The Accidental (and Ironic) Pirate
While researching different authors perspectives on e-book piracy, I tripped over a blog post by a New York Times Bestselling Author. Let’s call her Jenn. (Not her real name) Jenn’s blog post explains how piracy affects people she knows in the music industry, and her own career as an author. She experiences the direct impact of piracy firsthand, and she is clearly against the theft of intellectual property.
Yet the irony is that Jenn, herself, is a pirate.
That’s right. A New York Times Bestselling Author… a person who is directly affected by pirates stealing electronic versions of her work… a person who knows and understands piracy, and fears that it may be destroying the publishing industry…
…is a pirate herself!
At the top of her article, she used a skull-and-crossed-swords graphic of a pirate flag which looks similar to the one at the upper-right of this post.
Unfortunately, the watermark on the image Jenn used shows it to be a copyrighted image, unlicensed and unapproved for public use.
It’s ironic (in lots of ways) that an author opposed to piracy would use a pirated version of a pirate flag in her anti-piracy post.
You probably noticed that I’m not linking to Jenn or providing her real name. I’ve informed the author of her indiscretion, and she took the image down immediately. I know Jenn didn’t mean to use an image without permission. But there’s something we can all learn from this, especially Jenn. This simple oversight by someone who should know better hits the nail on the head with an aircraft carrier.
Jenn is a particular kind of pirate, one most people don’t think of when they talk about pirates. I’m calling this type of pirate a Zombie Pirate.
Jenn never meant to break the law, she simply didn’t know better. She didn’t know the image was copyrighted. There’s tons of free graphics on the internet and she grabbed that one just like it was any other.
Full stop. Let’s reword that thought quickly and play it back again:
Jenn never meant to break the law, she simply didn’t know better. She didn’t know the music was copyrighted. There’s tons of free songs on the internet and she grabbed that one just like it was any other.
Jenn never meant to break the law, she simply didn’t know better. She didn’t know the e-book was copyrighted. There’s tons of free e-books on the internet and she grabbed that one just like it was any other.
I call this Zombie Piracy because the people doing it have their brains turned off. They know piracy is wrong, (Hells, Jenn just blogged a whole post about how piracy was damaging her personally!) but they don’t realize they are doing it. They aren’t paying attention.
Here is another example of Zombie Piracy performed by a national commercial newspaper!
How about people who install torrent clients, unaware that they’ve just turned their computers into webhosts for copyright media files?
Brain. Turned. Off.
Causes of Zombie Piracy
Granted, there are some people who opt-in to Zombie Piracy by embracing their own ignorance. Copyright law is confusing, (even to newspapers and bestselling authors, apparently) and it takes a bit of work to dig up the owner and copyright status of any electronic file. Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, right? So they throw their hands up and say, “Aw Hells, I dunno!” Then Right-Click, Save-As, and live the life of the blissfully ignorant zombie pirate.
There are websites out there that make it easy for the casual user to become a Zombie Pirate… they’re called search engines.
Jenn found her pirate flag graphic using the ubiquitous Google Image Search. But Google can’t be blamed for Zombie Piracy. Knowing the copyright status of the media is the users responsibility. To their credit, Google does provide the lukewarm warning, “Image may be subject to copyright” beside every graphic it presents.
Threat Level of Zombie Pirates
I suspect the Zombie Pirate is the most common of the pirate types. I also suspect they are the easiest to cure.
Unlike other types of pirates, Zombie Pirates don’t intend any harm. They would be likely to buy a song, graphic or e-book if they knew they were supposed to pay for it. In that respect, these pirates do cost the industries in potential lost sales.
They’re also the most likely to get caught, because they aren’t aware they are doing anything wrong, so they also aren’t aware that they should cover their tracks. But Piracy is Piracy right? The music and publishing industry think so, and history has proven that they don’t accept ignorance as an excuse.
The Cure for Zombie Piracy
In the video game Left 4 Dead, the cure for Zombies is the combat shotgun. But the cure for Zombie Piracy is this thought:
All artwork is copyright of the artist immediately upon creation by default. – US Copyright Office
Assume that any media you come across on the web is copyright, and it’s your responsibility to track down the usage rights before you use it. You should have the copyright source and status of any media you use, just like you should be able to provide proof-of-purchase for physical products that you own.
If you are looking for free media, your best bet is to look for items which are in the Public Domain. You can also look at media released under Creative Commons licensing, but be careful. The umbrella term “Creative Commons” doesn’t mean “Free.” There are different license types within Creative Commons which have different requirements or restrictions. Explanations of Creative Commons licenses can be found here: http://creativecommons.org/about/licenses
And please, if you are going to use Google Image Search, make sure to use the Advanced Search Settings and under “Usage Rights” select from the list of available filters.
Better yet, check out this post which lists a plethora of sources for free media.
Now you know. Turn. Brain. On.