Search This Blog

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Piracy - Avast ye Writers!

Dean Wesley Smith was kind enough to point out a blog post by Joe Konrath titled, Piracy...Again. I encourage you to read it.

I wanted to state where I think Joe has it right, and well, maybe not so right.

First, where I do disagree is the issue of whether piracy of an ebook, digital music file, etc. is stealing or not. The bottom line is, of course it is. Plain and simple. Copyright means the author has the right to decide who can copy, that is, publish, his or her material. That right is given through a contract with the author granting those rights to a publisher. I'm the only one who can legally give permission for someone to make copies, i.e., publish, my material. Anyone who makes a copy of an ebook and delivers it to a third party for their use is publishing.

It matters not whether they are making money off of it. They are stealing my rights. I don't think anyone can get past that point with honest integrety.

Now, the argument is that this is no different than if someone goes to the library and reads your book, or sells a used book to someone else. The author isn't compensated for the exchange. Copyright law doesn't deal in whether money is made in an exchange, it deals with who has the right to make copies of a work. Looking at a painting in a museum is not making a copy of that painting. Checking out a book in a library is not making a copy of a book. The author has already been compensated for that particular copy anyway (in most cases). Same for selling a used book.

Making a copy of an ebook without my express permission is a violation of the copyright law and is stealing my intellectual property. If a person gives away or sells that ebook and then deletes it off his or her hard drive, that's akin to selling a used book. But to make a copy of a digital file is the same thing as if I went to the library and checked out someone's book, scanned it, and then published it through a POD, or printed it on my printer and gave it to my mother to read. Whether I made money off of it or not, I would be stealing the author's rights and work.

I say all that to say this: let's drop this charade of trying to pretend this is not stealing. That argument is a dead-end street. It is all too clear that it is, and to claim it isn't only makes your case weaker, not stronger.

What is all too true, however, is that fighting piracy is also a dead-end street. Let's put it this way. For the author, what is going to make him more money? Writing and selling another book? Or paying a lawyer and spending the time hunting down and prosecuting ebook thieves? No brainer. The former. So bottom line, why waste your time?

This is highlighted by the fact that ebook piracy has little negative consequence for the author. Yes, that copy of your ebook out there represents someone getting a brand new, published copy of your book for zilch. So it is an illegal copy that you should have been paid for, or at least asked for. But nine times out of ten, that person wouldn't have bought a copy of your book, ebook or paperback, ever. So what it does is spread your name around, people read your book who wouldn't have. They find a new author they like, and they go buy your books on Amazon.

Word of mouth advertising is an author's best friend. This is the best form of it, in that it is your mouth that is doing the talking. Authors like Cory Doctorow have shown that giving away free ebooks generally results in increased sales of paperbacks. So it's not likely that the person getting an illegal copy of your ebook has lost you any money. Only in the rare case where someone wants your book, is about to buy it on Amazon when they stumble across a free ebook copy and forgo purchasing it. But what is more likely is (if you've written a good story), they will read it, enjoy it, and tell their friends about it, and they will go and purchase the book, or even many times that person will then purchase the hard copy so they can have it or buy it for gifts. In most cases, it is more likely that ebook piracy will benefit you financially than hurt you.

Case in point. When I bought a new computer a few years ago, it came with some default songs in the "My Music" folder. Not samples, but full songs. One song particularly made an impression not just on me, but on my whole family. It was "Older" by They Might Be Giants. I'd never heard of the group before that. But I quickly did a search, discovered they had done a ton of work since the 80s and still going strong. I purchased their "Flood" album from Amazon, and loved it. We've since purchased several more albums, and I have a slue of their music, most of it I've bought, some of it from songs they've given away for free. That one free mp3 song has made them a decent return not just on our own purchases, but anyone we've told them about and have done the same.

Financially it doesn't make much sense to pursue prosecuting ebook piracy for the author. After all, think about it. Someone has stolen an ebook valued at $4.99-$9.99 and your going to spend how many dollars in lawyer fees making an example of this fella? And it won't stop the rest. Why waste the money combating something that in many cases will benefit you financially? It's like cutting off your foot because you can't get rid of the wart on your toe.

So I agree with Joe's basic point and premise. Don't worry about ebook piracy. It in the long run, it is unlikely to hurt you, and for the author attempting to get his name out there, it is great marketing. Your time is better spent writing that next book so you can create a new revenue stream than spending money attacking your fans, as Cory Doctorow likes to point out.

But I do think it is stealing, and morally wrong. Let's not attempt to justify it with arguments that avoid the point of copyright--who has the rights to make copies of something, and either sell them or give them away. The author by default has those rights, and can lease them to whoever. Anyone who makes a copy for a third party without the author's approval is breaking the law, and stealing. Someone who sells a copy they have and they delete it from their hard drive isn't breaking the law. Someone who checks out a book at a library isn't breaking the law. Someone who hears it being read by someone who owns a copy isn't breaking the law. But you do break the law when you copy an ebook, a digital song, or any copyrighted work, and then transfer that to someone else for their use.

That's the law and you can't get around it with rationalizations. And as you can see above, the argument about the pointlessness of trying to stop piracy can only be weakened by employing this line of reasoning, not strengthen it. There are enough reasons to warn authors to avoid that pitfall without trying to make an illegal activity "legal."

What do you think? Am I off the mark?

No comments:

Post a Comment