Note to reader: This article is written for the business owner who creates multi-media content to serve their customers. It is a detail of my own personal experience with internet piracy and theft of my own intellectual property. This article in no way condones or promotes the unlawful and immoral theft of property. Rather, it’s my goal to bring some clarity to how a fellow business owner can use the existing landscape of the net and it’s trends toward open sourced and shared content to their advantage. In the end, I am certain we will win.”
In 2006 I invested sixteen grand into creating a DVD set for the customers at my martial arts school. Like everything else I do, I went the distance with professionalism and quality. Sure I could have taken short cuts, done it myself on some Apple editing software, but that’s just not my way. Audio and image quality, voice overs, angles and packaging of the product, all these items could not be fulfilled by DIY, so I hired a top team of video producers to make my four DVD set. It took about three solid weeks of recording over four hundred techniques. Then another week of editing down, voice overs and all the other studio stuff. It was an enormous project with a super quality product for my students when we were complete.
Had I known then what I know now about product launch and automated fulfillment, I would have made a killing on those videos within the first week. But over the next year I was consistently selling about twelve sets on average per week. Not bad. By week twelve, my investment was paid off and I began to make profit on the sales. By the third month, I was taking in an extra $7,800 per month on my bottom line just from those DVDs and like I said, I knew nothing about doing it right! … I just made a great product.
One year later, I re-invested my profit into another four DVD set. Of course I had learned quite a bit from my mistakes and now knew how to take better advantage of internet platforms and media resources. Understanding the mistakes I had made the previous year, combined with having a robust new following of martial artists around the globe who were thrilled about my last project, surely this video set would be hugely successful for me.
By the time my new four DVD set was complete, we had already built and deployed the internet’s first, fully interactive online martial arts school, Budohall.com. We were engaging with new customers from around the world, many of whom had discovered us through the reputation gained from my first DVD set.
With my new knowledge of information marketing, a growing list of pumped customers from all over and a pile of cash to work with, I would be able to repurpose the content from both DVD sets into both my online training resource as well as build super sweet curriculum manuals with image grabs from the videos combined with professional transcriptions I had done for mere pennies. Things were looking great.
Then, one day it all stopped… Like turning off a faucet, the orders just stopped coming in.
For several weeks I was baffled at what was going on. While traffic to my sites and social networks were continuing to go up, some even hitting record days, the orders froze. Weeks past without an order. We began split testing, cross testing and pressure testing our systems. Everything was running perfect. I was baffled.
On Friday afternoons I usually spend a few minutes scrolling through the popular internet discussion groups. Occasionally my name comes up in discussion and I like to chime in. But this one Friday, I saw that someone had posted a clip from one of my videos that was not in my trailer. I checked the guy’s name on our customer list and discovered he had never bought a video from me. So I contacted him.
The quick response I got made me realize how little I knew. So much so, that I thanked this guy and today have built a cool friendship with him. So, what was his response? .. He basically said that he’d stolen my shit.
That’s right. He got right back in touch with me and explained how he downloaded it off a popular video pirating website, followed by a long letter of appreciation for making the video and all the dedication I showed to my martial arts students … I’m not kidding! I felt like this dude had just robbed my home and then sent me a thank you letter. I wanted to whip his ass! But I realized within a few minutes that there was something else going on I didn’t know about. Why had he so nonchalantly given me the thankful response he did and what was this site he mentioned all about?
I ran a search on the title of my DVD set and to my own amazement, there I was in dozens of languages I didn’t know, with downloadable links to my video set from sites like PirateBay, Mediafire, RapidShare and Filetube to name just a few. My videos were available in video formats I had never even heard of! … And there it was, the number.
I remember the first one, 1,438. Listed right next to the download link of my video was the number of times it had been freely downloaded without my consent. Today, I am certain that number is in the tens of thousands, but many of these sites no longer share the download number on their interface.
When I dug deeper, I found my Sensei’s content there too. Then I found out how I could literally access any piece of digitized video or text I wanted. I was floored. In a furious response to this, I began emailing every pirate site telling them they did not have my approval to host my intellectual property or to profit from my content without permission.
I demanded immediate removal of my content. Some of them responded by removing it, but only for a few days until someone else put it back up.
Within a week, I realized I was just playing an unending game of wack-a-mole and that no matter how many times I kept swinging, another would just pop up. This is when BitTorrents came on the scene and it’s precisely when I realized that due to this piracy technology, there was no accountable target for me to go after and thus my content would forever be widely and freely viewed online.
What now? What was I supposed to do moving forward with video and content creation and delivery over the web? Realizing now that everything I create in digital format was at risk of being hijacked was a bit unsettling.
No matter how you cut it, if you steal something you’re a crook, a criminal. If it ain’t yours and you take it, it’s morally and many times legally wrong. My name and content was being freely distributed and spread around the net without any approval, meanwhile I still sat on cases of product that I now knew would never get sold. In a way, I took it as a bit flattering that so many people would want to download my teaching.
One day while discussing with my teenage class the struggle that we have often times with our own ego and how the study of martial arts helps us find meaning in that struggle, I stumbled on a realization. I never bought a Clash album in my life, but I knew every song they wrote by the time I was 14 years old. The Sex Pistols and Ramones … All recorded on blank Maxell cassettes I bought at KMart. Were it not for the availability of that music to record so freely on cassette, who knows what kind of kid I would have become.
And now I’m bitching?
Yes, inspirations in my life like Joe, Johnny and Deedee were then free and played a big role in my life as a kid. Realizing this helped me make better sense of the changing environment, my place in it and what opportunity I could find in this immediate crisis of mine.
I began to look for potential opportunity in this emerging trend of content sharing. Were there benefits to be had in people stealing my shit? Could this new modality of sharing (if you want to call it that) serve my personal goals and also serve my students? I wondered.
With that question, I began to research as much as I could about the intricate world of file sharing and online piracy before I took another step forward in creating new content for my students.
The first thing I realized was that if you don’t want someone to have it, don’t digitize it. Period. But in a sense, most business owners want to share their message with as many worthy people as possible. When I digested all I could on the topic of internet piracy, I compiled a list of ideas that actually showed the benefits of having my content pirated, shared, jacked or whatever you want to call it now.
Here’s that list, copied from my own notebook when I was planning how I would take out the pirates use of my content by using their open landscape of file sharing and turning it into opportunity for building the reputation of my own business:
Beat the bastards!
My plan worked!
The final takeaway that I had when finalizing my plan for how I would be positioned as a traditional martial arts instructor in the age of free digital content, file sharing and piracy is that all content going forward would be created with the goal of building a conversation. All digitized content that I’ve created over the last year has been virtually, in one way or another, given away to stimulate a discussion about my business.
With the law of reciprocity at work, me giving super high-value content while asking for nothing in return, positions me as not only an expert but also a damn good guy who’s taking care of his people. This is a critical role that anyone wishing to survive and thrive in the new economy must take, regardless of what their definition of success is.
As the discussion builds, it can also be targeted at/or reinforce a promotional campaign that I’m currently nurturing to drive attention to my business. Done correctly, view the opportunity of open file sharing and it’s act of hijacking your content as a giant discussion being had about you and your brand among prospective students and customers from around the globe at no cost to them.
Do you want to be a part of that discussion? Ask any marketer or business owner if they want to be privy to a global discussion about them and see what they say. If it’s pirates who build the discussion about you on the global stage, so what?
By fighting the pirates… who you may never defeat, you’re not only wasting time, you’re also avoiding a great potential for engaging prospective students and building your name and reputation online. Take the example of the discussion board I stumbled upon earlier in this article. Had I just tried to fight the source, rather than engage the pirate, my situation would have never changed and I would still be scratching my head about what happened to DVD sales.
Look, I detest the idea of people stealing any intellectual property, especially in a market that is supposedly grounded on the tenants of chivalry, but the reality cannot be ignored that there are companies in China, Romania, Russia, India and lots of other countries who are building sound business models on people like me. Naive and talented content creators who spend a fortune to sell their stuff only to have the internet shrug it’s shoulders and without any sense of guilt, take it and distribute it openly. It’s my belief that the only way to fight this is to adapt our own models to use their platform to better serve those who want to find us. Yes, it will take creativity on our part, but I firmly believe that there is opportunity for any of us who create content to help our students, local or global.
An example of this adaptation is the music industry, especially in China. While you would think that the major record labels who have spent millions on combating piracy, they are discovering now that the artists who embraced crowd consumption of their pirated music early on are selling concert tickets and live streaming events like never before! Many of these unknown artists are giving their music away and getting back to the roots of their passion and making a solid living off performing.
So in this example we can see how pirated music is leveling the playing field and putting much of the creative control and monetization back into the hands of the artist. Where it should be.
Another example of the adaptation is the self-help industry.
This is an industry that thrives on audio books and videos. Once their content began collecting dust on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, they began to quickly adapt the pirated world. Now, instead of selling $40 audio books on CD, they give it away in subscription and freemium models so that you become a fan of their methodologies. Eventually the goal is to invite you to one of their extremely high dollar live events. Just like the musicians adapting to the pirate revolution, the self-help people really have less and less to worry about and their new business models thrive in this new economy.
So does any of this mean that piracy is alright and that we should accept and embrace it?
No, not at all. But we all should adapt to it and beat the bastards on their own turf. Internet piracy will serve it’s place in history as an upstart model that created change in how industries serve consumer, but by it’s very nature internet piracy is built to fail.
It’s my belief that the pirates will kill the very environment they built. When everyone adapts to the change, consumers will want to ultimately go right to the source versus the frauds and if the source is serving the consumer with free and high value content, then there will be very little reason for the pirate to exist. The immoral business models will fail, content creators will be serving their fans and customers directly and at a higher value on their return. We will win. So adapt your business model to compete against it by adaptation, or your doors will close fighting it. Let the crowd level the playing field and speak well of you to a critical mass, give your shit away and build a reputation based on your integrity and willingness to share.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin.
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