Home > Books, Rants > International Please Don’t Pirate Books Day

International Please Don’t Pirate Books Day

Over on Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds he invited people to talk about Book Piracy. Now it being me, the first thing that sprung to my mind was a dystopian Waterworld style future in which the most precious things in the world are books.

After all, if most of the landmasses on the planet became flooded and we all lived on re-purposed ships and barges, things that float would be at a premium. Those floating villages that could rig up enough power to run electrical devices probably wouldn’t waste that precious resource on e-readers, so it would be down to keeping surviving collections of books in a safe and dry place. Librarians would be more heroic than they are today, carrying shotguns and strictly enforcing fines.

All of this would lead to book piracy, of course. Tricorn wearing men and women would roam the seas in powerful ocean-going vessels, seeking out the precious booty of books. Libraries would be the targets of these terrible raiders (who presumably speak in Cornish accents), and librarians would have to protect those who wish to steal these stores of knowledge for their own selfish gain. Huge campaigns would be waged over the last surviving copies of House on Pooh Corner and adventurers would go off on quests to find the legendary “Amazon”, a mythical place that they say is filled with books.

Floating Villages are not a good place to store books

Floating Villages are not a good place to store books

Of course, when they say “Book Piracy” they might mean illegal file-sharing. It’s an interesting problem that isn’t as modern as we like to think it is. Art, be it movies, music, or books, needs to be shared and enjoyed by the community in order to be worth anything. As someone who makes a very modest living from writing, I want my work to do two things; be enjoyed by as many people as possible, and I also want to be paid. If the work isn’t good enough, it doesn’t sell. If I charge too much, it doesn’t sell, and both of those are fine; it’s on me to make sure it’s good work, reasonably priced and on time. If everyone steals my work then I don’t get paid at all, and I have to find something else to do in order to stay safe, fed, happy and living.

People will always seek to share art. This is such a fundamental thing that we even have a whole skill-set devoted to it. People train to be librarians, museum attendants and curators. A society that seeks to punish someone for wanting to enjoy music, view dramas or read books has gone wrong somewhere; we need to feed our brains almost as much as we need to feed our bellies, and if you try and deprive them of this right, then the metaphorical pirate ships will arrive.

The modern argument about file-sharing seems to be one of greed. On the one extreme you have people who wish to take everything for granted and never pay anyone for anything. On the other extreme you have people who want to charge people large sums of money for anything anyone has ever created. Neither of these are sensible approaches, a good book should not be the privilege of the wealthy or those with flexible morals. The middle ground for this debate is that of the public library, and subscription sharing services like Books Free. I like the idea of a service that mails books to me for a modest fee, though I’d be happier if they made sure the fee stayed modest and within the reach of everbody.

What is your take on this debate? Comments below please.

Categories: Books, Rants
  1. jamesfantbooks
    February 6, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    It is a sticky subject filled with slippery slopes to be sure. But I read somewhere that the percentage of pirates were no where near as high as the percentage of paying customers. There are even talks in the works with publishers lifting DRM restrictions for Google. I agree that price and product quality is key, know that you will have sales, budget for the pirates, and hope and pray that they at least spread the word about your work.

    • February 6, 2013 at 3:46 pm

      According to John Scalzi’s blog late last year, his publisher Tor dropped DRM for the reasons I discuss below. Completely. In that every book they publish in whatever format can be copied, saved, and used as the purchaser sees fit.

      The problem (whether it exists or is merely percieved) is not so much the number of pirates compared to the number of paying customers but rather that it only takes one pirate putting one copy of something on bit torrent and then millions can download it. The counter argument is that in actual fact, those people probably would not have paid for it regardless of what you do.

  2. February 6, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    It’s always an issue which everyone seems to have polarised into ‘everything should be free’ and ‘I should have all the money’ camps when really there is a lot of scope for a middle ground which many artists have already explored in the music biz. A number of bands (Radiohead most famously but also The Dresden Dolls and the fake ‘supergroup’ Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer put together with Ben Folds) have offered entire albums on a ‘pay what you can afford’ basis. I do wonder how successful these attempts have been…

    I am also reminded of Tor’s recent stance where they are now offering all books as DRM free on the principle that:

    1) It costs money to DRM lock a file
    2) It creates bad feeling among the audience who want to just pass a file onto a friend as they used to do in the old days with books
    3) Hackers and pirates will inevitably crack the DRM anyway so why bother with it in the first place?
    4) Even if they couldn’t hack the DRM, it does not mean that those who would download your book for free would bother to pay for it because it was not available any other way. They’d simply not bother so you neither gain nor lose anything.
    5) Therefore, in theory piracy should be no higher on non DRM files and you gain more from goodwill and stuff than you lose from that.

    Again, it would be interesting to learn how well this goes… The logic seems impeccable to me.

  3. February 6, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Good work finds its audience, even bad work finds its audience (sic Strictly Come Dancing). It has been my experience that the things people copy are the things that they would never have paid for in the first place, either due to indifference, poverty or in some cases both, but I am pretty certain that the creators in question have really only lost imagined wealth that they never really had in the first place.

    I am lucky enough to be well-off enough and discerning enough to eschew copying films, games, music, books etc. and I am very happy with my personal outlook that as a creator, albeit a neither successful nor prolific one, I need copyright to exist for my protection and potential remuneration, and so I am not going to ignore it just because it suits me.

    That being said, I am not in the business of moralising at people, so I suggest that we all examine our own consciences and move from there… Still I would urge people everywhere to remember that there are only so many hours in the day and they may not need a library of more than a thousand eBooks, just because they can “get’em for nowt”, and if they weren’t going to buy One Direction or Michael Bublé’s new album they probably don’t need to torrent it either, even to be ironic. Clearly there is no excuse for a ripped / torrented copy of the Stallon Judge Dredd movie, not even completism, as there is no way that anyone would ever pay for it, so clearly having it is not important… 😉

    • February 6, 2013 at 2:11 pm

      s/Stallon/Stallone – d’oh!

  4. February 6, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    It will take a long time for the industry to re-balance itself but we will eventually get to a point where authors can directly connect with their audiences and get some recompense for their efforts. True fans appreciate content producers don’t live of air and if you can get enough of those to support your lifestyle you have a career.

    The rise of crowd-funding is an interesting development for the purpose of financing these things. One recent example I saw was a book on Open Source development that the author wanted to update. Not massive wide appeal so hard for the publisher to justify an advance but enough people cared to fund the project so now it will get done.

    As far as DRM is concerned it’s just shooting itself in the foot. The obsession with making bits harder to copy affects paying customers more than the pirate and drives potential purchasers away. I won’t buy any DRM crippled product because once I buy something I want to be able to back it up, read it on my own device and (shock) lend it to my friends.

    There is the open question of how new creators get known enough to build their audiences but I suspect the answer is at it always has been. Work your local contacts, get your product out there and hope you get lucky.

    • February 6, 2013 at 3:41 pm

      Interestingly, what you describe above (local contacts, building audiences etc) is exactly what many self publishers have to do as well as most small press released writers. This has been happening for a few years now and places like Goodreads are where you find a lot of self and small press publishers touting their wares and trying to get an audience.

      Totally agree with you about DRM, I think it is hurting the consumer more than the pirate and companies like Tor seem to be coming round to the idea that what hurts the consumer is also bad for them as the producer. It always struck me as a kneejerk reaction to the problem – a patch not a root cause fix – which has stuck in place.

      • February 6, 2013 at 4:10 pm

        The process is the same, the scale is growing.

        I’m not sure how my daughter is going to be introduced to the world of social media and networking. When I was growing up I first interacted with my family, school and eventually local peers with shared interests. Now everyone* has some form of social media presence and once enabled you suddenly have access to a few billion other sentient beings. How you develop your on-line presence and interactions is going to be a true life skill for the current generation growing-up in this world we’ve created. It will be a life skill that the artists/creators will have to master to find their audiences.

        * everyone being currently 2.5bn people with ‘net access.

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