Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Essay: Fandom and Piracy (Part 5)

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

A fitting conclusion to this series is answering the question "Why pirate?" Now I'm not a pirate but there are several things that I've observed.

At the root of it, pirates are fans of the work they're pirating, either with specific titles or in the abstract. An example of the former is a pirate who's releasing scanlations of the manga Bleach is a fan of Bleach. When it comes to the latter, a pirate who's releasing thousands of books into the wild might not be a fan (or even actually read) every book they're pirating, but they consider themselves a fan of books in general (or maybe a specific genre). If not, why go through all the effort of acquiring and disseminating these titles? It's certainly not for profit--unless it's a paid site--and consumes time and bandwidth.

That however doesn't answer the question of why pirates pirate. One motivation might be to spread their love for a certain title and nothing is more efficient at this than the Internet. It's the same reason why one might loan their favorite book or CD to a friend. Never mind the fact that one's legal and the other isn't. Some pirates actually think that they're doing the authors a favor by pirating their work ("Look, you get more readers.") On the other hand of the spectrum are pirates who separate the text from the author/creator. They might like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone but dislike J.K. Rowling herself (especially if she asks them to take down her work). Compare for example the different kinds of dialogue author Nancy Kress has with pirates: An Exchange With a Pirate (& the eventual fallout More on the Story Piracy) and Dialogue With a Pirate.

Another motivation for pirates is more self-serving. Aside from the hits on a website ("Yay, I'm popular!"), pirates get a certain sense of emotional gratification when people download their stuff (and this is also indicative as to what actually gets pirated, and why popular books are also popular pirated downloads). It might be feeling satisfaction at the fact it's being downloaded (in the same sense that editors feel pride when authors they edit get read by others), or something more concrete such as fans thanking the pirate for disseminating such material. What makes this feedback loop possible, however, are the fans themselves. If people didn't download pirated stuff, then the former type would lose motivation to maintain piracy. If fans didn't thank pirates for what they do, again, they lose their motivation to keep on pirating (in fact, I've also witnessed drama where pirates threaten to stop releasing material because they feel their community doesn't appreciate them enough).

There is also the issue of different mores in the current generation. In my previous essays, I've stated how intellectual property feels abstract to some people, and this gives them the sense that it's reasonable to distribute such work because it's not a tangible product, such as an actual book (related to this is The New York Time's The Ethicist who finds it ethical to download pirated books if you bought the hardcover). There are also those who feel that just because they're not doing it for financial profit means that their actions are perfectly legitimate (this is also used to justify fan fiction). And then there are those who are outright vengeful: because the publisher won't release electronic copies, they'll pirate their own (and the community that sustains this kind of behavior is even scarier: people who download said pirated material expect such products to come out immediately--all without paying the author or the publisher their due).

Suffice to say, there are different kinds of pirates, and they can't easily be pegged under one general category. What might discourage one pirate won't necessarily discourage another.

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