In fairly short order, Slashdot reported that the Swedish bittorrent tracker The Pirate Bay was shut down, The Pirate Bay was back up, and someone hacked the website of the Swedish police, which makes me wonder if Captain Jack Sparrow has gone digital.
Why do we care? The Pirate Bay is basically an index to files, including comics downloads, that are hosted on other sites. Here’s an explanation from its “About” page:
Only torrent files are saved at the server. That means no copyrighted and/or illegal material are stored by us. It is therefore not possible to hold the people behind The Pirate Bay responsible for the material that is being spread using the tracker. Any complaints from copyright and/or lobby organizations will be ridiculed and published at the site.
And they make for entertaining reading. The folks behind TPB are an anti-copyright group who have attracted some attention in Sweden, where the site is hosted. For them it’s a political issue. And comics are a small part of this game; it’s the MPAA that seems to be pushing a lot of the copyright enforcement lately.
The Los Angeles Times took a look at comics piracy lately, and although the story wasn’t about manga, many familiar arguments came up, with publishers saying their people needed to be paid and that illegal downloads threaten the smaller books, and fans saying they wanted to sample the goods before buying. It’s worth reading together with A. David Lewis’s post on the topic at Loose Pages, where he points out that he has little choice but to download if he wants to read a comic that is out of print. The TPB raid led to an increasingly technical discussion of comics downloads at The Engine.
One point being made at these venues is that the comics companies are missing out by not making comics available digitally. That depends on whether people are downloading comics for convenience or to get something for free. If it’s the latter, there’s not much anyone can do. If it’s the former, publishers might do well to offer the comic online for a small fee, a model that has worked for Netcomics in Korea and that they are trying here. Downloads are a riskier business, but the iTunes model suggests that people will pay a small fee to avoid the hassles of illegal downloads, and for out-of-print books the overhead would be low. Whether it catches on will depend on technology and on the ratio of cheapskates to true believers. But a cheap, convenient download would certainly cut into the pirates’ take, and that might be a more effective weapon than police raids. Aar.