by Niall Doherty

Let’s talk about all the online piracy happening within the lifestyle design community. I see this as a big issue, a big disconnect that almost nobody talks about. And it bugs the hell out of me.

Here’s a story I heard recently…

There’s a membership site for lifestyle designers.1 You pay a certain amount per month for access to a community of like-minded individuals. There’s encouragement and mentoring and occasional real-world meet-ups. Ideas are shared and partnerships formed. Members help each other brainstorm and develop and market and promote ebooks and software and niche sites and online courses.

All good so far.

But then there’s also a big shared repository of ebooks and software. Members are invited to take what they need, free of charge, rather than buy legitimate copies themselves. And so they do.

See the disconnect there? Paddy Lifestyle Designer is hoping to create something of value that people will pay good money for while simultaneously and blatantly not paying any money for something he values.

I’m sure the typical member of the particular site I heard about (or any other site like it) would tell you that a guy like Tim Ferriss has had a profoundly positive impact on his life. And he’d tell you such while downloading a pirated copy of the latest 4-Hour book from the shared repository.

I simply fail to understand how anyone can in good conscience call themselves a creator or an entrepreneur while simultaneously cheating fellow creators and entrepreneurs. If you value something and you can afford it, why not pay the asking price?

Of course, the guilty among us will perform all sorts of mental hijinks in an effort to convince ourselves we’re not doing anything wrong. Some common excuses I hear:

“I pay for the product many times over by writing an enthusiastic review on my blog and telling all my friends and family how fantastic it is and that they should buy it themselves.”

This may indeed be true, but surely it should be up to the creator, not the consumer, to decide that karma is acceptable as an alternative method of payment. Would your favorite author really be happy with you recommending his latest book to five friends, or would he prefer that you pay him his fifteen dollars? Who are you to decide?

“Adobe’s loaded. It’s not like families are going hungry because I’m using a cracked version of Photoshop.”

Think about how difficult it is to build really popular software, write a bestselling book, or produce pretty much anything of significant value to a large number of people. Call me crazy, but I believe such efforts should be rewarded in direct proportion to the value created. The more successful a product is, the more it improves people’s lives, the more the creator should be rewarded. But once again we have many consumers deciding for themselves what reward, if any, the creator deserves.

“I can’t afford it but I want it.”

Tough shit. Work hard, provide more value, earn more money. Then you will be able to afford it.

“I can’t afford it but I need it.”

Okay, this one gets a pass. If you’re an aspiring graphic designer in the Philippines and you really can’t afford Photoshop, go ahead and download a cracked version. But as soon as you’re making enough money to afford a legit copy, you should hand over the cash with a big, grateful smile upon your face.

“I sincerely doubt it’s worth the asking price.”

This one gets a pass, too. If a software license costs $2000 but you only need it this once to complete a $100 job, I personally think it’s cool to go the pirate route. Similarly, friends and readers occasionally send me pirated copies of books they think I’ll enjoy. Whenever I do read and find value in a book so acquired, l go ahead and buy a legit copy.

Beyond the disconnect

That creator-consumer disconnect is only one part of the problem. The other part I’ve noticed is the ostracization of people who speak up against piracy.

That membership site I mentioned earlier? Apparently an already successful online entrepreneur recently signed up and was surprised and rightfully miffed to find a pirated version of his own product available for download via the repository. But what could he do about it? He was in an impossible situation. Kick up a fuss and all the other members would label him a spoil-sport. Keep quiet and he’d essentially be advocating the illegal and unauthorized distribution of his own product.

I often succumb to the peer pressure myself. When I find myself amongst fellow web designers discussing where to download WooThemes for free (read: illegally), I hesitate to suggest that they consider the outrageous notion of actually paying for them instead. When I do manage to muster the courage and speak my mind on these matters, what usually follows is an awkward silence and some muttered excuses, and that’s about the same time it dawns on me that I’m unlikely to receive an invite to the next group discussion.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m no saint in this area. I used to have close to 7,000 illegally downloaded MP3’s and plenty of pirated software. I made a conscious decision to close the integrity gap a couple of years back.2 But scour my computer today and you’re still likely to find a few shady files born within the last two years.

So yeah, I’m not perfect. Nor am I asking anyone else to be. It’s just that I can’t help but wonder: When did it become so acceptable and commonplace to steal rather than buy? And at what point did we decide to label the pirates cool kids and the honest chaps suckers?

If you find value in the above post, I’d really appreciate if you could share it via Facebook or Twitter or the likes. I’m hoping plenty of lifestyle designer types read this and resolve to start paying fair price for the value created by their peers.

UPDATE: If you fancy reading more along these lines, here’s an interesting article from the Guardian about a first-time author who “found a request to pirate his novel circulating on discussion board Mobilism… and decided to respond himself.” (Thanks to Chris for the heads up.)

Show 2 footnotes

  1. No hints as to which one. I’m sure there are many others out there like it. My criticisms in this post can be applied to them all.
  2. Not coincidentally, this was right about the same time I became self-employed, with high hopes that people would pay me fairly for the value I sought to provide.

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