Questioning Piracy, Part 1 – Cease & Desist

(These series of articles involve quotes from posts on a forum website that distributed copyrighted material. With certain exceptions, names and website addresses have been withheld)

Last July of this year, Dias Ex Machina engaged in a dialogue with several individuals the entertainment industry brands as miscreants. You know the type of which I speak, the downloaders of illegal songs, movies, pictures, and files…you know, everybody. Given such a broad net the industry attempts to toss, it’s no wonder such a huge portion of bycatch is left flopping on the deck to suffer for the benefit of a few sharks that often slip through the holes anyway. How much damage can corporations inflict on their own consumer base until they realize they’ve inflicted irreparable damage to the entertainment environment?

The situation began with a private message I received from a loyal fan on the Wizards of the Coast forum. The post illuminated me to the 4Shared online storage website. Though often employed as a cloud system, it can also be (and often is) used for illegal file distribution. Although music companies are allowed by 4Shared to search the files on the server, small companies like DEM don’t have that luxury unless someone posts the file for public access. In this case, this was exactly what happened. Not only were both Amethyst publications available, but so were hundreds of other 1st and 3rd party products as well. I had already encountered a similar issue on ScribD, where I had to send out cease & desist letters to a user that had done the same thing. On 4Shared, all the files were hosted by one individual. In a relatively obvious moment of inspiration, I ran the user name on Google and found a namesake website.

That was easy.

After signing up with one of my aliases (the same one from WOTC, so not a huge stretch), I began searching around. The forum boasted nearly 3000 users. DEM has about 500 and most of them are bots, but there was no way to deny the site’s popularity. The sticky post atop of each page was a link to the library. By this point, I had already sent the C&D to the 4Shared site to have the links to Amethyst removed, but I felt it was important to put a face to the writer.

Actual Post (paraphrased)
The point of concern is the fact that the vast majority of people that steal products never pay for them. Movie companies and game producers each have their own reasons and have altered the industry to compensate. They’ve raised or lowered prices. They’ve introduced copy protection. They’ve even created new technologies like Real3D to encourage people to pay. They even have systems in place to undercut and write off lost revenue.

Third party companies have no such luxuries. We compensate by trying our best to make our products attractive. For Amethyst, I post free previews, free adventures, and whole chapters even. When Evolution came out, I listed two price points, the original price and a sale price. Yes, the sale price outsells the retail, but many people have paid the higher price. When 10,000 people download Harry Potter, JK Rowling doesn’t feel it. When 38 people download Amethyst, I feel it. I understand that people will steal because they can’t afford it, don’t think it’s worth it, or simply because they can do it without getting caught. In the end, you cannot control the motivations of people that download. You can post the file, a file you paid for, and you can have a dozen or even more people that claim that they pay for the products they like. That still won’t stop the hundreds, if not thousands of people that simply don’t give shit.

Although I can try to offer a plea to not download games, I can try to encourage you to support companies like DEM or LPJ or Neuroglyph, in the end we must still act like businessman and send violation notices when they appear. It’s our livelihood. If I don’t generate a certain level of revenue with Evolution, I can’t afford the next book. Despite our personal opinions on the evolving marketplace and people’s varied opinion on fair use and copyright, we are still obligated to frown on the practice, else we open the doors to everything disrespectful.

Companies have the right to know that you are posting their files online for free download. They have the right to respond accordingly and any action they take is justified. I won’t try to bring your board down nor have accounts disabled. But until Amethyst becomes such a bestseller where I could care less if a thousand people download it without paying for it, each time someone commits to that act and I know about it, it hurts.

I’ll respect your space if you’ll respect mine.

__________________

It was a hand on heart moment. It was at this time I relayed to the site link to certain comrades in the industry. Their reactions were mixed, ranging from “don’t care” to “I’ll get the pitchforks.” One such comrade, one that I had personally worked with several times in the past, decided to make his presence known. He signed up under the name Nemesis and made his thoughts very clear. He began to stir the pot and then pour to over everyone. I knew who Nemesis was, but I was neither going to support nor criticize his reaction. He had every right to react as he did; I simply took a different direction. It quickly turned into a good cop / bad cop routine, though it wasn’t planned by either of us. No one knew who Nemesis was, while I identified myself openly.

Actual Post
I hope you are aware that the “library links” are illegal, and further, it is stealing copyrighted materials from the people that wrote them.

I kinda get you wanting to “stick it” to some big company, but you’re stealing from the small 3rd Party Publishers is a really a vile thing to do, especially when many of those 3PP 4E publishers are gamers like yourselves wanting to share their HARD WORK with the community for only a couple bucks a product.

Think about the fact that every time you give away a copy of a 3PP product, you are literally STEALING money from another gamer, just to save yourself a couple dollars.
Nemesis
__________________

I can appreciate the concept of gratis product. From artwork to modules, I’ve done it all with the one line drawn that products that costs me in excess of $2000 to develop don’t get distributed without some measure of control. This multi-part article will detail my opinion on fair use, distribution, and copyright. Although you might assume my stance from this opening page, you may be surprised where it ends up. I would not be spoiling the tale by saying that I made no enemies through this dialogue. For the industry to truly find an epiphany, to create a paradigm shift on how we act as creators, it will involve forming such a dialogue with people, because the line between pirate and consumer is not only vague, it’s non-existent. It is not like it’s a handful of terrorists moving through a mob of civilians. Everyone is a shade of grey.

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Chris Dias

Chris Tavares Dias is the literary equivalent of that crusty burnt cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot. Some people claim he looks like Mathew Perry. He would like that to be true. It's not. In 2010, Chris co-wrote and created Amethyst Foundations, a 4th Edition setting based on the previous version under 3.5. It has received critical acclaim for integrating science fiction into classical fantasy. In August of this year, Chris was last seen staring at a dead raven that had fallen beside his car. Two months later, his watch and notepad were found in the stomach of a basking shark that had washed ashore off the coast of Florida.

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