Sunday, January 3, 2016

The artist in a society of entitlement

Consider this: If you were to work for seven years only to discover not only was your income so far below the poverty line as to be non-existent, but worse, people had been seeking out, using, and enjoying your work without paying you for it -- would you be disgruntled, perhaps peeved, perhaps even angry? Would their love and praise of your work diminish in its importance under the weight of knowing those secret customers stole your work? When the cost of your work is not much more than the price of a cup of coffee and yet still people thieve, would that drive you to seek justice, only to find there is no justice to be had?

Would you even stop working in order to prevent further theft?

Could you?

This is a problem every writer, and indeed creator of intellectual and visual content faces every day because of the power and all-encompassing nature of the Internet.

Recently I did one of my usual searches for my own writing on the Internet. And, as usual, pirate sites popped up featuring my books. I was about to prepare to fire off my usual notices to the site owners of copyright infringement, when I noticed discussion boards in which people quite freely seek out guidance from other members where they might be able to download a free copy of a book they wish to read. A free copy. Openly and unabashedly asking people where they could steal a copy of my work.

My first thought was: do these people not know about libraries?

And then my second thought was: that would be too much trouble. Because in this society of instant gratification and entitlement why should you not be able to enjoy someone's work, use their wares, because you want to, because everything should belong to everyone, quite outside of the fact you're too damned greedy to offer even the price of a cup of a coffee to the maker of the pleasure you'll receive over the next 36 hours. And of course it's perfectly acceptable to discuss stealing that person's work in public because it's your right to enjoy that work. After all, it's not really harming anyone. Not really.

Because the fact a person has worked in isolation for seven years, researching, writing, revising, paying for the professional services of an editor, revising, reworking, waking up at three of the blessed morning to realize everything you've written for the past two weeks is shite and you have to start again, and then when finally you've bashed that story into something about which you can feel a modicum of pride you then go through all those endless public appearances for signings, wrangling with social media to get your name out there, putting in all those mind-numbing hours in order to meet the needs of marketing and fans and all the business of business when you know very well every hour spent away from your desk is another hour you're not getting the next book into shape -- none of that matters. Apparently. You're not worth the price of a cup of coffee.

Would you, as a consumer, with your privileged, entitled, inflated sense of self-worth then take that ego one step further? You like that particular coat, and because you do you take it off the rack at the store, carefully remove the theft-prevention tag, and then walk out the door wearing the coat.

Oh, you'd like to have that bottle of pinot grigot with dinner tonight, and after all you're not really hurting anyone by taking it home, it's a big company making pots of money, so in a way you're really being a Robin Hood of sorts. Sure you are. You, smug in your living room without a thought for the vintner who laboured for twenty years to bring that small vineyard into production, risking everything so you could pound back some decent plonk.

Ah, well while we're at it, you really would like to drive that new car, so you jack your way into it and enjoy not having to take the public transit to buy groceries, go to work, all that hassle of every day life.

But then what happens when your boss thinks the same way you do? What happens when she steals your hours of labour with nary a pay cheque in sight? Different story, right? You march yourself to the first legal aid (because you don't want to have to pay for a lawyer) and you sue that bastard's ass because you've been robbed! You haven't been paid!

Still enjoying that ripped off read?

Yeah, and sure I'm glad you like my writing. But if you do, don't be such a cheap bastard and at least buy me the price of that cup of coffee.