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Prepare To Be Adapted: Pirates Of The Web

Welcome again to another exciting & edu-taining installment of “Prepare To Be Adapted.” The topic this time is pirating. Arrrrgh! OK, not exactly that kind of pirating. Im talking about online piracy. Online piracy has run rampant throughout the Web for years. Downloading and sharing music, movies, television shows, books, and comic books has continued […]

Welcome again to another exciting & edu-taining installment of “Prepare To Be Adapted.”

The topic this time is pirating. Arrrrgh! OK, not exactly that kind of pirating. Im talking about online piracy.

Online piracy has run rampant throughout the Web for years. Downloading and sharing music, movies, television shows, books, and comic books has continued despite the efforts by the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America. This fall, there were a large number of leaked pilots on the Web. “Bionic Woman,” “Pushing Daisies,” “Reaper,” “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” “Chuck,” “Cavemen” and more are all pilots that were leaked this fall before airing on television. Heck, just recently there were leaked copies of “Battlestar Galacticas” “Razor” and “Stargate SG-1s” “Ark of Truth” weeks or months before their planned release.

The last on that list of pirated media is comic books. Few really think about comic book pirating, the press is always talking about movies and music. But yes, illegal comic book downloads have been going on for years, mostly unchallenged by publishers. But recently, things have changed.

The comic book torrent tracking site Z-CultFM has been one of the most popular, claimed by some to have a 70,000 plus viewership, and has recently become a target of Marvel, DC, and Top Cow comic book publishers. After Z-CultFM received legal papers, they made some posturing, but later caved in and are now removing all torrents from these three publishers. Needless to say, without the Big Two books, Z-CultFM has lost a gigantic list of titles. They almost decided to close the site, but have chosen to stick around for a while.

What prompted these publishers to take legal action now? Well, Marvel Comics recently launched its new Digital Comics Unlimited Web site. The site offers more than 2,500 items, with more to come, using a monthly and yearly subscription service. DC isnt currently offering a similar program, they just decided to join in.

I havent heard of any other sites being targeted, well, except for the lesser known UK torrent tracker site ComicSearch. They tried posting an open letter to Marvel Comics about their legal action against Z-CultFM. All it really did was get them on Marvels radar and now they are removing Marvel torrents from their site, too.

There have been rumors of the Big Two keeping their eyes on other torrent trackers, but so far there hasnt been any other major legal action. Or at least, none that Ive heard of.

Comic book readers have had mixed reactions to these legal actions. The corporations feel that the torrent trackers are stealing from them, taking away sales in their traditional distribution and the untapped digital distribution. Meanwhile, some readers argue: The downloads are helping introduce new readers, they help readers who have no local comic book stores, and that the only way to keep up with all of these crazy crossovers is to supplement with downloads, etc.

Im not going to argue the legality of it. It may not be as clear with comic books (as some argue), because they are scanned copies of a different format unlike straight-up digital copies of movies or music. Instead Im going to talk about what some companies are doing to tap into this new media and their views on piracy, plus Im going to say what I think they should do.

ACT II

In the last year we have seen a number of new online initiatives by studios. More programming is being offered on Apples iTunes and Amazon Unbox. Fox is even planning to give free episodes on iTunes that will expire after 14 days. Some studios are teaming up with new online distribution sites like Joost and Hulu. Some, like NBC, have decided to distribute on their own with sites like NBC Direct, with free episodes (with embedded ads) that expire after seven days.

There are music groups like Radiohead who promoted their album In Rainbows as a pay-as-you-like digital download for a limited time, before releasing the album through a traditional CD format. This plan has created a huge amount of buzz and propelled them to the number one spot with many of the critics.

There are book publishers like Baen Books that offer many of their titles for free in electronic format. Their philosophy: Losses any author suffers from piracy are almost certainly offset by the additional publicity which, in practice, any kind of free copies of a book usually engender.

Recently, we have had new original Webisodes hitting the Web. Damian Kindlers excellent “Sanctuary” and other lower budget series like “The House Between.” But even Kindler admitted during my interview with him that he feels that piracy appears to have taken away a large amount of potential profits for his series and is wondering whether he will be forced to add Digital Rights Management.

ACT III

So, what should someone do to stop piracy?

First off, there will always be piracy on some level. Even Marvel Comicsdigital downloads can be copied with a little know-how. There will need to be major leaps in technology to significantly stop online piracy.

I can think of 4 steps that should be taken:

1. Offer what these potential consumers are wanting. Digital high-quality versions of what they want, offered at a reasonable price and that can be conveniently downloaded for collection. The big argument for pro-downloaders for comic book files is that most publishers arent offering them and those that are, well, not as good of quality as the illegal versions and are not designed to be downloaded. Plus, offer it in all available countries as close together as possible. That way someone in one country isnt tempted to download their favorite shows season premiere that aired weeks earlier in another country.

2. Explore new ways to profit from this new media via new ad and sale models that are hopefully not too annoying. These should be affordable, a price that consumers feel is fair. Plus, make sure that you are fairly sharing the profits with the writers and other creators.

3. Once you have offered something that is of superior quality than what is being pirated, then take steps to make it difficult to easily distribute the files. This is the tricky part; you have to balance between security and convenience. If you make it too inconvenient, then piracy will look tempting again. But dont worry, that is what Step 4 is for.

4. OK, you are now offering a superior digital version of your product. You have taken steps to make it difficult to copy and distribute. Now you can take legal actions against torrent sites with the understanding that it is best to target the sites, not the fans. Dont worry about each individual. That is too time consuming and will only anger fans. Realize that taking on every site is also unrealistic. Instead write these illegal downloads off as promotional (which is what studios call their free streaming videos anyway) and as individuals that would most likely never have bought your product anyway.

Well, at least that is the idea. I have other much more specific ideas, but I think Ive rambled on far too long this time. Please feel free to contact me with your ideas or opinions on online piracy and what companies should be doing.

But you know what the ironic thing is? Depending on how you look at it, the biggest pirates on the Web are : (drumroll) : the networks. Yup, as the writer strike has pointed out, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are against paying writers for new media versions of their work. As Airlock Alpha reported earlier in regards to “Battlestar Galacticas” Webisodes, in some cases they dont even want to give the writers credit. They argue that new media models like downloads and streaming video are just promotional tools. Hmm : I think I heard that before. Many pirates argue that their illegal downloads help promote the items and it actually helps in official viewership.

Even Marvel Comics is goofing up in this area. Their Digital Comics Unlimited currently has no royalty plan for creators.

Marvel publisher Dan Buckley said that “digital comics will become a part of our incentives package in the near future. We are at present discussing the calculations and implementation of this package. It may take several months to implement. However, the first thing we need to do is make sure that the offering is profitable.

FADE TO BLACK

Well, that was a long talk and I feel like I only scratched the surface on this hot button topic. I want to stress that this columns “episode” is meant to merely explore the topic, not try to pick a side.

So, here is my call out to all of you. Tell me what you think of piracy. Tell me what you think companies should be doing to take advantage of the Internet. Tell me of any great web programs out there that I didnt mention.

But : before I exit, I have to do a quick shout out on other Prepare To Be Adapted topics.

You can check out the Joker-filled “Dark Knight” trailer by clicking here and the animated “Justice League: The New Frontier” trailer on LiveVideo by clicking here.

Actress Emily Rossum talked briefly on her MySpace blog about her training for the upcoming Chow Yun Fat adaptation of Dragonball Z.

In prep for the film I’ve been training very hard, learning how to fight, fire a gun, weapons training and even some martial arts. It’s fun to play such a different character when I am such a pacifist in real life, she wrote.

If all the rumors are true for the upcoming live-action “G.I. Joe” movie adaptation, then we have Ray Park (“The X-Men”) as Snake-Eyes, Rachel Nichols (“Alias”) as Shana “Scarlett” O’Hara, Sienna Miller (“Stardust”) as the Baroness, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“Lost”) as Heavy Duty, and Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow. It is also rumored that music composer Alan Silvestri (“Beowulf,” “Van Helsing,” “Back to the Future”) has signed on to score. I like many of the actors cast and I really like Silvestris work. But Im really thrilled to learn that this version of G.I. Joe : I mean the international task force G.I.J.O.E. (Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity) is actually going to be based in New York now instead of Brussels, as previously reported. I have no problem making them international, but basing something that was once called A Real American Hero in Brussels was going a little too far.

Well, the writers strike continues with no end in site. According to Deadline Hollywood Daily, 127 writers with pilots pending wrote a letter asking the AMPTP to get negotiations started again.

That is it for this installment. I hope you enjoyed this wacky ride into piracy and adaptations. Please return for the next thrilling installment.

Until then : Marx out.

Marx Pyle is a staff writer for Airlock Alpha writing out of Vancouver, B.C. He can be reached at mpyle@airlockalpha.com.

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