Piracy and Art

Piracy, when it comes to books (and art in general) has come up in my Twitter feed. Mostly, I blame Chuck Wendig.  He has an intelligent post/challenge about the topic on his blog, and because I generally respect his opinion (and revel in his crass vulgarity), I feel I should add to the conversation. I’ll keep it short. Well, I’ll try.

Let me start with a couple facts about myself:

  1. I have never read a pirated book. I buy lots of books, and have always paid for them (when they weren’t already free).
  2. I have pirated other forms of art. I’m not getting more specific about this. The Internet, accountability, yadda yadda. You get the idea. Suffice it to say that I admit it.
  3. I can say I’m mostly a reformed pirate. Movies, music, books… I buy this stuff.
  4. I’m not exactly sure why I’m a reformed pirate.
  5. I have not felt guilty about piracy.
  6. I come from a software world, where piracy is just as pertinent, and probably more prevalent. It’s different, but similar.

This isn’t exactly a new subject. Google the subject, and you can read countless experts talk about it. What I want to do is talk about (perhaps selfishly) my little bubble of the world. My opinion.

Why Do I Pirate Less Now?

I know that piracy is bad, and that artists are hurt by it. I’m pretty good about not stealing books/music/movies now, but wasn’t so much in the past. Why? Because I have more disposable income? I’m not a student (and haven’t really been one for a decade), so I can get my art fix without breaking my bank.

There’s also the possibility that it’s easier to buy what interests me. I know (and really, I think we all know) that technology is a massive enabler for consumption. Most businesses require a web presence at some level. For books, movies, and music it is incredibly easy to satisfy desires to get the latest book from a favourite author, rent the latest released movies, or listen to music that is either mainstream or obscure.

And? Relevance? Well, it occurs to me that 10-15 years ago things like video streaming for movies didn’t really exist. Buying music online didn’t get you a pretty instantaneous album download (and buying a single song? Another story completely). Ordering books online was not really a thing either. Brick and mortar was king (and still is for lots of things), but the online option… it just wasn’t what it is today. I think that matters. Fewer barriers are encourage the good ol’ consumer. That potentially makes a case for piracy, but I’d rather not digress here.

For some these might sound like excuses bent on legitimizing bad behaviour. I can’t really say. For me, I think it applies.

Do I Think About Who Piracy Hurts?

The answer? Sort of. I’m aware at some level that there are countless people behind the making of a movie, a song, a book, whatever. There are names of people I’ve never met. And that could be something to consider. We live in a society that’s brutally aware of how huge the world is. We see names of people every day, in every way, that we’ll never know or meet. It’s numbing. And I must be honest… that same numbing makes it harder for me to care. I don’t mean to be deliberately malicious, but the sheer facelessness engenders apathy. At least it has for me, and that I know is a terrible thing to say.

In some ways that same facelessness is being counteracted by the more media-savvy artists. Artists who make very potent efforts to connect with their audience, to bring their personality to the fore, stand out. For me, those artists will see my patronage. Amanda Palmer comes to mind as a perfect (and perhaps extreme) example of this. If you think about it, the formula is obvious: if the artist feels like a friend, or at least someone I know well, why would anyone steal from them?

What Now?

Like a New Years resolution, I resolve to think about the people behind what entertains me. Stories, movies, and music are all loves of mine. I should treat the things I love with better care.

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