My Opinion On Online Piracy, Sharing, and Etiquette

I recently received an E-mail from a woman, which read,


“Hey there Wise Sloth. Not so wise about copyright. You’re using one of my images on this post without permission. Please either remove this image or provide credit/copyright info and a link back to my website. Many thanks.”


I’m not going to give the person’s name or the details of the image because I don’t want to start a flame war. All you need to know is the image was a picture of an animal captioned with a popular quote. I hotlinked the picture to one of my blogs without linking it back to the author’s page or giving attribution in the caption. This situation raises some important points regarding online piracy, copyrights, and hotlinking that everyone should think about, but I’m going to write my analysis directly to the author of E-mail.


Dear Stranger,

I apologize for hotlinking your picture to my site without using attribution. I have removed the image and will not put it back up. Now I’d like to share five pieces of wisdom for you to think about.


1: You never know the full story, and it’s rarely as bad as you think.

Most of the images on my site are linked to their creator’s website because I know I’m supposed to do that. I’ve spent 200 hours in the past month fixing 550 blog posts that broke when I transferred my domain to a new host. After the 100,000’s click, delirious with exhaustion, I got lazy and skipped a few clicks. That doesn’t make me a bad person with criminal intent who has zero respect for the work of anyone but himself and deserves to be personally insulted. Next time you feel like attacking someone, take a breath and assume the best about your enemy instead of jumping to the worst conclusion.


2: People tend to treat you the same way you treat them.

You chose to send a snarky E-mail to a stranger. You didn’t cuss, but your words had rude intentions. If you were under a lot of stress already, I apologize for triggering your anger and pushing you over the red line. However, you chose to behave uncivilized, and as you well know, there are consequences for bad conduct.  If you had approached me politely, I would have apologized sincerely and linked your site with a caption encouraging people to look at your work. I’ve even been thinking about buying a print of your picture because I liked it so much. But since you came at me incorrectly, your window of opportunity for free advertising is now closed permanently, and I’m not going to buy your picture. If money is important to you, your actions were unwise.


3: Look at yourself before casting stones at others.

Money might not be as important to you as the principle that people on the internet should have the professional courtesy and respect for the law to give proper credit where credit is due. If that’s how you feel, you’re not wrong, but find me a courteous person who doesn’t plagiarise to give me that speech. Even though your E-mail was discourteous, I probably wouldn’t have said anything because of that alone. However, your image didn’t give attribution to the original author of the quote you used. How am I the bad guy for doing the same thing you did?

You’re actively selling physical prints of someone else’s work. I just used a copy of your image to illustrate a point. You didn’t lose anything, and I didn’t gain anything. The only person who really benefited was my viewers, who just got to see a picture. Your actions fit your own definition of stealing and are well within the legal definition. What I did more closely fits the definition of sharing and barely meets the strictest definition of stealing.


4: It doesn’t matter.

In a perfect world, nobody would fault us for cultural appropriation enough to bother us about it, because nobody would care. Even now, nobody has contacted you about your plagiarism because nobody cares… because it doesn’t matter. No one would have ever seen your picture on my site and assumed I drew it. So I was never going to steal your valor.

Using your picture would never have dissuaded anyone from buying yours. If anyone saw my page and wanted to buy a physical copy, they’d quickly realize I don’t sell pictures. Then they’d do a Google search for the quote and find your site. So you could have only gained by ignoring my actions. The chances of that happening were small, but there was never any possible negative consequence of ignoring the problem. Maybe if a problem doesn’t have any negative consequences, then it isn’t really a problem.


5: It’s good to share.

Before you ask, “How would you like it if someone used your work without permission?” I can tell you from experience, it hurt a little at first. I’ve seen people steal my words and art over a dozen times. If you look on Zazzle or CafePress you can find multiple vendors selling mugs and magnets with my Wise Sloth logo that I own the rights to. I could go after those people, but I decided the cost/benefit analysis doesn’t add up. They’re not hurting me. I’m helping them, and it might inspire someone to do a Google search that leads to my site. I have nothing to lose and everything gain.

I used to put all my books up on the Pirate Bay in hopes someone would steal them. I even made a comic book titled, “Steal These Comics and Sell Them.” I finally took them down because nobody ever did. I discovered more people would buy my stuff than accept it for free. So I started selling my books on Amazon.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get rich, but I do know I’ll die one day. When I see my creator and have to explain how I spent my life, I’d rather say I shared things that made the world brighter, than have to confess I put my lamp under my bed. At any rate, science has proven, generosity makes people happier than selfishness.



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