Interview: The scans_daily moderators
With all the hullaballo as to what happened to scans_daily, we decided that we should hear from as many of the players as possible, especially the ones who have been silent so far. We’re still waiting on an official statement from LiveJournal, but we have been in contact with two of the moderators from the former scans_daily group, "Stubbleupdate" and "Rabican", and they’ve graciously responded to our questions.
ComicMix: What do you know about the circumstances of the shutdown? Has LiveJournal told you what prompted the shutdown? Were you given any warning, or any ability to address the situation?
Stubbleupdate: I crawled out of bed on Saturday morning (which meant that the community would have been deleted late evening/night on Friday, America time) and saw that my inbox had a lot of LJ friends requests from people on the community. I get that sometimes, but four overnight is unusual. They all wanted to know where the community had gone, which is the first that I had heard of it. A lot can happen in six hours on the internet.
There was also an email from the LJabuse team telling me that the account had been permanently suspended. That was it. LJ tends to take a “Shoot first, ask questions later” approach to getting rid of communities that it’s been told are against its policies or laws, so that part shouldn’t be surprising.
As for correspondence from LJ, they didn’t say what had prompted it, just that it had happened. I don’t expect them to.
Rabican: The shutdown occurred overnight while the mod team was asleep, so we’ve had to pull together the story of the shutdown from multiple accounts. The most likely scenario we’ve surmised is that Peter David reported a group of X-Factor #40 scans to Marvel around the 24th; Marvel complained to Livejournal, and the Livejournal Abuse Team shut us down the night of the 28th (US time). We were given no warning whatsoever and told that the account was permanently suspended. The justification, given by form mail, was that our community existed "primarily to host copyrighted material without the permission fo the copyright holder" and this was against Livejournal’s TOS. We’re still looking into finding out the details of the abuse report made to the LJ Abuse Team.
It’s worth noting that both Livejournal and, I suspect, most of the major comics publishers have known about us for years, so it’s interesting to speculate what prompted them to move against us now. It’s possible Peter David making the report removed all possibility of plausible deniability. Or, Marvel wasn’t nearly as well-informed as we thought they were. We don’t know whether they thought the poster had uploaded most or all of X-Factor #40 rather than the half she did upload, although legally it doesn’t matter. The Peter David situation may have been a coincidence and it wasn’t Marvel at all, but Livejournal doesn’t move against copyright violations without a complaint from the copyright owner, so we know it was a comics publisher.
ComicMix: For the uninitiated, explain what scans_daily did, and how big it was.
Rabican: Scans_daily was a LiveJournal community dedicated to sharing excerpts (using scans, hence the name) of comics people wanted to discuss with each other. At last count it had more than 8000 members and several thousand more "watchers" – people who subscribed to the community’s posts on their "friends" feed but chose not to sign up for posting access themselves.
Stubbleupdate: Scans_daily was a place where you would post a scan (or a few) from a comic book and people would discuss it. Most of the traffic was bits and pieces from new books, and we got really, really busy when solicits came out. The weekend before solicits came out up until the Tuesday that the Marvel previews were published were always a busy time for the comm. People would usually post bits from their favourite comics, or anything that had caught their eye or was just kind of bad looking. It generated a lot of discussion, which was the point. For some of the new books, it was a way of keeping an eye on some things if you were a bit unsure about buying it. I got into Thunderbolts that way.
There were a lot of other posts that were really old, and were like a labour of love for the posters. In the weeks before we were shut down, we had posts with old Warren comics, a Suicide Squad retrospective, somebody looking at the geopolitical viewpoint of GI Joe (I think, I didn’t read it, I just stuck my head in to see that nobody was misbehaving) and I was posting bits from old Patsy and Hedy stories since Kathryn Immonen’s Hellcat series was coming to an end.
One of the best things for me what how it was the internet water cooler for comics. I wasn’t properly done with an issue until I’d read it, talked it over with people on the community, found out what they thought about it and then gone over it again. It brought a lot more enjoyment to my reading than I’d have got on my own.
For how big it was, that’s impossible to say. We had 8,928 or so registered members, but nothing like that many were regular posters or commenters. I don’t know how many regular lurkers we had. I couldn’t even begin to guess a number that read scans_daily. Currently we have between 500-600 people signed up for noscans_daily and 400+ on the insanejournal version. I think that noscans_daily has a higher membership because you don’t need to create a new account to use it.
Reading the stuff over the weekend made it seem bigger than it ever was to me, but that’s more to do with how vocal people were and the fact that we had the news story bonus of a creator being involved. I’m surprised that it blew up to be as big a story as it was because I never got that the community was as big a deal in the wider online comics community as people think it was.
ComicMix: How did you become a moderator of scans_daily?
Rabican: In December 2006 I was a regular IM conversationalist with merichan, then-moderator of the community. She was feeling a bit overwhelmed and I found myself volunteering to pitch in. Within six months I was running the place, much to my consternation. I recruited schmevil and stubbleupdate as fellow mods in late 2008.
Stubbleupdate: For a while we didn’t have much moderation, so a few members stepped up and brought other people into line. We’d tell people when they were breaking the rules or being jerks, ask them to stop if and be ready to hand it over to a mod. Then in about November, I was approached about being a proper mod. I see it as being like a referee in football – the game can’t go on without you. I wanted to make sure that the community stayed as a good place for discussion which meant warning or booting out one or two people who just couldn’t stay out of fights and stopping people who were breaking our rules on posting limits. I just wanted to keep the place a friendly, open community.
ComicMix: As a moderator, what did you do? Was there a set of guidelines that all the moderators adhered to? If so, what were they?
Rabican: Moderators did the things moderators do the internet over. We helped fix posts with faulty formatting and added or corrected tags to help members browse the archives. We also mediated fights, and occasionally handed out warnings to the rare miscreants.
We didn’t have an official "mod rulebook," but we followed our own rules and tried to push for, and expand upon, the ethos the community was founded upon. Unlike many other comics communities on the web, scans_daily was created largely by female fans, especially those from slash fandom. The community has more of a 50-50 gender split now, but we’re still very female- and LGBT-friendly, and we’re working to expand that sensibility into being more actively anti-racist and anti-ableist. Here’s what our current code of conduct says:
"Scans Daily was founded by girl geeks, and members of slash fandom. The moderating team strives to maintain the community as a LGBT-friendly, anti-racist, anti-ableist and woman-friendly space. As such, hate speech, discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated. Democratic dialog and friendly debate however, are more than welcome."
We’re not shrinking violets in fact, we can be positively ribald. We just don’t appreciate pushing each other’s buttons for the sake of it.
Stubbleupdate: Yes, we had rules. The biggest of them were no more than half of the issue on the community, (so if three people post four pages each, some of them have to come down). That’s the main one that’s been the focus for the last few days, but we also had rules on basic decorum and courtesy, not posting something that had just been posted and guidelines on how to format posts.
I was going to upload new rules on Saturday or Sunday to protect the community and to tighten things up. We’d had them written and were sorting them out for a bit, but you can’t enforce new rules unless you’ve told people what they were.
ComicMix: Did you ever remove or prevent a post because you thought it would violate copyright?
Stubbleupdate: Yes, loads of times. Too many times, in fact. A lot of it was because people didn’t read what was on the community already, so they just assumed that theirs was the only post. Posts like that just got pulled.
Rabican: We’ve never had any illusions about exceeding the limits of fair use, but we did always try and act in good faith, based on our own reading habits, to not enable people to read entire issues without buying them. This is why members who uploaded more than half an issue were required to edit their posts on pain of deletion.
ComicMix: What would it take to get somebody kicked from scans_daily? Was anybody ever banned?
Stubbleupdate: Generally the bannings were for arguing and for getting personal. When I was a mod we handed out a few warnings, one of which was for “persistent offending,” which was nothing too big, but lots of it.
Rabican: It’s a little hard to keep track of exact numbers because we had a few people who were banned return again as sockpuppets, but at a guess we banned around a dozen people over the entire existence of the community. Once I became a moderator we used a "three strikes, you’re out" warning system to keep members in line, which seemed to work fairly well. Every single member who was banned was removed for trolling or instigating fights with other members.
ComicMix: What do you personally consider fair use?
Stubbleupdate: This is where I get to showcase my ignorance of copyright legislation and make it clear why we were shut down. To my mind, the fact that we were limiting what was posted, not distributing it for profit and were using it as a way to encourage people to shell out for the books rather than a substitute for buying them kind of covered our backs.
Clearly, it didn’t.
Rabican: First of all, just to clear up a misunderstanding that’s going around: prior to this interview, scans_daily has never taken an official stance on fair use. We operated on the unspoken assumption that the powers that be know that we exist – because, when Dirk Deppey and numberous other blogs link to you constantly, it’s hard to imagine someone not having figured it out – and we continued to operate on their largesse, so we tried not to annoy them. (Evidently that stopped working so well.)
Anyway. The whole difficulty with fair use is that there are guidelines to help people decide what’s *probably* fair, but individual sticky cases get hashed out in court. It’s not hard and fast. That said, section 107 of the US copyright law vs. scans_daily:
1) The purpose and character of the use: We were sharing bits of the comics we loved to encourage other people to read and buy them. Not exactly a negative – it was a lot of free publicity even if people weren’t immediately running to the stores and buying (see below).
2) The nature of the copyrighted work: Most comics are imaginative works, not non-fiction, so according to most interpretations of the law we were in trouble there.
3) The substantiality of the portion used: Okay, we lost that one, no question.
4) The effect of the use upon the market value of the copyrighted work: Well, there’s lots of anecdotal evidence from scans_daily members that we buy more comics because of scans_daily. (Hundreds more, in my case.) There’s also quite a few people counter-claiming that anecdotes mean nothing, that scans_daily has shown no noticeable impact on comics market shares, and that all the people who no longer buy comics because they can keep up on scans_daily just don’t speak up. This is a job for economists and lawyers, clearly.
I do think that the older incarnation of scans_daily would have lost in court, because of clause (3) if nothing else. We’re working on a new version of the community that will measure up to the four-factor test a little differently, though.
In a way, after the initial shock I don’t mind the suspension so much because it’s forcing us to reevaluate whether we really need to skirt fair use so much to get the community we, as members, are interested in.
ComicMix: Many people have anecdotes about people picking up comics as a result of posts on s_d. Do you have any hard data about it? For examples, do you have any reports of webcomics traffic increasing after they posted to your site?
Stubbleupdate: There’s no hard data that I have. I can tell you about what it convinced me to buy, and so can a hundred other people, but that is really easily dismissed. For what it’s worth, I went through my bookcase at the weekend and looked at all of the stuff that I would never have discovered without scans_daily. I had Irredeemable Ant Man, My Faith in Frankie, Marvel Knights Fantastic Four (read the predictably unpredictable team-mates scene in "Wolf at the Door" and tell me that that isn’t exactly what Reed Richards should be like), Ex Machina (which is now an obsession and I’m taking First Hundred Days to my grown up book group as a change of pace from Tale of Two Cities and The Kite Runner), Five Fists of Science, The Order (I managed to market that to a few people on the community), The Immortal Iron Fist and Spider-Man loves Mary Jane. Of course, that’s just one person and evidence like that won’t convince anybody.
Is real hard data, like sales figures and Diamond’s figures, also quite fuzzy? I don’t know enough about it to comment, but I’ve been told (by one of my co-mods, the very on-the-ball Schmevil) that Heidi MacDonald and Dirk Deppey go through this stuff a lot.
Even looking at sales figures can make it tough to work out why an issue sold well or not so well. Let’s take something like Amazing Spider-Man. It’s self contained, so doesn’t get crossover bumps in the same way that Black Panther or The Initiative do, but the rotating art teams, writers, back ups, guest stars, storylines, story resolutions, cliffhangers all affect its sales figures.
I don’t know about webcomic traffic, mainly because we never asked. It might be worth getting in touch with the Wonderella guy; he posted a little message commiserating and saying that he liked it when we posted his stuff. The bloke who does Bigger than Cheeses was on scans_daily too; sometimes he pimped his stuff out, sometimes he just commented on what other people posted of his.
Rabican: We don’t have any hard data about this, but honestly, as moderators of an 8000+ member community … we didn’t really have the time. Still, the distinction needs to be made between 8000 people on an online community and 8000 people scattered throughout the comics-buying audience. Yes, many of us on s_d did share the same tastes (ironically, there was a strong Peter David fan contingent), but I would be surprised if any title besides the most popular, best-selling comics broke more than 1,000 buyers from our membership. (That’s just a ballpark guess, since we’ve never taken polls and have a lot of lurkers anyway.) Eight thousand people is a large number, but 1,100 buyers of New Avengers here, 600 people with Invincible on their pull lists there … that’s just going to vanish in larger market fluctuations.
I do think that if a portion of the scans_daily membership decided to try boosting one particular, smaller title, working as a group, they could have done it – I believe a couple of thousand readers have been enough to spare a title from the axe before. Maybe we’ll still see it.
ComicMix: Stubbleupdate, you’re not in the US. Do you feel that informed your take on s_d? Was there a large international presence?
Stubbleupdate: I don’t know about a “large” international presence; we had Poles, French, Germans, Italians, a handful of Brits, some Mexicans, even some Canadians. For me, my Britishness was just an issue because my new comics day is Thursday and I didn’t get my books delayed because of Presidents’ Day.
ComicMix: As a site that declared that you were "bringing the crack since December 2003", surely you must have expected a legal challenge at some point. Did you plan for that eventuality?
Stubbleupdate: Yes, some users had made back ups of their stuff, or of the community list, or set up a community to escape to when LJ announced all of those redundancies a few weeks ago. And with LJ, it won’t be a legal challenge, it’ll just be them binning you and that being the end of the story. If somebody raises an issue with LJ like that, Livejournal just cans it, which is a fair enough response for them. I understand why they did that.
Rabican: During the Livejournal "Strikethrough" crisis around June 2007, when many communities were shut down and quite a few users contemplated jumping ship, I created an offsite clone of the community so that we would have a place to go if worst came to worst. In the end, we were fine, but I made a couple of mod posts mentioning the clone and added the information to the userinfo on Livejournal.
I don’t know when people first got news of our suspension, but the first post to our clone was at 8:09 pm on the 27th, Eastern time. The mods woke up at various points on the 28th and started talking by e-mail, but it took a few hours to format and post the new rules that we’d been planning to implement in early March and which we decided to roll out anyway at our new digs. (Those rules, incidentally, would have cut down on the quantity of allowed scans for recently released comics, which I’m sure would have pleased publishers.) By the time everything was set up for me to make the first public mod post, the clone comm had been running for nearly 24 hours with minimal supervision, which is a testament I think to both the membership and utility of our "emergency backdoor."
ComicMix: Are you surprised you lasted this long without getting shut down?
Both: Yes and no.
Rabican: When scans_daily was founded back in late 2003, it was a small community of fans cracking jokes about Dick Grayson’s legs (still a popular topic). It was and had always been a shadow community existing on the fringes of legality. We didn’t advertise, and because few of our members hung out in more traditional comics communities, there wasn’t much overlap with the wider fandom for a few years. Word got out eventually, of course, and there’s been tension for a long time between s_d’s inclusive, "sharing is caring" ethos and our need to try and stay discreet for our own survival. When I noticed us getting referred to on a regular basis on blogs like Dirk Deppey’s Journalista and Metafilter.com, I expected us to be shut down any moment – we weren’t, but from that point on it was only a matter of time. I was startled to have it happen right at this moment, but not surprised that it happened. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that we provided a service – browse before you buy – that comics readers are interested in. (Note that all over the web, comics previews have been getting longer and longer; they never went over four pages just a couple of years ago, and now many of them go up to seven or eight pages.) I suspect a lot of people in the industry who could have shut us down knew perfectly well we were out there but thought we were beneficial or at least neutral, so long as we didn’t cause too much of a ruckus.
Stubbleupdate: We knew that a blind eye was turned to us and that some creators were certainly aware of us and didn’t dob us in (I once posted a bit from David Hahn’s first issue of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, saying how the art didn’t work for me, and had Hahn appear to talk about it. That was kind of embarrassing. We had Dan Slott pop his head in and Warren Ellis and Gail Simone were frequent visitors. That kind of let us feel that we had a bit of legitimacy, in that people who should have been concerned about what we were doing weren’t. We were living off a lot of goodwill, generated by our support for most of what we posted and the fact that we encouraged everybody to buy what we were posting. Then that goodwill, inevitably, ran out.
ComicMix: So what’s next for the moderators, the posters, and the community?
Rabican: Well, our membership is coalescing around two points. There’s noscans_daily, which is our discussion-only sequel on livejournal. Stubbleupdate’s taking the lead on that one, though the rest of the mod team is also around. There’s also our clone community on another server, which schmevil and I are gradually revamping to find a balance between the community’s original purpose and fair use requirements. Right now we’ve just started by cropping down the page limits, but we’ve gotten some great advice from Denise Paolucci of dreamwidth.org and we’re looking at new ways to approach issues of substantiality and user/community responsibility. Members and observers can expect the final version to look considerably different and, ideally, be more legally robust.
Stubbleupdate: I’ve started Noscans_daily on LJ. I want to keep the community going, but with user generated words and no pictures. That’ll be a deletion and a swift kick out the door if anybody tries that because I’m not taking flak for them. I’ll be concentrating on getting it up, keeping it active and keeping it the fun, clever and useful place that we’ve said we were and proving that we were about more than just the pirate’s den that some people have painted us as.
The other mods have taken the community to insanejournal and started up the community again with much more stringent rules. I’ve not gone with them because I want to stay on LJ and I want to stay out of any sort of grey area on fair use of scans – for me it isn’t worth the hassle.
The big test for both communities will be how they do over the next Wednesday and Thursday, when it’s new comic day, and over solicit season. We’ve been busy so far because lots of people have been motivated by the news to support the communities. How we do in the next few weeks will be the acid test.