I am not a particularly curmudgeonly sort, but there are a few issues where my inner fuddy-duddy comes out. Few do so as readily as piracy of media. So many people across age groups and economic barriers have little to no problem with illegally downloading movies, television shows, songs or games. Too many of them do not view it as stealing at all. As a creator, I take great issue with that.
This discussion has played out several times in barrooms for me. We discuss a show we both like, you start talking about the latest season. I tell you it is not on Netflix or Hulu yet, and I don’t have even regular TV much less cable or dish and you recommend downloading it from a torrent or some similar method of acquiring access without paying. I then have to explain my problem with the issue.
Too often I am told that as a creator I should just be happy that people are enjoying my work, and that the directors, actors, producers, musicians and others involved with the pirated media should feel the same. I am told that the world is changing and that artists need to change their views on how they share their work.
This is a very shallow, and selfish argument. There is nothing about the changing technology of our world that suggests that artists should be OK with giving away their work for free whether they want to or not. Do artists need to be more aware of what venues exist now for that sharing? Sure, but that does not mean they should have to give up their claim to their own efforts. Maybe they need to charge less for the privilege of having a wider audience and therefor more opportunities to profit from their work, but there is nothing about this that suggests you have a right to that work gratis.
Creation requires effort. My poems, a visual artist’s renderings, a musician’s songs, or a producer’s movies or shows belong to us first. If we decide to share it for free, it is our business. I do so, regularly. Much of my poetry is available on my Tumblr. However I also have two books for sale and if you were to somehow acquire copies that no one paid me for, I would be ticked. I worked at that. I took time to decide which of my poems would go into those and unless I give it to you as a gift, you have no right to it. You would rightfully be upset if you worked for an hour and your employer did not pay you for it. Well, I worked at my books, musicians work at their albums, and producers work at their movies. How is it any more fair to demand our labor for free?
Too often art is not seen as real work. Friends, family and even acquaintances will ask for a poem for their wedding announcements, a performance at a bar mitzvah or a sketch for a tattoo they plan on getting for free. What is it about art that makes those who do not create it think they have a right to it, no matter what the artist says? It is bad enough when people we care enough make assumptions like that, when society at large tells us they have a right to our labor without cost it is almost enough to give us a stroke.
So the next time you can’t wait to see that next season of Doctor Who, or you want that entire album for free, before you click that link, remember, it does not belong to you, and while some of us may give some, or even all, our work away for free, it is our choice, not yours. We get to set the price of admission, not you.