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Every so often, for one reason or another, the issue of piracy comes up.

This is particularly true of book piracy, both print (ARC versions of books are scanned and posted in ‘filesharing’ sites even before they are available in book stores) and, even more so, electronic.

There are many discussions and points of view on this–both Karen and I have talked about it, Shiloh Walker has spoken frequently and eloquently on the topic, and via RRRJessica’s Monday Stepback post I was able to read a differing point of view from Bibliophile Stalker, a Philipino author.

However, in the end, is this post by Robin D. Owens (author of the Heart series, a favorite of mine), which strikes closer to the heart of the matter, as far as I’m concerned (bolding  mine):

Folks, I need every cent I get from my writing. I am the sole provider of my household. Please don’t download my books for free. I truly don’t understand why people think I should not get paid for my work.

Aren’t you paid for yours?

This post is in response to the daily notices I get of torrents for my work. I honestly don’t have the time to try and take down torrents on European Servers. And, really, if the piracy gets too large, I’ll simply be dropped by my publishers. I’m not joking.

Thank you.

Enough said.


Update: After writing and scheduling this post, I discovered that–in one of those strange fits of synchronicity with which the universe occasionally amuses itself–Dear Author is also talking about the piracy issue in its Tuesday Midday Links (last topic of the post)


  • Okay, I probably should step away from the computer when I’m feeling so cranky. And I’ll probably regret this comment later.

    I don’t pirate. Either I buy a book or I borrow it. And I’m sympathetic to authors whose work is pirated. But framing the discussion in terms of a whine about being the sole provider and everyone deserving to get paid for their work fails for me. First, it implies that I as a reader should know or care about the author’s personal life. I don’t care and I don’t want to know, any more than I expect an author to know or care about what’s going on in my personal life. And frankly, taking that stance and then complaining about how readers feel entitled and stalkery seems hypocritical to me; either there’s a fourth wall or there isn’t. Second, every day people do a boatload of work that they won’t get paid for or they’ll be underpaid for; everyone should get paid for their work, but reality is that not everyone is paid equitably.


  • No, not everyone is paid equitably. But there’s a big difference in how I feel when, say, I spend an hour looking after a customer at the rib joint where I work, and they don’t leave me a tip on their $100 check (even though I have to pay $3 to the other staff based on that $100 of sales, whether I get a tip or not), and how I feel when I see a post on Astatalk about how much someone loves my books, Kirsten Saell is the bees’ freaking knees, OMG she’s awesome, and does anyone have her third book to upload?

    There’s a difference between work that’s creative and work that’s responsive. There’s a difference in how the value of that work is perceived, both by the creator and the consumer. And knowing someone loves your work to the point where they’re gushing over it, but at the same time they don’t think it’s worth the piddling $3.73 that etailer is asking for it…it’s like they’re spitting in my face.

    I earn way more waitressing than I do writing, and no, I don’t depend on the income from my books–it’s gravy at this point. But the $2 I lose when someone pirates my book (whether that loss is real or imagined) still feels like more of a blow than the occasional $3 I pay out of my own pocket for the pleasure of serving customers who don’t think they should have to tip me for my service.

    The work itself has a different perceived value to me, and it has–or should have–a different perceived value to the person who consumes it. And it’s sad that the poster on Astatalk, who loves my books so much, has just helped make it more difficult for me to provide her with more books to read. Because the fewer people who pay for that book, the less time I have to write another, and the less likely I am to get it published.

    If you want content produced that you like–especially stuff that’s not so mainstream, like what I write (f/f, m/f/f)–you have to be a demographic worth courting. And that means paying for that content so people will keep producing it.


  • eggs
    February 4
    12:18 am

    Ebook piracy discussions are usually a waste of time because they are dominated by people who either a) feel so personally wronged that they cannot approach the argument in anything but emotional terms; or b) people who would never themselves pirate a book but feel some sort of noblesse oblige to take the part of the poor soul who didn’t know any better/didn’t have a choice to but to steal.

    Both sides feel like they have the high moral ground so sling mud with abandon, feelings are hurt, reputations are damaged and at the end of it all no progress has been made in the argument – and how could it be? The people who actually pirate don’t take part in the discussion, so who knows what it would take to get them to stop?

    Based on how fast and easy and repercussion-free pirating books is, it is obvious to me that ebook piracy will never be stopped. The only argument worth having, therefore, is: how can we make people who are pirating books WANT to stop?

    FWIW, I think the best plan of attack is just education, kind of like anti-smoking campaigns. Simple statements that aren’t alienating emotional rants or moral diatribes, but lay out the facts for those who don’t understand the repercussions of what they are doing. And making those simple statements over and over again. Or leaving them up as a permanent clickable links on fan pages. There’s a large chunk of people who pirate books who have never given one second’s thought to the repercussions of what they’re doing. Education might change that.

    Kirsten’s statement above is a good example of how education does and does not work. She explains simply what the problem is (she’s not getting paid for her work) and what the repercussions will be if the pirating doesn’t stop (she won’t be able to keep publishing those books we like to read). Then there’s the emotional spitting in her face bit in the middle.

    She lost every pirating reader the moment she made it all about them being bad people who spit in her face. Those readers never got all the way to the bottom where she outlines the repercussions TO THEM of stealing FROM HER: no more books. And if they had got to that bit, maybe one of them might have stopped stealing and started buying? Maybe more than one?

    If I were Kirsten, I’d feel like they were spitting in my face too. But which is more important? Letting the pirates know how poorly you hold them in regard, or getting them to actually read your whole post on the long term repercussions of pirating? And maybe stop doing it?

    Authors often complain that they’ve already told their readers that pirating is wrong, but the readers keep doing it. So why should they keep banging their heads against that wall? It took 20 years of anti-smoking education before most people accepted that smoking was stupid and self-defeating. It might take that long before pirates get the message too, but if authors keep stating the facts in a calm, straightforward manner, over and over again, it will get through to most pirates the way it got through to most smokers. Boring, but true.


  • Michelle
    February 6
    9:57 pm

    Here is an interesting link about a pirate and why they will continue to do so: http://deepad.dreamwidth.org/61462.html?style=site


  • I do want to clarify that I don’t hold any reader–even a pirating one–in poor regard. There’s a difference between being angry and hurt over someone’s behavior and thinking they’re a turd-ass. Hell, I’ve wronged people and I don’t think that makes ME a bad person. Just an imperfect one.

    I remember being part of a discussion where a bunch of men were bemoaning how “feminized” science fiction had become, and how come no one makes movies they want to watch–hard sci-fi without all the soap opera, relationshippy stuff women like? Then one of them came on and said, “Well, the new Star Trek kicked ass! That’s an awesome movie–totally ripped it off the net and watched it three times!”

    I just went, “Huh????” And then I told him he’d just helped make it so no other movie studio would make another one like that–him and all his young male friends who are one of the largest groups who pirate. Asked him why he thought studios put that relationshippy stuff in their movies. He insisted it was part of a feminist agenda, but it’s more simple than that. Women drag their boyfriends to theaters. Women buy DVDs as gifts. Women pay for stuff. Women have a say–often final say–in 80% of purchasing decisions, so even TV stations want women watching every single show they air.

    Women BUY stuff. And women are more likely to like movies where the largest production expense is Hugh Grant’s and Julia Roberts’ paychecks, not $200+ million worth of special effects. Women are a demographic worth courting–easy to please and willing to pay for the content they like. Whereas the young males who LOVED that $300 million blockbuster, well, they’re not so interested in handing over their money. So who’s going to make a $300 million movie that will be avoided by women and only watched by the demographic most likely to refuse to pay for it?

    But meh, it’s easier to blame a secret cabal of feminist agitators bent on girlying up every sci-fi movie and TV show produced than to own up to their own part in it…


  • eggs
    February 8
    8:05 am

    I think that you are on to something big here with women influencing pop culture because they are willing to pay for it. I would love to see the figures on which sex pirates the most. I tried pirating once, just to see if it was as easy as everyone said it was. I chose a book where I had already bought the entire series in paper because even for ‘research purposes’ it felt kinda dirty. It took me less than 5 minutes in total to download the torrent software AND search for and download the book file. It turned out the file contained all 4 books in the series, even though it was only named as the first book – talk about being forced into escalating your crime! I deleted the file after checking what was in it, and there were no repercussions to me from downloading it – but I still felt cheap and dirty every time I glanced at that title on the bookshelf. The idea of stealing something – even when I knew there would be no repercussions – was just an anathema to me. I suspect that the trophy aspect of pirating, where the thrill of getting it for free is paramount to the enjoyment, appeals to men more than women.

    Kirsten, you are a better human being than me, because if I were you my regard for pirates would be lower than horseshit! Although I feel it is self-defeating to couch the public anti-pirating message in terms of emotional impact on the author, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be screaming for blood (in private) if I were an author.


  • I think what bothers me most during discussions about book piracy is when someone who pirates expresses a naive jubilation at the idea of a copyright-free world. Won’t life be beautiful then, when all intellectual property is free! And then they come up with “helpful” suggestions as to how authors can monetize their work in other ways.

    Like merchandising–except hey, if there’s no copyright, then ANYONE can profit off of those Gil and Lianon coffee mugs without cutting me in at all, and most of them would be better at coffee mug design and manufacture than I am.

    Or selling movie rights–except in a world without copyright, there would be no movie rights for me to sell. ANYONE could take my story and make a movie out of it and not cut me in. But why would they? Because they wouldn’t own the copyright on the movie, either.

    The alternate revenue streams that exist for musicians–concerts, T-shirts, posters, etc…they just don’t exist for 99% of authors. The issues that led to rampant music piracy (and from there to an eventual upswing in sales, once the industry responded) are not the same issues that lead people to pirate books. Publishers don’t bundle books into expensive “albums” that force you to buy eight books you don’t want in order to get the two you really love. A book is a book–in most cases it’s self-contained and pretty much all the author has to sell that’s of any value to anyone.

    And creative work IS very different from other kinds of work. Any server can deliver drinks and ribs to the customers where I work if I were to quit my day job. Any schmoe can screw lids on tubes of toothpaste in a factory, any competent mechanic can adjust a timing chain, any CPA can organize your finances into debit and credit columns and find tax breaks for you. But no other human beings but Matthew Good et al could have written the song “Hello Time Bomb”. Only JK Rowling could have written the Harry Potter books. Only David Lynch could have directed “Blue Velvet” in a way that made it the movie it was.

    Every creative work is unique. And though creative people will almost always still be creative, even if there’s no financial reward in it, the financial rewards allow them to pursue their creativity without having to work 10 hours a day at the toothpaste factory to subsidize it, and the financial rewards also help distribute their work to those who would enjoy it. Movies wouldn’t get made at all if there was no money in it. Most songs would be recorded in basements on the decades-old equipment the drummer’s cousin bought second-hand if there was no money in it. Publishers wouldn’t publish books at all if there was no money in it.

    And unlike recording music or making movies–which requires skilled labor and expensive equipment to be done right–writing may seem like a cost-free endeavor for the author. But it isn’t. I’m looking to drop $1000 on a laptop in the next few months, to replace this one that’s on its last legs. And every hour I spend writing is an hour I’m not doing more lucrative work at the rib joint, or spending time with my kids, or cleaning my house, or any number of other things I have to fill my day.

    I write because I write, but the greater the financial rewards, the more time I’d have to put into it. Hell, my dream is to one day earn enough through my books to quit my job AND hire a maid, because then I could actually have a life OUTSIDE of writing, housework, child-care and explaining the difference between baby back ribs and St Louis style ribs to the local carnivores for the change they leave on the table. But for now I juggle my four jobs as best I can (have you SEEN the layer of dust on my TV?), and try not to let it bother me when people read and enjoy my books without paying for them.



  • A long time ago, over at Shiloh Walker’s blog, I answered her question (i.e., whether piracy affects readers) thus:

    Piracy hurts readers because it discourages writers.

    Agreed, not all authors whose contracts aren’t renewed owe it to piracy.

    Agreed, not all poor sales are due to piracy (piss-poor distribution plays a big part, obviously).

    Agreed, there is no way to tell how many of the pirated copies would have been sales (or how many of those downloads are ever read).

    Agreed, many if not most published authors would not earn enough from writing even if none of their work were pirated.

    All those and more arguments (excuses) have been put forward to justify/excuse/dismiss the issue.

    And all those are irrelevant. Writers, unless they write fanfiction or decide to put up their work for free, want and need to be compensated. And in this case, as many others, perception is reality: when authors perceive that piracy is robbing them of their career’s future, they become discouraged and stop writing.

    That hurts readers, period.

    Ergo, piracy affects me, reader, very much.


    I still think so, and reading Kirsten Saell’s comments, I believe I’m right.


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