An open letter to Peter David
Look, I'm really sorry I got angry about this. I'll stand by everything I said, but I put it intemperately. I was angry because something I value was damaged. Maybe you could say the same.
The purpose of the internet is to facilitate communication; to make it possible, to make it easier, and to make it better. Perhaps we did not use the internet correctly.
That said, let's talk about the internet.
The internet is probably here to stay; to put it another way; any interruption would be memorable and probably tragic.
The "internet-for-free" is nearly-as-certainly here to stay. Everything you can possibly imagine will continue to be on the internet for free. There are good practical reasons for this, but here's the philosophical one:
The internet is just about the only thing in the world that gains value the more people use it. Unlike food or land or printed comic books, the internet is never diminished by another person consuming it. Rather, it gets bigger, gets more interesting. Gains value.
The internet will probably expand until it reaches every person on earth, and gives them instant access to any media or information they want. This is not science fiction; this is almost here.
Will it be free?
It is possible to implement a pay structure, but it seems impractical and unlikely to me. The internet gains value through participation. Pay limits participation. Since, in the long run, a pay internet will have fewer users, a pay internet will probably be less valuable than a free internet. The only way it could defeat a free internet would be through rigorous gatekeeping and jealous guarding of content.
It troubles me when people say that you do not understand the Internet. I don't think that's a logical or useful thing to say; you are a modern writer and intellectual, of course you understand the internet. Everyone understands the internet. One types words, they appear. Also music and pictures of kittens.
What they mean to say is that they don't think you understand the internet culture.
Maybe you don't understand the internet culture the way that I do. Some of the things you have written, like interpreting DIAF as anything other than a different way of saying >:[ or chastising people based on age or pseudonym, make me wonder.
So I ask you, how do you feel about that statement? Do you think you "understand" the internet culture?
What do you think the internet is? What do you think it's for?
How would you like to use it?
Let's talk about Star Trek.
When I talk about the Future, I see three distinct Futures:
The 1984 Future
The Philip K. Dick Short Story Future
The Star Trek Future
The Star Trek Future is the one I'm steering towards. It's the one I want. I assume most other people agree.
The 1984 Future maybe comes close some times but they never seem to get it started. It still might happen, but I think the odds are against it. This is the world in which entrenched entities squash anything that threatens them the least bit, and progress cannot help us because progress has been stamped out.
The PKD Future is my cute way of saying "nuclear wasteland of horrible mutants and madness." Nobody wins.
The Star Trek Future is no war, no hate, no racism, no sexism, no money, those citizens who so choose work to advance humanity (and all forms of life) in whichsoever direction they like and those who do not choose are, we assume, left alone to have endless holodeck orgies and wear transporter-beam beer hats that teleport alcohol directly into their bloodstream. Everybody does anything they want to, nobody gets hurt.
I want that future, or at least a decent approximation. Is it possible?
How the heck should I know?
But I definitely want that one.
Which future does the Internet belong to? The Star Trek future, of course. In Star Trek you say, computer play this song and it plays that song. They don't charge you anything for it. Kirk can watch any movie, read any book, hear any song.
The internet is nothing less than machine-assisted telepathy. If I want to find out what some guy in Guinea-Bissou thinks about their President being assassinated by their military last week, I can ask him. If I want to find out what some teenager in Norway is playing on a Casio keyboard, I can find out. If I want to know how to cook kolaches and I only speak Urdu, I will learn how less than a minute from now.
And when they have Iphones down to earpiece size with projector screens, then you're really gonna see something.
Do you see why this future is desirable? Do you see why this future is something that I wish to protect, and nurture, and if possible get to by next Tuesday? There are three directions, that's the good one, let's go! Any step that way is a step in the right direction.
What do you think?
As to the actual incident.
Obviously you know that your comics, like all comics, are on the internet in a zillion different places, some of them in other countries who don't care about American copyright law. That has not changed but that's not even what this is about.
Scans_daily was expressly not a place to get full copies of your comics, but very much a place for discussion of fractional parts of a work. Your argument seems to be that we discussed too much.
You could say that you're vigorously prosecuting your rights but surely you see that you have different rights here than we do. Not in theory, no; in theory they are the same. They are different in application. And the law is all about application.
The interesting thing here is that your work has crowded our work out. After all, we added content to the comics medium. We served as a review and analysis forum, and produced a nontrivial amount of quality work. Now five years of collective efforts have been lost to lawyers and law, which chooses to protect your (and your community's) interests over ours. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I don't think anyone could disagree that's what happened. Because our work contained some of your work, our work could not be suffered to exist.
And here's the difference between me and you (I'll use myself example, though I don't think this discussion is about me, and I'm sorry if it ever came across that way. My point was always that it was not about you, and it was certainly not about me, it was about a community of which I used myself as an example):
I cannot vigorously prosecute people who repost my work (and I don't mean my reviews, I mean my actual original creative artwork). Because I am not an established creator with the Big Two.
I can't hire a lawyer. I can't afford one. I sure don't have Marvel's legal department on call. Even if I did sue somebody and make it stick, there would be one instant reaction; people would stop reading my comics. If my comics were not on the internet, people wouldn't read them much. That's a fact.
So the law does not apply equally here. I can't do what you just did. And I hope you see why I frame this as a conflict between New Media and Old Media; because the law is very one-sided here. It works for you but it does not work for me.
To go back to the larger issue, fractional use of your work has caused a very substantial body of comics knowledge and content to disappear. Would it be a stretch to compare the end of scans_daily to the destruction of a well-read magazine?
Mister David, do you and I need to make a living? Heck yeah we need to make a living.
But can we do this in the face of a changing technology?
When I look at what's coming, five or ten years down the line, I think the internet will be free and creators will make their money off of selling print copies to niche markets, doing events (like conventions, speeches, signings, and live art shows), selling one-of-a-kind works, t-shirts and merchandise, and commissions. I don't know things are going to be "as good." It doesn't seem to me that they were ever that good, and I hope things may be a little "better." I suspect it will be a little better. But the idea of trying to "control" my work on the internet, when there are countries that don't even care about copyright laws, seems completely impossible to me, and not even desirable. I don't think I will ever make money along the old paradigm. I suspect, in a few years, you might not either.
Copyright and royalties: are you really planning to try to change the fundamental philosophy of the internet in order to make a little more money? I can't imagine you do. Let me put it to you in sentimental terms -- would you hold back Star Trek even one year to make an extra buck?
Let's put it another way; consider this statement:
"They have invented a machine that allows any human being alive to hear any song, watch any movie, or read any book, for free, instantly."
What reason can you think of that is good enough to destroy this machine?
Now, honestly, Mister David. You helped break our community. It was not self-contained like your comics work. It was a social organization that has been badly disrupted. And your words after were anything but understanding.
I think it is very, very appropriate to ask you for an apology. Or at least ask you to not run around yelling about how we deserved to have our work destroyed by somebody we loved and respected.
I mean, these are comic book fans. These are people, myself included, who you have trained over a period of decades to understand you, to listen to you and to care what you talk about. Why are you after us?
The miller has every right to look out the window and say, "Hey Don Quixote; why my windmill?" This is our creation, our great work of art. The biggest and best in human history. When you deal with "internet culture" you are dealing with an international consortium of the best-educated people this world has ever seen. We want you to be part of this. I believe that we would like to invite you to join us.
I am trying to appeal to you sentimentally, and philosophically. This is not about a single instant or a single incident; this is the larger picture, this is about the internet itself. Wouldn't you like to be part of this?
Maybe it's naive, but maybe it's not too late for some good to come out of this thing. You yourself said that you wish you'd seen some of the posts on s_d before they were taken down. In scans_daily you are dealing with a group of people who would love to forgive you and invite you into the community. We'd like to hear what you think. We'd love it if you posted old comics you loved and talked about why you loved them. We want to hear what you think! That's why we talk about your work; because it's good!
Yeah, you have to take your lumps, and yeah, there are trolls who will never stop bugging you. And the more one argues, the more people argue back -- this is the nature of the internet. But, like I said, this is a group of people that you have painstakingly taught to pay attention to you. I bet it wouldn't take long before both sides found all was forgiven.
I think this whole thing can turn out well if we look at the bigger picture.
Gillian Welch's song "Everything is Free" addresses this exact situation. I would also like to recommend Bruce Sterling's excellent short story Maneki Neko as a plausible glimpse of where this might be going.