Piracy isn’t cool

Forget Peter Ustinov playing Blackbeard or Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow – piracy isn’t cool, it isn’t clever, and there is nothing endearing about it!

I don’t usually attempt to produce topical posts – my embroidery is a very long-term sort of occupation! – but I care about the health of the needlecrafts industry, and there is something we all need to be aware of. I’ve let my thoughts settle over the weekend, and this is my two-pennyworth.

Monique over at Inside Number Twenty has recently discovered her charts being “shared” without her permission and has done a few sums to see what the actual financial costs are to her and to the other businesses associated with hers.  The results make sobering reading.  No wonder designers are shutting up shop, as Jen Funk Weber reports – not merely because designs are being “shared” (read “pirated”), but because people are downloading free charts rather than paying for a designer’s work. Eventually the designers will have to do something else to earn a living, and then the range of designs available will no longer develop and grow.

A few months ago Tricia Wilson also discussed the financial and social aspects of needlecrafts in a post on The Embroiderer’s Story. There’s a great deal of subtle interplay between the buying decisions we make and the ongoing effects that spread throughout the industry.

The music industry has been complaining about piracy ever since file-sharing became possible, and has been ignored because people consider that pop stars make so much money they won’t miss the few pounds from file-sharers. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know about margins in the entertainment industry, so I can’t comment on that.

Copyright and intellectual property law was originally devised to support and encourage artists – in all media – so that society as a whole can benefit from their work, while they receive just recompense for their efforts.

As for needlecrafts – most of the businesses are so small that “industry” conjures up entirely the wrong image. The margins are small, and loss of even a small portion of revenue may make a difference between a viable business and a designer giving up and getting a non-creative job to pay the bills.

As Yvette has already commented, sharing a copyrighted design is theft. There are a whole range of people who suffer as a result, including ordinary people who enjoy stitching and would never dream of using a pirated chart.

We were all told at kindergarten that theft is wrong. How come people have forgotten?

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Robert Bronsdon

    “ignored because people consider that pop stars make so much money they won’t miss the few pounds from file-sharers”

    That is only one of the arguments. The more compelling argument given,

    Would those people who “pirated” the music have paid for it in the first place?

    It is easy to think that everyone who copies something from a friend wanted it and so would have paid for it. This just isn’t the case. Often people will take things because they are free/cheaper than expected. Have you ever bought something in a supermarket, that you didn’t originally intend to buy, because it was on offer. What about if that offer was “take this home for £0″.

    You say that “sharing copyrighted design is theft”. This is just not the case. Imagine for a second a future where a machine exists that can freely replicate an object. Lets use a mobile phone as our object to be replicated. You go out one day and you buy the phone, wow shiny. I want that phone and so I use my replication machine on it. Where is the theft. You still have your phone, no person has “lost” anything. The phone manufacturer has failed to gain but no-one has lost. If such a replication machine were to exists for physical items, very different rules of business would have to exist.

    In the modern world replication of digital artefacts costs a negligible amount, people have to understand that digital items lose any value. The value should be attributed not to the design itself but to the time it takes to create that design. It costs a negligible amount for a designer to “re-create” their design once it exists so why should I be expected pay large amounts of money for this.

    However I agree the designers time is important. Sadly I do not have the business nuance to come up with a complete re factoring of the businesses involved here. Maybe these designers could charge for bespoke designs. This gives a very direct link between the cost of design time and the item given to the consumer. If there is not enough money to be made doing this then maybe designing charts just isn’t a viable business any more.

    Hopefully those designers enjoy what they do and can continue to produce the designs for the enjoyment of putting the design together. Hopefully some people will remain to support the efforts of those designers and donate to them.

    The world moves on, business models move on. Its not nice, its business.

  2. It’s not theft. The use of the word theft is what is a weasel word that those who try to argue copyright use to try to poison the debate water. The correct terminology is copyright infringement. It is the infringement of rights granted by a government on an idea.

    You are wrong about what copyright was originally intended for. Copyright originated in the Statute of Anne from the year 1709. It’s original purpose was to protect the rights of middlemen (printers and booksellers) to make copies of the work that they paid an author to create.

    What we have here is a business model problem. A possible better, modern, business model would be to build a community around free designs. By giving away an abundant good (infinitely downloadable designs) you could charge for scarcities (the artistic creation of custom designs, finished products, tools, etc). In fact by freeing up designs you might increase the size of the market by making access easier to new customers.

  3. One hint: for your interest, and well living, don’t see that as a theft (even if legally it is theft, I know).
    Why? Well, our society never relied on “copyright” to sustain itself until just the last decades. The concept of “copyright” is a working business model based on the costs of reproduction: in other words, scarcity. In the digital age we need a different model, not based anymore on scarcity… and so not based anymore on copyright. :)

    I might suggest this video: Johanna Blakley: Lessons from Fashion’s Free Culture. :)

    Good luck! :)

  4. You need to be more clear. Copyrighted materials can certainly be shared without infringement. The specific copyright has to be examined to determine whether sharing is infringing or not. See:

    http://creativecommons.org/about/

    The automatic “sharing copyrighted materials is theft” mantra does just as much disservice and damage to those that are trying to get their copyrighted materials distributed as widely as possible.

  5. Because piracy isn’t theft. That’s not to say that it’s right, but it isn’t theft and the lessons we learn as children about why theft is wrong don’t prepare us for the ethics of piracy.

  6. The ethics of the digital world are still uncharted seas… For the next generation, sharing is not theft but a way of spreading the word.

    A difficult problem to tackle though…

  7. It is not piracy (even though the sharers have now adopted this term for themselves). It is not theft.

    If I steal something from someone else, he does not have it anymore. Stealing is only possible with scarce goods. Ideas are not scarce.

    If your business model is based on artificial scarcity, it basically does not work. Ideas are not scarce, so you cannot hope to come up with an idea and then sell it in perpetuity. You can only sell the act of coming up with the idea, since _getting_ideas_ is scarce.

    The following business models might work:

    – Custom Design. The customer pays for you to come up with a new design.
    – Cataloguing. You sell (temporary) access to a catalogue of existing designs. You cannot prevent others from sharing what they accessed, but unless they make a catalogue of their own (which also has costs), your continuing effort to collect, categorize, and present designs in a single, well-known place is something worth paying for.

  8. We were all told at kindergarten that sharing is caring. How come you’ve forgotten?

    I note you also criticise people for “downloading free charts rather than paying for a designer’s work”. Why shouldn’t people produce work and allow others to share it freely on the internet, if that’s what whey want to do?

    Do you use Wikiipedia? You certainly use Free Software, because you use the internet and the internet largely runs on Free Software.

    Lastly, copyright infringement isn’t theft. Even if they are both criminal offences (which varies according to jurisdiction) they are different crimes with different penalties. You might as well say that parking on a double yellow line is genocide; after all, they are both illegal.

  9. First off, let me comment on the Music Industry part of this article as I’m working in that business and I since you didn’t know I thought I could share some expertise here;
    Let me start by saying that there are a lot of bullshit out there created and believed by people who don’t have any meaningful knowledge about the matter. Pure wishful thinking or “they heard it from someone” etc. Unfortunately, the vast majority agrees with it without even questioning. Mankind’s biggest problem due to the intelligence which the vast majority possesses. I’ve seen many forums where 99% of the commenters say pretty much the same thing.
    The Music and the Film companies have been taking a serious hit ever since people started to “file sharing”. Why do you think they made more “remakes” and comic con films lately? The same goes for the music industry where a lot more “crap” was distributed. A lot of films were shut down because of lack of money Due to the “file sharing”.
    Those whom has no expertise what so ever about this matter boldly claim that this is bull shit and they do not lose money at all. They are just doing this to scam money.. Really? They were totally quiet before this file sharing began.. Coincidence that they started to go after people now? That is just ignorant and wishful thinking. Of course they get hurt. That’s why they are doing all these court dates nowadays.. From another perspective, I’m belong to the internet generation, I would want them to change the way they distribute movies and music, of course, but I’m being reasonable also. I’m not being ignorant because I want things to be in a certain way that they aren’t right now. That’s just foolish.
    Truth is, they Are hurting BUT in order for them to survive, they’ll need to adapt. Many of the record labels are doing that, but the biggest ones have some troubles doing that. Mainly due to their “size”.

    @Robert and Jack; It’s not literally theft when the original product never gets displaced. But in the digital world, when you use a product or a service that you don’t pay for, it’s “theft within the digital world”. Obviously you can’t remove the original source when dealing with digital products, nevertheless, the morals should be the same and unfortunately people don’t see that. You pay for food, clothes, tobacco and alcohol. Paying for creative art shouldn’t be any more different just because it’s digital. People have still put time and effort in doing that and it cost money creating that just like everything else.
    @Robert Bronsdon; ” You go out one day and you buy the phone, wow shiny. I want that phone and so I use my replication machine on it. Where is the theft.” That’s not the same thing because it’s for your own use. It’s legal to copy the material you bought for your own use such as for the iPod or the car-stereo etc. If that machine would to exist for consumers then it could and also would be used for replicating and then selling. If you sell something that you didn’t do and take the money for yourself, is plain wrong.
    When copying another persons craft, be it music, films or books, and share it to millions using torrents or whatnot (Not family, it’s legal to share within your family) without the permission of the person who created it, that’s copyright infringement. They surely lose when so many people are using their products without having paid for it. No one else has the right to distribute another persons work unless they say so. That’s their right. You’re neglecting the other persons right by doing so and that’s wrong however you look at it.
    FYI, the basic process of making one single is; Creating, producing, mixing and editing, mastering, publishing, marketing and PR to name a few stuff. That normally costs about $50000 or more depending on what type of artist that is. You buy the song on iTunes och Amazon for $0.99 cents.. Imagine a whole album.
    I agree upon that we need a more modern model for copyrights, but to falsely claim stuff about this matter is just ignorant. I’m speaking generally and not only of the people on this forum.
    Just wanted to put my two cents worth as well.

  10. My, my, my.

    “it’s not stealing”
    “it’s not theft”
    “the manufacturer doesn’t lose”
    “it’s not really valuable — it’s just digital”
    “copyright was really for the printer”
    “nobody’s taking any money from you, you’re just not making any”
    “you just need a new business model — you’re so outdated”

    Let me guess. You all download pirated works and are attempting — quite earnestly — to defend yourselves.

    You can’t. Because you’re stealing. Yes, yes you are.
    Stealing.
    Taking something that doesn’t belong to you and making it free to someone else is stealing. Just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean it’s right.
    Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it’s valueless. It just means you don’t value it.
    There’s a difference.

    Here’s the business model, people:
    DESIGNER makes PATTERN.
    PATTERN gets sold to 5 HOBBYISTS.
    DESIGNER gets money from 5 HOBBYISTS.
    5 HOBBYISTS receive the entertainment which is in the PATTERN.
    DESIGNER now has home-based job DESIGNING PATTERNS.
    DESIGNER continues to make NEW PATTERNS.
    NEW PATTERNS get sold to 5 HOBBYISTS.
    5 HOBBYISTS receive the entertainment which is in the NEW PATTERNS.
    DESIGNER continues to make NEW PATTERNS.
    etc.

    And now, for your model:
    DESIGNER makes PATTERN.
    PATTERN gets sold to 1 HOBBYIST.
    DESIGNER gets money from 1 HOBBYIST.
    1 HOBBYIST scans PATTERN and makes it free online.
    4 HOBBYISTS download PATTERN, and receive the entertainment which is in the PATTERN without paying DESIGNER.
    DESIGNER does *not* have home-based job DESIGNING PATTERNS.
    DESIGNER seeks out mundane job to pay bills, quite possibly putting HOBBYIST out of work.

    Your business model has a few problems. You might want to look into that.

    Yes, you’re stealing. You’re taking someone else’s creative work and the funds they could make from it and pocketing it for yourself. You’re receiving something tangible (the PATTERN) and something intangible (the ENTERTAINMENT) and sending no compensation to the creator.

    We have different words for different kinds of stealing: burglary, theft, copyright infringement. To say it’s not stealing because that’s not the technical word? That’s lawyer-ly weasel wording (yes, I’m looking at you, Jack).

    The heart of it is: You expect to to be entertained for free.
    You have an idea that those who provide entertainment should give it away, and that you have a RIGHT to their work, and that you don’t have to pay for their work.

    So you justify that by saying it’s not really stealing, because it’s not valuable, when in actuality it’s that you don’t value entertainment enough to go on and pay for it.

    You’re stealing. You just don’t CARE that you’re stealing.
    You don’t actually create anything. You just steal what you want.
    It doesn’t matter if it’s a digital file.
    It’s still stealing.
    So stop it.

  11. Wow. I think people totally have missed the point of this post. The fact is that people are selling a design with the intent that they are used by the purchaser alone. If they share it, then that is one more potential buyer that didn’t pay for the design. While you can’t guarantee these other sales would have happened, when a design is shared, you’ve guaranteed that it will not happen. One could consider it theft, even if it is something cumulative (10 designs stolen == 2 design fees not taken according to stats for example).

    Copyright is meant to give a creator a means of setting the terms for copying work for distribution. While I agree that copyright laws may be lacking in the age of digital media, it is not really very fair to say to artist that you can share (copy) their work since copyright law isn’t well suited for for the web. Just because it has become easy to copy and distribute work, it doesn’t mean that the ability nullifies the restrictions.

    I should mention I don’t sew or embroider or knit. I do play music and the effects of piracy (people taking potential sales from musicians) is a nightmare. As a musician, I have to accept it. But the sad thing about it is that the web could have been a boon to destroy the major label system, but instead it has simply destroyed profits and expectations. While there are still tons of bands making music and money, it is far less than before. They consider the 90s a golden age for the music industry because there were tons of bands making gold records and establishing careers. Looking back, I think this was primarily because no one expected music to be free and copying was not a trivial enterprise to scale into the 1000s.

    I don’t have an answer, but my hope is that people who use artistic work will eventually realize that the theft is not from those they receive the media from, but the artists, whose work they enjoy.

  12. @bjvl: “Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it’s valueless. It just means you don’t value it.”

    It has value only so long as society sees intrinsic value in it. If society, as a whole, decides non-scarce goods are worth protecting, society (through government enforcement) will protect it by creating an artificial scarcity. That’s the model we’ve lived under for a recent period of human history.

    I would humbly suggest, though, that it seems as though we are most likely a generation or two away from the end of this short experiment. As a businessperson, you can choose to ignore public sentiment and hold fast to your business model (as the RIAA has taken great pains to do, digging in their heels with a protracted legal campaign against their former customers), or you can adapt and innovate.

    You are free to start your own business; anyone with ideas and a willingness to put in some hard work can be an entrepreneur. However, you don’t have an inherent right to a successful business model, either today, or in the future. Your business success (or lack thereof) is the final impartial judge of whether society thinks you are offering something of value.

    Shifting gears to related topic:

    For what it’s worth, despite the attempt to paint the argument as dirty hippies wanting something for free, I’m not trying to justify my own behavior here: this issue hits home for me in two areas of my life, and speaks to Rachel’s comment about people “downloading things for free” instead of paying a professional for them.

    First, my professional life (as a systems administrator and code monkey). While I try very hard to abide by the licensing agreements on software that I use, I work harder on open source software, and on encouraging others to use it so that I (and they) don’t have to spend so much time worrying about legalities. Are we anarchists trying to destroy good hard-working software companies, or simply hobbyists who want to share the work we’ve done, which almost always builds on the work of others? It’s a cumulative effect: someone creates a useful piece of open source software, someone else improves it in a number of ways, and the cycle continues, creating value for everyone who choses to use it. This is social value being created, without (direct) compensation; in other areas of life, it’s called “volunteering”.

    I also give my photography away for free; perhaps you’re familiar with Flickr? And there again, we’re occasionally accused of destroying the stock photography business, but I’d argue we’re simply sharing our art of our own free will, so that others might enjoy it too. Again, creating value for everyone, without (again, direct) compensation, for personal motivations.

    Perhaps we’ve become addicted to how quickly we can generate non-scarce products by using a profit motive. I’d argue, though, that it’s not the only way.

  13. Hi Rachel!

    People have forgotten about theft being wrong as they can get away with it and, in the modern world, what’s right is often confused with what one can get away with……

    I hate this kind of stuff do and NEVER pirate anything with a copyright mark on. I’m very particular about that as I consider it a point of honour and honesty.=)

  14. I am in a position that I am not trying to make a living from my design work, however a couple of years ago I made up a design for drawn thread work embroidery, a small piece to be made at a workshop by my Embroiderers Guild branch, which measured approx 4″x8″. To achieve this design to over 30 hours of work plus whatever the materials cost, I don’t remember now. It is not posssible to get paid for the design work time by just selling a couple of copies, because most people are not willing/able to pay a realistic price for the time it takes to create an original design.

    I accept that any workshops I run with a design sheet will probably get copied by someone at sometime but If they were to then make money from my work I would be extremely peeved to put it mildly, because yes, it is theft of my effort and time if I were selling the designs and had declared intellectual copyright of the designs that I had developed.

  15. Phew! Looks like plenty of other people are letting off steam too! I’m not in the music industry and I don’t design embroidery kits. What I do, however, is take photographs, and I used to think it would be nice to earn a little money from them. I know my photographs are frequently admired. I receive information about search terms and how many times a particular image is visited. I even know which photos are most popular. But I have not earned one single penny, because people simply come and take them. Only four people have ever asked if they could use my work. One of them disappeared when I said there would be a (very small) charge since his intended purpose was commercial. I don’t know what the answer is. The law changes in response to technical and societal changes and it hasn’t yet caught up with what’s possible on the Internet. That doesn’t make taking without asking ‘right’, but I would imagine it’s only if there is proof that someone has made money from another person’s artwork that there would be any help from the law.