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Cutting off your nose to spite your fa(n ba)ce

Yeah, I know base is spelled wrong, but I was a little too pleased with the clever.

I'm not an expert in copyright, even though I think it's of vital importance these days. In part, this is because academic work is characterized time and again as worth less (if not worthless), and since that's the focus of my creative and critical effort, I don't have as much stake in those discussions. My enlightenment in that regard is slow and gradual.

Helping me along, though, are the kinds of shameful displays of police power like the one in Detroit this weeked. In their attempt to show the country that they're just as assholic as the RIAA, who did after all sue a 12-year old for thousands of dollars, the MPAA staged a raid at a comics convention this weekend. And like everyone else, I'm sure, I got a little chuckle out of this line from Sean Frost:

Comic Book Guy from The SimpsonsPeople spoke of a large group of sad fat men in handcuffs and a bus waiting to take them away.

Ugly stereotypes aside, what drives me bananas about this is that gun shows are somehow beyond the abilities of the authorities to regulate, but by God! if you're selling a bootleg copy of the collected Thundarr the Barbarian, you've just bought yourself a one-way ticket to the slammer, fat boy!

Okay, I'm a little calmer now. It's instructive to see how the comments fall on either side of this particular debate. Many of the comments I've seen are sympathetic, but not all. Speaking of Thundarr, our old pal (who used to run with Ookla the Mok, a character who was absolutely, positively, and with complete certainty not a Chewbacca knock-off, although he was directly responsible for my inability to correctly pronounce/spell out UCLA when talking college basketball), one of the writers for that series (among others) has made clear his approval for the crackdown. Although "in a very small way, [he] feel[s] sorry for some of the guys who got busted yesterday," he trots out some legitimate arguments for the crackdown. What he doesn't mention, of course, is that the reason people will go out and buy a DVD of Thundarr (if only!!) or the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon (from 20 yrs ago and scheduled for DVD release later this year, allegedly) is the demand created by bootlegs and comicons. I'm sympathetic to arguments about writers and voice actors (and small presses, studios, producers, et al) and the idea that royalties make a much bigger difference to them, but the desire to create a blanket, black&white policy that will protect the latest Disney blockbuster as well as Thundarr is just misguided in my opinion. And it's the problem that I have with any of the pro-crackdown artists--there's a strange denial of reality in such arguments, both in terms of the privilege of corporate production and distribution, which allows them to jack prices (because as we all know, it costs twice as much to produce a CD as it does a vinyl disc or cassette), for example, and in terms of the different economies of circulation. Is a bootleg copy of Thundarr taking money out of someone's pocket? I doubt it. On the contrary, I suspect that a quality DVD, with some decent extras, is going to be of serious interest to most of the people who buy and sell the bootlegs.

Comicons, fan clubs, and other events like them (inc academic conferences, btw) are Long Tail distribution in action. The people who haunt these events are collectors, which means that they want bootlegs, perhaps, but they'll also want the figures, the official DVD, the posters, the lunchboxes, and every other piece of junk ever associated with the original. You crack down on these people, and basically, you're earning their lifetime enmity--you're pissing off the very people who are likely to form the core of your fan base. I don't know about you, but that just seems dumb to me.

Finally, no, I'm not especially nostalgic for Thundarr. I just remember watching it as a kid, and I vaguely recall that it was the first cartoon I watched that seemed really poorly made. You know how there's a point in your consumer life cycle where you realize that you can tell the difference between something decent and something crappy? I think Thundarr was it for me. And now I've used that name enough that it'll appear in my blogcloud for the next month or so.

That is all.