More than just the publishers end up getting hurt.
Piracy is a common practice in all sorts of entertainment mediums and the comic book industry isn’t untouched by it.
Mike Feehan is a freelance comic book artist based in Newfoundland and best known for his artwork on DC Comics’ Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles miniseries.
“A lot of [comic creators] are freelancers and they depend on their books making sales to get more work,” said Feehan. “If their books are being pirated and that’s not reflected in the sales, then that affects them getting future books.”
“When you’re pirating comics, you’re actually taking that money away from creators.”
Comics were once an exclusively physical media. Pirates were keen on scanning the pages of the comics they bought at their local store before releasing full issues online for the public, free of charge.
Even Marvel and DC Comics, the two biggest comic publishers in the world, aren’t immune to piracy.
As a freelancer, Feehan has been fortunate with the royalties that he receives from DC after Snagglepuss reached a certain threshold of financial success. But that level of success may not be possible for all creators who are just trying to make a living.
“When you’re pirating comics, you’re actually taking that money away from creators,” said Feehan.
ComiXology is a cloud-based service from Amazon that exclusively sells digital copies of comics directly from the publishers.
In the digital age, this service is a convenience for those who don’t live close to comic book stores.
But as the industry changed, so did the pirates. Instead of scanning the books, they find and distribute leaked digital files.
According to David Stephens, an employee at Timemasters Inc., the convenience of ComiXology can be a double-edged sword.
Stephens explains that major publishers keep master files of comics in their digital archives for the sake of reprints.
“I mean yes, [piracy] is going to happen,” Stephens. “People will get access to those files; those files are going to leak,” Stephens said.
“In fact we’ve picked up new customers in the last three or four years.”
He believes stopping digital sales for the sake of minimizing piracy would be closing off a huge market.
“I think piracy is a necessary risk, especially with the value added of having these digitized remastered images and pages from comics from days gone by that are not in the greatest shape,” said Stephens.
Piracy has not been the nail in the coffin for brick-and-mortar stores that some have suggested it would be.
“In fact we’ve picked up new customers in the last three or four years. The customer base is expanding, it’s not shrinking because of piracy. In fact, if anything, it’s maintaining the status quo or increasing.”