Ahh. pirates.  From the Barbary Coast to the Caribbean, from English privateers to modern-day Somalian kidnappers, the modern world has a thick history of stealing from the legitimate to line one’s own coffers.  Some of this has been romanticized, to the point where we not only dress up as pirates in late October but in mid-September, and we enjoy hypothetically pitting them against ninjas.  Other aspects have retained their original reputation and negative publicity.

Ahh, internet pirates.  From the Pirate Bay to the deep web, you, your neighbor, and that one guy in Russia are illegally using copywritten content.  You may not even realize it, because it’s not always clear whether that song your grandfather used to sing has entered public domain yet, or whether that photographer really gave permission to use his (edit: or her) work as stock (this is a real problem).  Some of this is ended by public education; from blogs to Facebook to specialty websites, people are talking about this.  There’s even a tineye-inspired Google tool, in the case of stolen images.  Many people are horrified by the knowledge that they’re stealing and will go to great lengths to correct themselves.  Not all, however, and that’s when we see who’s really a pirate.

I know internet pirates.  I’ve talked to internet pirates.  Good people, I have dated internet pirates, and not one of them felt the need to hide what they were doing (except from parents, and sometimes even then).  They know that there are laws against what they are doing, and they pirate anyway because they either do not agree with the laws or do not believe the laws will be enforced against them, or both.  The latter reason makes them “bad people” in the eyes of society, and in fairness, some of them really are!  I have encountered people in this world, some of them pirates, who really, truly believe that anyone “stupid enough to let their work get stolen deserves to have it stolen,” and they will fleece every single person they encounter.  Like, three people.  I’ve probably spoken to over a hundred internet pirates by now, and noticed several hundred more posting about their beliefs and experiences, who have a very different outlook on life.

We live in a world of consumerism.  That’s not just credit card debt, not just student and auto loans, not just a double mortgage– it’s also looking around and realizing at times that you hate yourself for the amount of trash that you own.  Did you really need to take a vacation to Fiji and have a pile of large presents under the tree that one Christmas?  More realistically for those of us without passports, did you really need to buy the robotic dog for your five-year-old or the remastered edition of Star Wars IV (especially when you remembered that Han shot first)?  It’s a world where you buy things because you’re expected to and because you’ve been trained, like all the rest of us, to impulse purchase.  It’s a world of buyer’s remorse.

To most internet pirates, what they do is not morally wrong at all, it’s just a way around buyer’s remorse.  “Why should I go buy $10 to see a movie in theaters if it’s going to suck?  I’ll just watch a bootleg online.”  Depending on how bad the movie is, they might still regret watching it (yes, free things can still be a waste of time), but they can console themselves with the fact that the money they could have spent in a theater can instead be spent on something they’ll enjoy, like a nice meal or a night of bowling, or a game subscription.  Most pirates state that if they liked the product enough, be it a song, movie, or stand-up comedy recording, they would be happy to give money to the artist for it, but they just don’t see any reason to pay in advance for something they might not like.

One can legitimately say that the reasons for piracy do not change the fact that it’s piracy.  They are still taking without paying.

There are a lot of arguments in support of piracy, as well, and some of them are the same big social problems that led to the Occupy movement.

I’m not saying which side I support… I have family members who make their living supporting these laws, and I have family members who save money by breaking these laws.  If I take a side, people I love will avoid talking to me at Christmas.  Instead, let me say that the moral and legal controversy is not my problem; my problem is practical.

How do I get paid for my work if my customers aren’t buying it at a store?

Ahh, practical solutions for pirate-worried publishing.  The solution is imperfect, and it can be argued that it supports piracy, but the truth of the matter is that no one breaks the law if you do these two, simple things:

1. Make your work publicly available for download, and make it a good download (ie. no computer errors, extra passwords, mangled formatting– in the case of audiovisual art, a pro-quality recording– all the stuff pirates love).  Why?  Because pirates and would-be pirates will LOVE you, they’ll respect you for giving you as professional a quality as you would sell in a store, and they’ll keep coming back to you rather than download your work from someone else.  Happy, repeat customers, always a good business practice.

2. Put a “give money here” button on your website, right next to the download button.  If possible, find a service that won’t screw you over like PayPal.  Why?  Because PayPal suc–oh, you mean why have a payment button next to the download button.  Oops, I thought you wanted to hear my thrilling personal account of searching unsuccessfully for a PayPal phone number that led to a real person rather than a loop of computer-voiced recordings.  No?  Well, alright.

You should have that button next to the download button because pirates, when they aren’t hunting for hour upon hour to find a quality bootleg of Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie” or various out-of-print Carl Sagan books, are incredibly lazy people.  If you put the money button next to the download button, they’ll bookmark the whole page and know where to find it again if they decide they like your product.  If you don’t have the payment button there, they not only won’t know you’re hoping for money from this (“What?  I thought he was just offering it for free, out of the goodness of his heart!”), they will not go looking for the button.

~More people will download than will pay you.  But chances are, this is already happening.
~Actually, only a small percentage will pay you (in this economy, and with the current culture of pirates).
~Of those that pay you, most payments will be less than the price of your product in a regular store.
~Depending on your product, that may still be a lot more money than you usually see per copy sold, which is another thing pirates like about the button– they hate how much money corporations take away from artists as much as the artists do.
~Some payments will be rather large, because they like your product That Much.
~Some payments will be a reflection on you as a person and have nothing to do with your product.  Unless you allow comments from each payee, you will never, ever be able to guess which payments are which.
~If you’re lucky, you will become known for this practice and be Internet Famous, which means a larger fanbase, which sooner or later is going to lead to more money and people asking for your autograph at the grocery store.

Bottom line?
More money.

Jonathan Coulton (music and comedy) http://www.jonathancoulton.com/store/downloads/
Cardanica (steampunk novel) http://www.40kbooks.com/?p=12879

(I was enthusiastic about fun links at the beginning of this blog.  By the end, I’m unwilling to do new research.  Can you tell? x.x)

((Also, what is a <div> tag and why did I have to delete a ton of them manually to get this correctly formatted?))


One response to “Pirates!

  1. In our case (as per your link above) that photographer really DIDN’T give HER permission to use our picture in Prague. Our family picture was, in no manner, ever authorized for stock photography. The company who chose to use it illegally, removed it as soon as their theft made international headlines.

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