Claim: Creators should just be happy that people want to pirate their work

I sometimes see this argument paired with quotes like this:

When kids download your stuff for free off of the internet and tell you about it, you don’t get mad at them. My parting line is ”I’D RATHER BE HEARD THAN PAID.”

Am I going to come after you like Lars Ulrich, demanding my 35 cents? Nah man! If you can’t afford to listen to my music and you gotta get it off the internet, at least you’re rockin. -Henry Rollins

(I was not able to find a primary source for this quote, so I am unsure about the veracity of Henry Rollins saying it.)

Response: While I understand that people who pirate content have some level of interest and curiosity about that content (otherwise, they’d simply ignore it entirely and not bother even waiting for it to download), I notice that the Henry Rollins’ quote has an interesting qualifier: “If you can’t afford to listen to my music and you gotta [pirate] it off the internet”. I think quite a few creators don’t really mind that much if someone pirates their stuff if they legitimately can’t pay for it. There is a problem, though, when people talk themselves into believing they can’t/shouldn’t have to pay for it, or they make excuses as to why piracy should be legal for everybody (which implicitly includes people who are perfectly capable of paying for it).

I see a couple problems with the “they should just be happy” argument:

First, the decision to pirate some digital-media is the lowest level of compliment someone can give – it literally costs them nothing. It’s odd, then, that creators should be happy that someone “liked” their stuff so much that they were willing to pay $0 for it.

A higher compliment would be to pay the creator for the content. Creators should strive not simply to have their works be entertaining enough that someone paying nothing thinks it’s worth their while, but to make products that are great enough for people to want to pay for them. Not only is buying a higher compliment than piracy, but buying actually keeps a creator in business.

I generally imagine that creators who are satisfied with simply having their product pirated are people with neither fame nor money. They’re happy just getting a little bit of fame (from piracy) even if it comes with no money. I generally assume they’re a college student or something – they’re highly insecure about their own abilities and piracy is a small compliment (and it’s better than being ignored). But, as that creator gets older and has to pay bills, they realize that fame and no-money isn’t enough. They’ll be out of a job and bankrupt very quickly if “fame” is their only reward for their work. They eventually realize that they have to earn a living, like everyone else.

To aspire to having your content pirated is aiming low. Whenever pirates say that creators should be happy to have their content pirated, I generally imagine them telling girls that they shouldn’t aspire to fall in love, but should simply be happy that anybody wants to sleep with them. When content creators believe this, I can’t help but look at them as if they were sad little girls who actually believe that they should be happy simply to “find a boy who wants to sleep with me”, and finding someone who loves them is being “too ambitious”. It’s just really sad.

I understand that not everyone is in a position to pay for digital-media. I tend to be more sympathetic towards kids who are short on cash or people living in third-world countries. But, not all pirates fall into those categories. I tend to have the least sympathy for pirates who have money but are too cheap to pay – often while justifying it with bad logic like “copyright is censorship” or “information wants to be free” or “why pay for something that you can get for free”.

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One thought on “Claim: Creators should just be happy that people want to pirate their work

  1. Pingback: 10 Musicians Who Are Pro Music Piracy | Goliath

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