What To Do When Artists Who Otherwise 'Get It' Freak Out Over 'Piracy'

from the wait-it-out dept

A few weeks ago, reader cofiem sent over a blog post from musician Darren Hayes complaining about recording studios shutting down and blaming "piracy" for it. This morning, our submissions engine is getting overwhelmed with submissions about Wil Wheaton's rant against someone who posted a copy of Wheaton's audiobook, saying the guy is "stealing" from him.

Of course, we see content creators complaining about "piracy" or falsely claiming that it's "stealing" all the time -- but these two cases are slightly different. They're both cases where the content creators seem to be folks who otherwise actually do seem to "get it." They both do an amazing job connecting with fans, and setting up smart "reasons to buy." Hayes, for example, created a DVD "collectors' item" to go with his latest album. And he has a fan club setup, that encourages fans to pay a small fee to get all sorts of valuable (scarce) extras, beyond just the music. Wil Wheaton, of course, has been online for ages, and really interacts with lots of fans, and when he released his audiobook he made it cheap and didn't put DRM on it at all.

In other words, these are both the sort of content creators who are doing all the kinds of "right moves" that we talk about all the time, and seem to be getting rewarded for it. So, of course, it's disappointing to see them overreact and go a bit on the ballistic side when they see people sharing their works in some format -- but it's not that surprising. It's a perfectly natural reaction if you're not immersed that deeply in thinking through the long term implications of these things to simply not like it when people treat your works in a way other than you intended. There's nothing really wrong with that.

However, the question then comes up about what should be done about it. How do you respond to such people? It seems the smartest thing to do is to openly explain the other side of the coin: how these efforts can be embraced to further all of the really smart things that these content creators have already done. It's about getting them to realize that as scary as "the new world" is, one of the things they have to come to accept is that they can't necessarily control what others end up doing with their works. They can't dictate the terms by which fans will be fans. But, what they can do is try to put in place systems and models that benefit them when such things happen. Use that free sharing to encourage people to become stronger, more committed fans, and open up new places and opportunities to potentially offer them a reason to buy -- on their terms -- down the road.

It's never a huge surprise when someone who hasn't thought through this stuff carefully starts ranting about pirates and "stealing." But when it's someone who otherwise seems to get it, the situation is more one of disappointment. However, in most cases, those folks are at least open to listening to reason, and listening to their community, who can explain back to them ways in which they can benefit, rather than complain or blame. And, in fact, with Hayes, it looks like he took some of his community's words to heart and noted that there can be future models where "piracy" isn't necessarily a huge problem (though he's still unsure of how it works). Hopefully Wil Wheaton will listen to his community as well -- and let them point out how many other authors who have put their works online for free have seen that it tends to increase their fan community and increase sales over time.

Filed Under: business models, darren hayes, piracy, wil wheaton


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  1. icon
    sketchydave (profile), 8 Oct 2009 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Re:

    "You can't say "Well, he gives a lot of digital stuff away for free, but this other digital stuff he sells, so he gets it.""

    I feel there are two very strong arguments used when defending piracy. First is the sample. Consumers do not want to blindly try something. In the physical world think of Borders or Barnes and Noble. You can pick up a book, flip through it, read some of it, etc. Really get the sense of if its a good read or not. Or think about the listening stations that are set up in music stores for new albums. But you can't leave the store without purchasing the book or the CD.

    You need to provide the same for the digital world. Companies like Amazon "get it." They started providing scans of the table of contents and first few pages of books. Same with short samples of albums. Consumers get a chance to see if they like the content or not. Artists who don't "get it" sue people for doing that and many others that may be in the spirit of fair use if not the letter of the law. So he provides samples and content, I say he "gets it" in that regard.

    Another argument is DRM. I think that DRM is an ungodly concept. It treats your consumers like criminals and is easily circumventable by an advanced user. So it does nothing for piracy problem and screws with the person who actually bought the content. If you purchased your content but didn't want a rootkit installed on your system I can hardly fault you for wandering to PirateBay and snagging a DRM free version. DRM doesn't work and Wil doesn't include it in his content. So I say he "gets it."

    To argue your last point he is not basing his business model on the fact that none of his content will be stolen/pirated/whatever. He isn't sending out DMCAs (although he is well within his rights to), he isn't calling lawers and suing the infringer for eleventy-billion dollars of "lost profit." He didn't even mention who was doing it so as to not drive traffic to the site or illicit a retaliation from his fans.

    Nope, he wrote on his blog about a guy who was being a dick and then moved on.

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