It was controversial, to say the least.
Waid's speech was about file sharing. Basically, it was about illegal downloading of comics, a practice which conventional wisdom has put forward as the possible death of comics publishing. Creators and the companies they work for have consistently decried the practice as outright theft.
So why was Waid's speech considered to be so controversial? Well, it appears that some industry people, including beloved Sergio Aragones, thought that Waid was basically endorsing piracy and giving a big middle finger to all those hard-working vets who get screwed out of royalties by thieving scuzzy Internet nerds.
Here's a copy of Waid's speech. I've taken out a few sections to highlight what I think his actual position is. First, here's his views on copyrights:
What most people don’t realize about copyright is that it was originally conceived to protect not artists but the public domain--to ensure that artists and writers and their heirs couldn’t have perpetual ownership of their work until the end of time because, at some point, the sentiment went, you ought to have to give back to culture the same way you, I, and all artists draw from it. Certainly, you should benefit from your work, and you should have legal protection, but I find it interesting that the original intent was to deliver ides back into the public domain.
He goes on to say that "Culture is more important than copyright", meaning that sooner or later he feels that the industry should relax its stranglehold on makling money, and make it easier for society to enjoy the works they provided.
Then he had this to say on file sharing:
Like it or not, downloading is here. Torrents and filesharing are here. That's not going away. I'm not here to attack it or defend it--I'm not going to change anyone's mind either way, and everyone in America at this point has anecdotal evidence "proving" how it hurts or helps the medium--but I am here to say it isn’t going away--and fear of it, fear of filesharing, fear of illegal downloading, fear of how the internet changes publishing in the 21st century, that’s a legitimate fear, because we’re all worried about putting food on the table and leaving a legacy for our children, but we’re using our energy on something we can’t stop, because filesharing is not going away.
And there's more:
We are the smartest, most creative medium in America. We put out ideas on a periodical basis bam, bam, bam. We don’t put out a screenplay every three years. We don’t invent a TV show every ten years. There are more ideas in one Wednesday in one comic shop than in three years of Hollywood. We're notoriously bad businessmen, but we are unmatched for creativity and inventiveness, and there are ways to make filesharing work for us rather than cower in fear that it’s going to destroy us.
Naturally, a lot of people in the industry missed Waid's overall message: that they have to find a way to make this reality work for them rather than simply ignore and villify it. He's right, it's not going away, and trying to stamp it out is simply impossible. I've talked before about how I consider it to be stealing. And I still do, but I have also relaxed on the issue when it comes to comics. Currently, I have downloaded every single appearance of Spider-Man, in chronological order, from his debut until about 1977. Trying to do so through purchase would be simply cost prohibitive. I would have loved to have done this through Marvel's digital service, but they don't currently have all the issues online.
Waid is right. The industry needs to get cracking and start thinking of ways to embrace the digital medium in a smart, cheap way. Marvel is close. You can join their digital library for about $60 per year. But there are no new issues there, and the runs of their series are patch work and not complete. How can joe blow hacker find the time to do this, but Marvel can't? Give us a system that is way less virus-plagued, more effecient and with better quality control than the illegal guys, and you'll see things improve. iTunes ain't going anywhere, from what I hear.
In ten years, I bet Waid will be seen as a forerunner.