My Piracy Deterrent System

Hello! I’m an artist on Patreon who makes mature comic books of particular variety. Just due to that specification, I’ve been hit by many piracy sites and Patreon scrapper sites alike, especially Yiff.Party. I’ve had been active in their forums to casually argue regarding my merits as opposed to theirs, which of course they took as an argument to be more spiteful against me and channel it to lifting my works to put up on their site on a faster basis. I thought friendly debate would work but they were dismissive from the start and it was a faulty approach from me.

For the last 3 months I’ve been trying to give my patrons a whole comic book page every 3-4 days, but they all get lifted off in the end to be shared on different websites. Thus I started distributing my new pages with outside hotlinks hosted by Deviantart Sta.sh instead. However,

Little did my patrons know, I’ve been subtly changing around every single page and release multiple versions of it (with incredibly small changes that don’t result in a situation where some patrons are effectively getting less content than others), and hand them to my patrons in groups. The point is, when the page gets uploaded elsewhere, I can track down which one of my patrons was the culprit.

This practice has yielded a result, but it was a rigorous process as you might think. I was able to track down a pirate and was effectively able to block him, and the remainder of my pages aren’t pirated as of yet. However, callout threads popped up requesting the further piracy of my works in Yiff.Party and other sites, which is concerning.

For catching one active pirate, the extra effort I ended up giving was a bit tedious. The first page I made has 128 versions and I had to distribute all individually, with all of them having their own links, etc. Subsequent pages only have 8 unique versions each which saves more time but still suggests an arduous process every time I have a new page out. As more pages pile up, my new patrons end up rightfully requesting previous pages, which affects all my previous spreadsheets and becomes more and more of a complicated mess.

But it still isn’t the biggest problem regarding this system. The biggest problem is that I need to be pirated in order to locate the pirate. It is NOT actually a deterrent system, it’s a punishment system. And once my work gets pirated, it still results in my pledge locked content to be free for everyone on the internet.

My point in all of this is, whatever piracy protection Patreon implies to bring in near future, I wish it comes soon enough because the measures I had to take really, really digs into my creative time and process and it might affect the quality of my content in the long run. I don’t want to do this to my righteous patrons.

PS. I’m not sure if I can out my pirate patron or any new ones that sprout and I subsequently locate. I’d like to share these people’s information here, but I first want to ask the staff if I can. If there is no problem regarding me sharing their information here, I’d like to list them for other creators to see in hopes that they take their own precautions against them. I also would like to see if anyone else located their pirates and can share their info so I can raise my defenses too.

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Thanks for sharing your experiment and all the extra work on this. Patreon continues to work behind the scenes on this. Also, if you’re not on CUF, please direct message me, so I can put in a request for you.

As for sharing the information about specific Patrons, we would consider that against our community guidelines. I have shared this post with the team monitoring this situation and they may reach out to you directly to get a better understanding of this.

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You might want to look into @jbernal 's StegoStamp program as this might make things more efficient for you and essentially does the same thing, but with less work on your end (holy moly 128 versions is insane!)

Also, if you want to prevent your content from getting pirated from your blog, you can do what many of us do, post a cropped preview in the blog to show your posting content but then DM/PM your patrons directly with a linkt o it from your site/dropbox/etc where it can be private to paid patrons. (You can still utilize Stegostamp this way as well, or just do what you were doing though i really recommend Stegostamp.)

(All this for while we wait for patreon to up their piracy prevention game anyways. I dislike that we have to go through all this crap on our end. But it’s something at least for now.)

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Thank you, my pleasure! Hope it’s insightful to other creators and staff members alike.

I’m on CUF. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without it. And thanks for letting me know about sharing the identities of such patrons being against community guidelines. Would it be helpful if I let Patreon staff know of such users privately?

Thank you! I’ll definitely look into it, thank you very much. From first impressions, I think this service hashes image files and burns the code inside the image itself which is nice, but I feel like it would only save my time minimally and I’d have to sacrifice immediate recognizability of the pages (as I can only tell which image is which by running the images through a system and see the hashcode). At the same time I suppose there would be the added benefit of preventing pirates catching wind of what I’m doing by noticing there being differences in the same pages.

Sorry if it was vague in my first post but I’m already DM-ing the content to my patrons directly, using Deviantart’s own cloud sharing system, while posting a cropped version on my Patreon blog.

128 versions wasn’t so bad. There were only 7 little dots I put on my page and I saved all the combinations of them being on or off. Most time I spend managing this system is the spreadsheets I keep about who gets which version and actually having to manually send the messages to my ~200 patrons.

Immediate recognizably, sure, but its pretty simple to put the image back through the program and it tells you what patron did it. And you only have to send 1 link to all your patrons thanks to how it works, not manually sending a different message to everyone.

I dunno, seems a lot simpler to me and would save all that messaging. Up to you! Just figured it would save you time.

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Oh, I completely missed the 1-link part. That actually would help me massively! Thank you very much!

No problem!

I used to do parity bit traps like you are using but they take up lots of time and to keep a log of who got what in a rolling list of patrons that changes each month is VERY tedious. That’s why I spent the time and effort to get my system working. PM me and I’ll let you take it for a free test drive.

Unfortunately, there IS no deterrent system. Due to the nature of digital content, we have to trust that the people handing us $ will not rip us off. All it takes is for them to feel the urge to share after the fact, and then it’s all out there for everyone to see. The only thing you can do is to stop the leaks from continuing. Well, that and if you do decide to litigate, Stegostamp provides you with an unquestionable smoking gun.

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What is CUF?

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Seconded. I would like to know as well.

Charge Up-Front.

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Oooooh

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@cuisine I’m just wondering, do you have any indication that this whole effort of tracking down and blocking pirates is actually paying off?

I’m wondering, because according to Graphtreon, you’ve gone down in pledges in the last month as opposed to the three months before that where the amount of patrons consistently moved upwards. Of course, that could be for any reason, but in any case I personally doubt it’s worth fighting pirates. I think you’re much better off spending your time creating great content, and you will find plenty of people willing to support you.

For my own Patreon, it makes no sense to fight pirates because what I create is free (both in price and in freedom). Yet, there are many people who choose to pay for it because they know it will mean continued development. I think the only thing I need to get better at, is in convincing people that it’s worth and necessary to support my work. But locking it down and fighting those who break the lock would never be something I’d consider.

I agree with @bjorn… I’m not saying “don’t try to protect your content” and I very much sympathize with any creators who have built their patronage on the release of confidential material, only to find it’s impossible to keep it confidential. But it’s a point worth underlining and pondering: the only way to not end up in that situation is building on relationship and appreciation rather than transaction (or at least not the instant gratification type). Which would probably mean a smaller patron base, but a more reliable and enduring one. It’s also a more fulfilling and less stressful experience when people want to support you rather than wanting something out of you.

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Likewise, I respect all the tip-jar-style creators who continue distributing all their content for everybody.

I only take this route for one venue of my creations and not everything I do is locked behind a tier. I do this because I justify within myself that I give a tremendous and scheduled effort to make a sizable amount of sequential content every month (6-7 comic pages in any given month). I’ve chosen this path to hasten up the growth of my page and I wouldn’t have exerted myself this much without tiered rewards being in place.

It’s always important to build a relationship and a mutual sense of appreciation, no matter what kind of a delivery style you go for your page, I believe. In the first months I was really skeptical towards the heavy Discord integration but it has been the most beneficial asset when it comes to gather a community around my works. It allowed me to hear their opinions and voice mine, tremendously.

The way I see it, it’s less about people wanting something out of me, and more about me trying to give something special for those who support me. I believe it’s my responsibility and it actually makes me feel as if I’m acting emotionally numb if I take it as anything else but a responsibility. Perhaps that’s inherently different than what the word “transaction” might imply, but perhaps, it’s not so different after all. I am not a supporter of the heavy stigma around that word (not that I mean you used it with that kind of a stigma, but that’s something I started to hear a lot within the past 2 months). I think it’s somewhat negatively charged in today’s world and that’s unwarranted. It’s a respectable thing to be able to provide a steady service and being worth some value in return.

I still wouldn’t consider any of this to be any actual “purchases”. I’ve heard from some non-patrons that they want to patronize me during times I finish a project, just so they get the entire comic in one month of patronage only. That value proposition really does not exist in the world of bartering. Could perhaps be likened to “sales” or “bargain bin” stuff, but there are much more diversifying details within these concepts.

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You’re right on all counts; this is me thinking out loud and looking for that fine line where the patronage system stops working for creators and starts undermining them. (all use of “you” below is general)

I didn’t mean to use transactional in a negative way, but in its basic meaning: I give you money, you give me what I pay for (note the “me”). That’s how a basic creative career works, you sell your work and/or your services, and I agree with you, that is being a responsible member of society. To pretend otherwise is a lot of fluff.
But a patronage site can really deconstruct that model and blur the lines. There is a whole spectrum of possibilities, from translating the transaction model exactly to doing something completely different that would never work in the traditional system. And because we all do it differently, we maybe create bubbles of different suporters with different expectations (and vice-versa).

Um, I’m thinking my way well away from the main point there. What I meant by building on relationship/appreciation rather than transaction is removing the “me” from the transaction equation: “I give you money, you make something for everyone to enjoy.” That is something that Patreon can do that is not doable in outer life, and it pulls the rug out from under thieves’ feet: there’s nothing to steal if nothing is locked up. It also means you don’t have patrons leaving because they’re not getting what they expected. That’s real patronage, not a transaction.

Again I’m not advocating everyone should do this (or even could do this), it’s one end of the spectrum. At the other end, there are heavily transactional models where creators attract such numbers that relationship is pretty much impossible. On the one hand, numbers mean good money, and loss of some patrons is easily made up by gaining others - they are interchangeable, it’s all good. On the other hand, some of these people are not interested in your well-being or growth but in what they are getting from you. Even the honest ones will drop you if you don’t deliver just what they want, and some will be simply there to get everything they can for themselves at your expense. This way of operating has the most to lose from piracy, and I’m afraid it’s never going to be possible to prevent piracy altogether.

I don’t have a conclusion, but I need to stop writing and go to work. :sweat_smile:
So: TL;DR it’s worth thinking of building our own reward system so that piracy is inherently pointless, if possible.

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@bjorn It’s actually still up if not simply stable. At the end of each month, for some reason all the pledges from declined credit card information gets subtracted from the count displayed. It goes back up when my patrons correct their credit card information. Not sure why it does that, but within this week I actually only lost 6 patrons, three of which claimed that they stopped their patronage only due to their own financial reasons. That’s perhaps a couple over the usual number I get at the end of every month.

I had no idea that this bug (?) affected Graphtreon this way - and it’s also surprising that the similar occurrences in the past months were not visualized in the graph. I’ll make sure to check the graph again in two weeks to see if the visualized drop stays there. Every first couple days of a given month, my pledge earning count experiences a $100 disparity, only for it to climb back up in a pace faster than I gain new patrons. Currently, I have a little over $70 drop from currently declined credit cards, so the graph for the most immediate month should point to around $975.

I don’t fight pirates per se but I fight for the value of my supporting Patrons, thus I want them to get tiered content exclusively at least for a little while, but recently pirates have been a bit more than unscrupulous on that front (something that even people on their own barracks duly noted).

Currently, Stegostamp causes me no extra strain, which is a considerable plus compared to my old DIY system.

I used to lose some patrons back in the day because my content would be available for free on pirate sites, as noted in the Exit Surveys. I still lose and gain patrons, and some exit surveys nowadays note that I’m being too “judgmental towards every patron due to their possibility of being a pirate in secrecy” so basically it’s just impossible to make everybody happy. Other than that, there is little to signify any payoff, but there is also little proof to make the opposite case as well.

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I just wanted to say, whatever you guys are doing behind the scenes seems to be working? I haven’t had a bot in MONTHS. Which is so. freaking. AWESOME. (Mind you, I cannot tell if people just haven’t requested my content to get ripped to that dumb repost site, since they have a button for that -and i’m not willing to test it myself because i don’t want my stuff reposted- or if it is legitimately something you guys are doing. Either way, i’m THRILLED. I -hope- it’s something you guys are doing XD )

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@carla

A little update, while my main project hasn’t received any bots as of late, i’ve had two over the last few days on my secondary project, Canvas Swap Zine,(which is entirely SFW so i’m surprised i’m getting bots there since its a pretty new project) and I’m just curious if my weird absence of them on my primary is something you guys are doing or not. If it is, I’d love for the other account to get added to whatever it is you guys are trying to do. XD