Patreon Porn Pirate Prevention Perusing PDF Personalization?
June 10, 2021 3:40 PM   Subscribe

Hey, so I make adult comic books.... and not adult comics sense that, say, Chris Ware or Daniel Clowes make comics for adults. I'm using adult in the more euphemistic sense. Porn. I make porn. And like a lot of porn artists, I've been having a lot of problems recently with porn pirates!

I sell my comics online, in PDF form. I have a dual release model where I first release things to Patreon (which, like a lot of similar artists, I use as a de facto subscription site.) Then, anywhere between a few weeks and a month after things are released on Patreon, I'll go ahead and sell them individually on another site, Gumroad.

Lately, though, the old piracy problem has started to get a lot worse. Instead of having my comics pirated after their Gumroad release, which doesn't usually seem to impact my sales too much, they've been coming out shortly after their initial release on Patreon... and it's happened for a few months in a row now. That's really crippled my Gumroad sales, and the problem seems to be getting worse as a bigger part of my fanbase is figuring out they can easily pirate my comics. I'm under no illusions about being able to stop all piracy, but recently it's gone from being a minor nuisance to something that's eating up a bit percentage of my income, and I need to figure out some way to get it under control. I send out DMCA's, but by the time the sites (most of which are almost primarily porn piracy sites) get around to responding, thousands of people have already downloaded the comic, so it's too little too late.

So I'm thinking I'll need to try something I haven't bothered with in a long while... pirate hunting!

The basic tactic is this: send every user a unique PDF for the comic with some subtle personalization to it. It could be a unique watermark somewhere, or a code hidden somewhere so that I could cross-reference it with a spreadsheet and find out who uploaded it. I wouldn't be able to stop them from uploading whatever comics they used that month, but after they do pirate the comics I'd be able to find out who did it and ban them. That would stop them from from uploading comics in the future... at least, until they make a new burner account.

The problem is, with hundreds of subscribers that would be a very time-consuming process to do manually, and I haven't been able to find any software or websites that specializes in automatically making unique PDF versions. Gumroad, like a lot of modern sites, has tools to automate PDF stamping, so everyone gets an individualized PDF with their personal information. Patreon has absolutely nothing like this. So that's the first problem.

The second problem is finding a way to send out a different PDF to each person. Now the most obvious way is just sending out a different version to each person manually, but the Patreon Relationship Manager and the site's messaging system are glitchy, clunky, and slow, and it would be prohibitively time-consuming to do it this way every month. But Patreon also allows you to download a spreadsheet of user names and associated emails; I'm wondering if there are some tools that would allow me to automatically email each user a corresponding unique PDF version. If I could find a way to automate it I could just do that every month, and hopefully make it inconvenient enough for repeat pirates that they don't bother most of the time.

I know fighting piracy is like playing whack-a-mole at the best of times, so if I'm going to have a chance I'm going to need some dynamite. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
posted by ThisIsAThrowaway to Technology (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
How comfortable are you with programming? It would absolutely be possible to do something like this with, say, a Python script.
posted by mekily at 3:56 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Instead of giving the comics out directly on Patreon could you instead give out a (unique, personalized) code to download from Gumroad?
posted by mskyle at 3:58 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]


Response by poster: I'm very basic when it comes to programming (as in 'dumb' basic, not 'BASIC' basic.) I've never used Python before and my attempts to learn it before didn't get anywhere. I'm pretty sure I have diagnosable ADHD but I keep forgetting to sign up for an appointment to get tested for it. I actually made a dating game in a simplified programming language that uses Python but that was years ago and I'm pretty sure it uses its own language that's distinct from Python.

As for the Gumroad code idea... That's a very clever idea, and one that I really should have had a long time ago! But I'm not sure if it would be feasible or not. I'll look into it, because it's definitely a possibility. Thanks for the idea!
posted by ThisIsAThrowaway at 3:59 PM on June 10


Honestly, if I were you, I would stop releasing the full comics on Patreon. Give your Patreon subscribers exclusive previews, sketches, behind the scenes stuff, voting on characters etc, and maybe the first page or two of the comic, but if anyone wants the full version they have to get it on Gumroad.

At least then if it gets pirated, you're getting at least one or two sales from them.

I'm subscribed to a few artists who do this and I don't begrudge them having to do it. I'd rather they were getting sales than getting nothing.
posted by fight or flight at 4:03 PM on June 10 [9 favorites]


Response by poster: I would agree except more than half of my income comes from Patreon and it's been way more consistent and reliable than Gumroad sales. I don't want to do anything to jeopardize that.

I have closed the gap between Patreon and Gumroad releases significantly in the last few months, but the pirates (knowingly or unknowingly I don't know) seem to keep moving the releases further up to match.

Oh, and since I didn't make my previous response very clear... the program I used to make the dating game is called Ren'Py, which is based on Python but (mostly) uses its own simplified programming language. You can do some more advanced stuff in the program using python proper but I didn't dabble much.
posted by ThisIsAThrowaway at 4:05 PM on June 10


Best answer: I heard recently of a small publisher who used an automated system to put the original purchaser's name and address in the document as it was emailed. This could be edited out, but the majority of people wouldn't go to that trouble, and were absolutely not going to have their personal information on the net.
I'm not sure how to do this, but I'm also sure it wouldn't be hard. There's a huge amount of pdf editing software out there. Bar codes are also easy to generate, though I don't know if there's a specific program for pdfs.
I suspect that most of this is in making people think twice about this, rather than making them easy to catch.
I assume you've considered an aggressive program of takedown notices.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 4:09 PM on June 10


Response by poster: Gumroad makes it very easy to include personal information on PDF's, but while using Gumroad codes to send out Patreon rewards is an interesting idea it could be... tricky. Although I'm pretty sure most of the uploaders are very prolific pirates, who probably wouldn't have much trouble editing out obvious PDF stamping... which is why I wanted to try and do something more stealthy, that they hopefully wouldn't notice. (I password protect my PDF's too, but they have exactly zero problems exporting them to JPEG's regardless.)

The other issue is that with Patreon, I don't have much if any of their personal information... just an email (that's likely a throwaway) and a username. But again, Patreon is my main income source and I'm very hesitant to throw that away. I have considered doing a simultaneous release with Patreon and Gumroad though.

I'm pretty good about takedown notices. I'm sure I could be better but I'm very aggressive with a few of the more popular sites, and I tend to mostly ignore the rest.
posted by ThisIsAThrowaway at 4:17 PM on June 10


Best answer: You could use steganography to embed a unique
and invisible code into the pdf’s images. But you’d still need a way to send individualized PDFs.


Steganography in Python tutorial

posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:38 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


When I order a PDF sewing pattern each page has a watermark on it saying “exclusively for ‘myemail.com’’ so there must be a way to automate it. After payment I am sent an email with a link to a personalized download.
posted by Bunglegirl at 6:30 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Best answer: AutoMailMerge is a plugin for AdobeAcrobat which can customize PDF forms and email them.
posted by jb at 7:25 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]


Best answer: If you can afford to take the time and you think you have only one or two pirates, consider this option: download your list of Patreon subscribers and sort it into two parts, A and B. Create two different copies of your work and send one to group A and one to group B. See which one leaks. Divide the leaked group in half and recreate the experiment with the next release.
posted by komara at 8:47 PM on June 10 [14 favorites]


Maybe a silly question but can you move up the gumroad release? If they're getting the comic for free through patreon is there a value to delaying it's sale?
posted by Carillon at 9:25 PM on June 10


Response by poster: They are very much not getting the comics for free on Patreon! I mean, there are some older comics that people can get for free, but not the new ones.
posted by ThisIsAThrowaway at 9:40 PM on June 10


Maybe advertise on metafilter jobs to have someone set this up.
Have you considered releasing a version to the pirate sites just before the patreon release? It could have a letter from you about the effects piracy has on you, censored images, upsidedown pages, etc.
posted by Sophont at 12:07 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Eh, the people who pirate the comics seem to be people who pirate literally thousands of things from hundreds of different artists, I think my odds of changing their mind are essential nil. Some even do it as a way of making money, since some websites give uploaders a bonus. Odds are they've gotten the same spiel from other artists and kept on going anyway.

Besides, I really don't like relying on people's sympathy unless absolutely necessary, and I'm also a little hesitant to announce that my comics are being pirated... because there's always going to be *that guy* who's like, "wait, I've been paying money like a sucker when I could have been getting them free all along?!"
posted by ThisIsAThrowaway at 3:35 AM on June 11


Response by poster: Anyway, thanks for the advice everyone! A lot of it seems helpful, I'll have to think things over and figure out what to do.
posted by ThisIsAThrowaway at 3:35 AM on June 11


I've seen some artists make accounts on pirate sites to comment on pirated work (if that's possible) with a request/link to their Patreon, essentially turning the piracy into an advertising opportunity. If this is something you can do it might at least get you some more Patreons or social media follows.
posted by fight or flight at 5:17 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Can you simply say you will not be adding a digital watermark to the Patreon versions, and perhaps scare away the pirates? Make them think they are being watched. Tell them each PDF now has an invisible digital watermark with each subscribers email address (etc?) embedded. The pirates might decide it isn't worth it?
posted by Hey, Zeus! at 7:51 AM on June 11


Best answer: Is this the kind on thing you might be looking for?
You would still need to keep track of who got which version, but at least you could automate generating the files.
posted by Shellybeans at 8:55 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Another idea would be to publish as an online slideshow or some other mechanism that would make the process of piracy more complicated. Instead if giving out a PDF, ready to share, a series of webpages with images would require a little more work to collect and collate all the images.
posted by jander03 at 9:09 PM on June 17


Response by poster: Yeah doing a fake watermark isn't a bad idea!

DopDrop is EXACTLY what I was looking for, big thanks Shellybeans!
A webpage that doesn't allow for quick/easy downloads is a good idea, I might look into that for newer comics.
posted by ThisIsAThrowaway at 10:36 PM on June 17


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