Questioning Piracy, Part 2 – The Curtain of Profit

(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)

When I was younger, I started a webpage where I would post my own homebrew role playing games, of which Amethyst was a sophomore member. I had a donation button in the hope that I would receive enough compensation to pay for the site. In 15 years of operation, despite hundreds of daily hits, my donations totaled just under $200 against an operation budget of about $3000, not counting time invested.

When I was writing the first homebrew version of Amethyst in 2000, I decided that instead of leaching art from public pages, galleries, and online exhibition sites, I would do something rather unorthodox. I asked the artists’ permission. I sent out requests from dozens of artists from all over the world, from every walk of life, struggling part timers and independent celebrities. Of them only two—two—said no. Most said yes with many of them thanking for me asking in the first place. A few others went to the extent of offering their services for free for additional content. This faith was rewarded. When Amethyst went professional in 2007, I contacted these same artists to commission them for original artwork. Those that declined only did so out of schedule conflicts.

Amethyst D20 sold well in 2008 until the juggernaut that was 4E rolled me like wholesale carpeting. I admit going overboard in production costs. It was a risk to jump D20 and sign under the GSL, but I figured it was a golden opportunity to get in on the ground floor like Paizo did with 3.0 years earlier. That enthusiasm got the attention of Goodman, and the rest was history. The deal with Goodman was…complicated.

I’m not even supposed to be telling you this.

With D20 Amethyst, I got high profit from self publication; actual sales weren’t as high as they could be because of a lack of mass distribution and advertisement. With Goodman, I gained mass distribution but lost my high revenue. I was making considerably less per volume. The goal was to put as many books in people’s hands as possible. With a name permeating the market, I could release supplements like Evolution away from the Goodman name and hopefully make more money (this tactic wasn’t entirely my decision of course). Despite Amethyst selling well, the schism created by both Paizo and Essentials had soured Goodman and other companies, and they later jumped the 4E ship.

If I at least recoup my expenses with Evolution, it will fund  Ultramodern 4, Renaissance, Factions, and perhaps even an updated Amethyst Compendium. With projects like these, 20 or 30 people downloading a game they would normally pay for can turn a project inked in black to red. It was for this reason you might expect a knee jerk reaction from some designers when their titles are found being freely distributed.

Actual Post
Your level of self-delusion is both appalling and sad. RPGNow and DriveThru provide you the ability to browse books just like you want. Publishers select anywhere from 3-10 pages of their product which can be read using the nifty booklet image at the bottom of each product page. So yeah, we 3PP folks do offer you a “brick and mortar” experience of leafing through a product before you buy. With that feature, plus numerous product reviews, it should be easy to make an informed decision on whether to buy.

But you don’t want to buy… you want to steal. You really just need to admit it to yourself, because you’re deluding yourself if you think it is anything but committing the theft of intellectual property.

As for the fact that there are other sites out there, and that closing your site down means nothing, is not relevant in any way. The fact is I wouldn’t want to close your site down if you were actually discussing D&D topics. But most your threads are nothing but people clamoring to find a link to pirate a D&D book, which has nothing to do with discussions about the game.

I also note that you said you would “probably” have complied with removing my materials. Well chosen words, but my confronting you on this matter should make you want to pull all the links down, but strangely you feel justified being a thief. That’s a frightening glimpse into the cesspool you call a mind.

And btw, winning the war is done one battle at a time, which is done by shooting down one soldier at a time. And right now, I’ve got you in my metaphorical sights, and I’m more happy to squeeze the trigger and put an end to your piracy.

Let’s not dance around it, some of these third party companies are populated by my friends. They had the right to know these files were made available. Some looked at it and couldn’t be bothered. Others…as you can plainly see…were rather…put off. I can’t validate or defend their position. I can’t fault them either. They had the right to react as they did because it hits a very exposed nerve, like spotting someone egg your house or key your car.

You might think that me preaching this as a gospel of the evils of downloading, but let’s not jump the gun (or the shark) just yet. I can’t point fingers and accuse people of harboring the devil. Holy crap, who hasn’t downloaded music, movies or games? Despite not being religious, I keep reminding myself of the old adage, “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” This brings up two noteworthy trains of thought, immortalized by two very famous writers, both friends with each other but on opposite sides of this debate, Neil Gaiman and Harlan Ellison.

Harlan is emphatic on his opinion regarding intellectual property. In his view, and a direct quote, “you can’t take someone else’s work and do ANYTHING with it.” He has sued Hollywood filmmakers including Gene Roddenberry and James Cameron (getting his name attached to The Terminator because it SLIGHTLY resembled an episode of the Twilight Zone, a fact Cameron unfortunately admitted). Ellison even once sued a college student for attempting to make a class film based on his work without prior authorization. So, lesson to the creative minds out there, if something Ellison wrote inspired you to write something totally different, never admit to it. Ellison believes any writer that creates product for free, even for the internet, is sullying the profession as whole. “Pay the writer,” he often says, and he has a pronounced intolerance (among many other intolerances) to writers that work free when they could and should be paid.

Then we have Neil Gaiman, who in an unfortunate case of verbal diarrhea came out in support of free distribution of his work, believing that the more people read it, the better. As a result, the video clip of him saying this has been distributed to every corner of the debate, where Gaiman is paraded as a voice for the rebellion, as one that sees the value in free distribution of a product. “People were discovering me through being pirated, and then they would go out to buy the real book,” he notes. “I started to realize, that actually, you’re not losing sales by having stuff out there,” he says.

However, Neil Gaiman is a writer that makes his money regardless if his products are downloaded or bought. When you’re dealing with that level of popularity and market saturation, he can afford to say it. I guarantee that his publisher was breaking a chair in frustration when he heard that. Having dealt with agents and publicists, I know the one thing they fear the most is their client actually talking. If Amethyst was a novel and I a successful writer, I might take a more lenient stance. But this is my money on my writing.

Every person everywhere has downloaded something they shouldn’t. Some people draw the line at music, others movies. Some download everything they can to avoid spending money, regardless of what it is. But most people find some…balance. They buy certain things, download others. So it doesn’t do any good attacking people who download. The person that downloads Homefront may purchase Mass Effect 2. Someone that downloads Sucker Punch may buy Rango. Someone that downloads Monster Manual may purchase Amethyst. The issue is that with Amethyst, the line between black and red is marked by only a couple books, so we can get a little sensitive. Where some people want to “stick it to the man”, in this case, I felt they were really sticking it to a man. I wasn’t even that annoyed when I found Amethyst D20 online. My co-writer on the original book made the joke when I told him that the original Amethyst was available as a torrent was, “Hooray, we’re popular.” He was joking, of course. I think the knee-jerk reaction came from Amethyst Evolution being posted two weeks after being for sale.

Actual Post
Apparently, you must not be aware that the law is pretty clear on intellectual property and file sharing. Are you not aware that if you share a music album or a movie, you end up sued and paying damages for all the copies that “multiplied”? Sharing the works of small publishers is the exact same thing, so there is a real world equivalent.

The only difference is small publishers don’t have the financial resources to go after copyright pirates.

And the stealing that occurs is the loss of revenue which harms small publishers with every copy multiplied that is not paid for. It took hundreds of hours to create a book like Amethyst – HUNDREDS – and the publisher needs to be reimbursed for his time, the time of his co-authors, the time the artists put into producing art for his book, etc. Stealing his book electronically steals money from all those people, and we’re just talking about one product.

There are hundreds of products in the so-called “Library Links”. Do the math.

Pretending that piracy is a victimless crime is self-delusion. You are stealing from real human beings just as if you broke into their home and stole their wallets. You guys can keep telling yourselves you’re not thieves, but the law says otherwise.

I was thinking about the possible gains. How much can I afford to lose to appease current and potential fans? I really gave it some thought. I considered posting a modified version of the book with missing pages, posting a larger preview, a heavily watermarked copy…or creating a scenario that if you pay for my book, but hate it THAT much, I’d refund your money from my own pocket. With the latter, if someone despised the product that much, I’d consider it. I’m open to compromise that allows someone to read my book but require payment to take full advantage of it. Even considering that people had to register for the forum in question (the one these articles are based out of), you could still find the files free on 4Shared, meaning anyone anywhere can get them.

No matter how many times I tried to see the positive spin, I always looked back at my bank account, the commissions I needed to mail to Nick Greenwood for Ultramodern4, and the fact that I don’t have that revenue yet. I’m close. I’m real close.


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.