It's no surprise that Intellectual Property (IP) theft is rampant on the internet. It’s not unusual for a recently released product to appear in a 3D marketplace for sale by just about anyone other than the creator of the piece. I realize I'm preaching to the choir here as some readers are asset creators that would never steal from another artist.
The internet is like having a large liquor store stocked with all types of spirits and liquors that just let people walk in and subsequently walk out with all the liquor they could carry while not giving a thought to paying for it. Or, even more outlandish, a car dealership where anyone could just drive off with anything they want if they can get access to the keys or get the thing unlocked and drivable.
How about a pharmacy that lets anyone take whatever they want, whenever they want, free of charge and allows them to make it available to anyone else (redistribute) or sell it commercially. Maybe you sashay down to your closest National Guard unit and drive off with an APC, artillery, or a tank.
No problems right?
Yes, those are far-fetched examples but that doesn’t change the fact that it is theft and loss to someone or some company. While this type of pilfering has been around a long time so has the financial damage only to be amplified in the internet age.
A long time ago, I started off in design and layout as many others have… creating websites and I was lucky enough to be there in the early days. Just knowing how to write a simple and crude webpage became a sought-after skill. There was a time when the web was the wild west in terms of design and some of us turned to 3D to make graphics.
As we learned to lean down the file loads and put together interface like websites that ran on Flash, theft of the website design took off. There was a website called CoolHomePages… and it highlighted websites that had a cutting-edge design. If you were lucky enough to be published on CoolHomePages, particularly multiple websites, it was a boost to your career.
The problem was, soon after you were published on the site… your HTML and graphics were downloaded and deployed to other sites without permission or payment. Sometimes you had to explain to a client why that site looks like his and that you had no control over it.
When I wrote the iClone Beginners Guide, my publisher rep thinks that five free copies were downloaded to every copy that was sold. If you searched for my book you got a lot of links first that went to free copies. I was lucky enough to have some community and junior college pick up the book as a textbook to make it a success and it had good reviews… mostly four and five stars but I may have only realized 1/5 of the income that sales might have generated.
I understand that some folks can’t afford these things and I wish that weren’t so, but it doesn’t justify the theft and sharing of the hard work. That book covered versions 4 and 5. It was like a 500-page tutorial on getting started. It was hard work that took time away from working on other contracted projects.
This is all small potatoes compared to the theft of 3D assets and programs in the modern world. Marketplaces specializing in 3D content fight the problem all the time. The best they can do is ban repeat offenders which are easily circumvented in most cases.
On Facebook, I am a member of several 3D groups and some of them have open posts with links to cracked software and assets (some are moderated and removed). This hurts the company by reducing their income which in turn means less research and development which hurts their userbase by delaying features and updates. It also means fewer raises and perks for employees of that company.
Person-to-person theft is a bit beyond that. To some people, it's extra income that may not be needed to survive. For others it is SURVIVAL. Particularly in a pandemic world where employment and income opportunities have been turned upside down. It can be the difference between having electricity or going without that month.
For people with disabilities that income can be crucial even if they are on a government program. It can mean gas for trips to the Doctor and treatment. It can mean food on the table every day and when their work is taken without compensation it can derail that person’s life.
I wished I could say that I have never done such a thing, but, before I knew what IP Rights were all about, I shared a lot of things like sheet music, choir songs, tapes of multiple albums before I was mature enough to grasp the impact of what I was doing. When computer programs first hit the scene on those obscenely huge floppy disks I had no idea about licensing something you thought you bought versus owning it.
I’m also guilty of turning a blind eye to assets being shared in a workgroup without proper licensing That is the same IP theft as the company involved may have forecasted “X” amount of income and received only a fraction of it due to IP theft.
IP theft is a personal decision and in some cases, a mistake based on ignorance of the IP laws and how they affect the creator of that asset. The IP theft I have endured in the past was nothing compared to some artists, and it has had a visible impact on some. It’s hard to be creative when your work is being stolen.
I’m not in a position to judge or throw stones… just to bring attention to the fact that it’s person-to-person theft from your fellow artists and theft from faceless development companies that eventually has a negative impact on all users of that software.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.