Is Theft Worth Focusing On?

Theft has risen dramatically since the invention of the internet. It has always been present before then, but with the online channels it’s much easier to get a hold of someones design, art, music or writing and recreate it as your own. Plagiarism and ‘Remixing’ have also been heavy hitters in the online world, often causing debates over ‘fair use’ and similar copyright issues.

So with the constant shuffle back and forth, and the millions that piracy/plagiarism is apparently taking away from the artist, how can you make the most of it if it were to happen to you?

A while back when I was designing t-shirts a friend of mine alerted me to a shop overseas that had copied one of my designs and reprinted it with slight modifications. Because of the way I view the world, my first thought was “Great! My design was good enough that someone stole it!”. Of course, this thought pattern wasn’t born overnight – it was something I focused on for years after realising that stealing was here to stay – especially in the design industry.

If someone steals, plagiarises, remixes your work or uses your name to get known (the ‘coat-tails’ scenario) how can you make the most of it? After all, it surely couldn’t be good for you – could it?

Skrillex (signed to Deadmau5’s label) posted this on Facebook recently. While he makes very valid and honest points about the illegal and unethical activity – is it really necessary to bring attention to it? After reading this, and the majority of negative, annoyed and ‘You’re a sellout’ comments underneath, did he just disrespect his fans for spreading his name (even by illegal means)?

Here is an example of the mental work through that most people go through when something of theirs meets the same fate:

  1. Artist is alerted to illegal merch sales

  2. Artist contacts sellers via email explaining they should stop the illegal activity

  3. Artist gets heavy hitters involved (lawyers, accountants etc) to see if they have a leg to stand on

  4. Calculations are made about the loss by this illegal activity

  5. Public scrutiny is pushed forth towards the companies/individuals working illegally

  6. Artist strengthens copyright of brand, shares less and hides more

  7. Illegal operations close down, prompting more to open

  8. Rinse and repeat

Now this list is just an example, but I don’t suspect it to be far from the truth. While I believe 1 and 2 are important, unless the illegal activities are severely impacting sales (e.g. Napster vs Record Companies) then I don’t believe it is worth going further – no matter how big the fight. The bigger the fight, the more attention, and we all know how the record companies have fared since their win with the demise of Napster. Would you invest in a traditional record company now?

Here is an example of how I handle situations like this now:

  1. Artist is alerted to illegal merch sales

  2. Artist contacts sellers via email explaining they should stop the illegal activity

  3. Artist realises that name recognition from illegal activities is helping build the brand awareness

  4. Artist realises that Brand awareness pays more in the long run vs focusing attention on stopping companies steal

  5. Artist focuses attention back into art to move forward and build off the new attention

  6. Artist writes a blog post saying he doesn’t like people stealing, but accepts that it is going to happen

  7. Artist moves on and gets back to creation

Now I know a lot of people may see this and think “But you’re just letting them get away with it!”. In a way, yes I am. If you constantly focus on something negative your direction will pull you that way. It’s the same thinking as trying to smile while being really angry (try it!). It’s really hard to be creative and spontaneous if you are directing your attention on watching your back and being paranoid about everything you put out.

The quickest way to kill creativity is not to be.

Just to clarify, I don’t condone illegal activities, but they’re here to stay. Artists the world over need to keep focused on going forward and creating the works that got them noticed in the first place instead of fighting ongoing battles that often hurt them more than the initial theft.

Have you ever had anyone steal your work?