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Annotated Digital Culture Links: April 3rd 2009
Links for March 31st 2009 through April 3rd 2009:
- Internet traffic in Sweden plummets on first day of law banning web piracy [Guardian] – Internet traffic in Sweden – previously a hotbed of illicit filesharing – has fallen dramatically in the first day of a new law banning online piracy. The country – home to the notorious Pirate Bay website, whose founders are awaiting a court judgment on whether they have broken the law by allowing people to find films, games and music for illicit downloads – has previously been seen as a haven for filesharing, in which people can get copyrighted content for free. As many as one in 10 Swedes is thought to use such peer-to-peer services. But the so-called IPRED law, which came into force on Wednesday, obliges internet service providers to turn over details about internet users who share such content to the owners of copyrighted material, if a court finds sufficient evidence that the user has broken the law. … internet traffic in Sweden had fallen by about 30% compared with the previous day.”
- New Wolverine film leaked online [BBC NEWS | Entertainment] – “An almost finished copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine starring Hugh Jackman has been leaked online a month before its cinema release. The high quality copy of the film has been uploaded to several file sharing and streaming video websites. The movie is incomplete, with some special effects still in need of fine tuning and green screens and wires attached to actors still visible.” (It took less than 24 hours for this workprint to appear for sale in Jordan’s pirate DVD markets and C20th Fox are on the warpath. While a leak like this might be good for publicity, given that a workprint – which means unfinished special effects more than anything else – tends to emphasise the quality of the plot and dialogue, this could really hurt the box office.)
- Obama Depressed, Distant Since ‘Battlestar Galactica’ Series Finale [The Onion – America’s Finest News Source] – “According to sources in the White House, President Barack Obama has been uncharacteristically distant and withdrawn ever since last month’s two-hour series finale of Battlestar Galactica. “The president seems to be someplace else lately,” said one high-level official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Yesterday we were all being briefed on the encroachment of Iranian drone planes into Iraq, when he just looked up from the table and blurted out, ‘What am I supposed to watch on Fridays at 10 p.m. now? Numb3rs?'” “I haven’t seen him this upset since Admiral Adama realized that Earth was actually an uninhabitable wasteland,” the official continued. “Or at least that’s what he told me. I don’t actually watch the show. It’s not really my thing.””
- Victim Of Wikipedia: Microsoft To Shut Down Encarta [ paidContent.org] – “Microsoft will discontinue both its MSN Encarta reference Web sites as well as its Encarta software, which have both been surpassed by rising competitors, like Wikipedia. In a message posted on the MSN Encarta Web site, Microsoft says, “Encarta has been a popular product around the world for many years. However, the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.””
The Death (and resurrection) of Scans_Daily
Until very recently Scans_Daily was a livejournal fan community dedicated to comic books. Their main activity was to post scans from comics, ranging from a page though to a significant portion of a comic book – mainly recent releases but also back issues – and to summarise, critique and, at times, satirise these comic books. Posting scans of a page or two is generally acknowledged to be covered under Fair Dealing (yes, we’re dealing with US law) but more than that gets into the ‘probably not legal’ territory, and a whole book is obviously in the not legal at all category. Despite that Scans_Daily operated for years, until last week. As Comics Worth Reading explains:
The popular site Scans_Daily has been suspended by its host LiveJournal. Here’s what appears to be an official mod team statement that includes links to new locations for the material.
This isn’t surprising. The purpose of the community was to post comic pages and stories, which made it a good way to read a wide range of comic content online without the participation of the copyright holders, who tend not to like that kind of open sharing. The site originally started with a focus on slash (male/male fanfic-based pairings) but then widened its focus. While you could find pages from the latest DC and Marvel comics there, they also posted unusual manga and much older stories. It was a great way to check out what people were talking about, if there was a particular panel or scene that got attention.
Brian Cronin speculates that a report by Peter David to Marvel about X-Factor pages being posted may have had something to do with the shutdown. Based on David’s comment, he has the mistaken assumption that if he can remove free copies, all interested readers will buy the comic instead. Many companies assume similarly, that any free taste is a lost sale. That’s rarely true.
Responses to the shutdown from users frequently include statements like “I started buying comics again because of what I was reading.” It’s a shame that IP owners fear the free sample so much, because in some cases, at least, it does work to convert customers. The carrot — “like it? consider buying the next issue” — works much better than the stick — “you’re all thieves who must be forced into spending money with us”.
Now, I’ll return to Peter David in a minute (noting, incidentally, that I think he’s an excellent writer) but I think that dichotomy – fan communities are pirates vs fan communities promote and thus encourage people to buy comics – is a really important one to tease out; Brigid at Digital Strips does a pretty good job of suggesting why the latter makes more sense:
Now, there are two schools of thought on this whole affair. The first, expressed to its fullest extent by Kevin Church, is that the scans_daily folks are pirates with an inflated sense of entitlement, who are stealing copyrighted content and costing the creators legitimate sales.
The other point of view, which seems to be much more widespread, is that scans_daily is a site where people find out about comics and end up buying them. Johanna Draper Carlson and Merlin Missy express it rather eloquently on their sites, without some of the entitlement drama that was displayed in the comments to Mr. David’s post. If nothing else, all these comments and accounts (as well as this comments thread) provide anecdotal backup to the notion that free samples do indeed sell comics.
I’d like to express solidarity with that second point of view. There is a section of comics culture that is all caught up with comics stores and Wednesdays and pull lists and stuff, and if you’re inside that culture you may not realize this, but the vast majority of people have absolutely no idea that this subculture even exists. And you can’t sell something that no one knows is there.
The internet, on the other hand, is everywhere, and from what goes on in my own home, I can tell you with certainty that young people troll LiveJournal looking for stuff to do all the time. And when they find a place like scans_daily, they don’t say “Oh great, now I can find the latest plot twists in the Horned Ant saga without going to the comics store and paying $4,” because they don’t know what a comics store is. Instead, they look at it, and it’s cool, and then they realize that you can buy these things in stores and they seek them out. This is sort of like marketing, except that marketing is done by big companies and scans_daily is pretty grass roots.
And in case you are wondering, this is indeed different from Marvel or DC putting previews on their sites, because no one goes to those sites except people who are already Marvel and DC readers.
My own experience lines up here. I used to read a lot of comics, many years ago, but have neither the time nor the budget to read a lot today (and exactly how many X-Men related titles are there today??). I don’t claim to be an expert on the sharing of comics online, but I will admit I’ve downloaded a copy here and there, usually on the back of particular media hype – and anything I’ve really enjoyed, I’ve purchased. Similarly, I really don’t want to spend the time going to buy every new issue of Joss Whedon’s Buffy Season 8 but I have purchased every collected edition thus far, and will continue to do so, and thus I feel no guilt in downloading some of the individual issues as they are released. Dark Horse will get my money, as long as Buffy continues to be a good comic book. I’m not buying the same thing twice, but I think the number of trade paperbacks, and the speed at which they come out, tends to reflect the fact that these collected editions are preferred by many older readers (yes, I am now an ‘older reader’!). More to the point, of those comics I have downloaded, I’ve noticed something which I’ve never come across before (which is not to say it doesn’t happen, I’m just not aware of it happening): at the end of each comic book I’ve downloaded, not only does the person or group who scanned the comic ‘sign’ it with their own image, they also leave a clear message: “Like It? Buy It!”. An example:
This “Like It? Buy It!” strikes me as fans explicitly stating that they’re wanting people to join the comic book reading and buying communities; I’ve never heard of a Battlestar Galactica or Lost episode, or the latest Hollywood film that’s available online via Bittorrent ending with a ‘Please Buy the DVD’. So, the way I see it, comic fans scanning, discussing and sharing their fandom and some of the product that they love is, for the most part, good for comic book sales. Also, many people who legitimately own the physical comic book may actually read scanned versions; one of the annoying facts for comic collectors is that the very act of reading a comic book tends to decrease its value (and tiny fold or tear decreases a comic’s resale value) so I can imagine a lot of people buying, storing and treasuring their hardcopy and reading the digital version. There is, of course, the downside that if a comic is rubbish, the ability to see commentary and previews would pretty much guarantee low sales. But, as a rule, I would imagine that good comics = good word of mouth online + free copies online = more interest = more future sales.
Now, let’s return to the curious point that Peter David is accused of ‘killing’ Scans_Daily. To give a little context (under fair use / fair dealing), here’s a notice that appears on the inside cover of X-Factor 39:
In the internet era, someone explicitly asking fans to avoid discussing details of their chosen media goes against the grain a fair bit, but it seems most reviewers did try and respect Peter David’s wishes. That said, I did manage to find the entire plot for this issues, and the next, online very easily – I’ll say it’s a very gritty and harsh story dealing with some of those downsides of mutant powers – although the last of this 3-issue arc would need to be very impressive to live into the hype. However, it seems Peter David was actively patrolling the web, and after following a link back to Scans_Daily who ignored his request, Peter David asked Marvel to look into the copyright violation he saw. The rest of the story is a bit fuzzy as LiveJournal didn’t say who complained or why they suspended Scans_Daily. However, Peter David did write about the situation on his website (his position is, yes, he complained, but it wasn’t that complaint which got scans_daily taken down) and, as you might imagine, the comments have turned into something of a flame war with a few useful points made about copyright and fan activities as promotion (or otherwise). I don’t seek to judge who complained to whom, but I do think Peter David went a step further than necessary in complaining to Marvel – I suspect a link from his website asking for that post to be removed would have worked far better – but comic book fans are a fairly small community and I doubt this exchange will have helped the sales of X-Factor – more people might read it now to see if Peter David’s plea was justified, but I suspect a lot more of them will be reading online versions via Bittorrent or the like, just to prove their point. I still like Peter David’s writing, but I do wonder how this exchange has impacted his reputation amongst fans.
And at the end of the day, Scans_Daily is back, just with a new host who seem less likely to be as responsive to the requests of copyright holders to suspect their account.
Update: I was reading the comments on Peter David’s website and I thought this one summed up the fan position perfectly:
Hi. I’m another s_d member, and I’d like to add my voice to the rest of the people who say that if it wasn’t for that community, they wouldn’t have spent money on comics. s_d started me off into buying comics, issue by issue, because from s_d I could see what was good and what I liked and what I’d pay money for.
I don’t doubt that it’s easy to argue that s_d violated the letter of copyright law, no matter how mods tried to keep down the number of pages posted; I would however argue that it tried its damndest not to violate the spirit. The heart of this kerfuffle is not law but perspective: Mr David clearly feels that s_d intended piracy and damaged his livelihood; s_d members feel that its purpose rather was to build a community of like-minded people who could discuss a shared love and help each other decide what best to spend their money on–e.g. YJ. (I for one have chased down back issues from a decade ago because I saw’em on s_d and thought they were worth it.) Yes, Mr David was well within his legal rights to call foul play, and I accept that he was not directly responsible for nuking the site, but he clearly agrees that it could and should’ve been done, and that hurt a lot of fans. Many fans, paying fans, feel that it wasn’t necessary, or even warranted, because harm was never intended. We intended it in good faith, which has not been reciprocated. You can of course say that fans’ feelings have jackshit to do with it, and legally speaking, you’d be right. But it would be so much better for all parties involved if there was a friendly relationship between fans and creator that involved a free exchange of ideas instead of this antagonistic bullshit. This is not a zero-sum game. You could turn it into one–you could even turn it negative-sum–but why would you want to?
tl;dr fans are not always out to sucker the creator and get a free ride, and said fans would be happier (and presumably more inclined to buy things) if creators didn’t kick them inna teeth, even if creators have a perfect legal right to do so. If at all possible–I would humbly beg Mr David to please have some faith in his fans: we’re not out to rob you.
Marvel Vs Image … over Obama?
Consider these two comic book covers for a moment:
Sure, they both shamelessly cash in on Barack Obama’s Inauguration. To be honest, the Savage Dragon cover seems a bit more tasteful than the Amazing Spider-Man one; I’ve not read the Savage Dragon issue, but the ‘bonus’ story in Amazing Spider-Man which justifies that cover is unexciting to say the least.
It’s not just the stories that are catching headlines, though, as a war of words seems to have erupted over who had the idea for an Obama tribute first. Apparently Erik Larsen, the owner/creator of Savage Dragon over at Image (and former Marvel penciller who was part of the original Image exodus in the 90s … and one of the few in that group not to head back to the Marvel/DC fold) is miffed that after his Obama issue was announced, Marvel announced their own and beat Larsen’s comic to the comic book stands and newsagents. While it may very well be the case that Marvel got their idea from Larsen’s Savage Dragon, it’s a shame to see these tribute issues brawled over, making the shameless cash-in even more juvenile. And the less said about the truly shameful use of Obama to try and restart the tragically hollow Rob Liefeld Youngblood series the better.
Links for August 22nd 2008
Interesting links for August 21st 2008 through August 22nd 2008:
- Monkey Magic – Karen Lury / University of Glasgow [Flow TV, 8.06] – Playful and engaging reading of the BBC Monkey-style BBC Opening for the Olympic Games: “A playful, irreverent choice then: a trailer that reverses a mythic journey (from West to East) and which pays overt homage to a cult TV series that was never – in any coherent sense – an ‘authentic’ reflection or interpretation of Chinese culture or mythology. … The animation itself reproduces certain static poses and a colour scheme that may have been inspired by Chinese illustration and Japanese Manga; but for Hewlett fans, this is recognisably a Hewlett world – a world that is both menacing and cute (and where ‘cute’ is revealingly close to its roots in the freakish world of the side-show). It is funny and slightly unsettling as Pigsy smirks provocatively or when Monkey opens his mouth to reveal his dirty and surprisingly sharp teeth.”
- Tiger Woods Responds to Fan’s YouTube Video [Micro Persuasion] – “This video response is brilliant marketing on the part of Electronic Arts and Tiger Woods. A fan posted on YouTube that it’s possible for Woods to hit a golf ball in Tiger Woods 08 while walking on water. How does Tiger react? By showing how it’s done and promoting Tiger Woods 09 in the process. It shows they listen and bring in the big guns to engage.”
- Digital futures report: the internet in Australia [CCI] – “This report provides an overview of our work, presenting results for each of the questions asked. We will also be publishing work that examines relationships between our key variables exploring, for example, differences between users with broadband access at home and those on dial-up connections and the differences that age, gender and education levels make to people’s use and experience of the internet. Analysis we have already conducted shows that broadband does make a substantial difference to peoples’ use of the internet. The internet is more highly valued by those with broadband connections and they use the internet for longer and for a greater variety of purposes. Younger people have been quick to integrate the internet into their lives, they use the internet more and particularly for entertainment.” [Full Report PDF]
- Few lives left for Second Life [The Age] – “Separately, figures released by the virtual world’s creator Linden Lab in April show there are only 12,245 active Australian Second Life users, down from highs of 16,000 towards the end of last year. … Australians appear to have lost interest in Second Life and the users still there appear to be shying away from the big corporate brands. Kim MacKenzie, a PhD student at the Queensland University of Technology, centred her honours year thesis around the business applications of Second Life. She studied the Second Life bases of 20 international brands over three months last year, including Dell, Toyota, Coca-Cola, BMW, AOL and Vodafone. “They were like ghost towns,” said MacKenzie, adding that many of the users she saw on the company islands appeared to be staff members.” (A significant rebuttal of the information and argument in this article can be found at Personalize Media.
- For YouTube videos, a ‘fair use’ boost [News.com] – “Copyright owners, such as NBC Universal, Warner Bros., and Viacom, were put on notice Wednesday when U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled that they must not order video be removed from Web sites indiscriminately. Before taking action against a clip, copyright owners, must form a “good-faith belief ” that a video is infringing, according to Corynne McSherry, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “
- Poor earning virtual gaming gold [BBC NEWS | Technology] – “Nearly half a million people are employed in developing countries earning virtual goods in online games to sell to players, a study has found. Research by Manchester University shows that the practice, known as gold-farming, is growing rapidly. Researchers say the industry, which is largely based in China, currently employs about 400,000 young people who earn £80 per month on average.” (Good article, but really, “playbourers”?)
- Up, Up, and Away? Separating Fact from Fiction in the Comic Book Business [Alisa Perren / Georgia State University – Flow TV 8.06] – A timely look at the relationship between comic book sales and the blockbuster movies they’ve been driving so successfully this year: “Myth #1: Comic-Con is all about comics. From its inception in 1970 well into the 1990s, this was largely the case. However, in recent years, the Hollywood studios increasingly have focused their energies on using the annual event as a means of promoting upcoming films and television programs. … Myth #2: Since movies based on comics are all the rage, comic books must be selling like crazy.”
- iTunes blocked in China after protest stunt [WA Today] – “Access to Apple’s online iTunes Store has been blocked in China after it emerged that Olympic athletes have been downloading and possibly listening to a pro-Tibetan music album in a subtle act of protest against China’s rule over the province. The album, called Songs for Tibet, was produced by an a group called The Art of Peace Foundation, and features 20 tracks from well-known singers and songwriters including Sting, Moby, Suzanne Vega and Alanis Morissette. It was released as a download on the iTunes Store on August 5 – three days before the start of the Olympics – with the physical CD launched on Tuesday this week. The Foundation provided free downloads of the album to Olympic athletes, urging them to play the songs on their iPods during the Games as a show of support.”
Links for July 18th 2008
Interesting links for July 17th 2008 through July 18th 2008:
- Michelle Obama’s blog [BlogHer] – In a canny move, Michelle Obama has begun blogging from the campaign trail. It’ll help create her own voice which, at least on the other side of the world, really hasn’t been heard yet.
- Watchmen (2009) [Apple – Trailer] – The Dark Knight has raised the bar for graphic novel adaptations, but the trailer for Watchmen looks pretty damn amazing (visually). Let’s just hope the film turns out as dark and bleak as it should. The trailer does make everything perhaps a little too crisp (Watchmen is nothing if not gritty), but I thought the CGI New York with the Twin Towers in the background looked excellent.
- Rick Trooper [YouTube] – What happens when Dark Vader goes Rickrolling? [Background here.]
A few months ago I wrote about my disappointment with a statuette of Mary-Jane Watson from the Spider-Man comics which showed her basically washing Peter Parker’s Spider-Suit whilst standing in an overly provocative pose. There was substantial community dismay at this overtly objectifying piece (especially since MJ has, at times, been one of the stronger women in the Spider-Man franchise). It seems this dismay has had little sway, evinced by this new “limited-edition Witchblade Schoolgirl” piece hitting the shelves:
I could rant further, but I think this response over at Occasional Superheroine is probably the most apt one.
Of course, the comic book industry (or the associated model market) are far from alone in extremely problematic and sexist representations as this Boing Boing post on hyper-sexualized advertising reminds us.
Mary-Jane Watson … Likes to Wash Peter’s Spider-suit?!?
Marvel’s statues folk have really out-done themselves with these uber-sexist models of Mary-Jane:
As one would rightly imagine, there is considerable disappointment and outrage about this image. While comic books have never exact been modest in their representation of women (or men), this particular statue is ridiculously misogynistic and patronising, even by the standards of early comic books, let alone the twenty-first century. Nor, sadly, is this a unique case, evinced by more examples in ArcanaJ’s “Comics Industry Bullsh*t” Flickr set.
While such an image is clearly sexist, whatever the context, it’s doubly disappointing to see Mary-Jane, who has always been at least a strong, active figure in the comic books, reduced to the sexed-up laundry lady. The latest film, I guess, really doesn’t do much to argue with such a representation – there were moments, there, but MJ was a sadly under-developed character in Spider-Man 3. However, given the huge number of people, and especially kids, looking to find their heroes in comic-books and the films they inspire, this, and similarly images, really need to scrubbed out.
In a different way, Nancy Lorenz replies even more forcefully (and graphically) by showing how ridiculous Spider-Man would look in this pose!
[Via Falling Apart In Half Time]
Update (18 May, 9.45am): Boing Boing links to a post by artist Tom Hodges, a friend of Adam Hughes (who designed the MJ statue). Hodges post includes these comments:
Now I may be wrong, but ANYONE who complains about this piece obvious does NOT read Superhero comics. If you did, I’d consider you a hypocrite. I enjoy the Indie stuff (SiP and Lenore) but without Spider-man, X-Men and other comics, they wouldn’t exist. Do you think Terry Moore is offended by this piece? I HIGHLY doubt it!
That’s probably a fair point; most indie comics came into being on the back of the success of the superheroes comics (and funnies) in establishing comic books as a recognisable form of entertainment and (although more controversially, even today) art. Also, I think Hodges is right in that this statue is not an outlier, but rather representative of a large part of the way Marvel, DC, and many independent comic books, represent women and men. I did read superhero comics a fair bit when I was younger and occasionally pick up stuff at the moment (I enjoyed parts of Marvel’s Civil War and have been consistently impressed by the current Justice mini-series by Alex Ross et al). That said, I think that what this statue represents is the worst aspects of this tradition; I don’t think Adam Hughes should bare the blame for the conventions of much of the art in the superhero genre, but I do think his representation lacked subtlety enough to crystallize the sexist nature of many comic books, even today.
Hodges also suggests this statue may be ironic – pointing out that Mary-Jane in the comics is a far more successful supermodel. Even if that was the intention, I fear it’ll be lost on the majority of people who purchased the statue.
Having dedicated the final chapter of my doctoral thesis to examining the first two Spider-Man films as an exemplar of Artificial Culture, I really had to buy and watch the new Spider-Man 2.1 DVD, despite my constant annoyance at how these just-before-the-sequel extended edition DVD releases tend to disappoint. The 2.1 DVD set is advertised as having a new ‘Extended Cut’ of Spider-Man 2 with eight minutes new footage, while the second disc sports a bunch of ‘all-knew’ features. Sadly, the features on the extras DVD really don’t justify the creation of an disc. The ‘sneak peak’ and trailer for Spider-Man 3 don’t show anything not already floating around the legitimate parts of the internet, while the ‘VFX Breakdown’ is quite a laborious walk-through of the meshing of live-action, miniature and digital effects. I guess it’s hard to make these technical mini-docos all that interesting, but the Lord of the Rings DVDs did show it’s possible! I have the feeling VFX piece was shot for the original Spider-Man 2 DVD but cut since they’re just really dull.
Of more interest, the eight minutes of extra footage do change the tone of the film in important places. There’s a lot of extra character development for Harry and Mary-Jane; Harry’s friendship is reinforced in an extended version of Peter’s birthday party, while a new sequence between Mary-Jane and her friend highlights the fact that MJ is settling in her marriage rather than following her true love. Also, probably of more interest to the target audience, there are additional, CGI-heavy, shots added into Spider-Man’s fight sequences with Doctor Octopus. However, apart from some extra punches and scrapes, these don’t add anything notable to the story. Indeed, it’s worth pointing out this extended version isn’t labeled a ‘Director’s Cut’ as I suspect Rami was quite happy with the theatre-released version.
However, just when I thought the DVD was really quite a waste of money, I found myself laughing out loud at one unexpected sequence in which J Jonah Jameson “celebrates” Spider-Man’s retirement and The Bugle’s acquisition of the Spider-suit in an entirely unexpected but unforgettably funny way! Of course, the J Jonah Jameson clip is on YouTube: Be warned, though, this scene is much funnier in the context of the film. Forewarned, then, watching this clip by itself may prove less funny …
Since you’re no doubt just watched the clip anyway, I’d recommend against buying 2.1 – there’s nothing more to see.