Studio Max Senden


The State and Waste of Dutch Design

Painting of a brawl between red and blue pirates.
Pirates & Chokeholds

Pirates & Chokeholds

Many independent professionals in the creative industry are pirating (i.e. using software, fonts and such without the [legal] owner's permission) in order to create and sell products and services. It's a widespread phenomenon that runs rampant through all layers of the industry; from the recent graduate who wants to start his own business to the veteran professional with over 20 years of experience who charges 200 euros an hour. At some point almost everybody in the creative industry seems to pirate something or another. But why do they do so? And more importantly, why should we care?

The reasons to pirate differ from one professional to another. The common answer is that the licensed product or service is "too expensive". Although this opinion requires explanation lets first expand on what 'expensive' actually implies.

Disregarding the [dictionarial] definition of the word, at its core 'expensive' is a subjective concept. What is considered expensive by one person can be considered cheap by another (and vice versa). By no means does 'expensive' imply something that costs a lot of money. It does, however, imply a deeply personal price-value relationship.

"A Thousand Reasons"

So why do many independent professionals in the creative industry feel that the products and services they need to work are too expensive? Some argue that the quality of these products and services is not worth the price. Others state the clients they are working with don't pay enough in order to purchase it legally. There are also some who pirate out of idealism (e.g. they feel a computer software company has a monopoly in the industry and by pirating they "making a statement"). Then there are those who pirate because they "don't need it that often" (e.g. an architect who makes a simple animation once a year for a client). Last but not least many creatives pirate because they lack financial means (e.g. those living in developing countries) or simply because they can get it for free (e.g. those living in the West).

Measuring stick for professionalism

Owning all [the licenses to] the products and services to successfully perform one's trade is often used as a value assessment by industry professionals who oppose piracy. They use it to differentiate the "genuine professionals" (i.e. those who buy licensed material) from the the "unprofessionals" (i.e. those who use licensed material illegally). However, in my opinion owning the legal permission to use a particular product or service should never be used as a measuring stick for professionalism. After all, clients generally do not care whether all licenses are in order of the freelancer or company they are hiring. Clients do, however, care about having productive creative processes and developing professional relationships that can help them achieve their short- and long-term goals. Being able to provide this to a client is as far as I'm concerned the mark of a true professional.

The history, present and future of Alternatives

Having said all of this I do feel the creative industry needs to become more aware of alternatives that are already out there, and start using them. For almost all of the mainstream products or services [that creatives need to do their jobs] a cheaper or open source alternative exists. Often these do the job just as well, if not better than their mainstream counterparts (think about e.g. 'Sketch', 'Processing', 'Blender', 'Inkscape', 'GIMP' and so on).

So why are so few professionals in the industry making serious use of these alternatives? The reason for this is simple; a decade ago many of these alternatives did either not exist, or they were far inferior to the (now) mainstream products and services. As a result the creative industry grew dependent on these mainstream products and services to create work and educate the next generation. Eventually this dependence developed into an industry wide chokehold. One that persists to this day.

Even now many professionals and students refuse to [seriously] consider looking into the cheaper and better alternatives. They fear they might be wasting their time (i.e. it might not be as good as the "real thing"), steep learning curves (i.e. the user interfaces are different) or file format conflicts (i.e. not being able to open a file in a different software). Although these are all genuine concerns it does not entice the legal owners of the mainstream products and services to invest. After all, why would they? The majority of their consumers fear change.

The New Generation

To combat this we need to start introducing these alternatives to the new generation of creatives and actually make them work with it. It might take another decade or so, but eventually we'll have professionals who embrace alternatives and are comfortable with exploring new products and services. Not only that, they will also actively contribute to the communities that make up, shape and create these alternative products and services. Will it put an end to piracy in the creative industry? Probably not, however, a lot of professionals will be much less willing to pirate if they feel like they are stealing from their own community than they would be stealing from a faceless mega-corporation.

Image credit: 'Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718', by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris