The MST3K planet logo

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There’s this comic from The Oatmeal going around that highlights the basic problem with when you want to watch and show, and are perfectly willing to pay for it, but there isn’t a way to get it legally. You can see it here.

Let me preface this by saying that I have never downloaded a movie illegally and, frankly, I wouldn’t even know how. But I understand where someone in the situation like The Oatmeal has is coming from. I’m a Muppet fan and if I ever want to watch The Muppet Show (of which only 3 out of 5 have been released to DVD, all of them heavily edited with many scenes missing) or Muppet Babies (which will never be released in any form because of licensing issues) again, piracy would literally be my only option. I’m dutifully buying the crappy edited Muppet Show DVDs but sometimes it’s hard to understand why I’m paying big bucks for partial, edited releases with no special features and pirates are getting the original unedited full episodes for free. Shouldn’t I, the person going legit, be rewarded for not stealing instead of punished? When retailers make even someone like me who is more than happy to give them my money to support properties I care about jealous of piracy, something is wrong with the system.

It should surprise no one that I’m a big Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan. If you’ve watched the old episodes, you know that they all ended with “Keep circulating the tapes.” This was because the television show built up it’s popularity by people passing VHS recordings of the show around to get other people hooked on the show and then they’d watch it live. Back when most of the episodes of the show weren’t available on VHS or DVD, the show was the main source of income for the MST3K creators so they didn’t care that their fans were essentially pirating the episodes via VHS if it got them more fans. (Which, if you think about it, was a double piracy. First of the actual movie they were mocking and then of the MST3K episode itself.)

Except that now the show is off the air, nearly all episodes are available for legal download or purchase just about everywhere and the creators have spin off projects like RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic (who I saw live last year, you know you’re jealous). But their fandom is still in that “circulating the tapes” mentality and so they’ve got a real problem with piracy, more so than other cult followings. Even their own fandom is divided on this. Is it hypocritical for them to decry piracy when that’s essentially what got them where they are today? Here’s a post from a MST3K fan on this topic, check out the comments for the discussion on it.

(Hilariously, or perhaps depressingly, as I tried to find this post I remembered reading, I found multiple sites where I could download the entire MST3K series even though that wasn’t what I was looking for. Apparently this piracy thing is much simpler then you’d think if it’s easier to find the actual pirate links instead of an article about it.)

What I’m trying to say is, I think it becomes a slippery slope. It took them so long to put The Muppet Show out on DVD and piracy was the only option for so long (not to mention that the legal releases are still incomplete), many fans who otherwise would be supporting the content legitimately are more likely to consider piracy because they’ve already been doing it and know how. (And it’s still the only way to get the original, unedited content.) The MST3K fans were so used to not having to pay for their fix, that they have less of a problem bootlegging because they’ve become desensitized to it and feel like it’s OK… after all the creators are the ones that originally told them to do it.

How does this relate to people who successfully give away their first book and it later results in sales of their second? I think intentionally giving a specific something away is different then just selectively turning a blind eye to piracy. I also think a single book is a different matter than years and years of piracy behind a property.

I think the lesson here is that shows like Game of Thrones, which is what The Oatmeal comic is about, better get their content available legally and pronto. It seems like once people get in the habit of bootlegging and see how easy it is, even if they were people who would otherwise have paid for it legally, they’re lost for good.

What do you think?