Theft Vs. Piracy: It’s All About Context

Full disclosure: I am NOT advocating theft or piracy, only contrasting the difference and what it really means to the content creators. There! Now I have a clear conscious. Okay, fine, maybe I am advocating, but only a little.

Ahem. Piracy is NOT theft.

There’s a difference. If someone steals you car, it’s gone. If someone steals a copy of your work, you still have your work, right? It’s a copy, and that copy can actually be a benefit (Wait… what?! But the government said…)

Locks keep honest people honest. If you drive past a couch on the street sitting next to some trash cans, it’s fair game. What if it was a car parked there instead of a couch? It’s all about context. A locked sliding glass door isn’t much of a real deterrent (seeing how you can get through it with a rock), but it does communicate a simple social truth: “This person isn’t sharing; it belongs to them.” Will that stop a real thief? Of course not, but it discourages the honest from considering theft.

“But I lost a sale?” Did you, now? What you should have said is “you lost a potential sale,” because that’s all it was. This is the reason marketing and advertising exists: to convince others that something you’re selling is worth buying. If someone steals something (reminder: that you didn’t lose) that they wouldn’t have bought to begin with, what did you actually lose? Nothing. What did you potentially gain? The possibility that, in the future, they may buy you stuff.

Neil Gaiman says, “You can’t look at (piracy) as a lost sale.” Artists are starting to get it (and no longer need to be content with starving); the potential benefits outweigh the negatives. In a video interview, Mr. Gaiman expressed these very notions, a reversal of his previous stance. “It’s people lending books. You can’t look at that as a lost sale. No one that wouldn’t have bought your book is not buying it… what you are doing is advertising.”

Storming the Gatekeepers. Here we come to the real issue: the gatekeepers. For decades, publishing houses and movie studios have had a lock on content creation AND distribution. If it’s helping Independent film makers and authors gain audiences and spur sales, what’s the problem? The loss of both control and exclusivity. These are huge businesses that are going under because they no longer have exclusive access to creation tools and distribution channels (or to push crap on you that you wouldn’t want to see or hear to begin with, but I digress). Computers and the Internet have changed everything, and now they have to compete with cat videos and digital books for eyeballs (and dollars). Some are changing with the times, but some are stubbornly holding out for a legislative miracle, and American consumers are getting wise to it (SOPA and PIPA, anyone?)

If it’s easy to own, it’s easier to buy. The music industry is supposed to be in shambles, but iTunes is making a fortune. When the last time you bought music at a store? How about a whole album? Major book stores are now going out of business (while small book sellers are making a comeback). The last bastion of big media, the film and television industry, sees the writing on the wall. What’s more is that they’ve done a far better job than music and literature at giving consumers what they want. Miss a movie at the theater? No problem. Buy the disc, download on demand, rent a pay-per-view, subscribe to a premium movie channel, or watch it with commercials on broadcast television. Isn’t that enough?

Prosecuting people who download free songs is like putting drug addicts in jail. This doesn’t make sense, folks. It feels like what it is, consumer bullying. Suing someone for millions of dollars for downloading 24 songs would be hilarious if it wasn’t happening (what? Do they need the money?) It’s all about context. People sharing isn’t piracy or theft; it’s advertising, free marketing from your established fans to new ones and potential sales. Even giving digital content away for a limited time can accomplish this, because everyone knows what “for a limited time only” means.

The only ones profiting from piracy prosecution are lawyers, the larval stage of politicians. Need I say more?

Don’t steal. Share. It’s all about context.

Why eBooks (and Readers) Aren’t a Bad Thing

I just read a lament from Gris Grimly concerning the loss of his favorite things, “books” by way of example. His concerns were over electronic media and the gatekeepers who could use it to keep from us only what they wish for the citizenry to see. A fine point, but not the only point of view.

While I understand the text of this rant in principle, it needs to be framed in context. When the spoken word of storytellers was written down and people started learning to read, there were many who likely thought “Those accursed books! If people can read for themselves, why would they listen to me? And the story… it never changes! It cannot be embellished in print! There’s no emotion or flare on a piece of paper! The very idea is inhuman!” Of course, those storytellers have found other mediums because of change.

The Kindle (mention specifically) is no exception; while the makers and supporters CAN limit our experience, people who had no chance of ever being known due to the gatekeepers (editors, publishing houses, censors) can now be read in the way MP3s allowed unsigned bands to be heard (and in both cases, possibly successful). If Kindle won’t allow people to get what they want in the way they want it, people will move on to something else that can (iPads can load PDFs into iBooks as can many other readers such as the Nook). None of us want anything we love to change from the way we remember loving it (people included), but, unfortunately, everything does. You can ignore it or embrace it, but you can’t stop it. Just trust that people will do what they must.

Has Mainstreaming Doomed Geekdom?

It’s a good question. I used to know a couple who only listened to music that no one else had heard of, and the moment that underground band became known and “sold out,” that band was immediately tossed aside for the next unheard and unsigned wannabes. Now that the future is here and sci-fi, comics, cosplay, gadgets, and being online are cool, is traditional geekdom doomed due to mainstreaming niche interests?

I, for one, love the fact that what used to be niche has now gone mainstream. It’s a vindication that what we always thought was secretly cool finally caught on. No one has to meet in anyone’s garage to discuss their usenet group or what cool accessory they got for their Amiga or Timex Sinclair. There’s so much culture out there now that the mainstream can pick and choose while the elitists create and mold the next would-be cool thing. Between the Internet explosion, social networks, and a generation of kids growing up with this as the norm, no one can predict how cool and geeky the next thing coming is (and blooming idiots that think this is all just a fad can curl up in a box with their dead picture tubes and need not apply.)

For more, check out where all this was inspired from over at Lainspotting.

Getting a Death Grip on Your Smart Phone

The movie Thank You for Smoking had a clever epilogue ending. After a career putting a positive spin on the negatives of tobacco, the main character is shown training board members how to spin cell phone radiation. The truth, of course, is mixed: it isn’t whether or not there IS any radiation, only how much. Additionally, it’s also a fact that the harder a cell phone has to work to hold a signal, the more it has to boost the signal (ie increase the radiation) to serve the whim of its master.

Now with Apple’s so-called “antenna-gate” crisis, Steve Job’s said that all smart phones were subject to this. In other words, if the user holding the phone covers enough of it using a “death grip,” the smart phone has to fight by boosting the signal (and in the case of the iPhone, drop it if it can’t boost it enough.) An independent company, Tawkon, has created an app to demonstrate the effect and predict the radiation output based on the clarity of the signal, whether caused by being in a bad location or holding the phone like a kung fu master. This video demonstrates the effect… interesting stuff, eh?