Thanks to Adrian for letting us know about this!
It turns out that recently the Steve Lieber illustrated comic “Underground” was scanned and posted in its entirety on the 4Chan /co/ board, without permission of course. This sort of blatant piracy is nothing new on the internet. What is unusual is what happened after the book was posted.
Lieber hopped in the thread and started discussing with the posters. His reaction was decidedly un-antagonistic, which is probably the best thing you could do when dealing with 4Chan, given the power of the associated “Anonymous” group.
While the response to Steve from on the board ranged from praise, to guilt, to straight up douchey, almost everyone was surprised that Leiber showed up and was not bitching about his work being ripped off. He goes so far as to say he’s “trying to live in the same decade as everyone else” and “I genuinely appreciate your taking the time to show people my work. Let’s leave ‘em up.”
“Underground” is a self-owned title. That means that Lieber (and writer Jeff Parker) own the rights, and can do what they like with it. So the fact they (eventually) gave approval for posting makes the linking of this here “OK” to me. I think we have been clear on our stand on piracy and copywrite here.
But what makes this whole event interesting to me is the fallout from it. Sales of “Underground” have jumped dramatically. And Lieber has now posted the entire comic on his site for free. What does this sales spike tell us about piracy? Does it lead to increased sales? Did the sales jump because Lieber positively engaged the 4Chan community? Did his actions guilt some 4Chan folks (and maybe some others) into buying? Or did the sales come from increased awareness of the comic due to coverage of this event? I’ll admit I did not know this comic before I heard about this 4Chan thread business.
One of the first posts on the 4Chan board said this: “Stop pirating Steve and Jeff’s comics this is an indie book, not a mainstream comic any sales loss affects the creators much more adversely than a company like Marvel or DC both of which are backed financially by huge mega corporations.” I find it interesting that this user finds the piracy unethical, since it hurts the creators more than it would if it were publisher owned. This person clearly thinks that piracy must hurt sales, on some level.
Certainly not everyone on 4Chan feels the same way about piracy. And I’m also sure that not everyone who engages in piracy has identical opinions on it. But I fear that I fear that a lot of people will point to this as proof that “piracy helps sell product”. But is that always true? I think that is a justification, not a rational analysis. I mean, if that is such a great business model, why wouldn’t every publisher give away all their content?
I just don’t think you can make definitive statements like that. Certainly in some instances giving content away for free, and charging for other things, can be a good business model. A great example would be the many successful web comics. The way a lot of companies handle Open Source Software is another example.
The classic example given for why piracy is “good business” is a study showing that people who download music illegally tend to buy more music. But does the study show causality? Or could you simply say that people who love music download a lot of it, and also buy it a lot? And even if downloading music did lead to buying more music, do the same economics impact movies, tv shows, games, comics, and books?
I think I can say one definitive thing. Steve Lieber is a cool guy, and a great artist. I think I would have been pretty pissed if someone started distributing my works without permission. He took this whole thing really well, and handled it masterfully. In the end it turned out great for “Underground”. But would it work everyone?