Scans_daily shutdown: it’s the community stupid

So reading Mike yesterday I learned Scans_Daily has been shut down after Peter David complained about it to Marvel and they leaned on Livejournal. Or at least that is the version believed by most people, though denied by David himself. A kerfuffle quickly ensued, with little sane ommentary emerging out from amongst the people happily pissing on Scan_Daily’s ashes or wishing death on David.

Just more Internet Drama? Of course, but it is more important than that. For those who don’t know about this (probably all of you unless you’re heavily into online comix fandom yourself), Scans_Daily was a Livejournal community which started out as a place to post homesexual slash fantasies, but morphed into a highly popular community of comix fans, based around commenting on scans of interesting new and old comics. All illegal as hell of course, but it had some ground rules about posting (no more than half an issue) and was largely tolerated for some five years or so. After all, for those who want to get their comix fix online for free, there’s bittorrent and Usenet, where new releases are available the week they arrive in comic shops (or faster than they can cross the Atlantic, in my case), while a huge percentage of especially North American comics dating back to the 1930ties can also be found easily in a variety of formats. So going after Scans_Daily, a community that was remarkably friendly to newer comics readers and a great propaganda site for comics as a whole (as noted by Mightygodking) makes little sense. As does alienating a community of several thousand at a time when an individual title’s fortune is decided by shifts in readership smaller than that. But it was bound to happen sooner or later, as it takes only one complaint for a site like scans_Daily with its obvious copyright violations to be shut down.

The … discussion … that followed its demise unfortunately followed well worn tracks: the haters go for the “it’s illegal so don’t whine that you’ve been shutdown” tactic while the defenders attempt to make the case that what Scans_Daily did was a-okay, using clever and not so clever arguments. Both miss the larger point: Scans_Daily was a community, one with no real equivalent elsewhere in comix fandom and the takedown destroyed this community. To me, this is the real crime, rather than the copyright violations this community was based around. As Bruce Sterling noted as far back in 1991 in The Hacker Crackdown, there have always been online communities revolving around technically illegal activities and they’ve always reacted badly when the authorities come knocking. The original Usenet was illegal, existing on the sufferage of the organisations involved in DARPANET, the Internet’s predecessor and which was supposed to be used for serious research, not “Ho’od Win” threads on net.comics. So was the original Unix community for a large part, massively violating AT&T’s intellectual property but in the process creating a lot of the software we still use. Intellectual property has always been a battlefield, between corporate interests who’d like us to pay for every time we read a particular book or hear a particular song and the rest of us, who see no reason to do with our books, comics, songs what we do with everything else we buy: whatever we want.

It’s this loss of control that led to the Scans_Daily shutdown, as Peter David got pissed that an X-Factor issue of his got spoiled there, after which he complained to Marvel, who then complained to Livejournal and a flourishing community got shut down. For the moment, it’s backfiring on him as a lot of people are now mad at him, which in turn let to puzzled responses by outsiders and moralistic posts about “it’s piracy, so stfu”. But for those of us who were regulars there –and I was far from a hardcore member — we’ve lost a community of friends and likeminded people, which is by far the greater crime. And it’s this that explains the far from even tempered reactions to Peter David’s actions: when you attack a community, even an online based community based around a hobby though childish by the great unwashed, you attack people themselves. No matter how much in your right you are legally.