My stance on piracy

October 31, 2013

As a fledgling content creator and future ebook author, I think it’s appropriate to discuss my position on piracy.

I don’t think digital piracy is evil, but it’s not exactly right either. It’s true that if you pirate something, you’re taking something an artist has worked hard on for free, and there’s an element of theft in that, or at least unfairness. You’re not depriving anyone else of their copy though, as would be the case if a physical copy was stolen. So it’s not as bad.

More to the point, I don’t think piracy hurts most content creators. Piracy only hurts a creator’s bottom line if the pirate would have bought a copy otherwise, and most of the time I don’t think pirates would have ponied up the money no matter what.

There’s also the matter of marketing, or more specifically word-of-mouth, which is an area where pirates actually help a creator’s business. The more people reading/watching/playing their creation, the more word will spread, and the greater the chance they’ll be found by more paying customers.

But there’s another thing to keep in mind: in a capitalist system, you vote with your wallet. If something great is made but no one pays for it, its creator won’t make more of that great thing. That idea will effectively be voted out of its office. That’s fine if it was crap, but if it was great and you enjoyed it, that’s very sad indeed.

So here’s my official position on piracy:

  1. If you like a story, author, movie, video game, idea, or whatever, you ought to pay for it. That’s you voting for more things like that to exist in the world, and for those making them to keep doing so. That’s how you get more of what you like, and how people like me can quit our crappy 9-5 jobs and create all the time.
  2. However, if you can’t pay for a work – or for whatever reason, won’t – and you feel compelled to pirate it, I think it’s your duty to spread the word about it (assuming you end up enjoying it, of course). If you can’t become a customer, you should become part of the creator’s unofficial marketing team and help them find more paying customers to make up for the money you deprived them of. It’s not the same, and the first option is always preferable – or if you really enjoyed it, both – but it’s better than quietly stealing and never telling a soul.

If you want to see more of something in the world, vote with your money, but if for whatever reason you can’t, spend your time. I really don’t think piracy hurts most businesses though, so I won’t be spending any more time thinking about it for my own. I’ll just try to create great stories for all of you to read, and then I’ll trust you to take care of me from there.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.


  1. Reply


    I pretty much agree wholeheartedly with you, and think this is a position that is rarely articulated, sandwiched between the screaming on both the “Content should be always free!” and “Someone owes me something!” crowds. A very important part is that sales can’t be lost from people who weren’t going to buy anyway.

    1. Reply


      Indeed, the fact that sales can’t be lost from people who weren’t going to buy anyway is basic economics, and I actually paid attention during those classes. People try to turn it into an all-or-nothing moral argument, when it’s really not. There’s a moral component, but it’s far less pronounced than either side purports, and I don’t think claiming that either customers or content creators are evil or criminals is productive. I prefer to focus on the economic side, because that’s real and can have real effects on the kind of art we get.

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    I always prefer the Legal digital Library option over piracy, or paying for Netflix’s or other services. I wish that amazon or barns and noble gave a option to pay a monthly fee to borrow books though.

    1. Reply


      Qril: Perhaps, Oyster might interest you then: ? I was just passing through and thought that I might share that in case you were interested. o.o

      Back on topic, though, as another aspiring author, I fully agree with you, Stilts. I don’t mind piracy as a whole, since I think it gives people the freedom and ability to explore new works that they otherwise might not have been able to without it.

      Personally, I do tend to sample products first to see if I’m interested, but if I end up wholeheartedly enjoying said product, I will go and take the time to financially support the product and promote it through word of mouth, especially if the work is an indie creation (in fact, I always seek out indie works in hopes of falling in love with them and supporting them). While I wouldn’t mind if my novel gets pirated, which is inevitable if it gets published one day, I only hope that those who really enjoyed it would express their gratitude by paying.

  3. Reply


    The whole copyright thing is incredibly bad for the authors: since it acts as a gatekeeper, they are losing all those readers/listeners/watchers/players that would’ve tried it for free, and had a chance to enjoy it. IMHO, authors should only get anything from those that have already enjoyed their work, after the fact, and the pay should be proportional to the level of enjoyment and the well-being of the fan in question.
    The way to fix it is to make donations easier (i.e. setting up a personal monthly donation limit and allowing to donate with a simple “Like”) and safer (provable identity of the author, little to no middlemen, etc.).

    1. Reply


      I have to disagree, but mostly for many complex marketing reasons that I don’t have the hour+ necessary to go into. (Plus that’s what I deal with at work all the time. I need a break sometimes!)

      Long story short, there’s a lot of value in paying up front, and not just for the author – there’s potential guilt, a “psychic tax” on decisions, price functions as a signifier of value & motivation to consume that which has already been paid for, and many other reasons why paying up front is better for the consumer as well. Plus there’s the simple fact that many people do NOT go back and pay – either because they were never going to or simply because they’re busy people and forgot – so it’s better catch them when they’re already making a decision.

      Oh, and the ever important point – those who don’t pay aren’t customers. They may be fans, and as I mentioned above they can still be helpful, but they’re not customers if they don’t pay. That’s a crucial distinction to make.

      Short story even shorter: it’s okay to exclude some people if they aren’t willing to become customers. I just won’t be concerning myself much if some choose to pirate my work.

      By the way, I’m all for offering some work for free (or very cheap) while setting up the ability to donate what you want, but don’t expect to see a world where all authors function like that anytime soon. Both methods have their places.

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