Words for Writers: Why Pirating Hurts Art

Okay, I’m going to get a bit preachy here. I have been working in copyright for a few months now at my job, and I just wanted to post some thoughts on why pirating is bad for art.

Yes, it’s bad for the artist. But it’s also bad for art.

Therefore, if you like quality programming, intriguing movies, original bands, thoughtful novels, and ground-breaking comics, then pirating is also bad for you.

One of the largest problems with pirating is that the artist at the end of the line – the screenplay writer, for example – gets screwed out of their residuals/royalties. Sure, Brad Pitt can afford to eat the loss of profit if you pirate his movie; but the guy who wrote the movie, the guy who has to support his family, and probably spent three years on that movie and couldn’t work on anything else during that time… he’s can’t afford to eat the profit loss.

Pirating hurts the little guy in the arts, and when the little guy can’t afford to make art any more, we’ll be left with the shallow, stale, and pre-packaged crap made by corporations, marketing departments, and conglomarates.

Everyone in the world profits from their labour – burger-flippers to CEOs, construction workers to sex trade workers, factory personnel to telemarketers.

Artists (painters/dancers/singers/musicions/writers/actors/etc.) are the only workers who are EXPECTED to work for nothing, and to be pleased to make no profit (if they even pay off what they had to invest to make the art in the first place).

Singing and dance lessons, paint materials, instruments, studio time and producer fees, computers and software, travel and location rental – that all costs money and much of it is dead required to create art. And the artists doing so ALSO do not have the time to work a “real” job to make money.

So, for anyone who isn’t at the superstar level, if they make enough money back on their book/album/film to pay for their costs to MAKE their book/album/film, then they can consider it a win.

But if someone enjoys their book/album/film without paying, then they are asking the artist to work for free, and the middle-class artist just can’t afford to do that.

So they have to go get jobs to sustain their lives and have to put aside art.

Can you imagine – what would have happened to the world of SF/F if Isaac Asimov’s books had been pirated and placed in torrents all over the internet? And Mrs. Asimov made him go down to McDonalds and start flipping burgers to pay the rent?

I’m not advocating for everyone to go out and spend every single paycheque they have on albums/gallery paintings/hardcover novels. But I am suggesting that people consider before they hit that “download” button.

If you don’t want to buy the whole CD, why not just buy the track you want on iTunes? Wait until the book is in paperback. Or go in with a friend and buy the book together and share it. Download the ebook legally from Amazon for less than a grande latte at Starbucks, and read it on your computer (just as you would if you DLed it illegally) if you have no eReader/iPad/Kobo/Kindle. There are lots of cost effective ways to get at what you want that are also legal.

And if you love it enough to DL it, then love the artist enough to support them.  And if you support them, then they can work on making more amazing things.

And this is all to support my main point: Legitimatly buying art means that the art will be GOOD.

Think about it.  How much more expensive is it to make an amazing show like Life on Mars or Doctor Who than Survivor. Even with the cash prize, Surviver is tens of thousands of dollars less expensive to make.  But what would you rather watch?

Another fifty seasons of Survivor? Or another ten of Doctor Who?

If you don’t support Doctor Who, legally, by watching it on the air when it airs on the BBC (either with PVR, time-delay device, TiVo, or in-the-moment, or by buying box sets), or waiting all of a few days or weeks to watch it in it’s second run countries like BBC America or on SPACE here in Canada, then you are helping the show regain the debt it incurred to make it. In the black, the show can afford to go on to make another season. Now, I do understand that there is massive profit from merchandising and the like, so perhaps Doctor Who wasn’t the best example, but bear with me; even the profits from selling plastic sonic screwdrivers isn’t really enough to affect the BBC’s choice to renew the series if the ratings say no one is watching it.

And when the ratings say no one is watching it, it gets cancelled. And they make a cheaper show to replace it, because they have less to lose if it tanks, and less money to put into it because they’re still in debt from the good program.

See what I mean? Let’s try this on a smaller scale:

I write a book. It takes me four years to do so. Let’s calculate what I put into that.

Laptop: $1 200
Software: $600
Mailing Manuscripts to agents: $200
Getting promo materials made up: $200
Travel to conventions, convention costs: $500 per.
Hours: Say 10/week on average for four years= 2080 hours. At minimum wage ($10 in Ontario) = $20 800

Total=$23 500

That’s about what your standard minimum wage crappy job makes in a whole year’s worth of take-home.

Let’s say I make back $2 for every book sold. To make $23 500, I need to sell 11 750 books.  Okay, easy for J.K. Rowling to do, less so for me. And yeah, I would have bought the laptop and software anyway, so we can drop that value down to say, $20 000, which means I need to sell 10 000 books to see any return on my investment.

I can’t do that if people are copying my book for free, or putting up advanced digital copies online for download, or anything else.  And if I can’t make that money back, then I will be understandably reluctant to spend any time at all doing a second book. Or I won’t be able to because I have to get a higher-paying and higher-time-investment job so I can affor rent and sudent debt. Or possibly, if I write anything, it will be something I am garunteed a profit on – say, some romance harlequin dreck.

“But I don’t want you to write dreck! I want you to write a good book like your last one!” you might say. Well, then prove to me that it’s worth it. Prove to me that my time won’t be wasted. Don’t DL my book illegally.

You pay for quality when you buy a DVD player, a lawnmower, a meal at a starred restaurant. Why not pay to ensure quality in your entertainment, as well?


For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: Why Pirating Hurts Art
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