The internet is often referred to as a web, but it wouldn’t be unfitting to call it an ocean. Through a vast, seemingly endless array of networks, people have been using it to send, share and sell data for nigh on 40 years.
As with all oceans, countries and individuals police their networks in an attempt to protect their assets as they go to and fro, but of course, no one has the power to protect such a large space, digital or otherwise.
And where there be booty, there be pirates…except, we’re talking about digital booty here, and of course, digital pirates.
Two sides to every doubloon
I’ll say upfront that this is not a piece on the ethics of stealing, sharing or protecting assets and art. As with all things gray, it’s nearly impossible to label every situation as acceptable or terrible, and it’s pointless to soap box about it, either way.
Instead, we’ll be considering both sides of the issue, like adults and civilized porn addicts. There is more to the issue and implications of piracy than you may immediately think!
The first point that needs to be made is obvious, but I’ll make it anyway: Digital assets and content are not tangible and/or consumable.
If anyone remembers those cheesy anti piracy commercials from the early 2000’s, you probably know where I’m going with this. I’m not talking about ethics, here, I’m talking about physical laws and facts: stealing digital content and software isn’t like stealing a car or robbing a bank, no matter how much people want to compare it to that. It is, by definition, a thing that only exists within computers, and although it can be licensed, it cannot be claimed (as of yet) as an asset, like a car, home or boat. That may change in the future, but that’s how it is at present.
This is why digital content’s inherent nature can wreak havoc upon itself. It’s easy for people to justify both the sale and open distribution of what is essentially an ‘infinite’ product, regardless of how much time and effort went into making it.
What many creators consider ‘piracy’ others simply call, ‘sharing’. 99% of the time, people that upload files, torrents and other data to free download sites do, in fact, pay money for the product. The reasons for the uploading vary wildly.
Some do it as a hobby, to help people out and share what they have access to. File trading is fairly common, especially with porn. Many consumers will offer to share a piece they own in exchange for another, thereby gaining new content without really having to give anything up.
Others do it for the seemingly self righteous principle that all digital items should be free because they’re not tangible.
Closely related to them, lay the people who outright refuse to pay for porn for any reason. Contrary to popular belief, those people don’t usually share.
File sharing is almost a lifestyle for some, and as roguish and vilified as the practice may seem, there are those who believe that they practice it ethically. Honor among thieves, if you will.
More often than not, however, things are being uploaded for ‘free’ to monetize websites through ads and file hosting memberships. Some of the more legitimate (and less ‘virusy’) sites require members to have a subscription through the third party host; but the small (usually monthly) fee can more than pay for itself with the content it gives access to.
Then there’s comic and tube sites, which make the majority, if not all their money through ads. These sites are numerous and more are popping up all the time, though many of them have been established for well over a decade.
A Creator’s Dilemma
I’m going to state another obvious fact: making art is hard.
No matter how passionate, inspired and creative an artist is, it takes hours of time and dedication to make anything that’s even worth stealing.
This is not a statement made in coldness, but in candid observation. There are many 3DX creators in the world, both amateur and professional, and in order for something to be worth ‘stealing’ it has to be worth selling in the first place.
Of course, no one can tell an artist what their work is worth, but as with all markets, standards can and have been made. NGP particularly tries to balance its pricing as fairly as possible, for both parties, to ensure that everyone walks away with satisfaction and profit.
Value is not the same as monetary worth however, in the same way that the number of twitter followers an artist has does not define them as an artist. Many artists would much rather receive praise for their work than gobs of cash, while others find fulfillment gaining as much money as they can from their work.
Ideally, an artist would receive both!
As a creator myself, I know what it feels like to slave, obsess and triumph over one’s creations. If you are a confident artist and you work hard, you deserve fair compensation for your work, and that’s something I think everyone can agree on.
Seeing something that you put so much time and effort into being given away for free can feel like a personal attack, especially if it was created with the intent to sell.
Many artists, understandably, go on a rampage when they discover their paywalled/up for sale work being distributed on some site, and they immediately try to get as much of it taken down as possible.
On one hand, we want people to look at our art. Most creators would stop creating if there was no one around to gaze upon their masterpieces; it’s hard to be motivated when you’re working only for yourself, after all.
On the other hand, a person has got to eat! It’s unreasonable to expect anyone to continue to make content for absolutely free, and just existing costs money, even without all the time and mental effort it takes to make the art in the first place.
So what the hell is a creator supposed to do? Rage quit? Try to forget about it all and move on?
Or should everyone go on a witch hunt and try to torch as many pirating sites as they can? Should we bolster our defenses and attempt to hide our content behind as many barriers as possible, hoping consumers are interested enough in it to pay for it?
I don’t have a definite answer, but if you’re still reading, I do believe i’ll be able to offer some humble advice and insight. Take it or leave it, this is just my opinion 🙂
The Enemy’s Respect
Once again, I am not condoning piracy in any way, or encouraging people to steal content from others. What I am saying is this: the internet is a big, big place, too big for any entity, including billion dollar corporations, to police.
Bluntly put, people are going to steal shit if it’s not bolted down, and digital content cannot be bolted.
If you are an artist who has experienced piracy, you know that you will absolutely run yourself ragged trying to submit an endless stream of take down emails. Sharing sites and torrents pop up like weeds: they die and regrow faster than anyone can kill them.
It’s easy to see the number of downloads on a file you’ve created and think to yourself, ‘Gee, if all that was sales, I’d be rolling in it’ but the reality is, the vast majority of those downloads were never going to be sales at any point.
There are thousands upon thousands of people who won’t pay a dime for something if they can’t get it for free, and in the end, you probably don’t want those people for fans, anyhow.
If you spend all your time obsessing about pirated goods, your art will suffer, and along with it, your loyal consumers who are actually willing to pay for your content.
So what can you do? My advice, get creative and fight fire with fire.
I’m speaking from pure observation here, but over the years, I’ve noticed one thing that most every successful 3DX artist has in common.
They are friendly, respectable people that take pride in their work!
Many artists that have had to deal with piracy cleverly turn the tables and interact with the people who are stealing their art. I’ve seen examples of it hundreds of times in my many travels across the internet: instead of making threats and blowing steam, these creators actually treat the pirates like, well, people.
Some creators are surprised to find that the pirates in question are fans, many of whom wouldn’t have seen their work without the site. In turn, smart creators have used rule34 sites to ‘advertise’ their work, considering anything uploaded as a ‘free’ sample.
I have literally seen torrent users say things like “wow, I had no idea you were such a cool person, I’ll definitely support you”. It’s not a perfect solution, but I’m telling you, the people that are determined not to pay for your (or anyone else’s) art aren’t going to change their minds whether you’re nice or mean to them, so it won’t hurt to be nice.
Many full time creators also offer Patreon and subscribe star rewards, implementing even more interaction, like polls and monthly drawings. I can speak to this as someone who enjoys supporting creators: the more interactive and friendly you are, the more I’m going to want to support you!
I do also think it’s a good idea to offer some older content for free. I often find it frustrating when I stumble upon a cool artist, only to discover that 95% of their work is behind a paywall. It can be difficult to get a feel for an artist’s style if they only display five renders, and the chances of me passing them up for others for lack of reference is high.
I’ll finish with this: getting things stolen from sucks. It sucks a lot. It can be hard to muck through the feelings of it all and come to terms with it, but it does also mean that people are interested in your art.
If piracy is inevitable, then the only thing you can control as a creator is your reaction to it.
If you blow up, lose your cool and attempt to nuke everything in your path, people will notice. You may have every right to, and I wouldn’t blame you for it, personally, but that kind of reaction can leave a bad taste in the mouth of some consumers. I believe you’re far better off focusing on your art and your loyal fans; don’t forget that some of the most successful creators deal with this on a daily basis and they still manage to produce and sell amazing art!