question of the day: Is it better to be pirated than to be forgotten?

This question was prompted by an issue related to comics, but I think it applies equally well to TV and films (as well as music, books, and other creative output).

It started when a fan made available via Torrent Pickle #1 to 10, a collection of out-of-print comics by New Zealand writer and artist Dylan Horrocks. And then Horrocks checked in at the Torrent forum to say this:

A quick note of thanks to the uploader from me, Dylan Horrocks. These comics are long out of print now, and quite hard to find, and I’m thrilled to have them made more available to people – and appreciate all the trouble someone went to in scanning and packaging them.

Thanks again – and don’t forget to seed! ;)

Now, if the original print publisher, Black Eye, were still in operation — Horrocks says it has shut down — they might have some objection to a sharable electronic version of their work floating around the Net. But that’s the point: Black Eye is not around, and there’s probably no one who could authorize either a new print edition or a new electronic edition. And so Horrocks’ work remained in limbo until a fan took it into his own hands to do some scanning and uploading. At Horrocks’ own site, he entitles a post about the upload “Sharing is caring”… but he does also note that there are ways that those who have gotten his work for free can contribute financially toward his creative well-being, as by leaving some dough in his tip jar or by buying other work of his that is in print.

Is it better to be pirated than to be forgotten?

I’m not even sure if we should technically be calling something like this “piracy,” though I’m not sure what a better term would be — “sharing” doesn’t quite cover it, either. (Suggests in comments are welcome!) And I think it certainly is better to have work available for audiences to enjoy: it can only be a net positive when, say, a comic or a song goes from no one being able to consume it (or only the very few someones who happen to have physical copies) to opening up, potentially, whole new audiences.

This is a corollary to the issue surrounding the “piracy” of The Hurt Locker I wrote about back in the spring. It’s not so much about information wanting to free in the sense of free-of-charge — though I know some people do feel that way — but free as in available. Copyright law has become far too severe, and is no longer about ensuring that individual artists are able to earn a living from their art, but about creating monopolies on creative rights that enrich only giant corporations. Something like what the Pickle “pirate” did approximates what early copyright law intended to do: give creators a limited license to earn from their creations, which would then be turned loose into the public domain.

Now, if only people had, hidden away in their attics, pristine copies of all the great old movies and TV shows that still aren’t available on DVD because of ridiculous holdups over rights and permissions…

What do you think?

(h/t: I stole the framing of today’s QOTD from Wis[s]e Words, where I learned of all this.)

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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