Piracy trumps obscurity again

By Paul Watson on .

Here’s a short illustrated story for you:

Steve Lieber is a comic book artist. He drew Underground, a graphic novel (written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Steve, and colored by Ron Chan). The story follows Park Ranger Wesley Fischer as she tries to save Stillwater Cave – and then has to save herself.

On Sunday (3 days ago, as of time of writing) a fan posted scans of every single page onto 4chan (EDIT: archive of the 4chan thread on Steve Lieber’s site), a well-known discussion forum.

screenshot of 4chan

Yup, all Steve’s work is now out there for free. Steve found out via a message on Twitter.

He didn’t go mad.

He didn’t call in the lawyers.

Instead he went to the forum and joined in the discussion:

another screenshot of 4chan

Techdirt have a much-used phrase for this: “Connect with Fans“.

Yesterday Steve posted a blog post – Whole book for free; or learning from 4Chan – explaining what had been happening.

What happened next? Well, today Steve posted a graph of his sales of the very same comic book (which he sells on Etsy):

Steve's sales

I don’t think that anything can really illustrate Tim O’Reilly’s argument that “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy” (and various other points in his seminal 2002 article) than Steve’s experience.

This has all happened in the past 3 days: a huge surge in sales thanks to “piracy”.

Steve Lieber is currently discussing this series of events on Warren Ellis’ WhiteChapel discussion forum if you’re interested to hear more of his experience and thoughts.

And you can buy Underground on Steve’s Etsy store.

I’m starting to wonder when we’ll see a “Dummies Guide to Getting Your Work Pirated” on the desk of every artist, writer, musician … and marketing executive.

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Greg Henson
.

Let this be a lesson. If your stuff get’s pirated, and you just go with the flow and accept it, many will go out and purchase it just to be cool and support you, and those that saw it pirated may become fans. I saw Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV) due to a pirated copy. After that I was hooked, and now I have the original DVD for every episode for all 7 seasons.

On the other hand, if you complain and get lawyers or RIAA, or equivilent involved, people will get pissed off, and will pirate the hell out of it, for the soul purpose of hurting your sales. and along with a review of your story, they will include a “this is what you did” review as well…not good.

John C. Welch
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That’s great that it happened to him, however, the amount of reliable, empiric data that this is what happens in all pirating cases is nonexistent. You can’t even prove it happens to most artists.

It’s also confusing a specific kind of piracy, (putting the entire work up online with proper attribution) to the kind of thing that is rather rampant for artists, namely, people stealing their work, and then the thieves remove the original artist’s name, and put THEIR name on it with THEIR copyright and say “don’t steal art”.

At that point, there’s no way for the actual artist to benefit, because people don’t know they were the ones who created it. So this benefit only exists if the original “thieves” have a bit of integrity in the first place, and are doing this from the viewpoint of fans who want to share something they love, and not someone trying to co-opt someone else’s work.

Paul Watson
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Hi John

Your points are absolutely valid. I’ve got a couple of comments (not to argue against what you say, but to expand on it):

…the amount of reliable, empiric data that this is what happens in all pirating cases is nonexistent. You can’t even prove it happens to most artists.

It seems to me that there’s a similar lack of empirical data about piracy in general – just a lot of diatribe and law suits. In other words, empiric data that this is NOT what happens in all pirating cases WHERE THE CREATOR ENGAGES WITH THE FANS is ALSO non-existent (my edits in capitals – not shouting, just differentiating).

I think the major point I wanted to highlight in my summary of the Steve Lieber/4chan episode was not that “piracy creates sales” – which is simply not true on its own. It is that, recognising that piracy of artistic/musical works is a fact of life, the way in which a creator responds to piracy can dramatically alter the outcome.

By engaging with the people on 4chan in a pleasant and helpful way, Steve turned a bunch of people into fans who bought his work.

It’s also confusing a specific kind of piracy, (putting the entire work up online with proper attribution) to the kind of thing that is rather rampant for artists, namely, people stealing their work, and then the thieves remove the original artist’s name, and put THEIR name on it with THEIR copyright and say “don’t steal art”.

Absolutely – one is piracy (or rather copyright infringement or theft), the other is not piracy but fraud.

Jonathan Grimwauld
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Yep, that’s the life of creativity.
Performance is king – connecting with people so you’re no longer faceless media drone is muyo importante.

Kinda counter-intuitive. It’s how my bud’s band failed. they refused to play to the crowd, and so the crowd didn’t like’em anymore.

David
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I’m with Mr. Welch on this — so it worked for one guy in one isolated event. What would happen if every artist got his stuff pirated and leaked on 4chan, and responded positively? I sincerely doubt that every artist would see a similar spike in sales.

I suspect the sales the author saw came from sympathetic 4chan posters due to the unique reply from the author. However, if the reply becomes commonplace, the sympathy dies and with it the sales.

Kudos to the author for taking advantage of the situation, but in the end piracy is still going to hurt artists.

That being said, I also agree with Mr. Watson in that how an artist deals with the fact of piracy can affect the overall outcome positively. The trick will be finding creative and new ways in the future to deal with it.

Sean
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Um, not to be a dick, but your graph doesn’t show 4chan boosting sales. It shows a huge boost in sales *before* it gets posted, followed by a DROP in sales. Did you label it wrong?

catdgo
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poor argument.

after i steal a movie off the internet I don’t go out an buy it, nobody does…

honorabili
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Many companies don’t get that if some stuff (talking about video games) will not even get bought had it not been pirated before. Most people I know that do pirate stuff end up buying games so long as they were good in the first place. If they weren’t, should they have been in the market in the first place? Quality over quantity.