Comic Book Writer Mark Waid Defends Copying, Points To The Value Of The Public Domain

from the good-for-him dept

Jaime points us to the news that famed comic writer Mark Waid gave a keynote talk at the comics’ Harvey Awards event over the weekend, where he apparently gave a stirring defense of unauthorized downloading, content sharing and the public domain:

Mark Waid’s keynote speech at the Harvey Awards at Baltimore Comics Con last night started by pointing out that copyright was all about putting work into the public domain, rather than preserving it for company ownership, and the concept of public domain should be embraced again. That illegal downloading is inevitable leading to a new culture of sharing. Lines such as “culture is more important than copyright” and “there are more ideas in one week at your comic shop than three years in Hollywood.”

The report at Bleeding Cool does note that not everyone in attendance was pleased with Waid’s talk, with Sergio Aragones apparently confronting Waid about his talk, declaring that “you don’t just give your work away,” and getting into a bit of a heated argument before Waid walked away.

Assuming these reports are accurate, it looks like Aragones totally missed the point of Waid’s talk. No one’s saying that you “just” give your work away. Those of us who have been writing about this stuff for a while are talking about creating larger communities and business models that include giving stuff away as a part of that effort. Trying to simplify it down to “oh just give it away, huh?” is wrong and misleading. Besides, note that Aragones seems to have missed the key factual points in Waid’s talk: which is that copyright has always been about putting works into the public domain. It’s too bad some people just react so negatively to factual portrayals of copyright law that they lash out at the messenger.

Update: Some of the other reports on the talk suggest that Waid and Aragones “hugged it out” after their confrontation, and that Aragones’ complaint is that “free” devalues work. This is a common, if misguided point. The value of the work remains the same. The problem is when you confuse price and value. Price gets driven by the real demands of the market, but is not the same as value. Waid’s point is that you can’t fight what’s happening, so why not embrace it — a message we obviously believe strongly in here.

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Comments on “Comic Book Writer Mark Waid Defends Copying, Points To The Value Of The Public Domain”

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Matthew (profile) says:

Adversarial Economics

“Free devalues work” seems to come from a particular sort of adversarial view of the creator/consumer relationship. It’s like they think that getting people to buy something is the creator winning and consumers getting something for free is the creator losing. Almost like they feel like they have to trick consumers into paying and someone else providing free content is akin to a magician showing the audience how the tricks are done.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Adversarial Economics

“Free devalues work” seems to come from a particular sort of adversarial view of the creator/consumer relationship.

Yes – the movie industry objected bigtime when newspapers first gave away DVDs on the front cover – for exactly that reason. I remember someone from the industry complaining that it would undermine the “perceived value” (his words) of DVDs – making it difficult for them to continue selling them for £30 a time.

Danny says:

Yes Yes Yes

“The problem is when you confuse price and value. Price gets driven by the real demands of the market, but is not the same as value.”

This is a big problem a lot of folks have. The market says my copy of Final Fantasy II (actually IV) for the SNES is priced at probably $20 (if that) nowadays. But as the first RPG I played start to finish all myself it is much more valuable than that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Value and what the market will actually pay can be very different things. I have worked for consulting companies that have tried to get into value pricing yet could never quite get customers to agree to it (although the consulting companies wanted to capture the upside but not take responsibility for the downside.) To some extent, pharmaceutical drugs can be based on value as prices are not tied to production costs (or any other costs.)

Free creates a mindset, I know custom component golf club makers (think guy in a garage ordering parts and putting them together for you) actually sell more if they raise their prices (who wants to swing golf clubs that cost $200?) People assign a dollar figure to things, you wouldn’t think of buying a dollar steak, would you? If something is offered for free, it does tend to lessen the perceived value. My singing or art work probably should be priced at free, if a true artist priced their work at free, what would be your impression of the value of their work?

It is true, that digital works will be available for free and that you can’t stop it, but can you limit it? Bobby Knight once said “if you are going to be raped, you may as well sit back and enjoy it.” He took a lot of heat for that comment but that is the same argument as “Waid’s point is that you can’t fight what’s happening, so why not embrace it…”

average_joe says:

Waid’s point is that you can’t fight what’s happening, so why not embrace it — a message we obviously believe strongly in here.

I have to wonder how true it is that you can’t fight what’s happening. I’ll be surprised if we don’t see an increase in legislation aimed at fighting unchecked infringement. I’m not sure how they’ll do it (shift some of the burden of policing infringement onto ISPs?), but I’m pretty sure they’re gonna try.

JC says:

Re: Re:

I actually think you have pointed out the problem this site is designed to address. “… I’m pretty sure they’re gonna try.”

They won’t succeed, ever. We’ve had copyright laws for a long time and that has never really stopped people from sharing, people will always be able to share. However, in an effort to save their dying businesses, record labels are going to try a whole variety of tactics, some of which may have consequences that impact us for the next hundred years. To me, that isn’t acceptable.

I think one day we will look back on these new copyright rules and regulations and laugh, just like we do now when some little hamlet finds an old law on the books which makes sneezing in public without saying excuse me illegal.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I have to wonder how true it is that you can’t fight what’s happening.

There are many reasons, but here are two…

1) The “analog hole”
You can lock down digital content to draconian levels and people would still be able to copy songs and movies using old analog technologies. People watch movies taken with a camcorder in a theatre; you think they wouldn’t watch an analog copy of the digital original?

2) Sneakernet
Unless you get into big brother territory, you’re not going to prevent people from copying files onto a portable drive and taking it to their friends house to trade.

The point is that the cat is out of the bag. There are just too many ways to bypass any technical and/or legal restrictions to copying. Unless you want to lock society down into an oppresive hell, then you should just accept reality and embrace business models to take advantage of it. Because if you don’t, you’ll just end up tilting at windmills while your competitors have figured out a way to make a buck.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is the point I always try to make too. Of course you *can* fight what is happening. You could nuke everyone for that matter, and that would put an end to it. The question nobody seems to be asking is how far is too far. At what point between here and killing every human do we draw the line and say it isn’t worth what we have to sacrifice?

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You are correct of course, there already has been an increase in legislation to fight infringement. But as many commenters have noted, that bird has flown the coop, Pandora’s box has been opened, Humpty Dumpty has been cracked, [your favorite analogy here], and basically the government and *AA groups should move on because it’s just not that big a deal anyway.

Unless you’re a popcorn farmer, then you’re just screwed.

out_of_the_blue says:

This only works for fantasies.

“Price gets driven by the real demands of the market, but is not the same as value.” — What that means for comic books writers is getting a price far beyond value from a mass market. *That’s* what must come to an end. No matter how much comic book writers may think that their product is valuable — because a rich complex society allows them to get the actual *low* value a practically unlimited number of times — they are not in fact a value to society, but merely entertaining parasites.

In the “real” world, we all live in houses that for the most part have a value far beyond actual price, built by people for a fixed price. There’s no reason why comic book writers should benefit from a fixed price for creating a house while getting unlimited incomes from a bit of fantasy.

And the way to re-connect value and price is steeply progressive tax rates that achieve some measure of equality again. American society can’t continue in its present form (or rather, as it was and should be again) with ridiculous disparity between low pay for work that’s essential and of lasting value and high incomes for doing almost nothing. All of the ills that you might name in society stem from breaking the fundamental connection between price and value, because high incomes for comic books are *not* “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This only works for fantasies.

You do not equate value and price in this manner. You certainly don’t use taxes to try and make them equal. Value is a variable that differs per the consumer. A house has no set ‘value,’ it has a ‘price.’ Just because you find your entertainment worthless, and thus without value, does not mean that others do not. Of COURSE the artist is going to overvalue his work. It’s his /WORK/. The truly terrible thing is that you just don’t understand this. Unfortunately, you aren’t alone. Once you get away from this ‘value = price’ stuff you might start to understand.

PS: Doing anything worthwhile in the entertainment industry, and I mean truly worthwhile, including great comics, is not easy.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: This only works for fantasies.

I’m not one to say “if you don’t like it, leave” but it really sounds like you would be happier somewhere else. One of the more liberal socialist countries like Sweden, or something. It seems to be more in line with your philosophy. Not meant as an insult at all, just different people have different ideas, and different governments reflect those ideas. Which is great. I know it’s not such a simple matter, especially if you have a family, but just an observation.

But really, arguing against the free market and in favor of steeply progressive income tax (even more so than we have now) is really not going to go much of anywhere in the US. Just curious, in your vision of how things ought to be, does the national government decide the price of each item for sale?

6 (profile) says:

Never fear, for technology is here!

Guys, once harddrives get up to the 100 terrabit capacity for your average off the shelf hard drive, pretty much everyone will likely get their hands on a fully loaded record of practically all music/movies ever made. Of course, newly released stuff won’t be on there, but, still. It will be fun to see how copyright folks deal with people peddling all the recorded works in human history on the street in china for 50$.

cybernia (profile) says:

price vs value

“The problem is when you confuse price and value. Price gets driven by the real demands of the market, but is not the same as value.”

I think you’re wrong here. I remember back in the late 80s when I published a small local alternative paper, the fist batch went with FREE on the cover. Not many people picked them up. Someone then suggested I put 50 cents as the price. I did that and even though the papers were still free and in the same places with the other free papers, I found that more people picked them up.

When I started as an independent computer tech, I was told that my rate was too low. I was told by a client/friend that if you charged too low, people think you’re an amateur and not very good. So, I raised my rate drastically and I started picking up more clients almost immediately.

So, yeah, I think price and value go hand in hand. At least in the mind of the consumer. I guess it’s the old adage, “you get what you pay for.”

Richard (profile) says:

Re: price vs value

Yes it’s a strange thing. I’m sure we;ve all heard the story of the man who tried to save himself a trip to the tip by leaving his old fridge outside his house. Nobody took it until he put a notice saying “for sale £50” on it.

But of course this logic doesn’t work here because everyone knows that digital copies cost effectively zero to make.

Greevar (profile) says:

Give it away and hold your hands out is not the way.

What the copyright supporters continue to confuse about art is that they don’t know what business they are really in. They think they are in the business to sell copies of what they create. When in reality, they are in the business of selling their ability to create. The thing they create has no market price whatsoever, but the time and effort they put into creating it is worth paying for.

An artist selling copies of art is like a landscaper selling copies of a lawn. You don’t buy a landscape from a landscaper, you buy his time and skill which he/she applies to creating a landscape for you. What artists should be doing is selling their skill and letting the results stand as proof of their skill. If you see that your neighbor has an amazing looking yard you’d say “Who did you hire to do that?” and not “Where did you buy that landscape?”

We should not pay artists as people who make a product, but hire them as people that provide a service just as we would a mason, carpenter, or landscaper. We hire them to do a job. They give you an estimate of what it will cost to do the job and you contractually agree to pay.

It’s a win for everyone. The artists get paid, the fans get the art, and everyone can use it freely (enjoy it, share it, make derivative works, etc.), spreading it to others who may decide to hire that artist to create more works. Now, copyright is relegated to an anti-plagiarism law. This is the way we should be doing art in this age of sharing information.

m1hawkgsm says:

Re: Give it away and hold your hands out is not the way.

Agree with this. Comics, art, entertainment are forms of services, which should be charged as such. The rest of the “value” and “price” debate I think is sort of irrelevant, considering both are to a degree arbitrary (given by business people), and really aren’t part of what the original talk was about.

I think the main point Waid makes is that comic and manga industries hardly make use of the digital medium and instead banish it or barely scratch it in an ineffective manner (though for comics, I guess it’s getting a bit better). Morphing the playing field into their advantage would seem to be the common sense solution to minimizing the impact of “piracy” and perhaps defeating the strange fear of “Free”.

Of course, with publishers in the middle, the prices get cranked up with royalties and what not, but that’s where you get the digital initiatives to come in and make the system much more fluid and dynamic.

Anonymously Brave says:

There’s no better example of the difference between price and value than the comic book industry.

The comic book publisher pays the writers, artists, inkers, colorists and letterers to create the comics. This amount is how much the actual creators make.

The publisher then sells these comics to the distributors/retail outlets for a set price per comic.

The distributors and retail outlets then sell the comics to the general public at another price, usually the price on the cover.

Once the comic is out there and the public decides how good this particular one is, the value is determined.

Two comics, sitting next to each other on a store shelf, could each sell for $4. In two years time, one could be valued at $1,000, while the other could be essentially worthless.

There are comics with a price mark of 5 cents that are valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, while others with price marks of $5 to $20 are gathering dust in 25 cent boxes at conventions.

Most of the time, this increase or decrease in value is at the benefit or detrement of the general public who purchased the comic at the cover price. Some is experienced by retailers who retain a certain amount of unsold backstock. Very little of this value change ever makes it back to the publisher, let alone the original creators.

However, the increase in value of a comic can certainly indirectly affect the creators and publishers. If a comic increases in value, according to the judgement of the public, the publishers can likely sell more comics featuring the same stories or characters. Likewise the creators can make more money through higher demand and salaries due to the demonstrated popularity of their work.

Of course, the publishers can also affect value. By printing huge quantities of popular comics, they decrease the scarcity of them. If you can find it anywhere, there’s no need to pay a collector a huge sum for his copy.

So price and value are definitely not the same, though they can certainly affect one another.

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