If you haven't heard of the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, you might not spend enough time online. But recent exposure of Marvel's support for the bill has outraged fans across the internet on major comics news sites, blogs and forums and Twitter, calling for retaliation against The House of Ideas.
I understand why Marvel would support the bill. First, and most importantly, being an owned subsidiary of The House of Mouse (Disney/ABC/ESPN, etc) they now have to toe the corporate line. Second, comics are incredibly pirated products. Just doing a search on major bit torrent sites and you can. . . .well, pretty much download most every major Marvel comic from the last 70 years and fit it on a large external hard drive. That's pretty terrible if you think about it. And, let's be fair- DC is pro-SOPA as well, at least inasmuch as they are a part of the larger Time Warner family of corporations.
Let me state again, for the record, that we at BSR are ANTI-piracy. We are pro-comics, and piracy is a major problem with the industry today, just as with all entertainment media. We respect the rights of creators who put their genius into delivering greatness into our hands every week, every month, and respect their rights to get paid. We even point you to some of our favorites in the realm of digital comics-- one of which, I would like to point out, is about Marvel digital comics on sale. We love comics, we are anti-piracy and pro-digital distribution. Absolutely.
But, just as categorically I can state that SOPA will not help one bit. The bill will allow any person to make a claim against a website (say BigShinyRobot. . . or Google. . . or YouTube. . .or Flikr) that it is hosting copyrighted materials, and without an investigation, without a warrant, without any probable cause-- just a complaint-- the host ISP has to shut the ENTIRE SITE down. Take, for example, the image I've used to in this post. This is one of my favorite comic book covers from books I collected when I was younger. I've added the "This is what Wolverine does to Pirates" which makes my use of this image fall under "fair use." But if someone were to complain, they could-- and shut down the entire site without any adjudication by any legal authority. Not only does SOPA violate basic principles of due process, it uses a nuclear bomb to strike at a gnat.
The real target, proponents say, is the plethora of sites that host torrents which contain copyrighted material. Unfortunately, a lot of these are offshore and not subject to US law, SOPA or otherwise. The bill tries to target them but in reality will do nothing to stop overseas hosting of copyrighted material, much less the ability of people to use peer-to-peer sharing to move these files.
SOPA's roots are also questionable. The titular sponsor and proponent of the bill is Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, but the bill was, in fact, written behind closed doors by a lobbyist for the media industry. Surprise, surprise, his single biggest campaign contributor is ClearChannel, and the biggest industry to give to him is media (so much for Hollywood being run by liberals, right?) giving Smith a nice $1.3 million in his campaign warchest. . . despite as of yet having any challengers in the 2012 elections. (As a matter of full disclosure, I REALLY hate Lamar Smith. He is behind Texas's current gerrymandering efforts which were ruled to violate the Civil Rights Act and disenfranchise minority voters in Texas, and I am literally a hair's breadth away from being his constituent-- if I lived just a half mile west of where I do I might be in his district.)
As if this bill weren't as dumb as it already is, we're also ceding the next generation of internet sites, a sector America currently dominates, to developers in other countries. Youtube has stated that if SOPA were the law of the land 10 years ago, it never would have survived to become what it is today. Imagine hosting the next generation video, social networking, or media sharing site and then have it shut down before it even has the chance to fully take off because someone uploads copywrited material to the site. This is what we are facing. No wonder huge media conglomerates like Time Warner, Comcast, and Clear Channel are for it-- they can stamp out the competition by crying wolf.
So, SOPA is a terrible idea. What do we do instead? Well, as much as I dislike Lamar Smith, I also really dislike Darryl Issa of California and Jason Chaffetz of my old hometown of Provo, UT. But, they have an alternative bill, the OPEN Act, which citizens can see and make suggestions about online at http://www.keepthewebopen.com/ . It's much better, and AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo, and Zynga agree: "This approach targets foreign rogue sites without inflicting collateral damage on legitimate, law-abiding U.S. Internet companies by bringing well-established international trade remedies to bear on this problem."
As much as changing the law to target overseas rogue sites, the key to defeating piracy is simply to change the business model. Let's talk about Napster and the RIAA. Napster was eventually shut down and changed their business model, but in the meantime people started using BearShare, Limewire, KaZaA, etc, etc, and the RIAA went about suing individual users. . . .until along came iTunes. It gave people what they wanted (mp3s) in the way they wanted to buy it (purchase a single track or an entire album). Music piracy has not stopped, but far more people use iTunes than download music illegally these days.
The same is true for pirating movies and tv shows online. Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, Amazon, iTunes-- all of them are far preferable to torrenting a movie or show. And people use them. And while film piracy has not gone away, it's hard to say that it is cutting into Hollywood profits that extensively. As we reported a few days ago about the most downloaded movies of 2011, most of them were #1 at the box office for at least some point, and most of them made over $100 million dollars.
Marvel, we get it. We understand why you have to do this. But don't expect us to take it lying down.
As I previously recounted, I got a Nook Tablet this Christmas-- largely because of their deal with Marvel Comics. Well, with the new software update taking away my ability to root the device, and my ability taken away to load the Marvel and Comixology apps. . . .well. . . . I'm not so happy. My workaround has been to read Marvel Digital Comics online through their site, which is a little clumsy, but I'm willing to do until Marvel and B&N actually get an app ready for us.
But this is the last straw. I will GLADLY pay the subscription fee to Marvel's all-you-can-eat digital comics releases, and I will pay for individual issues as they come out if I like them enough. But not if this is how you treat your loyal customers.
As of the end of my next billing cycle, I will no longer subscribe to Marvel Digital. I'm not saying whether or not I'm going to start pirating comics, but you can bet I'm going to go to my local public library and check them out instead.
Let me also leave you with these bits of wisdom, first from, of all places, Star Wars: "The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."
The recent success of Louis CK's comedy special and Radiohead's In Rainbows album, both of which allowed a download from their website on an honor system/pay what you want, show that fans will reward creators of content-- But when given freely first, and the small minority of pirates be damned.
And lastly, "With great power comes great responsibility." Marvel, you are powerful. Your fans care about you, and you have a brand loyalty that even Apple would kill for. Rescind your support for SOPA, support the OPEN alternative.
And for the rest of you loyal robots-- call your Congressman and Senator and tell them NO on SOPA. (But don't call until next Tuesday because Dec 30th and Jan 2nd are federal holidays) Believe me, I work in politics and advocacy professionally: your calls REALLY DO matter. And 2012 is an election year. With Congressional approval ratings at 9%. . . your Representative and Senator better damn well listen to you, or maybe start looking for another job is 2013.