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The Comics Are All Right: Now’s The Time to Be Political

greater_coat_of_arms_of_the_united_states-svgI began “The Comics Are All Right” feature to explore the inner workings of the comic book industry and give a take that’s focused more on data, facts, and examples, not opinion. And for the most part I’ve succeeded diving into actual sales numbers and trends, throwing out hypotheses as to the direction of the industry, giving examples of publishers and stores that are breaking the marketing mold, and more. And, I think I’ve done a decent job of staying away from opinion (Yes that is an opinion. The irony is not lost). But, this one is going to be opinion, sort of. Here we go:

The comic industry needs to get political!

Now, this particular column isn’t what you think it is. I’m not going to debate that politics and comics go hand in hand (they do and have a long history together). No, this is a call for the industry and publishers to become aware of possible legislation and policy changes over the next years and how it’ll impact them.

For almost seven years I worked as the Online Advocacy Director for the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA). During that period we monitored legislation and built campaigns to allow video game consumers to have a voice in the political process about legislation and proposals that directly impacted them. At times those campaigns overlapped with the needs and wants of the video game industry itself. We tackled issues ranging from censorship, broadband expansion, a Supreme Court case, video games and health, Net Neutrality, broadband caps, and more. I’m proud to say, we never lost a battle.

The comic industry will face legislative issues (they always do beyond censorship) and it’s time we recognize this, and do something beyond it. Here’s just a sampling of what we’ll likely have to deal with in the years to come and why it’s important.

Repeal of the ACA aka Obamacare – The pay for comic creators can be pretty low and add on top of that a lack of benefits and it’s clear that eeking out a living as a creator isn’t the easiest or most rewarding career there is. Freelance creators are forced to purchase their own healthcare through the ACA, from a union, a spouse, or through another job. That first option is currently at risk with threats of a repeal which will cost an estimated 18 million people their insurance in the first year.

Our insurance system is flawed, that’s not what this is about, this is about ensuring an easy way for self-employed individuals to gain insurance, not be discriminated against due to pre-existing conditions, and benefiting women and helping with their choice of birth control.

A repeal would increase costs by either putting some individuals in a high cost “risky pool,” deny coverage outright, or increase out of pocket benefits. It’s estimated that women will have to pay $1.4 billion in copay for birth control for instance.

That’s less money in the pockets of creators. More freelance jobs needed to take. Possibly greater cover prices due to the need to charge more by freelancers. Decreased health. Less money means less traveling for conventions. Less interaction because time spent online is time not spent earning money.

Quality of life will decrease for those in the industry.

What this means is the industry needs to start thinking of solutions. A guild through which freelancers could purchase insurance or publishers offering ways for creators to buy into their offerings are both solutions. Now is the time to think this through before it’s too late.

Import Tax – The Trump administration has threatened to create an import tax, the theory of which is it’ll force manufacturers to produce items in the United States. I’m not going to go into the legality of this or how flawed the economic theory is (that’s for another post). Instead, if it goes through, the import tax won’t be paid by corporations, it’ll be paid by the consumers. That $3.99 comic will now be $4.99 or $5.99. Nothing changes except higher retail prices which equates to fewer items sold, stores struggling further, and publishers cutting back or going out of business. No one gains in this scenario, from the consumer through to the publisher, we’re all screwed.

Repeal of Net Neutrality – If you sell digital comics or use the internet to market, you should care about this issue. At it’s basic core, Net Neutrality is the concept that like content online should be delivered at like speeds (it’s more complicated than that, but we’ll stick with the basics). If Comcast offers you internet and voip phone and another service offers voip, Comcast wouldn’t be able to slow down the competitor to benefit their service.

If Net Neutrality goes away the internet becomes pay for play with content producers shelling out money making it more difficult for upstarts to get noticed. It would allow internet providers to outright block content and websites. It could slow down connections making it more difficult for creators to talk to fans, their publishers, or fellow creators to work on projects.

That’s not even getting into data caps.

The Return of SOPA/PIPASOPA/PIPA is online censorship. The legislation was first put forth in 2011 and threats of new versions rear their ugly head every year. We beat it once. It doesn’t mean we will definitely beat it again.

European Rules on Copyright Infringement – Lets not focus on a “what if” and instead focus on the now. A current proposal by the European Commission would adopt new rules requiring platforms to scan and filter user uploads for copyright infringements.

Want to share that cool art? Yeah, not happening. Want to upload a gif? Nope.

SOPA/PIPA was a similar plan and was defeated here in the US, but this is one that’s being discussed, today. As is, the copyright system and its tools are broken. The DMCA is used in ways it wasn’t meant to and the one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. A rule like this is an affront to the rule of law and freedom of expression and if you’re in Europe, this should concern you.

Immigration and Travel – The Trump administration that has put out an Executive Order that has thrown our immigration and border system into chaos. Individuals are being asked to hand over their phones and unlock them even if they are US citizens. Not to mention the disturbing questions being asked and social media being mined. The EO threatens all of us, but if you’re a foreign creator or US creator (citizen or not) who has to return from overseas, I’d be nervous right now. Do you enjoy creators being flown from overseas to conventions? This could impact that, at a minimum.

Publishers, creators, and we the fans, need to organize and be aware. These issues will impact our enjoyment within the industry and the ability for publishers and creators to deliver. Now is the time to band together. Now is the time to build an apparatus to lobby and help speak on our behalf. Now is not the time to sit on the side and watch it all pass us by.

Copyright Holder Abuses the System to Censor Speech. Example of Why We Need Reform.

CensorshipPart of my qualms about passing legislation like SOPA or PIPA which would make it easier to make infringement claims was realized this past weekend as video game publisher Wild Game Studios issued a takedown notice to gaming critic TotalBiscuit most likely due to the fact he gave their latest release a negative review. SOPA and PIPA was proposed legislation that would make it easier to take down material or even websites by claiming copyright infringement.

The legislation’s main thrust was providing tools to stop foreign infringing websites from being accessed in the United States and penalizing those websites.  Actions such as seizure, cutting off of funds and stopping of advertising are all methods that would be legal through this legislation.  Some of these techniques are currently being used today in mass seizure of websites by I.C.E. In reality, the legislation would have affected more than just foreign websites, but those within the United States and the language was broad and rife for abuse. The same sort of abuse through the current system we saw this past weekend.

As reported on Kotaku, the CEO of the video game publisher, “Stephane” posted on the Steam forums claiming:

We protected our copyright because Total Biscuit has no right to make advertising revenues with our license.

But, other videos, some even with negative comments, that gained revenue, were left up, showing this particular video was targeted. This is exactly the type of censorship that I feared when new legislation was being discussed. If anything we need legislation protecting individuals and websites from false take down requests including penalties for those that make them.

Recently we received numerous videos from entertainment companies and their press relations asking us to host teasers, trailers and more. When I uploaded them, more than half were blocked due to copyright claims. This claim was later lifted but held for many days. In the future I’ll be less likely to host those videos or promote their products.

In this case the video game publisher relented too. TotalBiscuit and his YouTube channel providers said they were going to pursue legal matters and with the news of the incident a deluge of vitriol was thrown towards the video game publisher which lead to them relenting. “Stephane” commented to Kotaku:

…after seeing all the negative impact today we decided to withdraw our complaint to YouTube.

There is chatter for a new push for SOPA/PIPA like legislation by the US Congress and if it were to be passed, you better believe we’d experience more of the above.

(via Kotaku)

Marvel Demands Money From Penniless Creator

Ghost RiderMarvel recently won it’s court case against Gary Friedrich as to who owns the rights to Ghost Rider.  Friendrich created the character and the court case was about whether any money or rights were owed to him.  With the second movie on it’s way, that’s pretty important (but then again, did the first one make money?).

The court decision sided with Marvel and said they owed Friedrich nothing, but agreed with a counter claim by Marvel that Friedrich owes the corporation $17,000.  That’s the money that Gary has earned over the years selling prints of Ghost Rider at conventions, etc.  Did we mention Friedrich is penniless?  Friedrich is also not allowed to say he created Ghost Rider for financial gain.  We’ll say it for him instead, than man did.

Disney purchased Marvel for $4 billion, they spent millions on the movie and have gained god knows how much money from this character and they’re going after this man… can we now say Marvel is the unfriendliest comics company for creators?

Between Marvel and Disney’s support of SOPA/PIPA, their ongoing fight against the Kirby estate and this, what jackasses.  This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the fans.  Murmuring  of a protest and boycott of this summer’s Avengers movie have spread due to the Kirby fight and a petition has started on Change.org to pressure Marvel to give credit and royalties to Jack Kirby and his family.

Here’s the legal language concerning Friedrich:

1. The profits realized by plaintiffs in connection with the distribution and sale of goods depicting the Ghost Rider character appearing in Marvel Spotlight, Vol. 1, No. 5 (the “Work”) which is the subject of MCI’s copyright infringement counterclaim amount to $17,000.

2. Upon the entry of the Final Judgment (i) dismissing all claims pleaded in the amended complaint, (ii) awarding damages to MCI against plaintiffs on MCI’s counterclaim in the amount of $17,000, (iii) permanently enjoining plaintiffs and all natural or legal persons acting on their behalf or in concert or participation with them from manufacturing, reproducing, distributing, adapting, displaying, advertising, promoting, offering for sale, selling, using or purporting to authorize others to use the image of any characters appearing in, or any copyrightable material expressed in, the Work or any materials that are substantially similar to, or based on, any element of the Work in connection with the sale of any goods, merchandise or services including, without limitation, publications, posters, toys, games and playthings, prerecorded videotapes and DVDs featuring live action or animated motion pictures, video game software and other video products, T-shirts and other items of apparel (provided, however, that such injunction shall not prohibit plaintiffs from selling Gary Friedrich’s autograph by affixing the same to a product manufactured by MCI or by others under license or permission from MCI and purchased by plaintiffs at retail), and (iv) awarding defendants the costs and disbursements of this action available as a matter of law pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d) and 28 U.S.C. § 1920, MCI and plaintiffs will execute and cause to be filed a stipulation dismissing the Trademark Counterclaims without prejudice and without costs to any party.

3. In consideration for MC1′s agreement to dismiss the Trademark Counterclaims, plaintiffs consent to an injunction enjoining them and all natural or legal persons acting on their behalf or in concert or participation with them from using or purporting to authorize others to use the words “Ghost Rider” as a trademark, trade name, or similar designation of origin in connection with the sale of any goods, merchandise, or services.

(via Bleeding Cool)

Around the Tubes

Tomorrow is a big day when it comes to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA), but until then, here’s the news you might have missed.

SOPA/PIPA News:

GamePolitics – ESA Spends $190k to Lobby Lawmakers about PIPA

GamePolitics – Wikipedia Goes Dark Jan. 18 to Protest SOPA, PIPA

GamePolitics – MSNBC Features SOPA Debate Segment

TechCrunch – CloudFlare Builds ‘Stop Censorship’ App, Lets Sites Easily “Black Out” Against SOPA

 

Around the Blogs:

CBLDF – CBLDF and BOOM! Town Join Forces for Free Comic Book Day – Great organization!  Go support them.

The Washington Post – Marvel publisher says creativity, compelling stories will drive comics again in 2012 – I’m waiting to see when this happens…
Around the Tubes Reviews:

CBR – Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #5

CBR – Secret Avengers #21

Graphic Policy’s Brett Joins the Comic Book Bin To Talk #SOPA on Their First Podcast

I was priveledged to join the folks over at The Comic Book Bin  for their first ever podcast to talk about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA).  It was a great conversation and you can tell I get a bit whipped up and had harsh words for the comic book industry which has been relatively quiet on the legislation.

Think #SOPA and #PIPA Doesn’t Affect American Sites? Guess Again!

Marvin Ammori over at his blog explains how the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP (PIPA) acts do in fact affect American websites.  Even though proponents of the legislation says it’s focus is to take aim at foreign websites whose function is to infringe on copyright, we know, that’s not how the internet works.  Here’s Ammori’s points in a nutshell.

  1. Many US websites have foreign branches.  Google, Amazon and many more have versions specific for foreign countries.  Right there is American companies dealing with infringement elsewhere.
  2. Any website or tool that points you in the direction of a foreign infringing site is liable.  Facebook statuses, Google searches, Twitter links, all could get folks in trouble.
  3. The web search engines and many hosting companies are here in the US.  They’d have to hide websites in various methods.  Right there is a burden upon US based businesses.

Ammori lays it all out in much greater detail.  Head there and get the full breakdown of why this legislation is shit and the proponents are talking out of their asses.

You can take action right now and write your Representatives and Senators and voice your displeasure with the legislation.

You can take action at Marvel comics which publicly supports SOPA at our joint venture with Thwipster, Dear Marvel.

Around the Tubes

It’s a new week, and I have today off!  Yay Government schedule!  Here’s the news you might have missed….

SOPA/PIPA News:

Ammori.org – SOPA/PIPA Copyright Bills Also Target American Sites

GamePolitics – White House Questions SOPA, PIPA

TechCrunch – SOPA Supporters On The Run

Kotaku – This is What Razer Thinks of SOPA

 

Around the Blogs:

Bleeding Cool – Salt Lake City To Offer Comic Book DegreeNice to see comic books being taken seriously…

The Mary Sue – The Walking Dead Gets a 16-Episode Order For Its Third SeasonI can’t wait!  Just a few more weeks for the second half of the second season.

Kotaku – Sunday Comics: Blow Me – Each week Kotaku posts up some fantastic webcomics.

Around the Tubes

The comic world is pretty quiet, but the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act continue.  Here’s the latest with that.

SOPA/PIPA News:

GamePolitics – House Majority Leader: SOPA Will Not Get Floor Vote Without Some Consensus

Kotaku – More Big (and Small) Game Developers Sound Off Against SOPA

GamePolitics – Bungie Publicly Proclaims its Opposition to SOPA

GamePolitics – Major League Gaming Goes Dark Jan. 18 to Protest SOPA

Kotaku – The White House Isn’t Happy With SOPA, Either, “Will Not Support Legislation That Reduces Freedom of Expression.”

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