have in the form of currency" – eventually there's going to be a limit to the well of passion which creates artworks like comic books and either the product will suffer in quality or it will simply halt altogether. Therein lies the need for balance, the need to have commercial gain for artists, ultimately where I think Doctrow's opinions against such things overreach.

  59. ONE problem with SOPA/ACTA et al is that it ASSUMES the person/company claiming infringement is correct. It might actually be protected under fair use, or uncopyrightable (YOUR? copy of the Declaration of Independence is in the public domain).

  60. Anonymous

    [MikeAnon:] Actually, now that I think about it, maybe that commission isn't totally off-topic. I was actually hoping, when I commissioned the piece, that this would be a piece Mr. Perlin would be able to sell prints of to interested parties, only to find out from him later that this would actually be illegal. I assume this is because of copyright rules because I would have given him permission to sell prints in a heartbeat had he asked. Surely there are other Timewalker fans out there would wouldn't mind forking up some money for a happy ending!

    Wait…that last part didn't come out quite right…. [–MikeAnon]

  61. The entertainment industry is definitely an unfair playing field, but what else is new? There's countless stories of heavy-hitting, and broken dreams. As has been mentioned before, corporations are legally obligated to protect their property rights, lest they lose them. They have to do everything possible, to maximize their shareholder's profit.

    it isn't the healthiest situation, but apparently, it's capitalism.

    I'm not happy with DRM, and hope SOPA fails, but they are clear attempts to protect property.

    I like the concept of the "dandelion theory," in building exposure to a new product, but it seems extremely risky and brutal to implement.

    The appeal to creatives of a stable pay-check doing menial, but reliable work, will probably out-weigh the allure of risk-taking benefits.

    Once upon a time, editors had to regulate the risks, through assignments to freelancers. Again, to protect the active property.

    Now, however, the game is changing, and it's not clear what will survive. What has lasting value? What becomes a game-changer? When Disney purchased Marvel, it diversified its modern entertainment tools. This Friday, "John Carter" opens, and while currently boycotting Marvel characters, I'll be seeing the new 3D movie. I loved the Marvel comic book, and it's almost impossible not to give due regard to Edgar Rice Burroughs' legacy. It is an interesting story, or myth, of an "extraordinary individual."

    But is it hypocrisy? Is a corporation profiteering by perpetuating false myths, that don't show the way to a better future? Are their actions killing individual creativity in the name of corporate property rights?

    it seems to me the answer might require something like IBM's Watson, to untangle the complicated web we've weaved.

  62. Anonymous

    [MikeAnon:] Totally off-topic: Mr. Shooter, Don Perlin asked me to tell you he said, "Hi." He recently did a Timewalker commission piece for me that everyone can view here:


    For anyone unfamiliar with the character, Ivar the Timewalker is the eldest (by order of birth, anyway) of the three immortal Anni-padda brothers, the other two being Gilad (the ETERNAL WARRIOR) and Aram (Armstrong of ARCHER & ARMSTRONG). Unlike his brothers, Ivar spends his life leaping through "time arcs" that transport him to various eras in history — past, present, and future, in no particular order. In one of his leaps, he encounters the Egpytian queen Nefertiti and falls in love with her, but his wanderlust compels him to leave her and head back into the timestream. Realizing his mistake, Ivar continues to leap through time, always hoping the next leap will take him back to his lost love. My objective was to give Ivar the Timewalker (from VH-1) the happy reunion with Nefertiti he, alas, never got in the comics, with his brothers cheering him on in spirit. [–MikeAnon]

  63. Anonymous

    Dear Jim,
    just wondering if you are going to review the upcoming Valiant relaunch books:



  64. Some of the more successful web comics do sell book versions of their strips. Very recently, one creator found out that demand for his stuff was higher than he would have dreamed when he started a Kickstarter drive to reprint just one of his books. He ended up reprinting ALL of his books and raising over $1M. This happen because his readers love his comic, want the physical copies, and want to support him.


    Here is the comic:

  65. The trouble, to me, with things like SOPA is not that I don't fundamentally disagree with the protection of a creators rights. It's that the laws that are put in place to achieve it are generally so badly thought out that the cure is worse than the disease.

    In the SOPA debate some extreme cases were used as illustration by the opponents to the bill. These were "poo-poohed" by supporters usually with the explanation "the law would obviously not be used in that instance". I'm not comforted by those assurances.

  66. Anonymous

    I have downloaded my share of comics. TBs worth. And gigs of books and old tv shows… and you know what?

    If I actually intend to read or watch any of it — I go BUY it.

    I dl-ed the golden age Superman. Took one look at the scanned microfiche images…and immediately ordered the first 7 volumes of Superman Chronicles.

    I can't explain it. I have so many files…and I don't ever look at them. 90% have never been opened. Out of 4 TB of comics, I have only read about 100 on my computer, ones that haven't been reprinted.

    I know lots of people like this. A friend of mine hacked his regular XBox and dl-ed and burned over 300 games for it. He only played 4 of them. He spent all that money on blank dvds, labels, and ink (way more than he could have bought those four games for), only to let them collect dust. But he had a helluva collection!

    I think there's some kind of psychosis going on, an obsession to "have" even if you never use. To collect and organize, to enjoy the thrill of the hunt–completely disconnected to any actual enjoyment of the content.

    Any psychologists here wanna look into this?

  67. Moochava,

    As a self-publisher I know what you're talking about.

    To make money on the internet you have to hustle. Constantly updating, constantly promoting.

    I'm offering free eBooks all the time tweeting like crazy and praying for paperback sales. In the process, I'm learning what I need to do and adapt and survive in a changing market and build an audience of readers.

    Personally I don't find it degrading to hustle. I see it as building on the foundation of the ground floor of a new bsuiness model. Sure it's not making money yet, but eventually it's going to get to profitability. With newspapers and print media losing demand artists and writers are going to have to change their approaches to adapt to the new business model.

    Those who don't will be angry and uspset. This is the nature of the business. Those people who are resistant to change will struggle to survive.

    Look at it this way. When you do become successful you'll own 100 percent of the profits and 100 percent of the rights. Keep persevering, because eventually you will become as successful as R.K Milholland, Danielle Corsetto, and Jeph Jacques.

  68. Dan

    Moochava said: "As a webcartoonist, you don't draw one page and get paid one hundred dollars: you give stuff away for free, sell ancillary products (like t-shirts), beg for money in blog posts, and yell about your comic on Twitter, and pray that adds up to a living wage."

    Funny. People will pay for ancillary items, but not the item itself. Why? Because it's just too easy to get free. So they only pay for what they have to pay for.

    Well, even that has an expiration date.

    Merch will go the way of the comics themselves eventually. We can already download images and print them on t-shirts. Right now, not a lot of people do that. But back in the 90s, not a lot of people were downloading scanned comic books either.

    The ability to make your own merch fairly easy is happening already. It will become more commonplace over the next decade.

    Once people decide they're willing print their own calendars, etc, they'll quit paying for that stuff as well.

    So, soon enough the webcomic guys will be sitting next to the newspaper comic guys…

  69. Dan

    SOPA = corporate tyranny. Pure and simple.

    It allows private companies to serve as "judge, jury, and executioner" without any oversight or any limitations.

    They say you're guilty, you're punished. No appeal. No rights. No justice.

    SOPA is the wedge that corporate tyrants have been drooling for since Teddy Roosevelt. Open this door and others will open too.

    We're already at the mercy of oil and banking, but they can't stop our freedom of speech. SOPA kills freedom of speech.

    Does this actually need explained?

    If you have a movie review blog, and you bash a Disney movie, you think they're gonna let you keep your site up? All they have to do is simply SAY you are violating a copyright and you lose your whole website–WITHOUT DUE PROCESS. Sure, you can sue…and be drained of millions in legal fees (that Disney can afford and you cannot).

    If your free speech gets thrown into the CIVIL courts, you WILL LOSE.

    What will make the tyranny easier is the condition where internet providers are liable for your content. Then they don't just shut down a blog, they shut down YOU. YOU won't be able to get service.

    Free speakers will have to sneak/steal access to blog sites (from libraries, free wi-fi hotspots, or driving around a neighborhood looking for unprotected wireless routers).

    Do we REALLY want to give corporations that much power over us? Shouldn't the corporations AT LEAST have to hire armies to bully us? Shouldn't we at least get a chance to FIGHT for ourselves?

    These laws just HAND OVER that power.

  70. Hi Jim, I am leaving this unrelated comment here because I don't know where else to put it so you can read it. I just recently started reading your blog which I have found very interesting as well as helpful with the comic I am have been writing at the rookie age of 44. Your thoughts on professionalism, story-telling, and scripting have been an invaluable resource for me. I am a fan of yours and have been one since I was a boy reading your Legion of Superheroes stories. I still have the issue I bought as a boy where Ferro Lad dies. Thank you for your contributions to comics over the years and for sharing your stories and experiences for us to learn from.

  71. Earl Allison

    DRM, ugh. Didn't we already do this fight with DivX, the predecessor to DVDs?

    I'd even go a little further, I don't even really like things like Hulu or iTunes. I want the physical item, to keep and have.

    I want the DVDs of something like Young Justice, not access to them being online. I want my own copies that I can watch on any DVD player, be it my PC, my DVD player, my parents' player, etc.

    As Devin said, DRM only gives you access, not ownership.

    That seems to be where corporations want to go. You don't actually own anything, you just buy access to it. Sorry, I pay money, I want to own it.

    I don't want angry groups making content change or go away. If I own the DVD, that can't happen (ditto with paper comics instead of online ones).

    Thanks for a great post.

    Take it and run,

  72. The PDF version is hosted on Cory Doctorow's website. He is giving it away. You can also buy it on Amazon.com because nobody really prefers to read books electronically. q=)

  73. JayJay, if it's not confusing, its certainly ironic. LOL

    And Jim, saying you're not savvy is like saying Adam's can't hold a pencil.

    Ever work with Neal?

  74. Oh, NOW who's full of potato soup and monkeys?

  75. RE: "Um, yeah. I did put the PDF download of Content first, but I didn't really think about it. I just put that one first because that was the one I found first. Should I switch the links? Is it confusing?"

    Clearly, the Blog Elf is secretly a tool of Evil Forces. Shame on her. She must be destroyed. : )

  76. Dear Devin,

    RE: "DRM is bad for the individual because it means you're liable to lose everything you paid for as soon as the rights holder decides its no longer profitable for them to continue providing access to it."

    Gotcha. I knew you guys would understand better than I do.

  77. Um, yeah. I did put the PDF download of Content first, but I didn't really think about it. I just put that one first because that was the one I found first. Should I switch the links? Is it confusing?

  78. Dear cesare,

    RE: "Is Jim testing us with that link? I immediately went for the PDF, then realized that the Amazon link would lead to a purchase. I won't read the PDF until I find a digital copy that I can pay for."

    I'm not that smart/savvy. I told JayJay to put in a link to the stuff. What she put there is what's there.

  79. Again, I pretty much agree with Cory.

    DRM is especially dangerous with regards to technological advancements. Imagine a loved one that can't get cutting edge medical treatments to save their lives because the hospital can't afford the cost of subscribing to a DRM medical journal. Imagine companies buying up the rights to such medical journals for the sole purpose of holding knowledge for ransom. Imagine Malware being incorporated into the copyrighted materials you buy and you are breaking the law if you try to crack the DRM to discover it. Does that sound outlandish? It isn't. Sony included software on their music CD's that would install a rootkit on people's computers which disabled the users CD drive. A rootkit is a rather wicked piece of software that is invisible to the operating system. Uninstalling a rootkit improperly can "break" an operating system causing the user to have to reformat their hard drive, possibly losing important data. A rootkit can open up a computer to other malware attacks and vulnerabilities. Sony had no problem damaging people's computers in order to prevent people from having the ability to copy a CD at all. Innocent people who had no desire to copy the CD were affected.

    From my point of view, if a retailer wants to put DRM on something, my opinion is "Keep it". If I speak aloud, vibrations go forth and the world is affected. The alternative to not affecting the world with my voice is to NOT speak aloud. Creators and artists who don't want their work out there have the option of not putting it out there. I have a problem with someone wanting me to buy their product and then essentially telling me I haven't bought anything. If I buy a book or CD, I can resell that book or CD when I'm done with it. With DRM, I'm not allowed that right, so essentially all I've done is rent whatever is being sold.

    Awhile back, someone on a messageboard offered to sell me a comic I wanted, but they had strings attached to the purchase. I told the person to keep it. Certain things aren't open for negotiation with me. Unwanted strings attached is one of those things.

  80. My most recent experience with DRM was on the Star Wars Original Trilogy Blu-ray DVD. I was very excited to receive it after ordering from Amazon.com. Unfortunately for me, I don't own a stand-alone Blu-ray player. I have one in my PC media center that I built especially to connect to my HD TV. The Star Wars Blu-ray has some kind of DRM that prevents it from playing smoothly on a computer. The screen would start pixelating at about 15 minutes in and then the picture would start freezing and jumping while the sound played normally. I returned it for a full refund, but I didn't get to see Star Wars in high definition. Additionally, I spent HOURS trying to figure out if anyone else was having the problem and followed a false trail of leads promising a "fix" after 1) a firmware update for my DVD player, 2) a $60 upgrade to my Blu-ray player software, and 3) an $80 third party program that someone claimed would "update" the AACS files (which are supposed to be some kind of digital security keys). None of it worked. I couldn't play a legitimate copy that I bought.

  81. Anonymous



    DRM is bad for the individual because it means you're liable to lose everything you paid for as soon as the rights holder decides its no longer profitable for them to continue providing access to it.


  82. @ Moochava – sobering thoughts.

    Is Jim testing us with that link? I immediately went for the PDF, then realized that the Amazon link would lead to a purchase. I won't read the PDF until I find a digital copy that I can pay for.

  83. I'm a webcomic writer. Not a successful one, but it's taught me exactly how different making money on the Internet is from regular work. Here are a few things I've observed.

    * Like most people who have at least a bit of money, I prioritize convenience over cost. I buy X-Box Live Arcade games and download Kindle books because it's easy. If a movie isn't on Netflix Watch It Now, I go right to Bittorent and pirate it, because it's easy. If you're going to make money, you have to compete with stuff that's both free and easy to access.

    * I've watched the simultaneous rise of successful webcartoonists and the total collapse of the newspaper syndication. Those syndication guys are VERY ANGRY not just because they're now all out of work, but because the only growing field that uses their talents (webcomics) also uses a skill-set that working for a corporation prevented them from developing: entrepreneurship, business initiative, and a willingness to–let's not romanticize what webcartoonists do–relentlessly shill their products to a focused target demographic and come up with new ways of making money from that demographic. If umbrella organizations for long-format comics (Marvel & DC) collapse as suddenly and unexpectedly as the newspapers did, expect the same sort of outrage from creators who are suddenly asked to develop a whole new skill-set that isn't directly related to making comics.

    * I've thought a lot about these pissed-off, unemployed editorial cartoon guys because I see that fate coming for a lot of mainstream comic people. As near as I can tell, they former syndicated cartoonists are not just mad because they got fired and now they're expected to engage directly in business–they're mad because the Internet removes the illusion of a business transaction from comics. As a webcartoonist, you don't draw one page and get paid one hundred dollars: you give stuff away for free, sell ancillary products (like t-shirts), beg for money in blog posts, and yell about your comic on Twitter, and pray that adds up to a living wage. For someone used to "straight corporate" work where you do a job and get a paycheck, hustling on the Internet can be degrading, and I think a lot of people can't handle it.

  84. Really, when I think back to radio hits in the seventies and eighties, those songs belonged to everyone. They were playing everywhere you went, and everyone knew the words. It was like public music. I know many songs by heart that I would never in million years buy. But other songs propelled me to the store so I could own them. I think people prefer legit product when they are enthusiastic about it. I do, and I don't know exactly why. But it's something that exists apart from the idea that I want to financially support those who create things I enjoy.

  85. Eto

    Like what you downloaded?
    Got money?
    Buy it.

    That simple. 🙂

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