Dealing with Piracy
Avast the masses and bail the bilgepipe, because today we’re digging into the thorny topic of piracy. Yes, whether you’re a new indie fighting for attention or a multi-movie billionaire smoking imported moon-meth, people stealing your work is still a concern. Presumably, I mean, haven’t gotten that sweet moon-meth money yet so just making guesses at that level. But for the most part, piracy is a concern every creator has to deal with.
It’s important to establish upfront that this entry is going to deal solely with the reality of piracy. We could spend hundreds of thousands of words going into the ethics and philosophy, all of which would have as much real-world application as debating battle tactics for a fight between Batman and Superman. Whether or not stealing is right is something every person has to decide for themselves, usually from situation-to-situation; nothing I type here will change that. All we can do as creators is accept the reality of our situation and move from there.
Every Fan Chooses Whether or Not to Steal
Let’s get out in front of this one, because it’s a fundamental concept I see a lot of folks often ignoring. Anytime someone buys your product, they’re choosing not to steal it. Case in point: streaming apps. That’s actually what prompted today’s topic, in fact. Right now, we’re watching the television industry fracture and segment, like a digital version of cable. And all the companies are thrilled, chopping up their content into smaller and smaller pieces that can each be charged for. Which would have been a sound economic policy once upon a time, but in this case is going to lead them up shit-creek. Why? Because their fans are currently choosing not to steal that content. We’ll go into why that is a bit later, for right now we have to get that fact established.
Any content I want, I can have, more or less right now. The quality might vary, some resources would be easier, yet the fact remains there’s no paywall that could stop any of us from watching our favorite show/movie/whatever right this moment. That is something every creator should consider, should keep in the back of their minds. Push your audience too hard, make them feel like it’s about grabbing their wallets more than their attention, and they have recourse.
If you don’t believe me, come back and click on this in five years. Tell me how those dozens of small, still-paid streaming services are holding up. I think we both know the end of that story before it begins.
People Steal for Different Reasons
There are a certain number of people who will never buy your product, only steal. Nothing you say or do will impact those people. That doesn’t mean you have to make it easy, but by the same token, don’t lay up late at night losing sleep over it. They’ve made their choices and have no interest in looking back. Thankfully, these aren’t the only folks out there.
For a great many others, it all comes down to accessibility. By accessibility I simply mean how difficult it is to get the product through legitimate means. This can be anything from platform to format to price, anything that genuinely limits their ability to get the product. A great example of this from recent memory would be The Room. With the release of Disaster Artist last year, several of my film friends got together to see the original. They ended up having to use a pirated copy for the simple fact that the movie was not available to be streamed through any viable platform. It was something they’d have gladly paid for, but there was no option for them to take that path.
Again, without diving into the ethics of all this, we have to accept the simple reality that if we don’t make our work easily accessible to those who want it, they’ll go through other channels. But the reverse is that by realizing one such motive to drive piracy, we can cut it off. You can never stop the pure pirates, however you can, and honestly should, be making your work accessible enough to everyone who wants to buy it legitimately. Which is a fine lead-in to the final section:
How to Combat Piracy
Aside from the obvious clean-up work: send takedowns if you see your work popping up illegally in real venues, use DMCAs, etc; the best piece of advice I’ve found for stopping piracy is this: Be considerate of your fans. That might sound like hokey flim-flam, but I mean it sincerely. At every step of the business process, really consider how each choice will impact the people who enjoy your work. Make the work easily available, at a fair price, with minimal hurdles to jump through. Listen to what they want and where they’re moving. React the way you’d want someone who valued your opinion to react.
For a real-life example, I’ve had folks ask why the serials for Years 1-3 are still down, and the reason is that once they were in KU, I got a lot of responses from people who really appreciated them going into the program. Based on what I’ve seen and the feedback I’ve gotten, KU services more fans than the serials did, so for as long as that stays true it makes the most sense for them to live there. There’s some trade-off for me, KU pays well on long books, but I also lose the driving force to the site for other projects.
Now that isn’t me saying KU is the solution by any means, that program is specific and every book should find its own best fit. The point is simply that, from the creator side, the best we can do to minimize piracy is to make things easy on our audience, and show them that we’re listening. Be the kind of creator they want to support, to see succeed, and to hopefully, one day, earn themselves a hit off that sweet, pure diamond moon-meth pipe.