Pirates Ahoy

November 29th, 2010 | Posted in General

I have a Google alert set up on my computer so I get a daily e-mail with links to any blog posts or web sites that mention “MAD Magazine“. Usually this results in several links a day where someone mentions MAD either in passing as part of some other subject, uses it as an example of satire or parody or says something to the effect of “I used to read MAD as a kid and loved it. Do they still publish MAD?”

More and more these days, though, I get links to sites that are hosting illegally scanned copies of MAD, available for equally illegal downloading. The name of the offending uploader is usually some stupid internet nom de plume like “doppleganger666” or “iRocker”, and the offending posts are usually followed by several replies saying “Thanks for uploading this, I love MAD!”

I don’t know which is worse, the asshole who uploaded the pirate copy in the first place or the asshole who claims to love MAD but steals the issue instead of paying for it to support the magazine. Actually I think it’s definitely the latter… at least the original thief has the poor excuse that he likely knows what he is doing is wrong, whereas the person downloading it is part of the increasingly prevalent “iMe” generation who believes all things are free for the taking and literally sees nothing wrong with what he or she is doing since it’s “on the internet” and therefore “free”. Would these same people think it’s okay to tuck a copy under their coat at the local news stand and walk away with it? Probably not, but the scary thing is that these people don’t see these as equivalent acts.

Or, is the real culprit those creators who accept this kind of theft as “the future” and we other creators who expect to earn a living from our work should get with the 21st century?

Cartoonist and illustrator Colleen Doran wrote an excellent article about this subject for The Hill. Go and read it, as it makes many excellent points.

The internet is the equivalent of a world wide, 24 hour guy in a trenchcoat on the street corner selling pirated copies of DVD movies… and everything else. The difference is that guy in the trenchcoat had to schelp himself out to the corner, could only sell a handful of pirated stuff a day, and had to scamper off when the squad car drove by. Internet pirates upload their illegal wares in between “Gears of War” sessions and only get stopped when mommy yells at them to go to bed. Worse yet, they don’t even have the poor excuse of selling it… they are just giving it away. There is a developing culture of internet thievery where the thieves and those who download their stuff somehow feel entitled to it… and that is only slightly less disturbing than the resignation far too many creators seem to be resorting to.

Can internet piracy be stopped? Probably not entirely, but as the global world continues to shrink eventually a cyber-version of the Berne convention should crop up, with civilized nations agreeing to prosecute the people that HOST these illegal uploads. After all, wouldn’t the owners of some mall be held accountable if they allowed someone to set up a store fencing stolen goods? Going after the hosts is really the only way to slow piracy down, and it will take a true international effort to do it.

The other way to combat piracy is to simply offer consumers a legitimate and relatively inexpensive way to buy what they want legally. Despite the prevalence of music “sharing’ sites and bit torrent downloads of movies, legitimate digital downloads of music reached well over $4 billion in 2009. That means that consumers were still willing to spend $4 billion dollars on stuff they could have probably gotten for free if they wanted to go that route. I guess that means there are still some honest people in the world who understand that real people create these works and in order to keep them creating they need to earn a living from it.

While I don’t think there is any excuse for copying the creative works of others and then giving it away for free, I do not believe that internet piracy will kill the ability for creative professionals to make a living from their work. Good work will still sell in some form or fashion to those who understand what good work is and want to continue to support its creation… that form may be changing from the printed page to digital, but the creation of original and outstanding content is still something valuable enough that a way will be figured out to support those who do the creating.


  1. Poul-Henning Kamp says:

    I am not going to defend pirates in any way, but do bear in mind that a lot of the non-US world consists of cultural islands, many of which are to small for the various content-mega-vendors to bother providing a distribution channel.

    Let me point you to MAD’s subscription page for a random non-NA country: Twice the price, unspecified delivery times, likely 8-10 weeks.

    You probably have no idea what an improvement Amazon was for such cultural islanders.

    Before Amazon, getting a non-mainstream english book for me, meant paying twice or thrice the price and waiting 4-10 weeks, while my local bookshop tried to convince somebody in the country of origin to mail them a single copy.

    The music industry, due to their insane greed, totally missed the digital boat, almost themselves causing Napster to happen and eventually let Apple eat their cake with iTunes, because they still couldn’t get a grip

    As you point out, itunes have more than proven that people _are_ happy to pay for content, if they can do so in a sane way and at a reasonable price.

    TV-shows, caught the drift a lot faster than the music industry, and most now have some kind of digital outlet for people outside their mainstream distribution channels. Some of them understand that forcing US commercials on people on different continents hurts their image, most don’t.

    The film industry is still DVD-region-fixated, and consequently a lot of the DVD piracy in the minor cultural islands is about getting hold of the movies before the Film companies get around to releasing them to the less fashionable outher reaches of the civilization.

    In summary: If you don’t make your desirable content available through a legal and convenient channel, people will pirate it.

    So for MAD: is there, or is there not a world-wide digital distribution channel ?

    If no: Then why do you think all your Elbonian readers are forced to pirate the magazine ?

    If yes: Then all piracy is by definition bad, but likely a very minor problem volume wise.

    So, where *is* that digital subscription to MAD ?


    • Tom says:

      I couldn’t agree more. The market is now global, and as you say providing consumers the ability to get content easily and inexpensively is the key to opening up those markets. It’s hard to say that readers from “Elbonia” who download pirated versions of MAD are hurting the sales of the magazine because they can’t easily (or at all) get an actual copy even if they are very willing to pay for it. That is the fault of the publishers for not having their content available to consumers willing to buy it.

      I have no idea when the digital version of MAD will happen, but there are many rumors in MAD-ville about it being a priority.

  2. George Cook says:

    I haven’t heard of any sites that have pirated copies of Mad, but I haven’t bothered to look either. The only copies of Mad that I have right now I got either from the bookstore, yard sales, or used copies from the used book store or comic shop when they have had one or two on rare occasions. I admit, I have not bought one in a while, but I still glance at them at the bookstore now and then just to see whats new.

    I may be old fashioned in that way, but when I want a book I don’t want a digital copy, I want something I can carry around and pick up now and then and know how many times I have looked at it by way of wrinkled pages and the occasion rip… I have had a few conversations with friends talking about digital books and things like that Kindle stuff, and nobody i have talked to have even given a thought to buying any of that stuff because they like the thought of reading a book, not a screen.

  3. Lash LeRoux says:

    Fantastic post, Tom. Very well written, reasoned and explained. Of course, your views on this issue should be little more than common sense to anyone who believes in true freedom and the individuals’ rights to their labor and property. It would also seem that the general consensus among most cartoonists and illustrators is in agreement in this regard. Consequently, I am constantly amazed by the number of artists I encounter who do not apply these same conservative principles to other issues. I do not wish to hijack your post and digress into an overtly political discussion, so I’ll just offer one example to illustrate my point: Many artists and illustrators (or, for that matter, people in general) would agree wholeheartedly with the views you just shared on piracy and its subsequent copyright infringement. However, they would argue that a service like healthcare should be a right; despite the fact that it is a service provided by individuals who have invested many years of study and sacrifice in order to ply their trade. While many artists view the fruits of their own labor, i.e. their artwork, as their personal property, they maintain that the fruits of someone else’s labor (medical services in our healthcare example) as something they have a right to. I would love to hear your personal thoughts on this dichotomy. If, however, you prefer that your blog remain apolitical and therefore you wish to not answer, I fully understand and apologize for diverting the discussion.

  4. Al Wright Zreeserved says:

    But copyright infringement and mandatory health care are very weak analogies for each other.

    • Tom says:

      I have to agree I am having a hard time seeing the correlation between copyright theft and the health care reforms.

      That said I do try to leave this blog apolitical as much as I can, because there are three things that cannot be discussed civilly for long on the internet: politics, religion and Macs vs. PCs. I leave those topics for blogs and discussion boards for which they are the subject.

      • Lash LeRoux says:

        Out of respect for Tom’s wishes, I will refrain from attempting to take the debate further. However, I would like to clarify my previous analogy since it has been questioned. I simply see the correlation as this: Any artwork you create is a product of your labor; thereby becoming your property. Healthcare services are a product of the labor of the healthcare provider. As a result, I see little difference between someone purchasing a piece of artwork and then freely giving copies to others, and the government instigating a mandatory health care system that only compensates for a percentage of every dollar charged for services. Both cases result in undercutting the fair market value of someone’s labor.

        Rather than discussing this further on Tom’s blog, however, here is my e-mail address (LashWCW@aol.com) if anyone wishes to pursue the debate. If not, that’s just as well, too. Tom, you have my apologies and pledge to never again bring up politics on your blog again. Unless you want to talk about old “Hogan’s Heroes” re-runs, of course!

        • Al Wright Zreeserved says:

          But the government has no vested interest in ensuring that all citizens get a Tom Richmond drawing. (Thereby proving that democracy is a sham!)

          Also, the “correlation” between a 2-page MAD spread and a chest X-ray is so broadly vague as to be functionally useless. Is the “creation” of a house that is no longer on fire the tangible “product” of the fireman’s free market labor?

  5. Tome says:

    I think the first post eloquently went directly to the point.Most content should be directed at a world wide audience in the same manner as it’s done in the States and Europe.I live in Nigeria and taking MAD as an example my subscription is actually routed through my brother in Aberdeen who then sends it to me.Sounds absurd but thats the choice i had to take to avoid getting 3/4 issues behind.


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