I want to talk to you all today about something very dear to my heart, as I am a creator (as many of you are) and I have also seen, first hand, what pirating does.

“I can’t afford to buy the book, movie, song, art etc.”

First, I want to say I understand. I know how hard it is to see everyone reading a book and not be able to buy it. It’s hard to avoid spoilers, it’s lonely to be left out of discussing the book with everyone. There are so many books I’d love to read, but I haven’t because I can’t afford to buy every single book released in February; further, I don’t have enough influence for publishers to send me every book and absolve me of the need to buy books.

I get it.

I really do.

All of those feelings are valid. But having those feelings does not excuse you from violating someone else’s rights. The most obvious thing to do in this situation is use a library. That’s what they’re there for! And yes, not all libraries are shelved equally. But most libraries have someone who is in charge of purchasing books for the library system; talk to that person, most librarians are more than happy to order a book for you if they can. The library is a beautiful thing. Use it. It’s legal.

Other legal ways of obtaining books include giveaways on Twitter and Goodreads (which yes are time consuming, but can be worth your while).

How about them pirates?

The other day I was on Twitter and I saw an author tweet she had seen her book, which is only available on Amazon unlimited, on a site for free. I thought I noted the tweet so I could go back and reference it, but I didn’t and I feel bad, so if anyone knows who this is please let me know so I can edit this post (she published a f/f romance). Back to the point. This author makes a lot of points, how she struggles to live within her means and how people reading pirated versions of her book hurts her, steals money she rightfully earned and violates her rights. Which is absolutely true. As much as we’d like to think otherwise, thoughts such as the following are a complete disregard for creativity and the author’s time, talents and rights:

  • “It’s only one copy.”
  • “This author makes so much money, I don’t need to pay them to read their book.”
  • “I can’t afford to buy the book.”
  • “I’m only doing it this once because everyone else has already read it.”

I think the word “pirating” has allowed people to distance themselves from the crime. Pirates aren’t super common anymore in this day and age, and so pirating seems like this far off concept. It’s not really a crime. But it is a crime. Let’s call it what it is, stealing.

You are stealing money, you are stealing time, you are stealing respect; and most of all you are violating someone’s right. And I know “violate” is a heavy word. It invokes a certain connotation—as it should. It conveys a certain severity—as it must. But make no mistake, by pirating someone else’s work, you are violating someone’s rights to their intellectual property. I don’t know how else to communicate the lack of consideration and total disregard for another person.

And not just from the author, although that is the person who is directly being violated. Other people’s time, talents and money goes into promoting that book and bringing it to what you know it as. You are also hurting editors, agents, marketers, designers, copy editors, sensitivity readers; essentially all the people who were involved in the production of the book.

The tragedy of the commons

The next thing I want to talk about is the common good. This in no way invalidates the above statements of violating someone’s rights when pirating. I include this point to add to the conversation. The common good, meaning the good of us all enjoying other people’s creations, depends on paying artists; including but not limited to authors, artists, singers, film makers, illustrators etc. One of the reasons nations with strong intellectual property rights create so much is because their artists can afford to.

If you weren’t aware, China is not great at enforcing intellectual property rights laws. There are thousands of shops in China with movies (that haven’t been released in theaters, much less on DVD). There are many well known sites you can download music for free. There’s a site all Chinese people use, it’s like YouTube but without any rules. TV shows, music and movies are all uploaded there for anyone to watch and consume. Sounds appealing right? WRONG. In the long run this is degenerating to artists, creativity and art.

There are very few films produced and directed in China. Very few musicians produce new music. This is because no one can afford to. If you want to dedicate your life to art and producing art, you need a source of income. Paying or using legal ways (such as watching official accounts on YouTube, listening to Spotify and checking out books from the library) to consume media is the ONLY way to encourage and be sure mass media is produced and enjoyed by the masses in a consistent way that benefits both the consumer and the creator.

To their credit, China is making great strikes to better protect intellectual property rights. There are now advertisements on their YouTube (as well as other measures they’re taking to protect intellectual property rights. But the fact remains that everything comes with a price). In the short term, yes it is only one song or movie, music video or book. But in the long term, over many many years of everyone viewing “just one thing” for free, it will hurt society and it discourages people from creating content. This is the tragedy of the digital commons. When everyone takes more than what is rightfully theirs, the common good suffers and the land goes to waste.

In conclusion

Don’t pirate. Don’t steal. Don’t violate someone’s basic human rights. They’re called intellectual property rights right a reason. Pay for the right to view content someone else created. If you don’t have the the money, save up or use the library. If you’re watching YouTube make sure it’s Taylor Swift’s official Vevo account, and not some random joe who put together pictures of Taylor Swift to “You Belong With me.” Again, I know it’s hard to wait. It’s even sometimes hard to find ways to consume legally. But the world has come a long way in the past 5 years, and by world I mean the Internet. Chances are if you’re willing to make the effort, and have the patience, to find out how to legally consume the desired media, the world will find a way.

This need to keep “in the know” is even harder to ignore now that we have the Internet. It’s tempting to watch what you want, when you want. Instant gratification is a real vice and it’s something we all seem to suffer from more now than ever. But remember keeping up with the “know” isn’t necessary (that’s a whole other blog post), and it’s not an excuse for hurting someone else and violating their rights.