Patreon’s mission is for you, the creator, to be able to create works and run a membership business on your own terms.
The internet has made it easier than ever for creators to go it alone, while retaining both full ownership and full creative control of their works. This reality informs and inspires our creator-first approach to policy-making here at Patreon.
Our policies aim to give creators as much control of their businesses as possible, while maintaining the trust and safety of the larger community on Patreon. This becomes an increasingly challenging feat as Patreon creators extend their membership businesses across the internet, interacting with patrons across various other platforms.
Online piracy (i.e. making creators’ copyrighted works available without permission) is an issue where Patreon and creators share responsibility. It’s also an area that could use some clarity. Creators, what you offer through Patreon are your works and should be shared with your fans on your terms. To ensure that’s the case, let’s attempt to clear up when and how Patreon can help creators protect their creative works online.
What is Patreon’s policy regarding copyright infringement on works either on or funded through Patreon?
There are very real legal requirements and practical limitations that influence Patreon’s policies around hosting, locating and protecting copyrighted works. If potential online piracy is funded through, hosted or located on our platform, we have a robust copyright procedure in place to facilitate the removal of those potential infringements, or in certain cases, termination of entire accounts* (for info on how to bring a copyright claim, visit our copyright and trademark policy).
*Termination of entire accounts is typically reserved for repeat infringers and creators who attempt to use Patreon to fund illegal cyberlocker or file hosting sites, offering access to massive amounts of copyrighted works.
Protecting the works of our creators across the entirety of the internet is not something our policies or enforcement efforts are equipped to handle.
Even if we did have the resources to pursue the piracy of our creators’ works across other platforms, there is another problem: Patreon doesn’t have the legal right to go after any third party that may be pirating or sharing creators works without permission.
When a creator’s works are uploaded to a third-party site without permission, the right to enforce or protect the rights of those works are available to only the copyright owner. Creators on Patreon retain 100% ownership of all copyrighted works. This is one of the ways we make sure that you are able to create on your own terms.
Just as a landlord is limited in both responsibility and the remedies they can seek when theft occurs in your apartment — because it’s your stuff, not theirs — so, too, is Patreon limited in the remedies we can seek when patrons download and leak your works across the web.
Patreon will certainly continue to help and support creators through these issues. However, at the end of the day, creators are the only ones with any legal rights to go after online pirates.
When making and enacting policy, Patreon must take into account a wide swath of online creators that have diverse views on intellectual property, from the impassioned copyleft enthusiasts to the adamant copyright protectionists. Our policies are shaped and designed to put the creator first. While this approach gives creators creative control, it often results in creators bearing a certain amount of responsibility in running their membership businesses.
Copyright protection of digital works online is a right reserved for copyright owners and often requires the advice or representation of a legal professional. Patreon is massively ambitious when it comes to solving the problems creators experience while running their creative businesses. We do not, however, require or expect all our creators to approach these issues in the same manner.
Copyright law gives creators a complete monopoly on the right to copy and distribute their works, and it is up to each creator just how vigorously they enforce those rights.
There are Patreon creators who encourage, foster, and downright applaud online piracy. We also get reports from creators using anti-piracy measures like self-destruct links, watermarking, and just flat out selling their digital works in an online store. Sellfy is a Patreon-integrated digital store worth checking out if this option appeals to your membership business.
For instance, a photographer interested in preventing piracy might want to sell their collections with the Sellfy integration, and by applying a unique watermark to each set of photographs, track down and bring to justice any potential pirates. Whereas, other photographers may intentionally upload their works to piracy sites as part of a guerrilla marketing campaign for a new series.
The point is, creators are split on how to approach online piracy and have found productive ways to work both with and against it.
It is not Patreon’s place to proactively dictate how and to what extent creators enforce copyright protection of their works. Even if there were practical technical measures that reliably prevented online piracy, Patreon would defer enforcement of copyright to the copyright owner, aka the creator (as well as recommend the copyright owner speak with a copyright professional).
What’s the best way to deter the piracy of your works on Patreon?
Let’s start with this reality — nearly all instances of leaked patron-only posts happen because patrons access, download, and leak creator works across the web.
So, while there is no single solution to the issue of copyright infringement, you can reduce the incentives for piracy by addressing these three piracy motivations with your fans and your patrons.
Online pirates reasons for piracy tend to fall into three categories.
- Access to creative works
- Underestimate or misunderstand the harms
- Ignorance, plain and simple
Let’s start with the first motivation for piracy — some pirates just don’t know where to find legal access to copyrighted works. Or perhaps they find accessing works through the proper channels to be burdensome.
To combat this motivation, make sure your patrons know the best and easiest way to gain access to your works. Check in with your patrons on what services and platforms they already use to access similar works. It’s typically more effective to offer your works through various outlets, meeting patrons where they already are. Limiting the ways in which a patron can access your works to one or few channels might be easier to maintain, but may encourage piracy. Few things fight online piracy better than quick and legitimate ways to get your stuff. It’s not a panacea, but ease of access will lessen the amount of people who get it through illegal means.
Another way to address access to your works is to improve your Patreon page.
For example, are there plenty of illegal ways to gain access to copyrighted shows or movies owned by legitimate subscription services? Probably. But regardless, many still pay these streaming services for access because they find them easy, affordable, convenient, reliable, etc.
So, to better compete with the pirates, ask your patrons what would make your Patreon page better? Start a Patreon poll, and ask them what they think of your tiers and benefits. Or integrate Discord with your creator page, and pose the question in a chat. Valuing your tiers and distributing your materials in a way that your patrons prefer can do a lot to prevent the piracy of your works on Patreon.
Next, let’s address the second motivation: the belief that piracy only harms giant corporate copyright owners or that it really doesn’t hurt creators that much.
Since most illegally shared patron-only posts are leaked by patrons, you can do the following to prevent piracy motivation #2: show your patrons know how much work you put into everything that you do.
When you show your patrons all of the time and effort that goes into the creation of your works, they get to see that there is a real human being behind the works they love, not some faceless corporation. Let your patrons in on the blood, sweat and tears that the creative life often demands. After your patrons see the painstaking efforts involved in creating new and wonderful things, they are more likely to want to make sure you get paid for them accordingly.
This approach is not intended to single-handedly prevent online piracy, but let’s rid patrons of the misconception that online piracy does no or little harm by letting them in on your process and showing them the effects of piracy directly.
Lastly, make sure your patrons know what piracy is.
This may sound far more condescending than it really is. It’s easy to assume that your patrons know the difference between legal and illegal download sites. Sure, most of the illegal ones look pretty shady, but then again, a lot of the legit ones look pretty shady as well. It’s not unheard of for patrons to stumble onto pirate sites and begin downloading materials before they even realize that the materials have been uploaded to the site illegally.
Other patrons may know better than to download from illegal sites, but like to share your stuff with their friends. Then, there’s no telling who those friends share it with, or who those friends — I think you can see where I’m going with this.
You would likely be surprised how many of your fans have been accidentally obtaining your works through pirated means without even realizing (or without fully thinking about it). Teaching your patrons what piracy is and how it negatively affects your creative business can help clarify any ambiguity for your patrons.
Tell your patrons what piracy is. Explain that without financial support, you cannot continue doing, sharing and creating what they love. You know how piracy hurts you and your creations, but your patrons might not. If your patrons understand that piracy really does affect your creative business, they may think twice before illegally sharing or downloading your works elsewhere.
Piracy is a complex issue that affects Patreon creators in a whole manner of different ways. The simple truth is that you could follow all of the advice in this article (and watch this workshop on online piracy) and still have your works pirated. We know this is frustrating for you and damaging to your goal of getting paid as a professional creator.
Patreon can help you find an approach to online piracy that works for your business, but we won’t dictate a solution. Ultimately, Patreon’s mission is for you, the creator, to create works and run a membership business on your own terms.
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