Pirates and the Artist – A social commentary on pirated material
Just a few days ago the infamous site Pirate Bay was raided for the second time in eight years, according to an article on BBC. The reported losses over the years, in relation to the entertainment industry, are in the billions. We have all seen those warnings before we watch a flick stating that illegal downloading is the same as stealing a purse. In school I see posters everywhere saying the same thing. We are inundated wherever we turn with decrying descriptions of the sin that is participation in illegally downloaded material. Whether or not the action is the same as stealing a purse can be left up to the moralist to decide. There is a beneath the surface subject however, in regards to the artist viewpoint of pirated material. The question on hand is whether or not an artist should be furious about the loss of money to be made from their “creation”.
Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”, has a particular character that may be able to shed some light on the predicament stated above. For those of you not familiar with the story, here’s a brief synopsis. There’s this guy named Howard, and he’s a brilliant architect. However, no one really gives him the credit he deserves. His work is obscure, and obscure enough that the time period isn’t comfortable with what he is creating. There’s another guy named Peter, who is also an architect, and a good one, just not as creative as Howard. Essentially Howard designs a few houses for Peter that are…how should one say it…normal, but spectacular to the public. Peter takes full credit for the houses and makes boatloads of money off of them. Howard in the meantime can’t get a job and even resorts to construction work. Long story short eventually the pundits catch up to Howard’s brilliance, and of all things a gas station he designed grants him fame. Peter then drifts into obscurity, with money, but little else. There’s much more to the story of course, but enough has been said to showcase the necessary point.
Isn’t this what an artist should be? Shouldn’t an artist care less about what they make, monetarily speaking, as long as they are able to create, as long as they are progressing their art? The voices can be heard now yelling, “You moron! How am I supposed to live! I’ve got to feed myself, and my habits, and my…” This is true. An artist must be able to live in order to create. And truth be told, much like Howard working in the construction, there have been thousands of artists who keep on living by any means necessary, so that they can create.
But does an artist need to make huge amounts of money to create? As an aside, one could easily surmise, and there is undoubtedly a correlation, that true art represents life, so an easy life doesn’t generally bring about the best art, since life isn’t easy. One could even state that an easy life will more often than not produce poor art. Anyways if an artist is truly an artist, they are not creating for their pocketbook, though often this is the case. They are not creating for their ego, though often this is the case. They are not creating for humanity’s praises of an adoring public, though often this is the case. A true artist is creating, because they are a creator. That is who they are. And when an artist begins to create for other reasons, they are no longer benefitting art or the world around them. They are solely benefiting themselves. This is not art.
So when we read of the bemoaning of multi millionaire artists in regards to their stolen work, is it truly stolen? If I download a song by Taylor Swift, I still know that it’s a Taylor Swift song. Perhaps I give it to a little girl, who adores it, and begins to play guitar herself. Perhaps I give it to a friend going through a tough time, and it brings a smile to their face. You see these rather rudimentary base examples are what art truly is about. Taylor Swift is given full recognition of her talents (whatever your opinion of what her talents may be). It’s not like someone is stealing her song, and saying they themselves had made it, much like Peter did to Howard, even though Howard allowed it to happen. If she were truly an artist, she would be ecstatic to have influenced someone to pursue the craft she was pursuing. She would be just as overjoyed to learn that her song had impacted the down in the dumps individual. But no, what we hear about is complaints, whining about pieces of green paper (if you live in the States of course).
On a personal level I enjoy writing stories. In fact I love it. I have often sat outside wondering what would happen if one of my stories was stolen from me, published, but by some dastardly sort of person. Why would I need to take credit for the story? In all honesty I wouldn’t take a cent from the person. They were the one who got the story published after all. Yet I would ask to have my name replace their name on the cover of the book. And please bear with me. This is an entirely different subject than pirated material. For who knows what other kinds of things this person would try to publish, and it may ruin the integrity of whichever story they stole. But besides this reason, there is no other reason for my name to be on the front cover, if I am truly an artist.
For instance, lets say the story became a film, and it was illegally downloaded a million times. I can just as honestly say that I would be euphoric. For the reason I wrote the story was not at all because of money. Whatever the reason may have been it most probably lines up with the word impact. But this is the question any supposed artist should ask themselves, “Why am I making this?” The question is of the utmost significance to the artist. When they begin to search out the posed question, perhaps they realize how shallow their pursuits have really been. Perhaps they start to realize how they should have become a dentist (and believe me I don’t believe there is anything at all wrong with dentistry, it’s just an example of an occupation). But hopefully the question will help the individual artist begin to discover how much they truly do love creating in opposition to everything that comes with it.
Ultimately an artist is not creating for themselves. They are creating for the viewer. Yes, creating is most definitely a form of release, which benefits the artist. And yes, as humans, we are all a selfish species, so those negative aspects of pride and arrogance will come into play for the artist. But if an artist truly focuses on the truth that is in art, they will eventually break free from the structures and hooks which hold back the artist from growth. Morally and ethically I can’t say that pirating is right. But as an artist, as long as their art is being presented to the public, they shouldn’t care. These websites enable the artist to become connected to a much larger audience. In a way these sites should be considered positive in light of this aspect.
But if you are an artist, whether a painter, musician, etc.…ask yourself the question. Are you only doing what you’re doing because your friend’s compliments make you feel good about yourself? Are you only doing what you’re doing because you like how that boy or girl looks at you because of it? Are you only doing what you’re doing because you want money? Are you only doing what you’re doing because you like the image it gives you? These are only a few of so many reasons as to why an artist isn’t an artist. In fact, if you are going about creating for these purposes and not for noble ones, you are actually a detriment to art. Remember, if you’re even half way decent enough, money will eventually come your way; praise, image, all of that stuff, will follow suit. But one must be pursuing art for the Right reasons in order for it to truly be worthwhile. Otherwise it’s worthless, and you’ll find yourself whining and complaining, looking like schmuck in public.
-Jared John Buchholz