That Anti-Piracy Issue

Yesterday there was a fairly pervasive internet blackout in protest of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). For those of you who frequent the areas of the internet supported/created by writers, artists, musicians and the like, this was probably no surprise. There’s been chatter about this potential legislation on websites and Twitter for months now, with calls for voters to contact their political representatives and make their feelings known. However, a few people no doubt showed up to their computers and were confused by the lack of Wikipedia access, or the big blackout sign over the Google logo.

A brief explanation is that SOPA and PIPA seek to put a stop to internet piracy of creative works such as films, songs, and books. That sounds great, yes? Except that the heavy-handed methods these laws would wield would ultimately result in web-wide censorship. Instead of targeting individuals who are making illegal downloads of creative works available, everyone would be held liable, including owners of search engines used to locate the illegal downloads. That means Google would be blamed each time someone used the site to search for a movie download. If you link to legitimate content on a site that also hosts something less legitimate, your site could be shut down.

There are many sites that have more detailed and complete explanations available. But in essence, these potential laws are using very broad strokes where precision is required. I heard someone compare it to going after a flea with a cannon.

So where does that leave piracy? Here’s the thing: It takes two to tango, folks. I spend quite a fair amount of time sending cease-and-desist letters to sites that are hosting illegal downloads of my clients’ books. And I’ve heard all the excuses. They’re “helping” the writer by making their work available to more people. The people who download illegally never would have paid for the work to begin with, so no one’s really losing sales. The writers are rich and so a few free copies here and there don’t make a difference.

Bullshit. Seriously, all of that is complete bull.

The books are available. In this world of bookstores and libraries and, you can get your hands on pretty much anything.

If you’re not willing to pay for the work, you can borrow it from a library or a friend. Not being willing to pay is not an excuse for stealing.

Most writers have to hold down a full-time job in addition to writing because they only make a few thousand dollars a year. It takes time to write a book. Years, sometimes. And it’s rare when an advance works out to more than minimum wage for the hours it took to write the book.

I’m not saying you’re all out there downloading books and making excuses. But I am asking you to wave red flags. If you stumble across a site hosting copies of your favorite author’s works — obvious pirated copies — take a moment to head over to the author’s website and shoot them an e-mail with a link. Help make it harder for these pirates to keep their sites functional. Be a good citizen of the internet.

Yes, we need better laws governing this sort of thing online, but pirates are pirates; they’re already operating outside the given laws, so it’s unlikely new ones are going to completely eliminate the problem. And heavy-handed legislation that limits everyone’s ability to share content and information online will seriously change the face of the world wide web.

A Tweet was floating around yesterday: Download a Michael Jackson song illegally and go to prison for 5 years; help kill Michael Jackson and go to prison for 4 years. Crude, yes, but frighteningly accurate.

The blackout against SOPA and PIPA is over, but the concerns regarding this potential legislation remain. It is scheduled to go to a vote on Tuesday, January 24th. Find out where your representatives stand on this issue and let them know what you think. Help keep the internet a creative resource and place of learning and sharing for everyone.


An Open Letter to Washington from Artists and Creators

Stop the Wall

SOPA Strike (includes ways to help for non-US citizens)

6 thoughts on “That Anti-Piracy Issue

  1. I will disagree, or at least partially disagree, with two points.

    The people who download illegally never would have paid for the work to begin with, so no one’s really losing sales.

    I think that content vendors vastly overestimate the number of lost sales. People who download hundreds or thousands of books at a time would, in all likelyhood, not have bought any, and will not even read them – they’ll not even glance at most of them. So the sales you lose out on come from people who a) seek out specific books and b) would have wanted the book enough to buy if they wanted to read it. (It’s publishing’s job to convince them that they really do, and I feel that we – as an industry – might not always handle that job in the best of ways.)

    Some of those lost sales may or may not (this would need unbiased observations) set off by sales gained – people who download a book and buy the next one or recommend it to their friends. So yes, it’s annoying and frustrating and I wish the pirates would just *stop*, but it’s not going to happen.

    (What is happening, on the other hand, is that I’m annoyed enough with DRM to not buy books that treat me as if I’m a would-be criminal waiting for the chance and must be stopped at all costs, but that’s another rant.)

    The books are available. In this world of bookstores and libraries and, you can get your hands on pretty much anything.

    Your privilege is showing. In Britain, if you’re on benefits or minimum wage (like around 10% of the population, and up to 25% of under-twenty-fives), once you’ve paid your bills you’ll have around £5 a day for food, clothes, and all household expenses. A £5 book or a £5 trip to the library don’t happen very often on that budget. (My privilege, let me show you it: I can pay to use my local university library *and* I had an academic sponsor that made it possible for me to join. If I had to rely on my local public library (five miles to the nearest branch) I’d be limited to the 5K books they have in stock, mainly bestsellers and older nonfiction; a loan from another branch costs £1,20 per book), I’d feel cut off, too… and I already own a lot of books.

    And this is Britain, which *does* have libraries full of books in the English language, and public libraries are accessible for a certain amount of the population. Non-English-speaking countries? Countries to which Amazon does not deliver? People who live on less than two dollars a day? Aren’t going to buy your books. Aren’t even going to buy the ‘free’ books on Kindle, because they get charged for those.

    And if those people find a way to get access to books that are priced completely out of their (and their local libraries’/schools’/colleges’/universities’) range… well, good luck to them I say. Read books. Read more books. Educate yourself, invent, innovate, and get to the point where you don’t need to download books illegally but can buy them to share with your friends.

    People who download books because they can, because they want to save their money for frivolous things they value more have no sympathy from me, and I have no tolerance for them. People who make money from illegal downloads are, IMO, the real problem, and the ones that we all – whether content creator, vendor, or consumer – need to stop where we can.
    How to do that – how to give copyright holders the powers – with checks and balances – to prevent the pirates from making a profit off their work – is a discussion we, as an industry, need to have. So far, we don’t seem to have come up with a working model.

    1. But are the people downloading also the people living on such minimal amounts of money? If someone is at or below the poverty line, chances are excellent they don’t have access to a computer on which to download the bootleg copies. Someone living on $2 a day certainly isn’t going to be able to afford a new book, but they also aren’t going to have access to the technology that enables them to download one.

      I will say that, as something of a tangent discussion, I don’t believe that electronic books should ever be the only format available, primarily because of availability issues. As things stand, we don’t have a way to make e-books accessible to people who cannot afford a computer or an e-reader — or who live in areas where such items are likely to be stolen or resold for grocery money if they were somehow provided with them. Paper books allow for easy lending and for a secondary market, and I’m highly in favor of things like book swaps, tag sales, book grab boxes, etc. I want books to be available to everyone, regardless of economic status. But I think the vast majority of people who download bootleg content are precisely those you cite as wanting to save money for frivolous things, or simply because they are there and available for “free”; they download them because they can.

      1. From what I hear – and mostly second-hand at that – yes, a number of people who download books *do* fall into the ‘can’t afford to buy’ categories. Access to computers and mobile phones is increasing (computers through schools, often sponsorted by sthird parties, mobile phones as a means to communicate, conduct business, and gain access to banking.

        I do not know and cannot accurately guess who drives the supply chain of pirated books – a lot of it appears to be pirated hard copy (bad scans, PDF) rather than pirated ebooks; but I feel we need to go after the people who make money from this business – the sellers-on-ebay, the ad-supported download sites as well as installing a culture of _wanting_ to pay in users, which means making buying books easy and convenient for them. (Why do Kindle owners buy so many books? A click, and it’s done – easier to buy than to hunt a pirate copy).

        It’s not easy, but it can be done, and one of the drivers will be – and I don’t _like_ it, but that’s the way the world seems to go – a low price point for books. I don’t mind buying apps on my iPhone, because a) there’s a lot of awesome about, b) most of them can be tried and no cost, c) the price point is low, and d) it’s convenient. And last but not least, a):I buy apps to support developers so I can get more awesome in the future. And a dozen sales at 59p beats one sale at 5,99, so maybe we *do* need a shift in thinking here, maybe the £8 paperback is irrevocably a thing of the past, and people will buy four £2 ebooks instead.

      2. Nephele Tempest, it is not your privilege showing: It’s your integrity. Many thanks for standing against book pirates. There is a difference between an excuse and a reason, and no one with integrity can come up with any reason that justifies book piracy, or piracy of any kind. We hanged pirates in the Chesapeake Bay–which is how Bloody Point outside Annapolis got its name–because those pirates had no right to hold muskets and pistols and knives to the throats of sea-going Americans, steal their valuables and often, also murder their crews. Yielding to piracy, in any form, only encourages more piracy. And the recent decision by Penguin on the anti-piracy front, vice e-books, is heartening. Lawyers get paid for their work, teachers get paid for their work, bricklayers get paid for their work and authors deserve no more and no less than to get paid for their work. As a young poet and writer in the 1980s, my big dream was to work as an author and travel the world. After twenty years of fighting for my dream–and making a living as a concrete laborer, bricklayers’ helper, Marine infantryman, and photojournalist–I finally got my dream and worked only as an author from 2002-2010. And because my royalties during that time, 02-10, were never stolen by pirates, I made a good living, enough to ensure that I could take care of business behind Burmese Army lines, in Kurdistan and throughout Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in the Strait of Malacca. For an author, a book pirate is a pickpocket that keeps an author’s children from eating and drives an author’s marriage into a waste basket. A book pirate, moreover, is a pickpocket who doesn’t steal from an author just once, moreover, but just keeps on stealing and stealing and stealing. You’re fighting the good fight, Nephele, and right on. Cheers,
        Mike Tucker

  2. As an author, I work my a… excuse me, my rear end off. I know I write about culinary things, man food, barbecue, culinary history, and even a few books for kids which I wrote and illustrated as well as a WWII history book. I hate to tell people this… but all of this was hard work.

    I researched my topics, drove for hours and days to meet people. Performed interviews, took notes, shot my own video for promotions, took late flights, slept in airports, stayed up late for weeks on end writing and researching. And yes, even with culinary topics all of this has to be done. Guess what? If someone gives you a recipe and you want to write about it after you interview them then you have to make a list, drive to the store, shop, buy the food, make the dish using your out of pocket money, your gas and stove, your dishes, your hot water to wash the dishes and more.

    Then you stay up late nights, work on weekends, labor in front of a computer and note pad for hours on end in order to get the job done. Yes, it’s a labor of love, but it is a job.

    I also built my own websites, often do most or my marketing by myself, shoot my own food pics and more. This is time, money, my job. And I still work over 40 hours a week in Advertising and PR for family health insurance!

    To have some one tell me it’s fair game once MY work is printed and should be free for everyone to steal is mind numbing. When did we become a society of people that believe we are owed something simply because we can figure out a way to down load it.

    I already give away free things one my blog, my website, my cooking classes, my author events at races, football games, tailgate events and more. I donate time to local charities, raise money for a dog shelter, lend my cooking skills to several organizations.

    I love to cook, but I also love to provide for my wife and son. People call me to ask if I will write articles for them for free, or if I’ll endorse their product for free as a way to get my name out, or if I’ll give free books away as a promotion… yes, I often do for charities, I will, I’ll help when I can.

    BUT, if I’m selling something, please don’t steal it. If you have a business and want to attach my name and work to your product then write me a check.

    I guess it’s OK to steal from the blind magazine guy on the corner. For some reason a large portion of our society has begun to believe that everything should be free while dishing out tons of money a month in order to be connected.

    Kent Whitaker

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