Sunday, March 25, 2018

Normalization of Thievery in the Internet Age

Anyone who has downloaded a pirated movie or Napstered their favorite music has stolen. It’s plain and simple. You can justify it anyway you like. Call it sharing if that makes you feel better. But I’ve never shared my CDs with someone I’ve never met in some state or country thousands of miles away. It doesn’t really amaze me that people steal in this way, because it’s easy and it seems to be human nature to try and get all you can for as little as you can expend. What does amaze me is how cavalier and unashamedly people do it now. I wonder if stores suddenly went to the honor system and stripped their businesses of employees and cameras and consequences for thievery, would these same people illegally downloading music, books, and movies now justify taking whatever they wanted from the store? Not all of them would, I suspect, but a surprising number of people would somehow justify it. I mean, if you really, really want that new IPhone and funds are a little tight, Apple’s got bigger pockets than you after all.  I get it. It’s your right to have that phone. I’ll tell you what, let’s call it Iphone sharing with Apple. Does that make you feel better?

Whether it’s the amazon fire stick with Kodi or the guy at the end of the street selling bootleg DVDs, everyone seems to be stealing nowadays. And worse, everyone seems to think it’s ok. I’ve yet to hear an excuse as to why it’s ok to download the new Deadpool movie on the day it’s released. In fact, the responses when I ask my friends why it's OK to take that movie are worse than not being able to give me a legitimate reason. Their responses are blow off waves at my sanctimonious questioning. As you read this, you’re either one of two people. You’re either thinking I’m right and stealing is wrong, or that I’m being a virtuosic prude and you deserve the entertainment you didn’t pay for. And that’s the problem. The same people who think I’m a prude because I make it a point to not steal intellectual property are likely people who would never walk into a Barnes and Noble (are they still around?) and walk out with a couple books stuffed into their jackets. Or would they? Once the consequences of stealing are gone . . .

I guess the reason I’m particularly annoyed today is because I woke up this morning and came across an article on Facebook from a larger online site that was remarkably similar to a blog I wrote in December. What made it particularly frustrating was that the author actually says in the article that the basis of the article (his theory) comes from a fan who recently wrote about the same topic. Hm. Here’s a screenshot from the story where the author admits to stealing his theory.

The whole article is based on that statement. And here’s my blog where I lay out such a theory.

In December.

Of last year.

Shared on multiple Walking Dead fan sites.

This other article from has had over 272,000 clicks. My blog? A few hundred. Sour grapes? Maybe. Did this article’s author steal my premise and repackage it as his own? I’m not so egotistical to think he saw MY article or that I’m the only one who has thought of the premise behind it, but he did write that his article was a fan’s written theory and gave no credit to that fan. So even if the article wasn’t stolen from my blog (which it probably wasn’t in all reality) my point still stands. He stole it from somewhere, regardless of whether it was from me or not. He is making money via clicks off of someone else’s work. In the internet age, there are no recourses for people who have their intellectual property stolen. And no repercussions for the thief.

I once took a picture of a couple firefighter friends acting silly at the station and wrote a blog about it. It’s here if you wanna take a look. That was in 2012. That picture (with no link to my blog or credit to me) routinely shows up on my FB feed from a site called firefighter funnies. Why do I see it? Not because I created it or that I’m a fan of the site, firefighter funnies, but because I’m friends with a lot of firefighters. When they come across that picture they think it’s funny and share it without ever knowing I took it in the first place. How many clicks has firefighter funnies gotten from my picture? If every couple years it shows up on my feed out of the blue from others who have discovered it, I’d say quite a few.

Coming up with premises, writing a coherent article or blog, or penning a story is long, hard work. Unless you’re a large corporation, there is little recourse you can do when that work is stolen. Hell, even the big, powerful movie studios can’t protect their property.

The most frustrating of these stories, to me, is this next particular one. I think it perfectly and painfully demonstrates my above point that the general public has normalized thievery. The reason this one is so frustrating is because of the personal nature of how it happened. I was recently at the fire house and a guy from another station was filling in. I’d talked to this guy a few times in the past, but it wasn’t like we were best buds or anything. When we had some down time he sought me out and told me how he was writing a book. I assumed he did this because he had heard I had written a few and wanted to pick my brain. He told me it was going to be a werewolf story which piqued my interest for obvious reasons if you know about my book, Tamed. After 20 minutes of listening to his idea (far from original, but I digress), I gave him some publishing advice and mentioned my own writing career. I told him how I, too, had written a werewolf book (which I’m confident he already knew) and asked him if he’d read it. He said he hadn’t. As we stood there talking he pulled out his phone and a minute later said, “I’ve got it.”

Pleasantly surprised I asked, “You just bought my book?” It's always a warm and fuzzy feeling when someone is convinced to buy your book on the spot while talking about it.

Without missing a beat he answered, “No. I never buy books. I downloaded it from a pirate site. I have hundreds of books. Ad movies too.” He held up his phone and there was my book, Tamed, in his library. Instead of being ashamed that he had just stolen my book, he was proud like he had gamed the system. The problem was I was the system. That fact was lost on him. He continued boasting about how he never pays for his media while I stood amazed. Now imagine that. A guy who, no doubt, considers himself a moral individual had no qualms about stealing my book right in front of me and, worse yet, bragging about it to the actual creator of it. There was no thought in his mind that this could be considered a dickhead thing to do. And that’s the problem. I asked him why it wasn’t stealing and he looked at me like I had suddenly grown a second head. I ended the conversation, made note that this guy was a fuckhead who I would avoid in the future, and went on about my day. But I admit I was a bit salty, if you couldn’t tell.

I come from a unique position on this topic. I’ve created art that has actually been stolen to the profit of others. Normalization of online thievery happened years ago and continues to this day. There is no way to fight it. Somehow, if you take a stand against stealing online material in this internet based world, you are now the pariah. You’re now the uptight prude. My friends roll their eyes at me when I call it stealing. I don’t know how we got here, but if you’re a creative person, good luck in the future.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ve got a friend holding the movie theater exit door open and if I don’t get there soon I’ll actually have to purchase a ticket. Yikes. Gotta go.

No comments:

Post a Comment