DID YOU READ

The Adventures of Tintin and the Case of the Too-Convincing Pirates, or how Apple and Comic Fans Got Fooled

The Adventures of Tintin and the Case of the Too-Convincing Pirates, or how Apple and Comic Fans Got Fooled (photo)

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Yesterday, an iPad App called “Tintin: The Complete Collection” made the rounds across Twitter, Facebook and maybe even LinkedIn for all we know, as comic book professionals and fans (myself included) retweeted and shared a link to buy every Tintin book (24 of them!) for the absolutely psychotically low price of $4.99. The price point seemed to good to be true, and as it turned out, that’s exactly what the App was.

At first glance, “Tintin: The Complete Collection” looks decently legit. There are no misspellings or weird non-native speaker grammar in the description, the images on the App’s page are clear and easy-to-read, and besides, it’s been through Apple’s notoriously choosy and aggressive screening process, so it has to be real, right?

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Unfortunately, once you look a little closer at the nitty-gritties on the left-hand side, it becomes apparent that there’s something fishy going on. First up, the seller is listed as Gauruv Khanna, which while odd, in-and-of-itself isn’t such a red flag, as many Apps have the individual developer or programmer listed in that spot. What’s really damning, however, is the copyright info, which lists only GK Apps Inc.

Studio Hergé is notoriously bullish about protecting their copyrights, having gone after numerous parodies and pastiches which may or may not have been protected speech. So why on Earth would they allow someone to put the entirety of the Tintin catalog up in the App Store without the proper legalese? From that point alone, it’s pretty fair to assume that the App is bogus, and created using pirated material, but that’s not the only evidence.

If, like me, you purchased the App in a combination of excitement over getting all that classic material in one place, wishful thinking, assuming that the App Store was looking out for things like copyright and just plain simple ignorance, you can quickly see that “Tintin: The Complete Collection” is nothing more than some hastily assembled photocopies. Not only are many of the pages sized incorrectly for the iPad, but they’re not even sized consistently incorrectly, and due to shoddy scanning work, the colors aren’t even always consistent within a single book.

The craziest thing, and what I personally had the hardest time wrapping my head around was how this App full of clearly pirated material got approved for the App Store in the first place. How did it get past Apple’s censors? The first reason is likely because by downloading the App, you don’t actually download the books themselves, you just download access to the books, which is a subtle by important distinction. The books themselves actually live on an external server that the App contacts for access, which means, of course, that unless you’re hooked up to the internet, you can’t read the books at all.

The second, possibly more important reason, however, is that Apple just doesn’t screen for this stuff. While the company might scan for viruses, compatibility or even whether their competitors are being promoted, they don’t verify the copyright claims of every App that gets submitted. With something as egregious as “Tintin: The Complete Collection,” that might be a little shocking, but it’s better understood when you take into account the vast amount of material that comes across the desks of Apple’s screeners, and the sheer impossibility of verifying every single copyright claim of every single App. I’m not totally clear on the legality of this, but I’ve even heard tell that if they were to verify copyright claims for some Apps, it would open them up to liability for the copyright validity of ALL Apps. Furthermore, even in traditional print media, protection of one’s copyright tends to be the responsibility of the actual rightsholders, meaning that someone at Studio Hergé is probably drafting a furious letter to Apple right this moment if they haven’t already.

So, it’s increasingly apparent that Gaurav Khanna and anyone else involved with “Tintin: The Complete Collection” is a bottom-feeding pirate. A comic book scanner with the audacity, balls and lack of common sense to put the fruits of his piracy out in public where he can easily be tracked down by an angry rightsholder. We all know that piracy exists, and you can likely easily find torrents for all of the Tintin books in the App, if not one big one that has them all prebundled. The bigger issue, however, is: Why doesn’t a legal version of this already exist?

It’s anecdotal evidence of course (and will continue to be until someone does that exhaustive anonymous digital piracy survey), but yesterday Twitter was abuzz with people excited about getting this material digitally and presumably legally. Sure, a huge part of that has to do with the should-have-been-a-tip-off low price of $4.99, but the very fact that people were willing to shell out anything for the material when it’s probably available completely free somewhere deals a huge blow to a piece of perceived wisdom about digital piracy: That pirates exist solely because people don’t want to pay.

You’re never going to completely eradicate piracy, just like no record store (remember those?) ever completely got rid of shoplifters. But there’s a lot you can do to cut down on it, and the biggest thing is offering material in the format that people want to read it in. Right now, with more American interest in Tintin than probably ever due to the upcoming movie, it’s impossible to get the classic Hergé books both digitally and legally. How much money is being left on the table here, and more importantly, how can Studio Hergé expect people to NOT pirate their material if it’s simply not available?

This isn’t a defense or apology for digital piracy – it’s wrong both legally and morally, as it takes money out of the pockets of creators in a very concrete way. What it is, however, is an explanation. Some people pirate material because they want it for free, and there’s little you can do about that except for prosecuting them. But many people downloaded pirated material simply because it’s not available in the format in which they want to read it. Searching torrent sites, sifting through bad scans and viruses, figuring out which reader to use, dealing with inconsistent formats – downloading pirated material is a huge pain in the ass, and with the amount of excitement surrounding “Tintin: The Complete Collection,” we’re guessing that a lot of pirates are eager to be done with it.

DC Comics has figured this out in a big way, as they’ve made their entire main line available digitally on the same date it’s released in stores, and Marvel and other comic book publishers are creeping steadily toward that same goal. But a failure to fully embrace that model right now continues to send people into the arms of torrent sites and other bastions of digital piracy. Do you have the modest goal of reading “Daredevil” on your digital device the same day as it hits the racks? Do you not live near a comic book store? Do you not have any room left in your apartment for another comic book box? Well, if so, you’re stuck either downloading a pirated version or not reading the book at all – a pretty lousy proposition.

The big pink elephant in the room and the other key component to the excitement surrounding “Tintin: The Complete Collection” is, of course, price point. People weren’t just excited about getting these decades-old Belgian comics, they were excited about getting them for only $4.99, which is a completely ridiculous, unsustainable pricepoint for comics material. Still, there’s something to be learned from it, as most comic book publishers price their digital comics the same as their print versions, presumably in an effort to protect the loyal Direct Market of comic book stores.

Intellectually, I understand that I don’t want any more print comic books – they take up space, are hard to organize and keep, and frankly, my fiancé has put up with enough already. But there’s still a perceived loss of intrinsic value when you buy a digital version of a book as opposed to the physical. I don’t even want the physical version, but it feels off to pay the same amount for something when so many middlemen (retailers, shippers, distributors, printers, etc.) have been cut out.

It’s important to note, however, that a whole new group of middlemen are involved in digital comics, as someone must be paid to scan and format the books and develop and maintain the Apps that sell them. Also, Apple takes a flat 30% cut on anything purchased through one of their Apps, which takes a humongous bite out of anyone’s profit margin.

Still, it’s useful to think back to the success of iTunes. The platform blew up for a number of different reasons, including ease of use, the rise of the iPod and as discussed earlier, the fact that it was so much easier than searching for individual songs of varying quality on Napster, Limewire or any other peer-to-peer service. But another big reason people took to buying digital albums and songs so quickly was because it was cheaper than in the stores, which at the time were charging up to $18 for a single new release.

Again, whoever made “Tintin: The Complete Collection” is a thief, plain and simple, and if you purchased it without knowing (or even with knowing), you should delete the App and complain to Apple. But there are still some very important lessons to be gleaned from the past 24 hours, ones that could help immeasurably with companies struggling to make the transition from print to digital.

What do you think about the reasons behind digital piracy? Do you think more people do it because it’s free or because the material isn’t available? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
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Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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