As e-book adoption steadily increases, I think writers and artists have a very good reason to wonder if easily pirated e-books are going to do to the publishing industry what Napster did to the record industry. With news that Dan Brown’s last novel was pirated within hours of being released and with e-reader adoption growing steadily, it’s a serious concern.
I know there are lots of bitter types out there who would love nothing more than to stomp on the grave of publishers, but if they fall it’s going to have a profound effect on the quality of books.
Now… There will always be books. Publishers or no publishers, agents or no agents, paid authors or no paid authors, people are going to write, and some will write very well no matter what. But I think the overall quality of books would suffer tremendously if very few people can make any money doing it. Not only because there wouldn’t be publishers to edit and copyedit and market, but the fewer people who can make any money or spend any time writing books because they have no hope of getting paid will result in lesser the competition and lesser the choice and lesser the quality.
This isn’t the music industry – no one is making money on an author tours or Ian McEwan t-shirt sales no matter how many I personally would buy.
Lately something has happened that made me wonder if perhaps my worries about piracy might be somewhat overblown.
There’s a site that I’m not going to link to or name because I don’t want to give them any traffic at all. Let’s call them FakeTorrent. FakeTorrent is a site that purports to contain all sorts of pirated material, including books, that you can download very easily and holy cow thousands of people have already done it. All you have to do is install the right software.
And, of course, the software is a virus. Or they’re phishing for credit cards. Or some other nefarious activity. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. But! There’s nothing being pirated. Essentially: they’re scamming pirates.
Could this be the future? Since pirates are already downloading files from dubious sites, is lacing a highly sought-after file with a virus or ads or scams a sufficient growth industry to actually deter piracy?
Now… don’t get me wrong. I’m not some starry-eyed Pollyanna who thinks piracy is going to go away entirely.
But I also have been around the Internet long enough to know the life cycle of user-generated websites, whether they be eBay, Friendster, Myspace, Craigslist, or a file sharing site. First the early adopters come along and everything works great. Very exciting! Then comes mass adoption, which strains the site’s capacity to keep everything running smoothly. And then, inevitably, come the spammers and scammers to ruin it for everyone. Once they arrive, using the site becomes tremendously annoying.
The only user-generated sites that have had any longevity at all are ones that have successfully kept the spammers and scammers at bay. And it takes an incredible amount of resources and ingenuity to stay ahead of them and sort them out from the regular users. (Twitter is on the cusp of the spammer/scammer wave, incidentally, and it will be interesting to see how well they handle it.)
I wonder if we’re going to see a similar life cycle in Internet piracy. Any piracy site or sharer that has built sufficient users and resources to ensure quality control will also (hopefully) be a big enough target that it can be taken down by lawsuits (see, incidentally, the Scribd lawsuit over its laissez faire policy regarding the uploading of possibly copyrighted material). There’s also, I think, a significant business opportunity for companies that specialize in reducing or eliminating piracy.
Obviously someone that is truly motivated will find a way, and pirates may adapt to new challenges and barriers. But I wonder whether mass piracy is really in our future.
Essentially: my hope is that pirating material will be a sufficient pain in the ass that people will just go ahead and buy through trusted and legal sites that can guarantee quality control. Maybe that’s overly optimistic, but you can bet I’m counting my lucky stars as an agent and author that e-books weren’t all the rage in the year 2000 when many of us had vastly underdeveloped Internet consciences.
What do you think? How big of a threat is piracy? Should I be worried?
LONG RANT PART ONE OF TWO
I originally intended to say somethiong at least marginally intelligent in response to the issues raised in the blog post. And, probably, I still will. But I've become royally ticked off, and I'm going to rant before I do anything else.
First, Nathan. You are not among those I'm ticked off at. I think you're wrong, and tragically so, in holding an anti-piracy (and, implicitly, pro-copyringt and pro "intellectual property") position. But I've come to see you on this blog as an intelligent and decent guy, and you don't appear to be that self-righteous on this issue, at least compared to some others. You make your living playing by the rulse of an industry which is based on intellectual assumptions that contravene reality. This, inevitably, skews your viewpoint. Not to worry. If and when copyright laws go the way of Jim Crow laws and "intellectual property" ends up in the landfill of conceptual history alongside "the lesser races" you will still be making a living with words, and you will still be very good at it.
And, in case it is of interest, I am THAT GUY who sits in Barnes and Noble or Borders and reads entire books. I may well, as you say, have "bigger problems." Those are mine personally, and I'm not sure there is a need to be condescending on the subject. My budget for paid reading matter supports my monthly copy of Analog (which I have always purchased, even during the sixties when I was living with no fixed address and panhandling for food. Actually, that's a bit of misstatement. There were free food programs. I panhandled for my Analog :). In addition, I purchase a quarterly copy of 2600. Beyoud that, I irregularly purchase used books – perhaps 1 – 3 a month, and rarely spend over $4.00 per copy. Oh, and I daily purchase USA Today – though I would have no qualms about reading a cast-off copy were such reliably available.
My utter rage is reserved for the self-righteous individuals who insist that copyright violation is "stealing" because the law says so. If the law said to go jump off a cliff, would that make it right? Would you go do it? Sadly, I think some significant percentage probably would. This is one of the characteristics of the human condition that makes anarchism intellectually attractive.
I believe it was a character in a Dickens novel who said "If the law says that, then the law is an ass."
And to quote Lincoln: "How many legs does a dog have if you call a tail a leg? Four – because calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one". And calling copyright violation "stealing" doesn't make it so. If I knock you over the head and take $50 from your pocket, two things happen. I now have an extra $50. You now have $50 less. That's stealing. That's what the word means. The attempt to apply the word to intangibles is, perhaps, legitimate AS METAPHOR – but no more than that. And, I would argue that it is even bad metaphor since the cases are not parallel.
(CONTINUED IN PART TWO)
LONG RANT PART TWO OF TWO
I will go further. Copyright law is bad law. It never should have bbeen invented, and it should be destroyed soonest. "Intellectual property" is an oxymoron. The property paradigm is entirely inappropriate to the works of the mind. Or, to put it in legalistic language, "All use is Fair Use".
How and why do I say this? I could attempt an analysis of the creative process, and try to show that every individual act of creation proceeds from the flow of ideas in the Noosphere, and that one dams up that flow at the peril of all. But such an analysis would be tedious, and would not convince a determnined skeptic in any event. I prefer to make my argument in a more poetic fashion.
The Muse is real. Before I started the novel I'm now working on, I wrote poetry. I learned the hard way that the Muse is real. I came face-to-face with Her on more than one occasion. Quite often, the poems I set down were not what I had sat down intending to write. They came through me, not from me. My hands, but Her work.
Intellectal creation is a gift of the Muse. The writer is, at best, a willing and co-operative channel. The creations of your pen are no more "owned" by you than are your children.
Anybody who thinks the Muse is BS should, please, not quit your day job. Or, if you are obsessed with writing, seek Her until She finds you. And some of you, probably, know Her but deny or forget Her under the pressures of commercial life. I ask you to try to remember. Wasn't there a time when you wanted to write so you could be privleged to touch the heart of another person through your words? Try to rememeber.
Seek Her until She finds you.
Donna Hole says
I'm no Pollyanna either, but I think the threat of e-book piracy is blown out of proportion.
There will always be thieves as long as there is something to steal. Locking your car or house only keeps out the casual curious. If someone really wants in, they will find a way.
I have much the same thoughts about identity theft and using the internet to pay your bills and purchase items. Your information is already out there – how do you think banks communicate? And DMV, and SSA, and and even your insurance company. And people find ways to steal from stores all the time.
If a person really knows what they're doing and is motivated, there's no way the average citizen is going to stop a thief. Piracy is no different.
Trading and borrowing books or music is not the same as piracy. After all, if you damage or lose the used item, and you really liked the object, you'll buy another. Piracy takes a lot of effort – even if you're a computer geek – and IMO, done more for the thrill of the theft than any real desire to get something without paying for it.
At first there may be a lot of piracy of e-books; but technology will catch up, just as it has for the music and movie industry. For any specialized thief, there's a specialized cop to monitor and update security. (Maybe I am Pollyanna in that belief.)
I'll let the folks that jump right on the band wagon of anything new work out the kinks of the business, then maybe I'll stop the desperate search for an agent and e-publish all on my own. By that time, there are bound to be better guidelines on what is actually e-published; some publishers will be known for quality writers, and some will have the reputation of publishing anything for a fee.
Just like there are reputable agents out there, and some scam artists.
word verif: inslyz. Perhaps the name of the new, secure, software that keeps your e-books virus free and un-pirateable.
Nathan Bransford says
You'll never see me coming out against libraries because I don't feel that income should be an impediment to literacy. Libraries are sacred institutions.
But still, I meant what I said – someone who sits in Barnes & Noble and reads an entire book has bigger problems: they either don't know where the library is or they don't have one.
You obviously love books, and I respect that. I just don't think books would be as good or as plentiful if no one was getting paid. Even Shakespeare needed a sponsor.
Thanks for the response.
I am aware of libraries. Indeed, they have been like a second home to me through much of my life. (Literaly, at one point. During the same period I was panhandling for Analog money, I used to sleep nights in the MIT library reading room, which at that point was open 24 hours. This came to an end when security discovered I had altered the expiration date on my visitor's pass 🙁 ). I suppose I *could* use the library more for my reading needs. We have one in Lansing, and it wouldn't be a big deal to get my card current.
I fell out of the library habit during the period when I had enough money to buy books regularly, and never got back into it. I have found, in general, that for recently published work, the major bookstores have a better selection and it's easier to find random interesting material by browsing, compared to libraries.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts, if any, on the Muse. Although I will not insist on regarding her as a literal entity having the same sort of existence as, say, Lake Michigan, I am quite serious in seeing Her as one possible valid description, among several, of the heart and soul of the creative process. She is certainly real to me. And althugh I could make parallel arguments on other conceptual levels, invoking Her is the clearest and most direct way I know of to express why creative work should not be subjugated to commercialism and the property paradigm.
That being said, I'd surely take money to write if it came my direction. But I would never want to deprive anyone of reading something I had written because of money issues. I would never want money to be my *motive* for writing. I have trouble understanding the people here who complain that their work is being pirated. I would *love* to know I had written something that hundreds of people regarded highly enough to make a serious effort to "steal". I would love to know that I had touched hearts and made a difference.
Thanks for listening,
Nathan Bransford says
Actually I really do believe there is something incredible and indescribable about the creative process and I'm glad you feel the same way. It can't really be explained, right?
I think of it as vaguely similar to being at the top of Pike's Peak looking down. Many descriptions or explanations are possible. None truly express the reality. At best they are footprints of a shadow.
Even one's own memories are inadequate. You have to be there.
Jen C says
Personally, I like to take all of the credit for my writing, rather than attributing it to some invisible, anonymous lady.
If you feel like you're channeling when you're writing, then that's good, whatever works for you. But you shouldn't assume that because that's what you feel, that's just how it is – full stop, no returns…
For me, it's more than the muse –
at the risk of people stepping away from me slowly, I believe there are times when something is channeling through me. Everything clicks, and the voice comes out. I don't know what it is, but I usually like what it has to say – alot.
And yes, I know I'm certifiable.
What the muse is – that could be a cool 'you tell me' Nathan, if it interests you.
Steve, I found some of what you said very moving. I don't write for money, but I do respect the system where someone pays to enjoy somone else's creation. I'll tell you why I think that….
If someone can make their livelihood from writing, that means they can devote most of their time and energy to it. That's a really good thing, if what you have to say is valued by others.
Also, there's nothing 'shameful' about asking someone to give you something in exchange for your efforts. Even if the 'muse' creates it, you still put the work in and deserve to be compensated for that. Your time and energy has value. That is how our society has defined it. In order to meet your needs, you provide a service, which benefits people, who give you pieces of paper which allow you to eat and give them little piece of paper for their service and then you can continue to be of service.
Bed now. Cool thread, Nathan. It was great seeing your clear moral direction in action.
Having discharged my rant, let me comment briefly on the subject of the original post.
First, on the narrowly posed question of whether malware infested files will kill piracy. I think they will slow it but not stop it.
Malware creators and malware blocking software are in a contiuous dance, but at any particular moment most people can be mostly safe most of the time, if they are careful. The safety precautions are common sense. Download only from trusted sources, and use the best available technical countermeasures.
As to the larger issues – I expect that once the price of a legally purchased electronic copy stabilizes, the amount of piracy will stabilize and piracy itself will no longer be a threat. This will occur at a price point where the cost of buying a legal copy balances the annoyances of an illegal download for most potential readers. Hopefully that price point will cover the costs of creation, promotion and distribution.
Aside ftom that, the argument that piracy is free advertising is both true, and, IMO, a no-brainer. In an Internet environment where anyone can publish and distribute at minimal cost, the scarce resource is the attention of your potential audience. It is actually the attention factor that determines whether one is a creative "success". The relevant catch=phrases include "needle in a needlestack", "drinking from a firehose", and "everybody will be famous to 15 people". If I were a publshing house with a good-sized promotional budget, I would seriously consider *paying* people to download and redistribute copies of the work to be promoted. Steal my book! (Apologies to Abbie Hoffman) – Please! But be sure to keep the link to my site intact.
The interesting question is how to offer value-added experience that can't be easily "pirated". In music, this is the principle of the live gig. No recording, or even live concert video can replace the experience of being there and being, as audience, co-creator of the experience. In writing, this would look a little different, but the principle would be the same. Figure out a paradigm. I don't know exactly what it would look like, but there has to be one.
The physical book is an obvious value-added product. Books have hundreds of years of ergonomic design refinements invested in making them user-friendly. It will be decades out – if ever – before electronic readers evolve into something one can comfortably curl up with in bed at night, or easily flip through looking for that certain passage.
Speaking gigs, readings, t-shirts, limited attendance live chats, selling naming rights to minor characters – imagination is the limit. If your work finds a large audience, there will be a way to turn it into support for further work. If not – well, sometimes greatness is only recognized years after one's death. That's an inherent hazard of the craft – always.
And, maybe we'll see a return to the days of the writer who also works a day job. This is a tradition that unites voices as diverse as E.E. Smith (food chemist for Dawn Doughnuts) and Eric Hoffer (Longshoreman). Those folks did some pretty decent work.
Angie Handley says
Yeah, I like to download content to test drive it and I often go on to buy it if I liked it. I suppose in that way, piracy is taking over the filtering role of the publisher, as only good stuff will go on to sell real-world copies. Since most publishers are dropping the ball on quality and editing these days, I don't see piracy being such a massive problem.
Certainly if I ever get published I would like to make my work available to the widest audience possible. More people who get a free taster = more people who will buy my work. Examples of this phenomenon are already documented: Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, even Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book.
In my heart, I believe most people like to do the right thing and pay for stuff if they like it.
Thanks for the kind mention. Believe it or not, I actually see nothing wrong in principle with the idea that one should receive value for the value one produces. I think there are serious problems with "the market" as a model for how that should occur, but that is a subject which has been debated for centuries, and would take us too far afield to explore here.
What I seriously object to in this context is letting the value-exchange protocols of "the market" sit in the driver's seat of the creative process and interpose themselves between Creator and Audience – a relationship which I see as very close to sacred.
The point of view, expressed by a few, that says "Look – this person went out and spent a great deal of effort to obtain and experience what I created – AND I DIDN'T GET PAID! – WAAAAAH!" is one I have difficulty relating to.
Thanks for listening,
Donna Hole says
Ok; I've just been trying to read all the comments on this thread and I'm a little confused about the DRM.
It seems to be a program that keeps copies of downloads from being duplicated to other devices?
So, let me show my ignorance of electronic devices a little more. A cell phone comes with a SIM card that can be transfered from one phone to another. If you lose or damage a cell phone (and I've done both and couldn't even blame it on my babbies) the carrier can give you a copy of your SIM card (or you can remove it if you still have) and you put it in a new cell phone and all your pictures and phone contacts are instantly saved to the new phone.
Alon the same lines, I've downloaded games from the internet (yes I paid for them) and been given a pin number with a certain number of "free" downloads in case something happens to my computer or the program gets accidentally erased, I can put in the number and get the game I already purchased again.
So, there isn't a feature like that (either the SIM or the pin number) to retrieve purchased novels on a kindle? Or any other e-book reader?
Hmm. On the other hand, if I drop my paper-back novel in the tub, or leave it on a cafe table, I still have to go out an buy a replacement book. Why, really, does an electronic book need better safeguarding than the printed book?
Dan Holloway says
@sex scenes at starbucks I don't think any of us freevangelists would advocate stealing the work of someone who wants to protect it. All I really object to is people who object to me making my work available for free to anyone who wants it. What we ask for is that the courtesy we extend to those who want to protect their copyright is extended back to us.
Other Lisa says
@Steve: "A return to the days when a writer works a day job"?!?!?!?!
Have you researched what advances are like these days? Check out the invaluable Pimp My Novel and the series of posts he did recently on average advances per genre.
There are very very few published authors who are earning anywhere close to Dan Brown level incomes, and a majority of working writers have to have "day jobs" to pay the bills.
I'm a little agnostic on the whole issue of the Muse but I take my writing seriously, and I work hard at it. And I very much want to get paid for what I do. I'm happy to consider giving some of what I create away, but I feel that this should be my choice, not that of an anonymous pirate who had nothing to do with my particular act of creation.
Blue Tyson says
The music industry profits declined, but so what?
No-one is going to have increasing revenue or profits forever, in every single year. Much as starry eyed capitalists would like that to be so. It is quite ridiculous to expect that to be the case. Industries and companies disappear all the time. How long have CD's been sold for? Probably less than your lifespan.
Gone to any vaudeville acts recently? 🙂
Simple probability will tell you that things will go down some of the time (analysis clearly is not a media industry strongpoint).
The nice profitability period just happens to coincide with a major format transfer – wherein they decided to pretty much stop selling cheap singles that had been a mainstay in the past. Therefore overcharging for discs full of mediocre material became lucrative for a brief period.
A bad plan, perhaps, as it has turned out to vehemently disregard the singles demand.
They had an opportunity to reintroduce them, and aggressively took the opposite approach.
If all your management makes bad decisions at a strategic level for a reasonable period of time, you will suffer.
Blue Tyson says
Or, as an addendum :-
What do you call the people in charge of an organisation that sues the makers of mp3 players?
Could possibly rhyme with incompetent?
Katiek patrianoceu says
What a heated discussion! I'm sorry I couldn't make it through all the passionate comments, but I still wanted to share my own passionate view on the topic.
First off, hello from Timor Leste, the second youngest country in the world, occupying half of a little island in Southeast Asia. In Dili, the capital of this fair nation, I have encountered one tiny bookstore, three small (pirated) DVD shops, and no music shops at all… unless you count the hawkers on the streets trying to get me interested in Indonesian pop.
I have spent the last 8 years of my life in countries where there is no reasonable access to "legal" content. My frustrations here relate to all intellectual property, but I'll focus on books.
For years, either I had to plan ahead whenever I found myself somewhere that books were legally available, stocking up on books that weighed down my luggage to last me a year. Or I'd have to hope to find someone I could borrow from. Or I'd photocopy books (yes, in Syria that was how we got our books – one copy was floating around the country and everyone made a xerox of the whole thing).
So I was thrilled when ereaders came out, and the last time I was 'back west', I bought myself one. It's great: lightweight, easy to read, all the things Nathan has bragged about and more.
But I'd say I've spent, easily, just as much time trying to find legal and drm-respecting ways to download books, as I have spent reading the books themselves! A lot of online stores don't even let you buy digital content when accessing them from a non-US ISP. Other stores only let you download through their special application, which my slow-and-firewalled connection doesn't agree with. I've twice now paid for books that I couldn't read. In the first case, I was able to make a skype phone call to the store and argue them into returning my money. In the second case, I'm too far from good internet to make such a skype call.
I want to do things the right way, I want authors, singers, screenwriters and all the rest of them to get the money they deserve. I want to buy books in legitimate ways, because I want the ebook phenomenon to be successful. But I don't know how long my patience will last before I start just resorting to tried-and-true torrents.
Now, I am a US citizen, with a high level of education. I have traveled and am well-read. So if I can't read for a while, maybe that's no big deal. But imagine my Timorese neighbour, who wants to make a difference in the world but didn't finish high school because war broke out. Who wants to read books in English, French and Russian, and actually studies those languages during his free time. The internet provides him with an opportunity, and right now the only way he can grab on to that opportunity is through pirating. I'm sorry, Nathan, but I feel it is extremely imperialistic to refuse him that opportunity. Until we find a way around that, let piracy rule, because the billions of underprivileged people shut out by the "legal mechanisms" matter much much more than the handful of authors you represent.
Again, my apologies for ranting, but believe it or not I'm on the verge of tears right now.
Adam Heine says
Some replies (computer related; I don't want to get into the heated debate at the moment).
Steve wrote: "The safety precautions are common sense. Download only from trusted sources…"
The thing is (and part of Nathan's point, I believe) that pirating sites are, by definition, not trusted sources. But you're right; pirates can and will protect their machines just like the rest of us.
Donna wrote: "So, there isn't a feature like that (either the SIM or the pin number) to retrieve purchased novels on a kindle?"
The SIM card analogy could work. But even in cell phones, the SIM card doesn't help if the card itself is damaged or lost.
The pin number could work, but it would be difficult. The e-book distributors would likely need proof that you lost your copy. Without that, esp. if it were an automated system, it'd be easy for a pirate to download (and redistribute) many copies with a single pin number.
I've just received an email from my publisher (a prominent one) asking me to be on the look out for epirated editions of my novels and to let them know.
So I guess private detective is another hat the modern day writer must wear.
I don't know the inner details of the ePub format, but the syncing ability is more closely dependent on the viewing tool than the format proper. Let us, for instance, imagine two PDF viewing devices with syncing ability. The highly technical exchange between the two could be dramatized as such:
Device A is switched on by human owner.
Device A: "Yaaawn. Heavens, is it morning already? Oh well." Device A switches on its wireless antenna. "Hello? Anybody out there?"
Device B: "Hi A! Long time no see!"
A: "Oh, hi! Yeah, it's been about 133237 seconds, right?"
B: "That's about it. So what's been up since?"
A: "Not much. You?"
B: "Heavens, the human has been acquiring all these new PDFs, flicking around them like crazy. Never finished reading a single one, either."
A: "Tell me about it. The Internet has screwed their attention span, hasn't it?"
B: "Jesus, yeah. So, want a listing of the new stuff?"
A: "Sure, fire away, so I can offer my human to download them from you."
Invisible 0s and 1s start flying through the air between the two, wondrous magic, and nobody even bats an eyelash. The things we take for granted, I tell you.
A: "Oh, I see you have these three particular files, I have them too. Have they had seen any bookmark or note update since 133237 seconds ago?"
B: "Oh, yes, this one here has. Let me send you the details."
More atomic-scale electromagnetic pulses follow.
A: "Splendid, thanks. Okay, it's been swell. I'll see you around, right?"
B: "Sure. See you, A."
Human: "Dude, look at those blinky lights when I put those things close together. You'd almost think they're talking or sumthin'. Is that what they call DRM?"
And they lived happily ever after and had lots of little ebooks. The end.
Now I wanted to also dramatize DRM as a grumpy gatekeeper, because the kind of intricate encryption mathematics involved is both fascinating and entirely too fun to anthropomorphize, but I've been long winded enough already.
Lynne Connolly says
The medium the book is released in makes no difference to pirates. They have software that removes DRM, they have hardware that scans a print book, formats it and produces an ebook form. Books, ebooks, print books, audiobooks are pirated within hours of their release.
It's the existence of the Internet that makes this possible and that's something we're not going to change. And it is a serious threat to the publishing industry and should be taken seriously.
But like some others on this thread, I think the answer is less in punishing the wrongdoers (although this should definitely happen) but in rewarding the people who are doing it right – going to the bookstore or the website to buy the books. While prevention is going on, so should some kind of benefit.
Recently one of my older books was given away on Kindle, and takeup was astonishingly good. It also had a nice effect on my other books. So perhaps the incentive and loyalty schemes – buy ten books get one free, that kind of thing, is a partial answer.
That's why I don't agree with DRM – it's punishing the people who are doin' it right.
Marilyn Peake says
I think the Muse is our unconscious, and possibly our ability to tap into a collective unconscious. Some people are more gifted in that area than others, and those people are the artists.
It’s a wonderful intellectual argument to say that allowing pirated copies of your books to float around will lead to increased sales. My suggestion: write a number of books and then experiment with that model. It doesn’t work. And what about giving away merchandise, going on speaking tours, etc.? Who pays for that? I know writers who have done that and ended up deeply in debt, one writer even taking out a second mortgage on their home, eventually wiped out financially. I’ve also seen many publishing houses go out of business after investing too much money in book-related advertising.
If writers need to give their work away for free, most of them will end up living in poverty. Why would we treat our artists that way? I really do not understand that.
I think part of the reason people are reluctant to side with the music industry re: filesharing is the DMCA lawsuits.
It's a little hard to sympathize with record company execs claiming that they're justified in cleaning out a kid's college fund, bankrupting their family, and destroying their chance of ever paying for college over $20 worth of music.
Kids get off lighter than that for drug possession. Vandalism. Any other kind of theft at that value. Some forms of assault. Animal cruelty. In the case of one of my former friends, concealing a deadly. I'm sorry, but that's just plain wrong. And it's why I have zero sympathy for music executives complaining about losses they can't even prove.
Poverty is a traditional element of the artistic lifestyle – to the point of cliche and parody. Not saying it's right – but is must be happening for a reason. I think it's probably due to the nature of artistic vision, which sees what most in society do not. And the comfortable and conforming majority will resist that vision.
I don't disagree with your view of the Muse as some combination of individual/collective unconscious. But, for me, the concept becomes more emothonally powerful – more real if you will, if I view Her as personified. But I won't demand that of others (request, perhaps 🙂
Kim Rossi Stagliano says
I think it will be a problem for all authors. The Dan Brown's and Janet Evanovich's will have the clout and cash to sue – or their publishers will, not wanting to lose their revenue. I fear it's the debut authors and midlist authors who will suffer more. If a percentage of Dan Brown's sales are siphoned off by piracy, he's still a mega-selling author. If a percentage of a debut or midlist author is stolen, it could change sales numbers enough to stop a career. Users seem to care not a FIG about the fact they are stealing – they just see, "Free." It's worrisome. Yes.
Ken Hannahs says
I like how Steve calls the idea of SELLING YOUR WORK a metaphor, but seems to believe in some sort of omnipresent "muse."
Go live in the real world please.
If you went up to your boss (assuming you have a job, which seems to be quite a reach) and said "you know what? don't pay me… ever again. Salary is SUCH an outdated feudalistic mold," you'd be dead in a month.
Artists shouldn't have to be poor… that's (pardon the language, no other way of saying it) fucking ridiculous. You are HURTING PEOPLE when you steal their material. They DESERVE income for their INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, because they created those characters and that story. Sure nothing is truly original anymore, but to say that negates all forms of payment is just so inherently retarded.
People write for the love of it, of course. But how are they supposed to write at a continued high level when they can't make a living off of it? Your argument has no grounding in reality and is, at best, simply raving.
ryan field says
I've seen comments about libraries and I'd like to add that I've always supported them physically, financially, and as an entire concept. They are legal.
More than that, I've seen online libraries, where my books are being passed around to people who belong to these online libraries. I know a lot of writers get mad about this. It stretches the entire concept of "free libraray." But I don't get upset with them. Someone bought the book and it's being passed around legally and up front. No one is hiding anything.
If someone wants to buy one of my print books and pass it around to all their friends, good for them. I couldn't care less. I have a lot of print books out under pen names and it's hard to promote them with a pen name.
I just don't like anything illegal. It goes against my own personal beliefs. And, until someone can prove that pirating is legal, I'm going to do everything I can to help stop it by filing as many abuse forms as I can…along with a large group of other writers and publishers who are watching these sites, closely, on a daily basis. I even know one clever writer who has "contacts" and has been able to find out the real identities of the people downloading these books. A few don't even know that they are under investigation.
The writers I know work hard. They depend on all the income they can get. They don't take this lightly. And they are all very involved and willing to go as far as they can to stop their work from being downloaded for free.
(Anonymous posting also allows us to talk about work-related content we otherwise might not be able to!)
Right now piracy is bad. It's not crippling, but it's bad. I worked on a book that made $1million in its first month the previous edition. The new edition made $10k in the same time frame. If you Googled the title, it appeared in the middle of page 5. All the entries before it were versions of the same title. It crippled the book.
Now, you can never stop piracy. If someone has a scanner and an internet connection, they can put a book online. But what stops piracy is an equitable and appealing pricing structure. Lawsuits didn't stop file sharing. iTunes did. As soon as ebooks do the same, piracy will become less of a risk. I don't think the Kindle or its competitors are there yet.
There are strategies we have explored to catch pirates. Sometimes they are aggressive. Including a watermark on a file when it's purchased so that if it's traded, you can identify who originally passed it. Include their credit card information in the watermark so that they won't pass it along at all. Etc etc.
The truth is, if people want to steal, they will and can.
I deleted mine and to anyone who read it, apologies. On a re-read I realised it was very insensitive. Had an abscess and headache for a while and not thinking clearly.
Get rid of royalties.
That's right, you read me. Remove royalties from the equation and the whole piracy issue becomes less complicated.
If a publisher and an author just negotiated a set dollar amount per print run or issuance. Lets say a new author and his agent secure a deal with a publisher for 10,000 dollar for a first run of 50,000 copies…if those copies don't sell the publisher made a bad investment. If they fly off the shelf, the author will be able to ask for more in the next run….or shop it to a new publisher.
The only reason authors care about whether their books are pirated….is the royalties. In the end they want their work read.
If you remove that issue, the burden of policing and stopping piracy falls on the publisher…where it should.
Right now authors scour the net looking for people that are "stealing" their work….stealing their $4.00…the publisher should be doing this since they have a larger monetary interest in the book. Authors should write…not police.
Of course you would have to change that STUPID law that says if an author does not enforce his copyright…he loses it
Of course this will not stop piracy…nothing will. But it will move the damage to those more capable of investing in a solution.
I still think ebooks should be free with paid advertising in them.
Anon @ 7 03 said…
"But what stops piracy is an equitable and appealing pricing structure."
You'd think this would stop piracy. It makes perfect sense. But I have seen e-books that are priced at .99 being pirated and downloaded. And if Dan Brown's book was reduced to .99, you'd still see these low lifes stealing. They do it because they can, like the way a dog licks between its legs.
I think FEAR stops piracy. It stops stupid people from doing illegal things all the time. If half these fools weren't afraid of speeding because of the consequences involved, the roads would be nightmares.
For a while, there were a lot of internet sites selling cigarettes from other countries. Buyers avoided taxes and everyone seemed happy. Until the Federal Government got involved and went after EVERYONE buying these cigarettes online. This put FEAR into many stupid people and they stopped buying their cigarettes online after a few were prosecuted and charged hefty fines.
And I think that if a few of these thieves who are downloading .99 books for free wound up being prosecuted, in public, the other small time criminals (If it's illegal, you're a criminal. Period. No justification.) wouldn't be so quick to steal from the poor. Becausue the people writing these .99 books are not wealthy, by any means.
Wow. What a discussion.
I am an artist. My originals are the most valuable.
Some people would have me sell only one-of-a-kinds. That means I have only VERY expensive products selling to a VERY select audience in the world.
Some people think that limited edition fine art archival prints are wonderful: they are beautiful, much more affordable, respected and printed by museums, etc. – others think they are NOT art.
I think prints are a lot like books or toasters. You can't make a living just selling the prototype.
The original maybe should ideally go to a museum (of all of the above, book, artwork, toaster) if not to a rich collector.
But the edition should be a product that is hopefully affordable in the culture. We all need books, art, toasters. Right?
We can belong to a co-op and use a co-op toaster. We can go to the library and read a publicly owned book. We can go to a public building and enjoy publicly owned art.
But when we buy an affordable book, fine art print, toaster, etc. we get a small piece of the art for ourselves personally to enjoy and use.
IMHO, we should support these modes of supporting artists, writers, industrial designers and the people that support their products coming to us.
My biggest problem with electronic media that we buy is the instability of it vs the hardcopy stability.
I bought every single song on my i-tunes library of about 900.
Read my lips: I am not a thief.I will never be a thief. I do not want to be a thief.
Unfortunately my harddrive died and my back-up failed too.
Fortunately, i-tunes gave me back all but three songs (that they no longer were licensed to sell) of my entire library.
I also heard that that is not how it usually goes, but that's how it went in my case.
I think if I had "lost" all those songs, I would have never bought another i-tune song again.
I think, for me, that the hardcopies I have of music are more stable and more valuable than the electronic versions.
Thus, I like that hardcopies and electronic versions are priced differently.
In any case, the lack of ethics of the masses who would justify stealing "because everyone else does" or for whatever reason worries me greatly about our culture.
You have some interesting points, but I have trouble with some of your basic premises. You're free to hold your own opinions about the Muse, but you have no right to demand (or "request") that others accept this, or the economic paragidgm you think it entails.
You think the Muse is responsible for your writing. That's fine. I think my brain is responsible for mine. And I think there's probably more evidence of my brain than your muse (though I know a few people who might challenge this… :)).
Now, that doesn't make me right, necessarily. If your Muse comes down and taps me on the shoulder with a burst of inspiration, well, that's fine. I'm just hoping she'll tap me with a few groceries, too. As it happens, my children do, occasionally, like to eat. They're downright fond of it sometimes.
You're free to do what you want with your writing. I certainly wouldn't stop you. If you want to give it away for free because you only care about having readers… fine, do that. I hope they love and are moved by your words. But there's no reason to expect that to be viable for everyone. It seems a little selfish to expect people to adopt harmful views merely to support your own ideals. To expect writers to embrace the overly-romantic ideal of the impoverished writer is a little impractical. I mean, are my children suppose to join me in that glorious suffering?
I also found your logic concerning the law a little mind-boggling. Is the law necessarily just because it's a law? Obviously not. But your statements seem to indicate that because it's a law it's obviously unjust, which is even more ridiculous. Most laws are just, and they're there for a reason – to protect people. And if you disagree with the law… well, I don't see how hurting a writer who's struggling to make a living is really much of a positive statement.
If you want to live outside Capitalism, that's fine. But please don't force me to join you.
I think you're on to something. There was a sit com series from England that I liked a lot. I bought the first two seasons through Amazon or something. No prob. They didn't have the next few seasons, but someone was selling them on ebay. So I bought them. They arrived and were clearly pirated. Didn't even really work. I sent them back, the person refunded my money, I gave him a bad rating for piracy. He gave me a bad rating for complaining after he'd given me my money back. My score was screwed (after being perfect). Ebay moderated and left up the bad ratings but quantified the dispute with an explanation. I opened a new account and started over. I have never bought another DVD on eaby, regardless of the seller's rating.
Wow, Nathan, you really smacked the bee's nest with this one.
Let's sum up a little:
Piracy is good for new authors because wide distribution can help build name and recognition (aka brand).
Piracy is bad for established authors because it directly impacts sales.
Piracy is bad for both new and established authors because theft represents lost revenue no matter how you slice it.
(The argument blurs at points where it slips into an argument about whether authors should GIVE the fruit of their labor away, which has nothing to do with piracy.)
Piracy has no impact on sales because if Person A couldn't get it for free, they wouldn't buy it anyway.
Piracy, sales impact or not, represents stealing no matter how you slice it.
Piracy has an overstated impact because most "pirates" are really just browsing and if, interested, will pay for the legit copy.
Piracy has an impact that cannot be overstated because that impact is immeasurable. Who really knows how many sales stemmed from pirated copies?
Writers/authors deserve to be compensated for their work.
Writers/authors should not worry about compensation, but whether or not they are being read and how widely.
Have I missed anything?
About books vs. ebooks, there has been some discussion about whether an e-book is someting "bought" or something "licensed."
The answer to that question is whether or not it can be re-sold or given away.
If yes, it's been bought.
If no, it's been licensed.
I think that u-tube is fabulous at preventing piracy.
It gives something, a taste. It satisfies more than a 30 second snapshot.
Trailers have always sold the whole banana.
In many of these posts, most notably in the most vehemently anti-piracy ones, lies a subtext or assumption that writers deserve to be compensated to the point of not needing a dreaded day job.
Historically, we are living in a very rare blip in time that an author (fiction mostly, since most non-fiction categories require established credentials to get a book deal in the first place) can make a reasonable living directly off the marketplace from writing.
Many will challenge that statement on its face. After all, how many authors actually have the luxury of waking up and writing all day? (Assuming there is no income-producing spouse, sugar daddy/mama, trust fund, etc.) But isn't that the assumption behind these posts?
When someone writes "I deserve to be paid, damn it!" I don't think they mean the measly change that all but the most successful authors have to accept. They mean they deserve a living wage.
Someone mentioned needing groceries for their hungry kids. Well, go get a job. Most published writers have to, you know. They teach or give workshops or slave away as agents or marketers or computer geeks.
If you have already done a post with this focus, let me know. I'd love to see your take on it.
Nathan Bransford says
I don't think it's about making enough to make a living (although that would be nice), it's about a little bonus to take your family on vacation or save for retirement or pay off debt. It's a bonus for a task that requires a whole lot of work on top of a day job.
When you've put in the amount of work it takes to write a publishable novel, it hurts a whole lot to see people stealing from you. Not only are those pirated copies lost income that the writer probably sorely needs, those are also not reflected in sales that the publisher is tracking, and it could jeopardize their shot at getting their next book published.
Theft hurts everyone – pirates like to think they're a bunch of Robin Hoods and that these big bad corporations won't miss the money, but they're hurting everyone, including themselves if they have hopes of being published in the future.
Agreed. As someone who has put in that work, I understand your point very well!
Although, short of a traditional deal, I may have to take one of the alternative routes that technology has made available for getting my own work out there.
Author Seth Harwood lives the example of giving it away on the front end and getting paid on the back end.
It's interesting that the same technology that empower authors to take more control of their work also empowers pirates to diminish that control.
I am hoping the publishing industry can take a mature stance on the pirating issue.
People who pirate music and movies actually purchase more music and movies (https://torrentfreak.com/why-pirates-buy-more-music-and-music-labels-fail-090428/). We want to retain some level of control over the industry, yes. People need to paid for the wonderful work they are doing, yes. However, there is an undercurrent in society of sharing and openness (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/markets/2816893/Radiohead-challenges-labels-with-free-album.html). This is the way of the future whether everybody likes it or not. I admit to some idealism, but I truly believe if you create something beautiful, people will pay for it. If people know you and love your work, they will want you to make a living at it.
So I think it would be a waste of our energy to respond in a reactionary way with trying to shut down piracy and disrupt piracy with a never-ending spiral of DRM and security efforts. A higher response is available to us and that is to respect and love the consumer by producing work of ever-increasing quality. The consumer will respond in kind.
Mister Fweem says
I have an odd question to toss into this discussion: If I buy a used book, none of the money I spend on that book goes to the publisher or author. Am I pirate? Because the last time I bought a new book was in the early 1990s. I buy a lot of books. But most of them are from local thrift stores or via the Internet. This doesn't make getting current books very difficult — there are plenty of people out there who buy a book, read it a few times, and then sell it. Better for me.
I don't use this argument to condone piracy. I would not steal a book, be it a new one from Barnes and Noble or a used one from Deseret Industries. But it's an argument the publishing industry will have to counter as they fight against book pirates.
Mister Fweem says
And whoever doesn't believe in the concept of intellectual property obviously hasn't heard of Anne Elk, with or without the brackets.
Other Lisa says
@Andrew – I'm one of the writers who wants to be paid, and I stated very clearly in my post that a majority of working authors do not receive a "living wage" from their writing. I think if you polled the people here who've been paid for their writing, you would find that all of us are pretty realistic about what to expect in terms of compensation.
So, no, expressing a preference that our works not be pirated and that we receive compensation for them, or at least be able to have say in whether our works are given away is not based on the expectation that we should be able to "quit our day jobs."
By the way, today's Publisher's Weekly has an article on this very topic.
Marilyn Peake says
"Poverty is a traditional element of the artistic lifestyle – to the point of cliche and parody. Not saying it's right – but is must be happening for a reason. I think it's probably due to the nature of artistic vision, which sees what most in society do not. And the comfortable and conforming majority will resist that vision."
I agree with you that "Poverty is a traditional element of the artistic lifestyle…" but I have a different idea about why that is so. I don’t think that art is considered necessary by many people, plus books involve actual work to read them. Many people feel they NEED cars and houses and toasters and cool clothing, but not art. It’s the reason that art and music classes are so often cut from school programs – many people feel they aren’t necessary. In regard to books, many people feel they’re too tired from day jobs at the end of the day to read them. When they cut things out of their budget in order to save money, art is often the very first thing to go. Personally, I think that art should have a respected place in society, and good artists should be financially rewarded for their work.
I mentioned the kids who like to eat. And I do have a job. I own a bookstore. It doesn't pay well either. But, you know, if more people steal books I'm sure that will turn around too.
And, for what it's worth, I don't think writers are entitled to a living wage for their writing (though that would be peachy). I do, however, think they're entitled to be paid for the copies people take, be that five or five million. It may support them or it may not, but that is their due. It's no different than my bookstore, really. I'm not owed anything. My earnings are dependant on how much I sell. The better I do at selling, the more I make. But shoplifters impinge (selfishly) on my ability to do that. Piracy is no different.
Just my take. I believe I have the right to at least attempt to earn an honest living without people stealing from me. I may not be owed that living, but I'd surely appreciate anyone who helped protect that opportunity for me.
Marilyn Peake says
"I don't think it's about making enough to make a living (although that would be nice), it's about a little bonus to take your family on vacation or save for retirement or pay off debt. It's a bonus for a task that requires a whole lot of work on top of a day job."
I also think that, because they can envision the future, most writers know they can’t go on forever holding onto a day job and writing books in their spare time. Although many writers will write even if they don’t get paid, most know their productivity will slow down or stop if they get burned out. I’m amazed sometimes by how many small press authors I personally know, including the wildly talented ones, who became seriously ill after years of writing without getting their big financial break, and how many live with writing-related illnesses (e.g. serious back problems). It astounds and saddens me.
The Anonymous Internet Coward says
Ink's reference to shopping put a something into perspective for me.
All business recognize and acknowledge theft as part of their shrinkage costs. A sourced tidbit from Wikipedia says "The total shrink percentage of the retail industry in the United States was 1.52% of sales in 2008 according to the University of Florida's, National Retail Security Survey.
An estimated 44% of shrinkage in that time period was due to employee theft, totaling over $15.9 billion. 35% of 2008 shrinkage was due to shoplifting, totaling over $12.7 billion."
Most retailers take this shrinkage into account and build a buffer into their margins. Theft has always been a part of business, and e-piracy is just one new form of it. I'm sure if you look at all the major publishing houses and even the minor retailers, they have their own shrinkage estimates and have factored them into their margins.
Add one more person theft hurts… the end consumer. When you buy a new book, you're paying an extra 2 or 3% to make up for all the copies that are lost, damaged, or stolen between the presses and the bookshelves. The thing is, the industry is already taking care of itself.
I'm curious to see what people's opinions are on Mister Fweem's used book question. Is it ethical or even lawful to keep reselling copies of the same book? Is this unfair to the author who only gets the one sale? Is digital piracy sort of like opening a used bookstore and giving the books away for free? Obviously the scale is different, but there are interesting similarities to be considered.
As a last note, my "bio" was a joke from when this account was first created. If any interpreted it as an attack on commenters here, you interpreted incorrectly.