My article yesterday on content theft has sparked some keen conversation here and in my email stream. One reader — “Robert William King” … I put his name in quotes because he refused to sign in using OpenID to leave a comment confirming his identification — sent me an email that appears to defend the behavior of the pirates stealing my content and I share his thoughts with you now…
I have no idea if “Robert William King” is a content pirate or not, but his argument appears to support the thievery side and not mine:
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to just reply directly to your blog post due to not having any login credentials, but I hope this reaches you appropriately.
I read your site every chance I can, as you always seem to have interesting and or insightful things to post. I found that I agreed with what you said almost all of the time, with the exception of your most recent post on Urban Semiotic: How to Fight Content Theft.
I don’t think anyone will deny that posting content normally distributed through retail channels has absolutely no effect on the retail sales/profit of that market; exactly how much though is a constant matter of debate.
Given that the internet has really empowered people to do so many things and possibly change the way content and services are rendered, does it not seem like perhaps the future of monetary gain through these markets is to allow people to contribute whatever amount they feel is of appropriate value?
I can appreciate the notion of feeling harmed that someone has stolen your work, and potentially cut into the overall margins. There is no arguing what is felt by seeing this happen to something you have created. There isn’t really any justification for it either, but what I’m suggesting is that an examination of what might be the future are major projects by both Trent Reznor and Radiohead. Both very highly “successful” artists that released their content on-line at literally no retail price, but instead requested that the burden of monetary value be placed upon the consumers themselves. I last heard that this type of product/service marketing in these two instances have worked out to be very profitable for both.
While many distribution channels are still not as nearly cutting edge or experimental as this, this might be something to consider. It could end up being “the new way”.
I understand people want free content or, if they cannot have it, they want to decide what they think they should pay. In my experience, people rarely understand the real cost of producing content and, if they can, they choose not to donate if they can get away with it.
Janna and I created sosASL.com as a donation-sponsored site that is heavily used — and after a year of constant use by the public and zero donations from the madding crowd — we decided to remove the “Donate” button and let the consumers consume for free at our donated expense.
Janna and I also made our first book Hand Jive — free for download on the internet after the rights reverted to us as the authors. That book is heavily downloaded but no one ever clicked on our Donate link to pay us or to make a contribution — and so we removed the button and, again, let the willing masses pull down our content without cost while we foot the bandwidth and hosting bill.
Human nature compels most people to get something for free if they can get away with it and having to pay even a small token as a memento of appreciation can create a terrible backlash.
When I was a graduate student at Columbia University in New York City, we were often plied with free Broadway tickets. Tickets that cost the paying public $150.00USD were free to us and you never saw a more critical and unappreciative morass of Ivy League educated morons who hated each and every show.
One of our professors, a theatre book publisher, always hated the idea of giving us free tickets. He said we should be forced to pay just a few dollars because, he rightly argued, if you have zero monetary investment in the event — you have no reason to even begin to be engaged by the performance. Without your money at stake there is no covenant created between performer and audience and “the cruel critic” becomes the norm instead of the eager and involved investor.
At the time we all rebelled against the idea of paying one penny for a Broadway theatre ticket because we believed we were entitled to free performances, but now, in retrospect, I can see how the argument you must be invested monetarily in a for-pay experience is required in order to find success as a seller and a purchaser. Without the exchange of something of agreed-upon value in pricing there is no revelation of learning or catharsis — there can only be complaining and ungratefulness.
When the piracy supporters try to argue that “content wants to be free” they are taking the super-critical point that ideas and information should not have a commercial value. That’s fine for them, but they should not piteously plant their wants on our needs.
If a publisher decides to sell a book for $40 why does a pirate believe they can take that property and give it away for free in a republication scheme?
Pirates rely on stealing other people’s content while never creating anything of value in the marketplace except in self-righteously discounting the established works of others.
If an artist decides to rely on the donations of fans — that’s fine — but when a publisher pays an author and fills a distribution channel with hardcopy product — there is no legal or moral excuse for the pirate to take unauthorized control of that container and transform it into another container based on their whims and wishes.
There’s no reason arguing this point with thieves because the content pirate relies on a fantastical view of the world to excuse their lawlessness — for them to begin to care about the long-term reverberation of their behavior destroys their very argument that stealing is good: One day there will be nothing left to steal.
If we continue to let pirates set the price point and distribution terms of published works, no new works will be created because authors can’t afford to write for free and even if an artist decides to go the “donation only” route, you’ll still have content pirates waiting in the waters to steal that “donated” content to make it totally free just because they believe they are entitled to destroy the free market system of consent and exchange that gave them a modicum of power in their self-contorted vacuum of excuses pretending to be ethics and ideals.