Let’s Talk About Piracy

File Under: I have opinions.

After reading this bit on piracy over at ComicsAlliance, I feel like I want to talk about piracy.

So, look, first off, as someone who is creative, and has made some spare change in her creative efforts, and hopes to transition that phrase from “spare change” to, at least, “supplementary income,” I have a budding vested interest in the topic of piracy. Second off, as a consumer, who consumes a lot of stuff I mean sheesh, I have a different vested interest in the topic of piracy. Reconciling these two isn’t always easy, but I try.

As a brief aside, let me define piracy: it is the free sharing of material. I’m not talking about the assmunch who takes your eBook and sells it on their site. That sort of thing is not okay and totally not what I’m talking about here. If you are the creator in that situation, please to engage Orbital Friendship Cannon. But no, I’m talking about your ebook being in the wilds of torrentville.

So, I haven’t been fully convinced that piracy steals anything from creators directly. I’m not saying it doesn’t, I’m saying I haven’t seen a single study which has actually convinced me of this. And I’m also not saying that, as a result of this, piracy should be left to run unchecked. When a creator sees their work being pirated, they have every right to send a takedown notice, or to go to their publisher and sic their lawyers on the pirate. Seriously, more power to you. High fives, all around.

However, I feel like anti-piracy actions thus far have really been a game of PR chicken. Pirates have a bad rep. Your average pirate is an entitled neckbeard who preaches that the data wants to be free, yo. So media corporations have no problem attacking them. But then suddenly, there’s a several-million-dollar lawsuit against a twelve year old girl who likes Britney Spears and who’s the asshole now?

And in the end, I think creators and honest customers suffer the most, because they suffer unnecessarily. The big megacorps don’t really deal with the brunt of the bad PR, not in the same way. For instance, I didn’t get mad at Warner Brothers, I got mad at Metallica.

When I was younger, I was that person who got pissed off about buying CDs for the one awesome song, only to be hit with twelve tracks of shitty filler. So, what did I do? I went and downloaded the one damn song, made myself a mix of good singles, and hit the open highway. I’d already been doing this by recording songs off the radio, so really, how is this so different?

Then the iTunes store came along, and I could buy that one song. My choices were: waste a half hour finding the song, wind up seeing the full album, downloading the entire stupid album anyway, delete it all for that one song (pending I was lucky enough that the download is correctly labelled), add the one song to my iTunes; or, one-click download. I could choose between ninety nine cents or half an hour of my time. And almost invariably, I chose the ninety nine cents. Now it’s a buck twenty nine. Still acceptable. The point is, it’s one-click availability for the one song I want. It’s so easy, why would I want to go through the hassle of doing this any other way?

The takeaway from this is give customers what they want. Make it simple and people are more likely to pay.

Another reason for piracy is regional availability. When most people think of piracy — at least, in the bulk of the arguments I’ve read — it’s always been envisioning this middle-class American who simply pooh-poohs the idea of paying for something when they can get it for free. They don’t consider that there are regions to which things will be available long after they’re available to those of us in the United States, nor do they consider how hard it can be to get these things once they finally do become available.

The problem is, when a game comes out in Europe in May, and then comes out in Russia in September, what do you think devoted gamers in Russia are going to do? But release it in Europe and Russia on the same day, and what then? Then, piracy drops to something near 25% of its original numbers. I’m not making this example up. I wish I could grab the citation (my google-fu is weak), but this is what Steam did, to much success.

And combining the two concepts — difficulty of acquisition and regional availability concerns — is this essay from Charles Tan, describing what it is to buy books in the Philippines. Worth your time to read it. Good to get a perspective on piracy that isn’t limited to American borders.

So, yeah. Make things more available, make them available everywhere at once, and make them easy to obtain. Then the only people who will be pirating are the real entitled assholes. At which point, I say hey, go on ahead and open fire.

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