Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thoughts on piracy

I'm really getting annoyed at certain people's contentions that piracy (the uploading of copyrighted material for free, unauthorized distribution) is a fundamental right intrinsic with a free internet.

Nope. Sorry. It's not. Piracy of copyrighted material has nothing to do with information freely posted on the web. If I posted my book on my website for free, then yes, by all means, take it, download it, upload it all over the place. If I post a buy link on my website, then if you want to read it, you are expected to pay for a copy of the book, and have access to only that single copy. Sure, you can share it with a few of your close friends (who hasn't passed a book along to a friend who might enjoy it?), but not to thousands, perhaps millions, of people across the globe.

The problem is that for the first time in our history, goods are purely intangible, and it's that very intangibility that gives people the idea it's up for grabs. Ebooks (along with digital movies and music) have no physical substance. You can't smell them, taste them, or touch them. For all intents and purposes, they don't exist in the real world. They're simply digital files.

Does that mean they should be free to whoever wants to take them or distribute them?

Again, no. Sorry.

Digital or not, they are the property of someone else, and that person isn't likely you. Again, if you bought a copy, you own only that single copy. If you upload them to pirate sites without permission of the copyright owner, you're essentially creating multiple copies of the book, and that's theft. If you download them without paying the copyright owner for them, it's still theft.

Pirates love to argue that most people who download books and other copy-written material for free wouldn't have bought the product to begin with, or might buy it if they read (or listen or watch) it for free first.

Well, maybe they wouldn't, or maybe they would. There are no numbers to support the argument either way.

That's also not the point.

The point is that the product does not belong to you. It is not yours to take and decide later if you want to buy it. If you do not wish to spend your hard-earned money on it, that's totally understandable, but this does not give you the right to read it anyway for free. Whether or not piracy affects my sales is also not the point. The product does not belong to you. Period. Would you stand by idly if I snatched a TV set or Ipod from your home and told you "I wasn't going to buy this, but I want to use it anyway?" Of course not. You paid for those items. They belong to you and no one else. I would have been committing theft.

The argument that someone would never buy the book, or might buy the book after reading it is ONLY used when the subject is intangible goods. No one could walk into Barnes and Noble, pick a book off the shelf, walk out without paying for it, then tell the police "I might buy it after I read it," or "I wasn't going to read it at all if I couldn't take it for free,"and expect to be let go.

Pirates claim that writers, musicians and the rest are greedy, concerned with losing even a penny on their royalties.

Damn straight. When your living is dependent on royalties, you want every penny accounted for. No one else would expect to work at their job without being paid for it.

Pirates claim that people who can't afford to buy books should still be able to read them.

Absolutely! That's what libraries are for. Most libraries in the U.S. will even mail the book to your home now, so the argument about distance to a library or rising gas prices keeping people from lending institutions no longer holds water, at least not in the U.S. I feel badly for folks in countries where the library system doesn't work for them, or in countries where books such as mine are banned, but that's still no excuse for theft. We need to work on establishing individual freedoms in those places, but condoning theft of intellectual properties is not going to fix things.

Many companies give away samples for free to entice consumers into buying their product. How many times have you walked through a food court in the mall, and had workers offer you a sample of food or baked goods? Sometimes people buy, sometimes they don't.

We do the same thing. Many authors post free reads on their websites, in forums, etc. We do this for the express purpose of giving people something for nothing, a taste of our writing style, so readers can decide whether or not to invest in one of our books.

Those stories are expected to be taken, to be read for free. Our products, our books, music, and movies, are not.

Pirates claim that art should be free.

Um, no.

Art is free to create. Not to steal.

Look at the old masters of art. Their work is free now because there is no copyright on it. Rest assured, they were usually commissioned when they first created the pieces. Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel, Da Vinci received compensation to paint the Mona Lisa, and so forth, and so on. I'm sure if they were alive and working in the world today, their work would be copyrighted, and they'd be as upset over people pirating their work as we are.

In short, if it doesn't belong to you, don't take it.

On the other hand, I'm profoundly grateful to my readers (some of whom are on limited budgets) who choose to spend their money to read my work. To those readers, and those who get their copies from libraries, I am deeply indebted.

Yes, we could write or compose for the sheer enjoyment of doing so, or because something in our makeup insists that we do so, but why bother publishing? For me, it is essential to be able to say my work has worth, that I'm not just writing stories for the hell of it. Like every one else who works for a living, a paycheck shows your efforts are appreciated.

Perhaps we, as artists, don't acknowledge these faithful consumers enough. They are the backbone of our industries, the glue that binds the whole thing together. Without them, we would not succeed. Without readers, our words are just marks on a page, wasted efforts.

To you, Faithful Reader, my thanks.

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