Screw the pirates… let’s all keelhaul the bandits.

publishing.pngDespite my opposition to SOPA (which hasn’t changed) and my thoughts on piracy (here, here, here) which haven’t changed… I’ve recently stumbled across something that does bother the crap out of me.

I want to distinguish these folks by calling them bandits.  These aren’t copyfighters, they aren’t fair-use champions, they aren’t people “sampling” or even those freeloading.

They are bandits because they’re actively making money from ripping content creators off.  I was tipped off to one in particular (I’m not linking to them because I have no desire to increase their pagerank) that seems innocuous on the face of it, but when you pay $10 to join the “VIP Club” (paid through PayPal, and then administered through a Yahoo! gropu) you get access to some things that I’m pretty damn sure aren’t legit.

Examples?  Why, yes.  Here’s two egregious ones:

The entire run of “The Walking Dead”

Living Vegan for Dummies – with a cover that says “Uploaded by Bookshare”

And in addition, some other titles I saw were The Zombie Survival Guide, A Game of Thrones, The Help, and 11/22/63 (Stephen King).  That’s only a tiny fraction.  And yes, these are directly ripped from torrents, even if the cover to “Living Vegan for Dummies” didn’t clue you in.  I checked several of the “collections”.

I’m not the copyright holder for any of these works.  I can’t report them.  But that’s not the point of this post.

You see, bandits change the game.  Some of the reasons I’ve argued that piracy isn’t that big of a deal is that folks who want to/are able to/are going to pay will pay in order to support the things and authors they love.  (Sci-Fi fans, please see: Caprica, SG:U.)  The folks who torrent a collection of over 200 eBooks aren’t going to buy your eBook.  It’s just keeping some kind of weird hoarder-style “score”.  They were never your customers to begin with. 

Bandits take away customers/readers/viewers who are willing to pay, and may not even realize that content creators never see a penny.

Again, this doesn’t really change a damn thing about SOPA, or piracy.  SOPA wouldn’t really stop these jerks (and would do a lot of harm to the rest of us at the same time).  My old arguments about piracy still stand…and keep in mind that the media companies also define giving your significant other a copy of a purchased MP3 or eBook piracy – that’s not even shoplifting.  Hell, they go after people for music playing on the radio in the background in a documentary…not soundtrack, but just on the radio. 

So let’s define things properly.

People – have rights.  They might share something with their family, maybe friends.  (Ever lend a DVD to someone?  Make a mix tape?  Okay, then.)  They might remix and/or transform the work – for example, G6 Kids fundamentally changes both songs and makes them into something new. 

Pirates are someone who is essentially shoplifting.  Not great, but slap-on-the-wrist kinds of offenses.   (Yes, I know people who work retail and know how insane shoplifters can get.)  Going after pirates as “bad guys” is also problematic in a global world (see Jim Hines’ post here and Tobias Buckell here for some very reasoned thought about global perspectives and pirates from other professional authors.)

And then there are the bandits.

Bandits are people who shoplift, then sell what they shoplifted.  This crosses a line for me.  It’s no longer about access, or anything even vaguely excusable – it’s simply being a parasite and doing so in a way that can steal legitimate customers.

So maybe rather than worrying about piracy which is, to borrow Tobias’ phrase, “like squeezing water”, we should be focusing on these bandits. 

Not just content creators, either.   Not just the RIAA.  Not just the MPAA.

All of us.  Every pirate.  Every torrenter.  Every remixer.  Every member of the EFF.  Google.  Every cyber-libertarian.  Everyone who loves the internet being free.

Because it’s those asshats that weaken every argument that we have.  It’s the short-term greed of those jerks that gives ammunition to those who want to over-regulate and cripple the internet.

It would be such a shame if their parasitical business somehow imploded, undermining the arguments that the ‘net needs regulation, wouldn’t it?

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