Piracy Follow-Up – One

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about designs being shared without the designer’s approval, and suggested that it isn’t right to do so. The post was linked to on HackerNews; then on a few more tech blogs and suddenly the whole subject was attracting attention and comments from a new range of people, and people, what’s more, who have an interest in the subject of copyright – software piracy is a problem too.

It became clear in the course of reading the comments, and the links, and the emails I received, that in fact (debates over ethics and terminology notwithstanding) most of my correspondents felt that the copyright and intellectual property system as it stands is ill-adapted to our digital world, and needs changing. As to how – none of us is very sure about that.

Essentially, the comments and emails fell into two categories: philosophical discussions of how/why the situation is as it is, and suggestions for new business models that might meet the changing circumstances. I’ve split my follow-up into two posts along the same lines.

First, though, my terminology was imprecise, so yes, technically, the unauthorised copying of a digital work is not theft, but copyright infringement.

Second, (going back to Monique’s original post on Inside Number Twenty) I acknowledge that when we see x downloads from the file-sharer, it probably doesn’t equate to x lost sales.

That isn’t the point, though, is it? The real point is that ease of copying has undermined the general appreciation of the value of the item in its digital form.

Any creative work already tends to be undervalued because non-creative people assume that talent does all the work. It is assumed that if you are talented, creating something comes easily (haven’t we all encountered that one?). We who create things know that this isn’t true, that talent needs to be supported by time, effort, and application. Thomas Edison was right when he said that genius is composed of 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.

So there is a problem of education here. The consumer needs to be reminded that creation isn’t simply a matter of snapping one’s fingers, that the artist may have devoted years to learning their craft before being able to produce anything for the market, quite apart from the time they spend in refining their vision to create the final piece. They need to understand that when they use or enjoy a digital copy of a copyrighted artistic work for which they have not paid, the artists whose work they enjoy are the ones who suffer, even if in the case of music and films it is the big media companies that complain.

Taking the specific example of the needlework business – most of the companies, even those producing threads and tools, are really very small. They don’t have a huge financial buffer, and they can be as easily unbalanced by sudden success as by a fall in sales. The companies producing charts often aren’t companies, but just one person, trying to make a living in a way that fits around other obligations.

Even those of us who are not immediately affected, perhaps because we design most of our own pieces, need to remember that the sale of charts and designs supports and encourages the sale of threads, fabrics, tools and charms. If the designers go out of business we may very well find that manufacturers do as well. And we know that we don’t want that.

Perhaps, though, the current business model is truly unworkable, and a new one is needed. I’ll describe some of the suggestions I’ve been sent in another post.

Thanks to: Davide ‘Folletto’ Casali, Robert Bronsdon, Mace Moneta, Harleqin, Alex, Eric Larson, Ed Marshall, Philip Hunt, Posy, and Janice.


  1. Lady Fi says:

    Thought provoking indeed! One thing is sure – a new business model is needed. I do not agree with the approach to stop file sharing as it feels as if it is like trying to shut the stable door after all the horses have bolted.

  2. I look forward to reading more. 🙂

  3. Too true, Rachel, just too true!

    I’ve often had similar thoughts on the lines of talent, work and so on. If you look at everyday skills, such as typing and office software knowledge, these are things that countless people have, can pick up fairly quickly and can make money from just as fast without any real passion beyond making a living (and I’m not berating that – it’s fine, I do it too). In the world of art, be it painting, music, textiles or anything like it, if you don’t have a real drive for it, at least some talent and have spent a great deal of time perfecting skills and developing technique and a ‘voice’ of your own, you have very little chance of making a living. It’s unfair. These things take a LOT of blood, sweat and tears to bring anything to fruition and then people just shrug it off as something that ‘comes easily’ to you, etc. For most of us, it’s ‘don’t give up the day job’!

    Add to that the criticism and commentary an artist has to put up with and you find one art world that’s a great deal *less* glam than anyone would like to think.

    Then someone pinches your work…..

  4. karen says:

    a very apt and appropriate post considering my dilemma. As for what to do about it, I haven’t got a clue but will be discussing it again on my blog later.

  5. Janice says:

    O good grief, I just noticed you thanked me at the end. Can’t imagine what my comment did to contribute to the topic!!! I agree with you entirely, Rachel, and you have outlined it all so beautifully and succinctly. I particularly note your point that ‘Any creative work already tends to be undervalued because non-creative people assume that talent does all the work.’ And although you’re focussing here on a high-tech issue, this point applies to all forms of creative work, including the very low tech work of doing the actual embroidery. Perhaps the wider issue is about lack of VALUING based on the lack of understanding you refer to. The most excuisite work can’t command the price tag it deserves because people often don’t appreciate how many hours it has taken to do it. Or maybe potential buyers consider the joy of DOING it should be reward enough!

  6. Leon says:

    We don’t need a new business model. The public has to be re-educated that digital goods are not worthless stuff you can copy around.

    The “three strikes”-regulation that was proposed with ACTA is a good way of achieving this. You can talk down to people all the day but when there are no consequences for ‘pirating’ they won’t change their behavior.