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Fri 24
May
2013

Dear Pirates: This is How to Help

What Max Reckons Sometimes people pirate my stuff. Then sometimes they write to tell me they pirated my stuff, because they feel kind of bad about it, and wonder if they can pay me somehow. (Except one time when a guy said he’d pirated a compilation of “100 Great E-Books” and he just wanted to let me know I was in it, as a compliment. A kind of compliment.)

For example:

Now I had read your latest blog post about the movie the other day saying it had been released on iTunes and some cable websites, so <pirate pirate pirate>, so right now Syrup is 42% completed, and with my guilt (and procrastination, as I’m still typing this email) growing with every percentage, I thought to ask your opinion.

I’ve been looking forward to the Syrup movie since I read the book and thought “This would make a damn good movie!”, and then came the first rumours or it actually becoming one, so of course I want to support the production company and in turn future movies/series (I’m trying not to get my hopes up for Jennifer Government), but I can’t wait.

Would there be a PayPal donation link I can use to throw you the cost of a movie ticket? Or should I watch it now and when it eventually hits theatres and see you as a waiter on the big screen? Buy the DVD?

What, as the writer of the source material for a movie, do you think is the most beneficial method (to whoever you think deserves it. I of course, thought you) of paying for my viewing pleasure?

The general answer is that you should tell people you watched it. Or that you read it, if it’s a book. You should tweet, “Just finished <whatever>, highly recommended,” assuming you liked it, or “Just finished <whatever>” if you didn’t. Or post on Facebook. Or write a nice review somewhere. If you do this, you are all square in my eyes. In fact, I’d bet most artists and content creators feel the same way. Because the major problem they face isn’t that people pirate their work; it’s that nobody knows they exist.

Getting people talking is massive. Enormous amounts of time and energy are poured into getting people talking about every single book and film and song ever released. You, talking about a book/film/song, is really valuable. I can’t emphasize that enough. It can galvanize all kinds of great outcomes.

A Pirate Tip Jar (Jaarrrrr), on the other hand, would be a bad move. Lots of people work on books and films, not just me; even on a novel, I’m due no more than 15% of what you pay. I don’t want anyone thinking they can cut those people out and pay me directly. Also, I suspect the number of people who say they’d love to pay for X if only there were a more convenient way of doing so is far greater than the number of people who would actually pay. I mean, it’s a nice sentiment. But we generally pay for things because we have to. That’s just how it works.

So instead of wishing you could tip an artist for something you pirated, talk about it. That’s good for everyone involved. If you have nothing good to say, even a simple mention is helpful. Not a bad mention. That’s not helpful. But the difference between pirating something and saying nothing vs. pirating something and mentioning it to other people is really, really huge.

Of course, piracy is kind of wrong. I feel I need to say that explicitly. It’s kind of wrong because people who create something like a book or movie or song should be able to decide if and how they’ll sell it. Just because it’s more than you’d like to pay doesn’t mean it’s fair to pirate; everything is more than you’d like to pay. If Justin Timberlake made a CD and priced it at a thousand dollars a copy, such would be his right.

But it would be pretty silly of Justin to think people wouldn’t pirate that. Especially fans, and especially if that CD was only released in one country at a time and didn’t work on everyone’s players. I would be surprised if Justin wasn’t fully aware that this situation would provoke quite a lot of piracy. I have no idea why I’m using Justin Timberlake as an example. That just happened. But what I’m saying is that while piracy is generally bad for artists, and we want you to buy real books/tickets/MP3s/downloads, I recognize that piracy happens sometimes anyway. And if it happened to you, and you want to say thanks, you can do a lot of good by spreading the word.