Crackdown on comics piracy begins

Countdown comicWith their digital comics offerings now up and running, the big US publishers such as Marvel and DC Comics are beginning to crack down on comics piracy — the online uploading of complete scans of new US comics almost as soon as they hit the shelves.

The ComicMix web site reports that there’s been a lot of talk about how DC and Marvel started going after scanners and torrent sites earlier this month, and now one of the leading share sites, Z-Cult, has agreed to take down all Marvel, DC and Top Cow books.

All of which prompted ComicMix’s Glenn Hauman to ask “What took you so long?”

Glenn has good reason to pose the question, because back in April 2005 he met with DC’s vice president of legal affairs, Lillian Laserson, and her assistants, Paula Lowitt and Jay Kogen, about the issue of scans available online.

“At the two hour meeting which covered legal issues, business cases, media ecology, and public relations, I delivered a spreadsheet to them that was current as of 1 April 2005, showing them how many DC comics had been scanned in and were available online,” he reveals. “This wasn’t a spread sheet I created, mind you, it was created by the scanning community showing their progress. And they had made some serious progress: I pointed out that of all the comics published by DC in their (at the time) 70 year history, over 75% of them had already been scanned in and were available online. The numbers were closer to 90% post-Crisis. In short, the genie was already pretty much out of the bottle.”

Glenn notes he laid out a full online strategy for them, suggesting that the best thing for DC Comics to do would be to get in front and pretend they were leading the parade when it came to online comics. he advised they partner with their corporate parent, AOL, and make their content available either freely online or behind AOL’s wall, so that they could expand the brand and readership for their products, and get their comics in front of a much wider audience.

Nothing happened, and other companies he has met with over the years have turned a blind eye to rights management, piracy and creating digital libraries they could use to promote their archive online, too. It seems the top US comics companies are in a bit of a mess when it comes to their assets – and there is even some doubt as to what rights they have when it comes to publishiung their back catalogue electronically – and I’m sure it won’t surprise British comics fans to know that the libraries of almost every British comics publisher – especially those no longer publishing comics – are little better.

While US comics are now entering a new period of piracy crackdown, digitised editions of British and European titles are unlikely to escape in the long term, even though most UK scans are of comics that are highly unlikely to ever be republished, in print form at least. (BBC Worldwide has, for example, investigated the illegal sale of digital versions of comics such as the 1970s tv comic Countdown on auction sites such as ebay in the past few months).

Digital publication of comics is an exciting opportunity and it’s great to see the likes of Marvel and DC embrace the medium at last. It would be even more exciting for those of us on this side of the pond if Rebellion digitised its huge 2000AD and Megazine archive (Egmont still owns Starlord), perhaps, or some enterprising publisher sought some way to present the likes of Century TV21 or the Eagle online.

We’ll just have to see what tomorrow brings…

Categories: British Comics, Digital Comics

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