IP, Lost Sales, and Why I LOVE Stealing!!
A common myth among creatives, corporations, and capitalists alike is that a product shared is a sale lost. As in, if you let someone borrow something, you have taken a potential sale away. This is a hot debate whether the product is physical or digital in nature. The logic is if one consumer shares their movie, CD, video game, book, etc. that directly equates to one lost sale. Therefore, every instance of a shared item of any kind is a sale that has been lost. This belief is infinitely more prevalent among digital media due to the ease of which digital products are shared. A contemporary example of this is Netflix attempting to crack down on account sharing. A hilarious and somewhat morbid historical example was during the golden age of file-sharing platforms like Limewire when music companies would track down any individual they could find and slap them with tens of thousands of dollars in lawsuits.
Concerning “lost sales”, there are a couple critical errors with this (very greedy, selfish, and wasteful) line of thought.
The false premise that any person who shares, borrows, or copies a products was going to buy this product for themself given no other alternative.
The nature of certain products is to be shared. Their purpose is communal whether the creators accept this or not.
The reality of Problem Number 1 is there’s actually no way to correlate let alone prove sharing = lost sales. As someone not particularly wealthy (a.k.a poor) if a piece of media piques my interest, my first instinct is not to go buy it. My first instinct is to see if this thing is quality, worth my time, and (potentially) worth my money. If it is quality, worthwhile, affordable, and available I will buy it. Unless, of course, I have no money. If it is not quality, worthwhile, well-priced, or available I will not buy it. But, my passing curiosity may still invite a taste-test, a try-before-you-buy, a demo period. And perhaps I only need this thing for a brief moment? If there is not a free and easy method of trying out a movie, book, game, or whatever, I will move on. If there is and it turns out I actively dislike this thing, I won’t buy it.
Many of us look online for reviews of products or listen to friends and family’s advice on what we should buy. Is that not simply outsourcing the trial period to another person? If that is the case then why do businesses value word-of-mouth advertising so much when that is another potential avenue for lost sales? Or is it only bad when the product itself is shared, but it’s fine when our experiences are shared? Or is word of mouth only making you money and never taking it away? Naturally, I am the exception to this ridiculous corporate rule because not every product I have ever used would I have bought for myself.
Problem Number 2 is a matter of consistency. Any idea of lost sales on the basis of sharing is further destroyed when applied to ALL sales. For example: No one who has ever borrowed a truck from a friend to move furniture stopped to think deeply about how they may have robbed a car manufacturer of a new sale. No one who has ever invited anyone over to their home has told them to bring their own couch to sit in. Has anyone ever required all guests to bring their own copy of the latest M. Night Shyamalan thriller to prove that they aren’t dirty cheapskates and freeloaders? Of course not. That is because many products by their very nature are to be shared with other people.
This is patently obvious to the average person living their life in a sane normal way. But, strangely, once you connect to the internet or a printer this common sense approach quickly fades. This is where the silly notion of Intellectual Property rears it’s ugly head. The stupid proposition of lost sales stems from a fallacious idea of “owning” ideas. The relationship between the creator and customer is extended far beyond the product itself because the creator still “owns” the idea of the thing in question. You may own the physical movie disc, or CD, or video game, or book, but you don’t own the contents of the experience. You may own your car, your house, your couch, or your TV but you don’t own the mechanisms or the memories afforded to you by them. Those are conveniently stowed away in Copyright, Patent, and Trademark offices with armies of lawyers protecting them.
If you want my detailed take down of Intellectual Property as a whole, check out my previous essay on the topic. As an addendum to the previous essay, I was a good boy for many years. I came to believe “piracy” (a.k.a file sharing) was a morally wrong thing to do. So I stopped doing it for many years. I paid for all media, streaming, games, entertainment, etc. And when I couldn’t afford things I indulged in truly free media like livestreams, libraries, free games, or ad-supported platforms. I was never so righteous as to turn off ad-block and I feel no guilt for that to this day (nor should I).
But now? I love stealing! Especially online, especially art and music. Steal steal steal. I can’t get enough of it. Why do I love stealing so much? I love stealing because I love letting others steal from me. When someone else steals from me a beautiful work of art, a compelling story, an excellent song, it warms my heart. And by steal I obviously mean share.
Artists are often plagued by those who right-click copy and right-click paste their work. They decry these CTRL+C CTRL+V enemies as thieves! I respect the zeal of artists but I believe it is misapplied. If someone copies the work of an artist or creator of any kind, they have stolen nothing. The original is still preserved. However, if the copier pretends they created this particular artwork they are guilty of plagiarism. Plagiarism is lying. Lying is wrong. Lying is not the same as stealing (just as bad though).
I fully endorse inventors and creators financially benefiting from their creations. Even producers, publishers, manufacturers, whatever. I fully endorse private ownership of things which have substance and scarcity. But we must have a clear understanding of where the moral wrongs are. Sharing is not stealing. Copying is not stealing. Borrowing is not stealing. And none of these activities can or should point toward the nebulous claim of “lost sales”. Pretending to be who you aren’t, impersonation for credit or acclaim, is lying. Lying should be condemned. Stealing… Er… I mean sharing is a natural healthy thing.
It is so natural and so healthy active proponents of copyright still seek to share. What do you think fan-art is? Do you believe for a second that fan-art, fan-films, fan-fiction or any other form of adaptation is protected by Intellectual Property? No, it is outright condemned. Without a license it is permitted only by the petty graces of hulking mega-corporations and temperamental court judges. Or, more often, the half-assed AI algorithms that do the crippled bidding of the former.
How well has the languishing legal grey area of “Fair Use” served creatives, critics, and commentators in the digital age? If you can remain in corporate ambivalence or be a total sellout, it can be quite lucrative. If you get caught in corporate cross-hairs? Bankruptcy at best, prison at worst. All in service of a totally fake fake fake idea of who can own ideas and who owes who imaginary money.
For all of these reasons I choose to gallantly lead by example and write my stories in the Public Domain. I encourage everyone to willingly submit their work to the Public Domain so as to put copyright lawyers out of business, create alternatives to vapid corporate products, and give true creative inspiration to everyone. If you are interested in open, original storytelling and other creative musings check out my website and subscribe to my spam-free mailing list. I am very nearly done with Act I of my fantasy novel titled Where Things Went. It doesn’t even have elves or orcs in it, crazy right? Don’t miss out, like, share, follow, stalk, and comment to propel my stories forward.
I promise it’s worth every penny you haven’t paid.