Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sharing is Caring

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on Piracy and commented that while I don't think piracy is the huge, industry-ending monster the RIAA and MPAA think it is, that I didn't understand this new mentality where people are trying to take the moral high ground over their 'right' to steal things.

Last night, I stumbled across another blog by someone saying pretty much the same thing…and some of the comments left me shaking my head.

One comment (that I completely agree with) pointed out that not having the money or means to purchase something doesn't automatically give you the right to steal it:

"I work hard, I have a college degree but I still don't have a Ferrari. That doesn't mean I can just go steal one off a dealership forecourt until I can afford to buy one."

Then came the classic answer:

"But what if you had some sort of magical machine that could copy the Ferrari and leave the original where it is? That's what people don't understand. Piracy isn't stealing because it just takes a copy and leaves the original where it is."

I love that. If you're just taking a copy, it isn't stealing.

I think the basic idea here is that if something is easily copied and isn't a physical object, then it technically has no value. Pirates often claim that downloading a movie illegally is totally different to just walking into a store and shoving a DVD under your jacket…but they're mistaking the content and the container. It costs literally pennies to commercially press a DVD. The thing that has actually has value is the information on the disc.

If you'll allow me a tenuous analogy, saying that downloading a copy of a movie on the internet is different to stealing a DVD from a store is like saying it's perfectly fine to steal a TV as long as you leave the box on the shelf.

Even the guy's Ferrari example doesn't work, because even if there was a machine that could magically copy cars, when you buy a car, the price doesn't just reflect the physical object, it represents the millions and millions of dollars spent in research and development and design.

In simplest terms: A Ferrari's actual intrinsic value is only the few thousand dollars worth of materials. What makes a Ferrari worth half a million dollars is the design, effort and skill of turning those materials into a Ferrari. If you could copy a Ferrari, the original is still there, but you're driving away in half a million dollars worth of design, research and development you haven't paid for. Quite simply, it's why Ferrari patents their designs and don't make them freely available. It's why Ford can't re-tool their factories to turn out Lamborghinis…They wouldn't be stealing actual cars, but they sure as hell would be stealing patented designs.

Basically, there are a million 'reasons' to pirate something. You can't afford it, you don't like DRM, it's not available where you are… but none of these put you in the right or give you the moral high ground. When you take content that is offered for sale and don't pay for it, you're stealing it, plain and simple… and while a thousand downloads don't automatically translate to a thousand missed sales, it doesn't make you right to steal it.

Let me give you a personal example:

I used to have an online store where I sold my artwork. About eight months ago one of my customers emailed me to complain that the piece of the artwork that I'd sold to her as a 'one of a kind' (that I'd specifically said would never be offered as a print), was up for sale, as a print, on eBay. I told her she must be mistaken, but quickly discovered that someone had taken the preview image from my store, removed the watermark (badly) and was selling it and passing it off as their own work. I also discovered that the same piece was being offered as part of a MySpace template for free.

Of course, I had eBay shut down the auction, but when I contacted the MySpace guy, I got the usual crap about how he wasn't 'stealing' and that, basically, if I didn't want my stuff stolen, I shouldn't have put it on the net. I also got the usual moralizing about sharing (which really pisses me off as 99% of my stuff I put on the net under a creative commons license…meaning you can take it for free as long as you don't try to sell it and credit me).

But, of course, they hadn't taken the original, so what was all the fuss about?

Now, the artwork in question wasn't exactly cheap to make. I'd bought a Bristol pad, a selection of Inks, Crow Quill holders and nibs, not to mention the other investments I'd made such as a drafting table, lightbox etc. Plus, the artwork itself had taken around twenty hours to complete.

In other words, this artwork represented and significant investment of time, money and effort on my part. I'd also like to point out that this wasn't even a radically expensive piece. I sold it for enough to cover the materials and shipping, with enough profit tacked on to pay for the materials for the next piece.

Now, I'm sure that the person who stole my work told themselves that they were completely in the right because they couldn't afford to buy the piece, so that gave them the right to take it, and that they weren't really 'stealing' anyway, because they hadn't taken the original.

That's complete and total horseshit, and here's why: My artwork has value, both intrinsic and subjective. You know it has value because it's right there in my online store with a price tag on it. When you take my artwork without paying me for it, you are stealing directly from me.

In the case of the guy selling prints of my work, that is absolutely stealing…and while there's an argument that giving my work away for free as part of my MySpace template is less so, it's still stealing.


Because you're taking a product that I invested my time money and effort into creating and you're using it without paying me for it. That's sledgehammer math that you can't argue against. You are taking my work. End of story.

Basically, there's this attitude that 'sharing' is a fine and noble thing…but the part that cracks me up is that the people who claim this only feel this way because they're sharing other people's work.

So, my advice to these people is simple: Go create something, show it off online…and when someone takes a copy and starts trying to sell it, or passes it off as their own, then come talk to me about how 'sharing' is fine and noble. Especially when they try to say they're not stealing because you still have the original

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