Amidst SOPA and DMCA, Comedian Louis C.K. Speaks to Artists’ Relationship with Pirates
Artists have taken a similar stance on IP distribution before, but Louis C.K. has curiously done so amidst the current copyright backdrop of SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and the start of the fifth Digital Millennium Copyright Act rulemaking proceeding, both of which have the potential to drastically change the law regarding DRM and online piracy. Many opponents of SOPA and the DMCA’s anticircumvention measures argue that legal enforcement of stricter protectionist measures, as mandated by such acts, simply will not solve the problem of online piracy. Rather, online piracy is lessened when the distribution business model is altered to adjust to new developments in technology.
So it’s only too interesting that Louis C.K., at the height of his career, has chosen to forgo what would have undoubtedly been a lucrative contract with a production company, and instead try his hand at a corporate-less business model, along with a letter directly addressed to online pirates. C.K. wrote, “I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me.”
C.K. hasn’t said anything about the possibility of releasing sales figures, but comments on a popular torrent site offering the video for free download are telling. One after another, users are encouraging each other to refrain from downloading the torrent, and are instead providing a link to C.K.’s website and making users aware of the affordable $5 charge. Some users have reposted C.K.’s letter in their comments, and the user who uploaded the original file even felt compelled to write an apologetic response to C.K. A few users have expressed regret for downloading the torrent without compensating C.K., but state that they simply do not have the $5 to give him in the first place.
This behavior from torrent users themselves is illustrative for a number of reasons. The simple fact that they are encouraging others to refrain from pirating dispels the common misconception that pirates will pirate regardless of price. Indeed, the sentiment from users was quite the opposite– many of them appealed to a sense of respect and appreciation for the artist. They felt that $5 was a perfectly reasonable fee to pay to be entertained for one hour by a comedian. Many comments were centered on the idea of fairness between the consumer and the producer, even aside from any respect for the artist. Users emphasized the value in promoting continued production of DRM-free works, so as to allow for easier exercise of fair uses. And even further, users were willing to pay for better services, such as a faster download speed and an assurance of a legitimate, high-quality file.
Such comments straight from torrent users support the hypothesis that would-be infringers are eager to act legally when presented with a business model that takes their preferences into account. They are eager to support the artist when the artist provides a work in a format and for a price that is agreeable to both parties. Louis C.K. acknowledged that torrents will continue regardless of DRM, and chose instead to offer an alternative model that would appeal on both an emotional and rational basis: “So please, help me keep this being a good idea. I can’t stop you from torrenting; all I can do is politely ask you to pay your five little dollars, enjoy the video, and let other people find it in the same way.”
To keep abreast of C.K.’s foray with business models and online piracy, follow him on Twitter @louisck.