As I noted yesterday, comic writer Mark Waid upset the comic world over the weekend with his keynote speech at the Harvey Awards (for excellence in comics). Although I cannot find a transcript or video of his speech at the Baltimore Comic-Con, he apparently set off a firestorm of controversy by pointing out (correctly) that one of the original functions of copyright law was to protect creative works for a limited period of time, after which it would move into the public domain. Today, copyright law seems to designed to keep creative works out of the public domain almost indefinitely.
Waid went on to say that scanning and file sharing are now facts of life and that comic artists have to come to terms with that. As he pointed out in a rather emphatic Tweet, “I never said filesharing was okay; I said we can’t stop it, so let’s find ways to make it work FOR us.”
Today, the talk about Waid’s speech continued, with Harvey Award winner Scott Kurtz (who writes and draws the brilliant Player v. Player webcomic) weighing in with both a great comic and an extended blog post. Kurtz’s comments are of particular value here because he was actually at the event and heard Waid’s speech. (Kurtz was the master of ceremonies.) In his post, Kurtz writes:
Mark’s speech reminded everyone that copyright was invented to limit the amount of time that a family or estate could lay claim to an idea after the death of that idea’s creator. That it was not created to protect the creator or ensure that their family line could forever control their intellectual property. He suggested that contributing to the greater culture is something artists should consider as important (maybe more important) than making a living as an artist. And then he made the boldest statement of the evening by suggesting that the file-sharing genie was out of the bottle and rather than spend fruitless hours trying to get it back in, we should all just stop being afraid of this new culture and instead embrace it and try to harness its power.
I’m spending a lot of space here on a topic that many of you may not care much about – comics in all their many forms – but I think this debate is really important.
The recording industry responded to the file sharing crisis by trying to sue some of its best customers. The movie industry sells us plastic discs that make it almost impossible to get to the start of the movie without first watching 10 minutes of commercials (and this is after we’ve spent $20 on the product!). Newspaper and magazine publishers are desperately trying to figure out how to get compensated for what they are putting out on the web.
And yet… There are a few out there who seem to be doing well in this new media environment – ranging from the very small to the very big.
On the small side, web comic artist Jeph Jacques is making a good living for himself with the comic Questionable Content (one of my all-time faves). In February of 2009, he posted an extended essay on web comic economics that I think really gets at what is happening in the media industry these days. It is his response to traditional comic artist Neil Swab, who blogged about how web comic artists make the money by selling merchandise rather than selling the comics to media. There was some rather hot debate sparked by Mr. Swab’s post, and he has since apologized and taken down the post. I’m sorry he did so because he raised a lot of issues that people who publish through the web have to confront. Mr. Jacques wrote a thoughtful, passionate, and somewhat profane response to Mr. Swab, and I would encourage all of you to read the entire essay.
On the big side, News Corp. founder and CEO Rupert Murdoch reacted to the rise of social media by purchasing the web site MySpace. Now whether it was worth what he paid for it is open to debate, but his reaction, unlike so much of Big Media, was to embrace the new technology rather than hide from it. He has embraced selling his media content over the Internet and moving into the world of apps.
Tomorrow, Apple is set to announce new iPods and most likely a new incarnation of the Apple TV box. Apple is expected to also be announcing 99-cent rentals of TV programs to stream to the box. One company that will likely be on Apple TV on launch day is Rupert Murdoch’s Fox television empire. Murdoch has reportedly said he will make a six-month commitment to the new platform to see how it works. The only other network to signal agreement is Disney, and Disney has no choice with Apple CEO Steve Jobs being its largest stockholder.
What we are seeing with all of this are a couple of the Seven Truths coming into big play:
- Truth Four – Nothing’s new: Everything that happens in the past will happen again.
- Truth Five – New media are always scary.
The media industry at a range of levels really wants to keep on living in the past. But that’s not going to work in this rapidly changing media world.