Pirate's Dilemma author's speech: "To get rich off pirates, copy them"

Here's a 40-minute video of author, pirate DJ, magazine editor and economist Matt Mason giving the keynote speech at the Medici Summit; Matt talks about the theories in his book The Pirate's Dilemma, which discusses the ways that pirates can benefit society, the economy and the businesses they profit upon.

Matt's spiel is great, and for the first 30-or-so minutes, I found myself just nodding along as he expressed -- eloquently and delightfully -- things I'd heard others like Lessig, Barlow (and me!) say. But then he got to his kicker, and I sat up, electrified: "The best way to profit from pirates is to copy them."

This is one of those eloquent little aphorisms -- like Tim O'Reilly's "The problem for artists isn't piracy, it's obscurity" -- that just nails it. Pirates are out there figuring out all the ways that products and services might catch on, outside of the realm of the managed, slow-moving corporate environment. It turns out that there's a market for DVDs sold on blankets on Canal Street; that the public likes using BitTorrent even if it starts slow and doesn't stream; that there's a bottomless appetite for short, embeddable clips, and that the audience wants to do all the work of selecting, converting, uploading and tagging them.

If you want to get rich off the pirates who are leeching off you, just copy their best ideas. Link

See also: Pirate's Dilemma slideshow video -- pirates will save the world


  1. Either this video has been boingboing’d or it’s been pulled?

    I got half way through and now I’m getting this video doesn’t exist errors.

    anyone download/offer a torrent?

  2. I just don’t agree with the future tense “will save”. They’ve saved the planet thousands of times already.

    As the author brightly points out, most of innovation comes from what people call “piracy”, “infringement of copyright laws” and “unauthorized use of intellectual property”.

    Again, as the author notes, “when an industry incorporates issuing people for piracy as part of their business model, it is a sign that it don’t have a business model anymore”.

    I guess I’ll buy the book.

  3. Some of us don’t want to spend our lives creating innovative business models.

    We just want to make music or videos or art and still be able to pay our bills…

  4. A few times a month, I check the Pirate Bay hoping to find a torrent of my ultra-indie electronica album.

    I’d start one myself, but it wouldn’t be the same…

  5. MarkFrei: Well, if you want to do something entrepreneurial (sell art on the market) and you don’t want to have to figure out what’s commercially viable before you try it, I guess you’re pretty much out of luck. Entrepreneurs who don’t care about selling stuff people want to buy at a price and in a form they want to buy it in generally don’t do very well.

    Maybe you could apply for grants?

  6. Well the problem is that things that were commercially viable no longer are – and some pretty damn good artists are suffering as a result.

    Many were already on the edge, and some are just giving up on making music/art/video. I’m not talking about nobodies here – I’m talking about folks that are critically respected, but whose small margins have vanished in world where everything is “free.” It’s ironic that in many cases their fame has grown even as their ability to pay their bills has vanished. And then people wonder why they’ve given up and moved on to better paying occupations like bus driver or bar back.

    I don’t face these problems myself – I happen to be able to fund my creative work with a nice salaried IT position that lets me create on weekends without answering to anyone. But if my only talent was my art I would be totally screwed – and many of my dearest friends and heroes are in just this situation.

  7. So, the question is whether more artists have been put out of business by the net than have been put into business by it. The net positively overflows with musicians, fine artists, visual artists, filmmakers, etc who are making art and reaching an audience (and, presumably, making money at it).

  8. So, the question is whether more artists have been put out of business by the net than have been put into business by it.

    This whole paragraph is worded strangely. First of all, you frame the question as “whether more artists have been put out of business by the net than have been put into business by it”. Actually, whether the internet has helped or hurt artists is irrelevant to the question of piracy. When OK Go put their little viral video up on the web, they were using the internet. It wasn’t piracy. You could count them as an artist who had been “put into business” (or, more correctly, helped in their business) by the internet, not by piracy. So, the question you pose isn’t relevant unless we’re sitting around debating whether the internet is a good or bad thing – and that’s not really the question.

    The net positively overflows with musicians, fine artists, visual artists, filmmakers, etc who are making art and reaching an audience (and, presumably, making money at it).

    I don’t think this has anything to do with the question of piracy. Merely to state that there are lots of “musicians, fine artists, visual artists, filmmakers, etc” on the web doesn’t tell you anything. Are we supposed to assume they *made it* because of the internet (which, is again, distinguished from piracy)? I’m sure the Beatles are all over the internet, therefore we should conclude that the internet made them? Should be conclude (an even bigger stretch) that internet piracy “made them”? Obviously, the Beatles fame has nothing to do with the internet because they predated it. Yet, we’re supposed to assume that for every other artist and musician? Every artist has to get out on the internet to pull in new fans. It’s part of advertising in the 21st century.

  9. I think rather than worrying about piracy’s role in the vanishing of artists’ “small margins”, perhaps it would be more productive to figure out a system in which artists don’t get screwed over with those “small margins” in the first place. Just because the record labels have a good deal of money and power now doesn’t mean that that should continue to be the case.

  10. @#7: Well said. I agree absolutely, and am in pretty much the exact same boat.

    @#9: Cory, I don’t think your presumption that people are making money off of being “internet famous” is correct. I’m sure that some of your income comes from your internet fame, but I presume that’s primarily because you run a successful business called Boing Boing with decent ad revenue.

    There are millions of bands on myspace who are getting exposure via the internet, but they’re not making money off of it, and I’ve seen countless talented-but-not-business-savvy artists try to make the transition from “free internet content” to “commercial release” (like, for example, a myspace band pressing a CD) but only end up with a pile of unsold stock and a diminished sense of self-worth.

    On the other hand, if you know something we don’t, then I would love to hear any insights you have into monetizing internet fame.

  11. Hunty: “a diminished sense of self-worth.”

    …aaaaand that’s what the internet’s for!

  12. Lol stevenf, his book is available for free on his website. Just google the book title. I thought you’d expect that from a man advocating what he does.

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