Thoughts on piracy

The Pirate Bay logo

The Pirate Bay logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At what point is it okay to share the works of someone who is trying, or hoping to make a living at an artistic endeavour?  Is it once they’ve achieved a living by it?  When they’re rich by it?

With the internet, it’s certainly hard to fight it.  Fight too hard and, like Metallica, you just make it worse.  Don’t fight it hard enough and you’ll never get it to stop … assuming it’s even possible.  So there’s a certain futility to it all.

I know people who’ll pirate TV shows, movies, music, etc.  In some cases that’s the end of it; they have it and they’re not going to pay for it.  Some decide it was worthwhile and so buy the DVD, BluRay, CD, iTunes, whatever.  Some of the former would have bought it if a torrent didn’t exist, some refuse to ever pay for media.

Those who use piracy as a sort of library, I honestly have no issue with.  Or maybe you’re using it because you go to listen to your favourite tape, LP, or CD and discover it’s broken or ruined and it’ll be a few hundred dollars to replace because it’s out of print or something.  Seen more than a few people hunting down torrents of video games for that reason.

I don’t think file-sharing in itself is inherently bad.  As with most things, it’s intent.

Some people just share things because they can.  They don’t realise, or don’t care, that there are real people hurt by this.  Others do it as a sort of finger to capitalism and similar.  There are those who refuse to believe that data can, in some kind of sense, belong to someone.

I’ve recently found one of my books on several torrent sites.  And to get it down is very likely to require the help of a lawyer due to the rather convoluted policies on the part of both the DMCA and those sites’ interpretation of it.

On one hand, I almost feel happy:  someone liked my book well enough to share it?  And people want it badly enough to be downloading it this way?

On the other … I looked at the tracker statistics:  There’re twice as many people downloading that book as I type this than paid for it in the past two months.

I’m not so unrealistic as to believe that all of those are people who would have ever found my book to buy in the first place; there’re people whose personal Amazon is TorrentReactor.  I am not so unrealistic to believe that there are not some who see The Pirate Bay as a sort of lending library without due dates, or as a sort of free Netflix.

Still, it hurts.  It hurts personally that there are people out there who would enjoy someone’s hard work, but be unwilling to get it legally; unwilling to support that artist so that they might provide more work to enjoy.  I’ve seen musicians argue that, these days, don’t sell the music sell the merchandise – if they buy the shirt they get the MP3, according to an MC Lars song.  That’s fine and well for musicians.  What of authors?  What merchandise do we have?  That may work for some genres, but not all.  Too, I do have a bit of that; if you buy the print book from Amazon the e-book is free.

Thing is, with many arts, it’s a labour of love in the first place.  Many a musician, many a filmmaker, many a writer has to have a day job to pay the bills.  New York Times Bestselling authors who have to work to put food in the cupboards and pay the rent. Certainly those of us without that prestige … Now & Forever has two books out and both have hit the best seller charts in more than one country, not bad.  Amazon best sellers, at that!  Not sitewide, though.  Genre.  Yes, one of them did hit a point above one of the new big titles in YA romance.  Tally that against the statistics of how many people don’t read.  Best seller, in all but the most remarkable of cases; award winning, inall but the most remarkable of cases … these things do not mean well off, they don’t mean going through the dollars with a plow … they mean we make anything at all.  My writing pays my electric bill, sometimes.

The people who created the torrent of my book will probably never read this.  Even if they do, they’re as likely to troll in the comments as to take it down – the most likely is they’ll read it, shrug, and move on with no reaction at all.  I’ve no idea what I will or can do about the torrents; they exist, hundreds of people have downloaded them and the book (by-the-by, they used a terrible program to create the Kindle version put in there so it’s ugly … the ePub is one they got from one retailer or another) … I could get rid of the torrents today, and tomorrow, next week, next month … they’d be back.  With the sales lost, because some sales ARE lost, just no, not as many as the RIAA and MPAA try to claim, there’s no hope of ever affording the lawyer’s fees, to make it stop.  Maybe I’ll join the RWA, I think they offer legal services to members.

No I will not sue the people who want my book.  I’m not Metallica, I know a good portion of the downloaders are just kids, or the curious.  The torrent creators, they might get sued, but I know perfectly well how easy it can be for one to do these things without leaving any breadcrumbs … a little clever use of TOR or I2P and no one can find you unless you do something daft.  What?  Women can understand hacking and the internet, too.  Even those of us who prefer OSX and do our writing with ink and parchment; some of us just take an academic approach to it rather than a practical one.

I won’t ask you not to download the torrents; I will, however, beg you:  if you enjoy the book, consider buying a copy.  I have no magical power to know how many people possess a copy of my book, no magical power to know if and how much you enjoy it.  Reading a book does not support the author.  Tell your friends it exists, encourage them to read it?  That can, yes, though it helps if you do so in a way that at least some of them buy it; it certainly helps to nominate it for awards and to vote for it when it’s been nominated.  Leaving reviews, leaving ratings.  These things help.  That’s cheerleading, buying the product?  That supports the author herself; it’s money in her pocket.  If she’s with a big publisher, yes, it means you probably bought her the postage stamp she just put on her reply to a fan’s letter – sad, but true, though that’s no reason not to buy her book … if it doesn’t sell, and the publisher isn’t counting torrent tracker stats as sales by any measure, then they won’t renew her for another book.  If she’s self-publisher, you’ve probably bought her a cup of tea, a little nicer … but without a big marketing team, Ingram distribution, people whose job it is to ensure that the book is on Barnes & Nobles’ physical store shelves, etc … she gets precious few cups of tea as it is, don’t deny her another … she loves tea, it makes her happy, and a happy writer writes more books.

It’s all down to intent – don’t hurt the artists you love.  Like Boris Vallejo?  Buy a book of his art that has some of your favourites from that JPEG collection you downloaded.  Like Imagine Me & You?  It’s often only us$5 at Big Lots for the DVD (remember, used sales aren’t sales, you supported the store, not the artist(s)).  Love Arden Kaywin’s latest album?  Why not, at least, get your favourite tracks on iTunes?  Want to read Love or Lust all the way through, rather than just the sample, before you buy?  Fair enough, I completely understand that – too many books out there, big/small/self published where the editing and story telling are only good up to the end of the sample, everything from the next page on is a rough draft, and a bad one, at that; and of course you won’t take my word for it that I take more pride in myself and my work than to do that to people.  When you’re done, consider grabbing a copy from somewhere.  If you like having the ePub and the Kindle version, I recommend getting it from DriveThru Fiction or All Romance E-Books; I had no control over the Kindle file created by Smashwords and therefore cannot recommend it in good conscience, but all three will give you both formats in a single purchase and my lack of DRM means you can convert any retail source’s file to whatever format you wish, just don’t blame me if it doesn’t come out well.

I rather agree with this.

I honestly do not believe for a moment, that piracy loses sales. I know many people who pirate books, movies, games, music, software, etc. who wouldn’t have bought the item in the first place. The difference is, though, that they’re still a customer. Not a paying one, no, but one who may become enamoured with your work. This love could translate into future sales (movie pirates who then buy fancy boxed sets of the blue rays, or a leather-bound hardcover edition of a book). They certainly will TALK.  A lot.

Example: Walking Dead fans. Do you realise how many people watch that by downloading whole seasons?! Know how many of THOSE people went out to buy the fancy Blu-Ray set with the zombie head case? Know how many of them told friends who got curious enough that they watched it on Netflix, or iTunes, or VOD? Guess what — THAT’s money back to the studio.
DRM doesn’t do anything more, in my opinion and mind, than annoy people who purchased the product. The folks inclined to pirate will just break the DRM somehow, or will move on to something else while utterly ignoring you.

The Wandering Barefoot Editor

When an author decides to self-publish an eBook a decision that must be made is whether to DRM your book or not. DRM (Digital Rights Management) allows an author to encrypt their book to prevent illegal sharing. A lot of authors worry that readers will steal their material so they enable DRM. This is counter-productive when the same author wants to get their name out there and become known. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising there is so use it to your advantage. So what if a small handful of readers acquire your book without paying for it. If the book is good that reader is more likely to check out what else you have written, buy other books, and tell their friends about the book they read. By enabling DRM readers can’t buy an eBook and convert it to use on their device.

For example, I know of an eBook that was bought on Amazon with…

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