Monday, July 28, 2014

STOP THIEF! The Conclusion

Oh my gosh, if that isn't the cutest pirate! Photo courtesy of

Apologize for the delay with this one, it was supposed to publish automatically and did not!

Throughout this series I think its clear I've struggled with the moral aspects of piracy, theft, and "sharing" in general. And I'm not the only one. As one of the posters in the book piracy forum made clear:

"When I find an author whose work I like and want to support, if I have obtained an item at no cost, how can we make it right financially? I wish there was a no questions asked type of place where we could pay authors. // Many of us struggle with our own moral issues in this type of activity, but some read so much it is too costly to keep up the pace"

I wish there was indeed! Sometimes an author or designer I go back and repurchase items from them, because you know what, I do like their stuff and I want to see them make more! For every me, though, there's probably ten that don't.

What I've determined is that there are multiple paths towards living in a pirate world:

1. "Suffer the little children". As Jesus once said, allow them. Let them come even if they are not desirable. As we can see from the authors, they've found ways of coping with them even if they don't like the behavior. As author JA Konrath put it "You CANNOT assume that a downloaded free book is a lost sale." Read the rest of his thoughts here. They are significantly enlightening!

I think this is the only approach that genealogists really have. What we can do, however, is use the tools and technology in front of us to manage the situation. Put a citation on that photo. Insert a unique element that can only be traced to you. But at the same time, I think opening up our permissions would be a good approach as well. Why are we obsessed with copyrighting photographs of tombstones that anyone can take? I understand the work involved in getting them - I do genealogy photography myself, but I really feel that I'm giving to the karma of the community when I allow folks to use them as they will.

2. Work with your customers to give them exclusives that they can't get anywhere else.

Cameron Jace, one of my favorite authors who are alive (yes, this is a category LOL) has a Facebook group, Tweets and works with his fans to get them exclusive access to his books before they hit the marketplace, we can talk with him and interact with him making the level of connections to the story much more interesting. Would I have read his other books if I hadn't been connected to him on Facebook? Probably not.

The other way of doing this is to continually incentivize your patrons with exclusives. Rabbiz Designs is a Thai designer of amigurumi who are wildly pirated. But by giving her exclusive buys incentives to keep buying, she gives her people a reason to come back. And because the levels of entry are significant, the designer gives them a secondary layer of encouragement to not pirate her designs, because they are hard to get and much easier to figure out if pirated.

Another way to do this is to position yourself as an active member of the community, so that your customers feel as if you, as the author, as the designer, etc. is a trusted friend. Julia Trice, owner of Mind of Winter Designs to me is a great example of this. Not only is she active in her own forum, she's also active in the Anthropologie Knits group on Ravelry, but also gives away advice to other designers in the design forums. Even though I don't know her personally, we've talked back and forth several times, and that's made me think hard about sharing her patterns with others...and others have said the same thing. There's a power in interaction that I don't think people realize!

3. Educate.

Teach them, my friends. So many folks don't realize what they are doing is piracy or theft. Explain to them how to build a house of citations. Give them simple ways to understand that they have to ask politely for things.

The key here is that the exchange can't be full of "You stole it! I'm telling Mom!!!!" type interchanges. And going to social media doesn't help either. Whining to your friends that the mean man stole your photo is not helping matters.

Sometimes Americans also forget that we live in a world that is governed by a hodgepodge of laws, cultural practices, and religious rules that vary from country to country and that what flies here as theft isn't necessarily theft in other countries. Our IP rules are some of the strictest in the world, but other countries don't worry about those same protections. Or that their cultural history is one of sharing and collecting, so that's what they do online. 

4. Defend.

Here's where it gets tricky. You could spend a million and one years on defense and it would never get you anywhere, because the amount of piracy out there is just amazing. And it spreads virally, to the point that some books and designs have been pirated millions of times. I understand why some folks retreat to their house of defense, cry, and take their designs and writings offline. The natural reaction is to be super frustrated, and let me tell you - I get that totally! But there are a few ways that you can defend that are the smart way, and some that are the not-so-smart way.
--1. Send a cease and desist to Google. This link for search results and this link for Google services. Overwhelmingly, the first place people go to find things is Google. They're not brand loyal, they're looking for where it is listed FREE. Cutting down on the number of people who can find a pirate site with your content is the biggest chunk of the battle. (There are people who actually use Bing and Yahoo too, you can use basically the same letter to address them to at this link.)
--2. Let's say most of these links go to a file share network of some kind. You can get some of them to remove the file from their website by sending a C&D to them, too. Here's some helpful ones:

RYU Share:

Key here is that you're looking for sites based in the US and EU that have intellectual property laws. They will respond much faster than other sites based in countries without such laws (I'm looking at you Sweden, Russia, China, Thailand, Ukraine, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.).
--3. For the most part, most people can stop with 1 and 2. But there are a few that might head to option 3. That's engage the pirater.

For the most part, the people who do this aren't your classic cartoon villain. They aren't out to steal your livelihood. They may not even have looked at your stuff before personally. They may not even realize that by borrowing the idea of the classic circle of crafting friends and using it on the international scale, they have jumped from friendly borrowing to intellectual property thievery.

So I'll start out by saying tread lightly here. Don't contact them when you're upset, angry, frustrated, hungry, tired, or in another language that you don't speak/write well. Context is extremely critical in an online environment, as its hard to tell tone. Talk to them as a bud. Tell them how you love that they love your pattern or work so much, but that you're hurt they're not directing them directly to you. Work in a conversation and explain your design principles and how you're a rocking single mom and doing this to pay for the kid's ice skating lessons (or maybe you're a dad writing down the family stories about dragons and castles you told your kids) (or maybe you're a struggling graduate student who needs the money for books).

My point by this? By engaging them civilly, you're starting up a connection with them. They may not take the post down. But they will think twice about doing it again, because you're now a friend (in the online sense of the word). You're not the big, bad company trying to take them down in a big conspiracy to make fun of, you're a nice person trying to do right. Will this approach work? Sometimes. More often than not, it won't. But for folks who have an audience in the size of dozens or hundreds, not thousands or millions, every person converted to your cause helps - and it might convert the people who see the pirates site into potential customers, because they can see how you acted with class. The thing about this is that it takes time. A lot of time. More time than most people who run a small business have (and that includes you designers and authors too!).

So there's a tradeoff - do you spend the time fighting or do you spend your time on positive pursuits like marketing to potential leads? My answer would be to spend your time marketing. Make your brand your own, and own it like no one else.

I hope you have learned something by reading my thoughts into an exploration of piracy. I don't know if its helpful to any of you to understand this, but it helped me understand my moral quandries with this world. Will I pirate in the future? On occasion, sure, it might happen when I find something really rare. Regularly? Probably not. 
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