Most of you have probably seen this painting. It’s called The Kiss and it was painted by Gustav Klimt in 1907 or 1908. Again, WordPress won’t stop putting spaces between text and images so the picture will be near the bottom.
This painting is world famous. A classic. Klimt’s image is also in the public domain due to the copyright expiring. The Kiss can be and is reproduced in posters, prints, and apparently, by street artists.
I had a conversation about this painting earlier in the week–with an “art collector”.
The art collector was an older woman, late 60s or more, and extremely nice. She took an unstretched rolled canvas out of a tube and laid it on the counter.
“Oh,” says I, “The Kiss. That’s my favorite painting by Klimt.”
The art collector gives me a blank and confused look. “Who is Klimt?”
“The artist,” says I. “Klimt painted the original.”
Now the art collector begins to get huffy and offended. “I only buy original art and this painting came directly from the artist in Calistoga. That’s his signature. I was lucky to get number 98 in his series of 100. The paint was still wet!”
At that point, gentle reader, I shut up. She knew what she knew and inconvenient things like “facts” weren’t going to sway that belief.
Thinking about that conversation crystallized some things for me about piracy and theft of intellectual property, and as a sideline, public domain.
Since the image is in the public domain, the artist who reproduced this painting had the legal right to make as many copies as he wanted. He was damn good too. Nailed all the details, got the colors right, and with the exception of making the male figure dark skinned, he stayed true to the original.
He was so good I wondered if he ever did anything of his own, or if he only used his considerable talents for knockoffs.
Where it gets fuzzy for me is that he put his name on the painting, made his customers believe this was HIS original work, and that they were buying a limited edition numbered canvas.
Yes, I am cynical, but I’d bet the ranch that there are far more people who own number 98/100 than the nice art collector I spoke with.
Which brought my brain, being my brain, coming round full circle to piracy and why it thrives. Writers who own the copyright to their work play whack-a-mole with pirate sites all the time. Publishers do the same. And as soon as you take down one site, another pops up, and then another.
Now I know why pirate sites exist. The reason is a mix of flat out greed on the part of the operators, and a belief on the part of some people that any kind of art–including books and music–is a kind of nebulous commodity that should either be a)free to everyone or b)cost next to nothing.
After all, the entire creation process is magic and fairy dust and involves no actual work. Clap your hands three times and a novel is born! /sarcasm
I’d also bet the ranch people who truly believe this have never spent a year of their lives, or more, writing a novel, revising, and editing.
But it has always and forever bugged me why customers go to these sites. Without customers and a steady stream of income, piracy would stop. I never really bought the idea that stealing music became so pervasive that everyone just stopped being willing to pay for books. Most of these sites do charge for ebooks and not always at a lower price. There are those people who believe writers are greedy for wanting to be paid, but I don’t think they account for the sum total of pirate site traffic.
Art collector got me thinking about belief. She really and truly believed the artist she bought from was the original creator and had the right to claim he’d created that image. His name was on the bottom of the canvas. He numbered each one. Everything he did, without saying so aloud, was done to make his customers believe he had the right to that image. And if they thought he was a great artist in the process, so much the better.
Writers are clued in to the reality of what pirate sites really are. We know they don’t own or have the right to sell our work. But how many of their everyday, random customers question that right?
My guess is very few. Maybe none. They see a slick web operation full of ebooks and they believe it has to be legit. They don’t even question whether the site has the right to sell books or not.
Belief is how commerce works, whether in real life or on the internet. We all purchase things on blind faith, whether from internet sites or vendors at a street fair, and never think to ask questions.
That’s why pirate sites spring up like dandelions. They thrive on belief and naïveté.
A small epiphany, maybe a lame one, but it’s mine. I’m keeping it.
Now look at the art. It’s beautiful.