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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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