Simmons swiping raises larger issues

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Among mamy comments on the Nick Simmons plagiarism case, Chris Butcher has the strongest words for the connection between those who swipe art panels and those criticizing him who illegally scan and distribute manga and anime:

Here’s the thing: I’ve got infinitely more respect for obvious thief Nick Simmons than I do for the legions of artist-alley dwellers selling mass-produced copies of their fanart for characters. Nick Simmons is (badly) taking his influences and turning them into something (horribly derivative but at least nominally) “new”. It’s not original, it may not even be good, but every artist or writer is comprised mainly of the sum of their influences and experiences. But at least Simmons on his first shot out of the gate managed to synthesize all that shit into something other than “Here is a terribly drawn portrait of two BLEACH characters making out, in tribute to an author who clearly never wanted this to happen or he’d have done it himself. I am charging $10 for this colour photocopy.”

Paying “tribute” to an author like Kubo by selling work based on his creations is about the same as “building his popularity” by distributing illegal scans and fansubs of his work, I personally put the two in exactly the same category: complete fucking fiction.

What I’m saying is Nick Simmons’ behaviour is embarrassing and the work is getting the smackdown it deserves. But North American anime “fandom” for their legion of sins have no reason to be so comfortable in their condemnation, particularly because the behaviour they condone–and celebrate–is worse.


Ouch.

Comments

  1. I don’t know about that. Profiting off fanworks is certainly a dubious practice, but I’m not clear whether Butcher’s taking fanartists to task for making art, or for profiting off it. The latter deserves it; the former is much more complicated. Personally, I think there’s a place for fans to respond creatively to the fiction they enjoy (yes, even if it’s just cheap romantic wish-fulfillment). At least most fanartists aren’t doing what strikes me as Simmons’s cardinal sin – claiming the characters/ideas they’re reproducing are wholly their own creations.

  2. rinmackie says:

    I totally agree, K. Most fan artists know better than to claim characters/ideas as their own creations. In Japan, fan artistry thrives and is allowed to coexist with the professionals, provided no one claims characters as their own, draws in their own style, and create their own stories. Many professional manga creators started out doing fanzines and some continue to do so even after turning pro.

  3. Preach it, sister.

  4. Alexa says:

    It’s not even close to the same thing, Chris. Nick Simmons is only an “obvious thief” because he got CAUGHT. All three issues came out before he got called on it, each and every one of them with his name on it, claiming it was HIS work.

    Fanartists have no such pretensions, and the consumers are not being lied to about what they get. And who qualifies as a fanartist anyway? I bought a print of Power Girl and Donna Troy from Ming Doyle at the last Boston Comic Con. She’s a pro, but she’s never worked for DC. For that matter, what about pros who do commissions? Fans and pros who draw other’s proprietary characters for their own profit may be in a legal gray area, but ethically, they are light years above Nick Simmons.

  5. Unfortunately, this is indicitave of something larger going on: the link http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1964424,00.html describes the issue of a bestselling teen author in Germany, who has been accused of plagerism, who sees it more as a form of sampling. To quote from the article:

    “But she also defended her work by claiming that “true originality doesn’t exist anyway, only authenticity” and insisted on her “right to copy and transform” other people’s work, taking a stand against what she called the “copyright excesses” of the past decade.”

    Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1964424,00.html#ixzz0gh6MTLM0

    It seems to be happening more and more these days.

  6. Unless the fan art is traced directly from the original, as is the case of the Simmons’ work, there is absolutely no comparison.

  7. Army of Dorkness says:

    Chris Butcher nailed the fan community on hypocrisy. First Round Knockout.

    “Fans and pros who draw other’s proprietary characters for their own profit may be in a legal gray area, but ethically, they are light years above Nick Simmons.”

    I completely disagree. They’re equally unethical, and they may actually be equally legal. If they are, we can all just move on.

    As for the hypocrisy, it’s like politics. They’re all equally to blame, but they sure jump at the chance to point fingers.

  8. While artist alley and fan wank.. er.. work is a pretty sketchy area at times, I don’t think it compares to Simmon’s case unless they too copied directly. In Simmon’s case there’s a sense of dishonesty and deception that artist alley doesn’t have. Unless those artists doing fan prints are claiming them as original characters, it’s comparing apples and oranges. Not that I don’t see problems with the artist alley community cropping up at anime cons, but it’s a pretty different case.

  9. Suzene says:

    Profiting off of someone else’s characters via unauthorized art is hardly just a fan activity, unless you’re going by the “every creator was once a fan” definition. Even taking mangaka who got their start in fancomics off of the table, go to Artist’s Alley of any comic book convention, and you’ll see Popular Marvel Artist A charging $300 for a headsketch of Batman, or He Was Big In The 90’s selling T&A prints of Rogue vs Powergirl. They’re certainly choosing to profit off of characters they have no claim to in ways that the copyright holders haven’t authorized, even if they turn a blind eye to it.

    Chris has a valid point (though not one I’m on board with) when he wags his finger at folks who claim to love an artist/character/company and then operate in a gray area in regards to copyright, but I do think he’s being disingenuous to imply that it’s only an activity that non-professionals or “kids” take part in. I also completely disagree that it’s somehow worse than passing off another artist’s work as your original creation; at least with derivative work, everyone knows what’s up.

  10. Copyright originated, not as the same kind of moral imperative as our right not to be murdered or molested, or even not to have our physical property taken away, but as a wholly pragmatic arrangement to encourage creation and distribution of artistic works, by granting an exclusive legal monopoly privilege to print and distribute copies of a work for a set term of years.

    That term started at 25 years from the creation, and by turns was extended to the artist’s life plus 75 years, as powerful corporations came to be built on these monopoly privileges and therefore pressured parliaments and legislatures to extend their legal powers.

    There is a basic absurdity, often overlooked, to the whole notion of “intellectual property.” That is, if Joe reads a book, or views a painting, then the information of that book or painting becomes part of Joe’s mind. How can the creator claim to own a piece of the minds of everyone who views his creation?

    It is an absurdity that was set aside in the interest of affording creators a chance to make a reasonable living off their works. But is that chance really undermined by fan art, or by Artist Alley denizens drawing one-off sketches of characters they did not originate?

    Do scanlations of Japanese works not yet translated into English by their publishers really take away from the market value of those works, or do they enhance them? One should recall the situation in the United States in the 19th Century, when British copyright laws had no effect here. Unauthorized, inexpensive copies of those works were printed and sold here by the tens of thousands, and the result was a great flowering of interest and demand for British literature, which benefited the original authors when the authorized editions reached our shores.

    Plagiarism, in which one claims authorship of another’s work, is a different sort of problem. It is a fraud against consumers, and possibly also a fraud against publishers, and should be dealt with as other sorts of fraud.

    But is not of a piece with fan-art, or pro sketches, or even scanlations, so long as the true author of the work is acknowledged.

  11. Frankly, reading the discussion on Chris Butcher’s post makes me want to break stuff. I mean, blatantly plagiarizing (that is, passing off something you literally traced from another artist as your own work) several manga series is better than selling fanart (which creates something based on an existing intellectual property, and acknowledges the originator of the idea and characters)? Hello? Can I have some Earth logic over here?

    Not that I defend the practice of selling fanart, which sounds legally -and morally- murky to me, but this seems like the guy is just looking for an excuse to demonize that practice. Since he’s a comic book shop owner, maybe he’s just insanely paranoid about OMG THOSE EEEEBIL INTERNETS PIRATEZ AND STUFF!!!1111ONE, but this shit is just too much.

    Plus, the last post in the discussion, from Chris Butcher himself, makes me lose any kind of sympathy I might be tempted to have for him. The second he loses any semblance of civility, like he does there, he can go suck Nick Simmon’s balls, as he’s all too eager to command the other poster to do.

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