Tag: digital piracy

Piracy Follow Up – Two

I don’t like producing very long posts, so when I realised how much was going to be involved in a synthesis of the conversations about digital piracy that I had a few weeks ago, I decided to split the follow-up into two. This post is the second of those follow-ups, so there are now three posts, the original, the first follow-up, and this one.

Before describing the various business models that have been suggested, I thought I should give some idea of what is involved in producing a design chart, for those who haven’t thought of it before.

In producing a design for hand-embroidery, the designer spends hours thinking about the design, planning and re-drafting it, then working it and developing instructions for her customers to follow. If you’ve never written instructions – try it. Then give them to someone who doesn’t know anything about what you have written about and see how well they do.

It isn’t easy. In fact, just preparing instructions can take hours.

Furthermore, if a design is to be issued only as a chart, and not as a kit of materials, there are (in the UK, at least) three main thread manufacturers whose colour numbers need to be included. There are conversion charts, but I’ve often found that the results are unsatisfactory and need to be checked and corrected by hand.

Unless the designer is supported by a spouse or family, or has another job that pays the bills, all that time needs to be paid for somehow, or they will run out of money and need to do something else in order to eat.

The current business model – in essence – is that the hobbyist stitcher purchases a kit or a chart from which to work, perhaps because they lack confidence in their design abilities, effectively “outsourcing” the design work. The pricing for a kit or chart doesn’t include all the design costs because the designer or manufacturer hopes to sell a large enough number that those costs can be amortised over the print/manufacturing run. A full kit includes all necessary materials, and while they can be illicitly produced, that’s not common. A chart, however, is just a piece of paper showing the design, colour key and instructions, and is therefore very easily replicated. Indeed, a design that was never issued electronically can be scanned and saved as a PDF and suddenly that, too is online – possibly even lacking one of the crucial elements (such as the key).

The sale of charts in the form of PDFs is really a simple translation of this basic process to the web-enabled world. It has the merit of providing instant gratification (insofar as the chart is immediately available for the customer to print out and use), but there is the risk of abuse, in that others may offer the same item without paying the designer.

I was reminded, by one of the comments, that there is no copyright in the fashion industry, which nonetheless seems to be flourishing. I confess that I can’t quite see a way for the needlework world to make the same model work, since it relies on the fact that the people who buy high street copies of designer garments wouldn’t be able to afford the original pieces, but it’s a point to bear in mind. I’m not even sure what analogy one can make between sales of high street fashion and embroidery charts that would be illuminating, although I feel there should be one. Charts perhaps equate to dressmaking patterns, but certainly not to high street fashion.

In addition, as we are all aware by now, the open source movement in software has entire businesses working within it, even though the product (such as a browser) may be free. In fact, however, these businesses are selling, not software, but support. Perhaps the needlework equivalent would be workshops and courses. There are even courses being delivered online now, although the necessary precautions against illicit use of copyright material must put a significant technical overhead on them.

There were other business models suggested to me, too:

  • Building a community around free designs. The suggestion is that this might even increase the size of the market by making access easier to new customers (again, there is a technical overhead here).
  • Custom design – that is, individually personalised designs for individual customers (only for those with the hide of a rhinoceros – or those who can pick their customers carefully!).
  • Cataloguing – the sale of temporary access to a catalogue of existing designs. This could be used to build up in effect a curated assembly of charts which would be of guaranteed quality – not something that can be said of informal file-sharers’ offerings. I think this would involve a technical overhead as well, although there may be an existing system based on those used by eBook providers.
  • An honesty-based system for payment, such as flattr
  • Escrowed prepayment, y similar to the way in which Mozart and Beethoven arranged their subscription concerts (which suggests that it would be most suitable for creators of art for public display)
  • Creators funded by the state based on the popularity of their work (this perhaps would work for textile artists, but not for designers of kits for hobbyists to stitch at home)
  • Distribute hardcopy via shops rather than via internet (this is still done, but is increasingly difficult as shops close)

If I seem to be picking holes in many of these ideas, it isn’t because I don’t believe they are good ideas or because I want them to fail. It is simply because I want to make it clear that this is going to be a really difficult problem to solve, and there are going to be artists and craftsmen and women who will suffer until a new model is created, a new market is created, or until the existing market is educated enough to realise how much work goes into the things they take for granted.

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

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.

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?