Cory Doctorow opposes technology that limits what one can do with digital content and laws that criminalize people for alleged copyright infringements that he believes are harmless, or even beneficial. I think that’s an accurate assessment. If not, I hope Cory will correct me.
In any case, don’t take my word for it. Check out his position statements for yourself. They’re entertaining reads. The guy writes like the Silver Surfer surfs. Here are the links again:
Cory’s book, CONTENT – Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future, which includes some of the material available at the links above and much more, can be found here:
CONTENT – PDF Download
CONTENT on Amazon
Though Cory is a “copyfighter,” that doesn’t mean he’s against copyright.
According to the international Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, to which the U.S. became a signatory in 1989, anything anyone creates in “fixed” form, that is, written down, recorded, whatever, is copyrighted to them from the moment of creation.
(ASIDE: In the U.S., if you choose to register your copyright with the Library of Congress, your copyright protection is enhanced. In case of litigation against an infringer, it comes in handy to have the Feds as, essentially, a witness on your side. Also, if you prevail, you are entitled to statutory damages as opposed to actual damages. Statutory damages are usually a multiple of the price you’d ordinarily get for allowing the use of your copyrighted material. Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine actual damages. Statutory damages are easily calculated and generally greater.)
So, all of Cory’s books and other works are copyrighted automatically, like everyone else’s, when “fixed.” However, all of Cory’s books have been released under Creative Commons licenses. Creative Commons licenses legitimize what Cory says most people do anyway—copy and share creative works. All Creative Commons licenses allow non-commercial sharing of the work covered, and all require “attribution.” You have to say whose work you’re sharing.
Hundreds of millions of CC licenses have been provided free since Creative Commons released their first licenses in late 2002. Over 200 million photos on Flickr bear CC licenses.
Creative Commons, headquartered in Mountain View, California, has over 100 affiliates worldwide and countless advocates, none, IMHO, more outspoken or well-spoken than Cory.
Creative Commons receives enthusiastic support from its hordes of individual users….
Users…Creative Commoners? That doesn’t sound quite right. Creative Commies? Nah. Too Cold War. CC supporters? Yeah, let’s go with that…. : )
Anyway, besides individual CC supporters, the non-profit organization has some big business supporters as well. Here’s a list of such contributors from Wikipedia:
Sustainer Level (Committed for 5 years):
The Beal Fund of Triangle Community Foundation, on behalf of Lulu.com:
Investor Level ($25,000 and up):
Mountain Equipment Co-op
There are six different types of Creative Commons licenses, plus a “No Rights Reserved” license, “CC0” as they call it, which effectively makes your work public domain. The licenses between copy-and-share-with-attribution only and CC0 allow various degrees of modification and commercial exploitation.
Wikipedia, which operates under a Creative Commons license, has a very good article about CC:
Here’s a short article Cory wrote about it:
And here’s the Creative Commons site:
As far as I know, Cory’s CC licenses have allowed copying and sharing, and on some, even the right to make modifications and use his works as the basis for derivative works—fanfic, essentially—but he doesn’t allow commercial uses of his work by others. Only he is allowed to make money from his creative works, or works derived from them.
Presumably, Cory would defend his copyrights against illegal commercial use. Therefore, I suspect that he has no problem with Disney, Sony, Apple, Microsoft, AOL Marvel, DC and other big companies defending their copyrighted intellectual properties just as he would his. Remember, due to the wonders of the Work Made for Hire provisions of the copyright law, those big companies are the “authors” of much of what they are defending, just as Cory is the author of his books. If I understand him correctly, he objects to the way some of them go about it, with Draconian DRM technologies and by pushing for harsh measures like SOPA—plus the fact that they attempt to defend against the kind of copying Cory believes to be benign and inevitable.
I wonder what Cory thinks about Work Made for Hire.
I have some ideas on the subject, outlined below.
But I digress.
Cory says that the purpose of copyright is: “…to decentralize who gets to make art. Before copyright, we had patronage: you could make art if the Pope or the king liked the sound of it. That produced some damned pretty ceilings and frescos, but it wasn’t until control of art was given over to the market — by giving publishers a monopoly over the works they printed, starting with the Statute of Anne in 1710 — that we saw the explosion of creativity that investment-based art could create. Industrialists weren’t great arbiters of who could and couldn’t make art, but they were better than the Pope.
“The Internet is enabling a further decentralization in who gets to make art, and like each of the technological shifts in cultural production, it’s good for some artists and bad for others. The important question is: will it let more people participate in cultural production? Will it further decentralize decision-making for artists?”
Well, the Internet sure has decentralized the living Hell out of comic book and comics creation. It seems like there are more comic books and comic strips, more indies, home-mades and web comics than ever. Everybody and anybody with the least bit of inclination can make comics and get them published, at least online.
Cory speaks of the same sort of decentralization in the music industry:
“Technology giveth and technology taketh away. As bands on MySpace — who can fill houses and sell hundreds of thousands of discs without a record deal, by connecting individually with fans — have shown, there’s a new market aborning on the Internet for music, one with fewer gatekeepers to creativity than ever before.”
But the results have been less beneficial in the comic book business. Very few comic book publishers endeavors, from the smallest, one person ink-and-pixel operation in a garret somewhere to the Big Two, ever sell hundreds of thousands of physical copies of a given issue. Very few make money. Garret-haunters usually do it for love of comics. The Big Two seem to be in it for the movies and other media and merchandise licensing. They each have some publications above the Mendoza Line, but the profits from their relatively few winners don’t make up for total expenses—legal, accounting, all SG&A and other operating expenses—if properly allocated. Do you have any idea how much DC’s very large, fancy Midtown Manhattan office space costs? Or how many comic books have to be sold to pay Diane Nelson’s salary, plus her top-heavy staff’s salaries?
The publishing operations, on a stand-alone basis, couldn’t support themselves from their publishing revenues only.
What if the recording industry seldom made money selling the actual music, and the only profitable business they had was licensing songs for use in TV commercials? That would be sort of like where we are in the comic book biz.
“But, Jim, the publishing operations are not stand-alone,” I hear someone thinking. “You have to take everything as a whole.” No, I don’t, and besides, the point is that the publishing operations are the stubby tails and the Important Other Things comprise the very big dogs. And the publishing operations aren’t really necessary. Lots of properties that don’t have comic books are licensed.
How about the mini-majors and indies? If they’re making any money, it’s probably because the creators aren’t. Some just don’t pay very well. Some indies require that creators deliver print-production-ready files, produced at the creators’ own expense. The publishers handle the business of soliciting and publishing the comics. They take their costs and their cut off the top, then, if there is any money left, they split that with the creators. There often isn’t any left. Often, the creators lose money on the deal. But, hey, it’s a living for the publishers. And, I suppose, a shot at glory for the creators. Fair? Maybe. I don’t know. Sigh.
The Fate That Awaits
I want to underscore the fact that it’s me, not Cory, spewing all this doom and gloom. Cory’s take on the prospects of the comic book and comics business is quite optimistic.
Regarding the techno-tectonic upheavals changing everything, Cory says: “And for SF writers and fans, the further question is, ‘Will it be any good to our chosen medium?’ Like I said, science fiction is the only literature people care enough about to steal on the Internet. It’s the only literature that regularly shows up, scanned and run through optical character recognition software and lovingly hand-edited on darknet newsgroups, Russian websites, IRC channels and elsewhere (yes, there’s also a brisk trade in comics and technical books, but I’m talking about prose fiction here — though this is clearly a sign of hope for our friends in tech publishing and funnybooks).”
Cory thinks that the fact that comic books are heavily pirated is a good sign! A lot of people find our form and our content interesting enough to steal it!
Well…that makes sense, actually. If nobody is bothering to pirate westerns, romance novels, political thrillers and historical whodunits, then, in a way, it is an honor full of promise to be so…appealing.
Cory goes on: “Some writers are using the Internet’s affinity for SF to great effect. I’ve released every one of my novels under Creative Commons licenses that encourage fans to share them freely and widely — even, in some cases, to remix them and to make new editions of them for use in the developing world.
“I’ve discovered what many authors have also discovered: releasing electronic texts of books drives sales of the print editions. An SF writer’s biggest problem is obscurity, not piracy. Of all the people who chose not to spend their discretionary time and cash on our works today, the great bulk of them did so because they didn’t know they existed, not because someone handed them a free e-book version.”
There it is again, Cory’s “dandelion’ marketing theory—spread your seeds around randomly in abundance and maybe some will take root and grow into physical copy sales. As I pointed out last post, that theory hasn’t worked well for comic book publishers, whose output has been “dandelioned” by pirates whether the pubs liked it or not.
But, then, something else Cory said in his remarks about DRM took root and grew in my mind. He was discussing the fight between Hollywood and Sony, which had introduced the first VCR in 1976. Cory’s paraphrasing of the Court’s decision in Sony’s favor handed down to the Hollywood plantiffs, hit home with me:
“…if your business model can’t survive…it’s time to get another business-model or go broke.”
Well, there you have it.
Thank you, Cory. Sincerely.
We, the comic book industry, need a new business model.
I have thought about this obvious fact, perfectly clear since Cory whacked me in the face with it. And now I think I know what to do.
I have suggestions. Some of them may seem harsh. Or impossible. Or unlikely to happen. Those of you that think the following is pie in the sky, I’m with you. It’d take a miracle…but here’s what I think we have to do:
FIRST, UNDERSTAND that we, those who gather here regularly, are geeks. Put that aside. Get over yourself for a moment and think about the big picture, not you. You and I forgive many failings of the comic books we read because we are steeped in the lore and we love the characters no matter what. Read the comments following my critiques. Many people enthusiastically defend nonsensical offerings unintelligible to the average person because they can fill in the blanks, they can come up with explanations for any absurdity or contradiction—as can I—and we all worship at the altars of Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Catwoman, et al. Please, now, put that aside, as I do in my critiques, screw your objectivity to the sticking-place and think along with me.
SECOND, UNDERSTAND that this will take a sincere commitment and a great deal of money, if it is to happen soon. It could happen on its own, glacially, but it might not, and we all might wind up bereft. Some major player has to step up and realize the opportunity. Could be one of the Big Two, could be another media giant, or Paul Allen, maybe.
So…the new business model I propose:
1. A company, existing or newly formed, must spend the money and take the time to produce absolutely superb comics entertainment. Comic books and other comics packages as good and enjoyable as the best movies, the best TV shows, the best novels. Comics that can be understood effortlessly by anyone. Clear at a glance, created by excellent, expert storytellers. Comics that welcome everyone in so skillfully that those already in don’t even notice that the “geeks only” signs are down.
That means the Capitalist Enablers, whoever they might be, must believe in the vision and commit to go the distance.
That also means that the Capitalist Enablers must hire brilliant, progressive, insightful business people as well as creative leaders who are visionary. Who are the greatest creative visionaries of our time? Spielberg? Cameron? Creative leaders who belongs in that company. Oh, by the way, no current Big Two creative honchos need apply.
The visionary creative leaders must see to it that world-class entertainment is created.
That means bringing in a lot of new, truly great talent, re-training some of the current crop and saying good-bye to many—including a lot of those who are “stars” currently. Stay objective now—they’re stars only to us geeks. They get away with self-indulgent crap because some of us tolerate it, and yes, some of us like it. They are emboldened to do so because they’re playing to people predisposed to love the stuff no matter what, just like local, amateur theater actors hamming it up in front of a house full of friends and family. Yes, a few of them have some good things to offer.
Back in my amateur theater days in Pittsburgh, there was Robert, an amazing baritone and Susan, a dance teacher who could tap dance like crazy. Good Lord, the legs on that woman! Maybe Robert had good legs, too, but he always wore pants, so who knows. Anyway, the locals loved them. So? That’s not enough for prime time on the world stage.
The big-ego, self-indulgent, prima donna “stars” in our little corner of the world are insignificant in the wide world, and many who will not cooperate, learn, develop and grow will have to go away.
If the comic book industry is going to move from our small pond to the ocean of entertainment and compete, we need world class, killer whale creators, not the minnows we’ve been feeding.
2. Here’s a big key: COMPANY OWNED,W4H AND THEREFORE “UNIVERSE” TITLES MUST ALL BE CREATED BY EMPLOYEES ON STAFF. SHARED UNIVERSE WORK INHERENTLY MUST BE CREATED BY AN “ORCHESTRA” OF CREATORS UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF A “CONDUCTOR,” OR EDITOR (WHO IS A WORLD-CLASS VISIONARY).
MAKE ANYONE WHO WORKS ON YOUR UNIVERSE TITLES A WELL-PAID, SALARIED EMPLOYEE WITH BENEFITS AND PERKS WHO WORKS ON YOUR PREMISES.
And, by the way, these employees MUST BE GIVEN COMPELLING INCENTIVES TO CREATE, AND REAL PARTICIPATIONS IN THE SUCCESS OF THEIR WORKS.
Ahem. That solves the Gerber, Kirby, Friedrich-type lawsuit problem.
In my fantasy, the law would be changed to make it so for everyone.< Now, then…. Publish all non-Universe work under normal publishing industry terms. Treat stars like John Grisham, treat beginners like newbie authors. If there is more than one creator involved, i.e., a writer and an artist, let them make their deal between themselves first. Help them. Provide legal support. Moving right along…. 3. The comics products—comic books, graphic novels, whatever—must be available online and physically simultaneously. Online, the products should be offered at very low price points. And, Cory, you’ve convinced me. Dandelioning should be policy, or at least tolerated. Offer a license to every “pirate” for a dollar or something.
The price points of the physical products almost don’t matter (within reason) as long as the physical products are well worth the price and competitive with other great entertainment in terms of value for money.
The physical comics products should be enhanced, if possible, with features not easily pirated online. I’m out of my depth here…maybe one of you smarter guys out there could throw me a rope. All I can think of are 3-D spiffs, cards, coupons and event passes/invitations. With holograms or whatever can’t be stolen online.
Similarly, the experience of obtaining the very low price-point digital versions from the company site should be enhanced. Make it so much easier and more rewarding to buy the digital version than to settle for a dandelioned copy that most people will spring for it.
4. Fight hard against physical copy piracy.
5. No more Direct Market as we know it. No more Diamond Comic Distributors. At least in its current incarnation. Distribution without Diamond is easily doable these days. Publish terms and catalogues online. Ship to whoever meets the trade terms. The Diamond/Direct Market 62.5% discount is a cost-plus anachronism. It has to go. Sorry, Steve Geppi, my friend. To quote a lyric from Bells Are Ringing, “…no matter how you pretend, you knew it would end this way.” Told you I was in amateur theater.
6. Stop supporting the brick and mortar comic book shops (but support them in a new way more and better than ever).
I have been to many, many comic book shops in the last few years. Not one, to my knowledge relied on sales of new comics as their main source of revenue. Every one sold toys, games, collectibles…you know. The neighborhood comic book shop I frequent, FUNNY BUSINESS in Nyack—a great store—doesn’t carry new comics at all! They sell old comics, LEGOS, toys, vintage toys, collectibles of various sorts—I bought a Lost in Space lunchbox and a CD set of Superman radio shows there recently.
I say open the business up. Make comics so good and so easily available on terms attractive to any retailer that they’re everywhere, as they used to be. Perhaps give specialists, like comic book shops a small extra discount for limited returns and a slightly larger one for firm sale. Sorry, comics shops. But not really. All our business models must change.
7.; Last major point, and perhaps most important: Relationship Marketing. I have always said that the comic book business had more in common with the single malt scotch business than the magazine business. Scotch drinkers tend to become loyal to their favorites, unlike wine drinkers who tend to play the field. Single malt scotches win devotees. It’s like being in a club. Like it was in the 1960’s with Marvel Comics.
Heed the wise words of Cory Doctorow:
“But what kind of artist thrives on the Internet? Those who can establish a personal relationship with their readers — something science fiction has been doing for as long as pros have been hanging out in the con suite instead of the green room. These conversational artists come from all fields, and they combine the best aspects of charisma and virtuosity with charm — the ability to conduct their online selves as part of a friendly salon that establishes a non-substitutable relationship with their audiences. You might find a film, a game, and a book to be equally useful diversions on a slow afternoon, but if the novel’s author is a pal of yours, that’s the one you’ll pick. It’s a competitive advantage that can’t be beat.
“See Neil Gaiman’s blog, where he manages the trick of carrying on a conversation with millions. Or Charlie Stross’s Usenet posts. Scalzi’s blogs. J. Michael Straczynski’s presence on Usenet — while in production on Babylon 5, no less — breeding an army of rabid fans ready to fax-bomb recalcitrant TV execs into submission and syndication. ;See also the MySpace bands selling a million units of their CDs by adding each buyer to their “friends lists.” Watch Eric Flint manage the Baen Bar, and Warren Ellis’s good-natured growling on his sites, lists, and so forth.
“Not all artists have in them to conduct an online salon with their audiences. Not all Vaudevillians had it in them to transition to radio. Technology giveth and technology taketh away. SF writers are supposed to be soaked in the future, ready to come to grips with it. The future is conversational: when there’s more good stuff that you know about that’s one click away or closer than you will ever click on, it’s not enough to know that some book is good. The least substitutable good in the Internet era is the personal relationship.
“Conversation, not content, is king. If you were stranded on a desert island and you opted to bring your records instead of your friends, we’d call you a sociopath. Science fiction writers who can insert themselves into their readers’ conversations will be set for life.”
We must rebuild and deepen our relationship with the audience. Not so hard. We have met the audience and they is us.
That’s one area, by the way, where we can support comic shops in a new way. Comic shops are the front line soldiers in our Relationship Marketing campaign. We can work with them, encourage people to come to them, include them in our promotions. Comic shop owners and employees are our ambassadors by default. Let’s help them be great ones.
We need a revolution in distribution, whether you agree with my ideas above or not.
Technology may come to our rescue or at least assistance in terms of distribution and especially in the labor-intensive, time consuming art creation process. Hurry the %$#@ up, technology!
Technology may offer us appealing collaborative features. Comic books have always been the most collaborative mass medium. See Spielberg in a restaurant, walk over to his table to offer a few comments about his latest and his bodyguards will escort you upside down to the curb.
Pretty much every comic book creator is accessible, reachable. Even the ones who “hate” fans, are fans. Howard Chaykin, who has, in my presence, disdained fans and wouldn’t talk to them would talk all day with Walt Simonson, a fan, about comics, because Howard is a fan no matter what he claims. And, from Walt, me and others, Howard got the fan skinny.
What if there were Elseworlds and What If…? type publications that we all made together?
All right, all right. Enough. It’s late.You get the drift.
Thank you, Cory. If by some miracle the comic book publishing world gains enlightenment any time soon, they owe a debt to you (in spite of my meanderings).
Here are the usual Cory links:
Cory Doctorow’s Web Site – Craphound
BoingBoing – A Blog Cory Doctorow co-edits
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