Avast, me hearties, there be book pirates abroad!
Seriously though, ebook piracy is an issue, especially as more and more of publishing content goes electronic (because let’s face it: scanning in all the pages of a novel is so not worth avoiding even $25 for a hardcover in most pirate’s minds). There are book pirates sailing the interwebs and pilfering plunder left and right. Some believe this is not a serious problem, while others probably place book piracy as a crime that earns the pirate a hanging.
The “Publicity” View
While I was at WorldCon, I listened while Eric Flint articulated the lackadaisical viewpoint. To him, pirates and people who got his books from them represented a population of people who may not have read his books otherwise. He did not feel that the piracy represented lost sales or really chipped into his income much, so he didn’t see much of a reason to track down anyone who threw up a pirated version of one of his books. The vibe I got was that he sees pirating as a sort of free publicity, and that the dissemination of his stories got his name out and fed other sales. This is a completely valid viewpoint and probably describes many people’s e-pirate experiences.
The “Killing Profitability” View
Another individual I spoke to at WorldCon had a very different perspective. He had put out a book that was widely anticipated, critically acclaimed, and a heck of a lot of fun for him to put together. He was freaking proud of this book. Someone asked if there was going to be a sequel or follow-up to it and sadly, he had to say no. Along with being the most anticipated book he had, it was also the most pirated book he’d ever put out (and he works at a publishing company, so I’m not just talking about his books). He said that if every individual who uploaded the book (we’re not talking downloads, here–these are just people uploading the pirated file) had paid for it legally, he’d be able to put out a sequel in a heartbeat. However, the book didn’t earn enough for there to be a sequel in today’s publishing climate. This is also a completely valid viewpoint, and while I don’t have the testimonials to back it up, it probably describes many people’s e-pirating experiences.
Given these two viewpoints, what do I think?
Piracy is not okay.
Now, maybe there isn’t a ton you can do about it, seeing as litigation is (most of the time) more trouble than it’s worth and making sure people can share your book as easily as a physical copy is very important to a lot of authors, so DRM isn’t super popular (that and it just presents a challenge many pirates enjoy). I agree that free book-sharing has been around for a while in the form of lending between friends and from libraries, and I’m keen on finding an equivalent for ebooks.
But that’s just it: the free sharing of content used to be lending. If you decided the book (or whatever) was something you wanted forever you paid for it or took it off an uninterested party’s hands. Electronic duplicates are limitless, and people are keeping them permanently. If you like something enough to want your own copy, you should pay to make it your own. The story belongs to the author, and to everyone else who worked to make it what it is, and owning a piece of that should come at a price unless the creator(s) decide differently.
Readers should reward the people who created the thing they want, those who shaped it, and those who brought it to readers’ attention. If you want it, those people obviously did a good job. With a story you’ll have forever, that job is probably worth more than the cost of a latte or a soda. If it isn’t, you probably have very little business in keeping it longer than a latte or soda would last you.
Most of you reading this aren’t book pirates, so you hardly need that lecture. But I’ve heard some people say that authors or publishers who price their ebooks “high” ($9.99 or above) are just asking for piracy.
Nobody asks to be robbed. That’s like the argument that a woman who wears a short skirt is asking to be raped. (Can you see her in the store, trying it on, and relishing the thought that this would be the skirt that would finally get her raped?) When someone prices something, it’s because they believe the product is worth that much. So I wish people would stop justifying theft by saying price-setters are asking for it. If someone can’t stop themselves from stealing a $14 book, they need a lot more moral help than your justification will ever give them.
How to Deal with It
On a much lighter note, if your work is out there and you want to do what you can to keep the pirates down, set up a Google Alert for your title and your name, and any keywords you think would partner with a pirate’s search. When you find an illegal copy, send word to the point of contact at your publisher who handles such things or serve up a boilerplate desist letter you’ve gotten from someone with the legal know-how.
Or you can implement Daniel Nayeri’s ebook piracy solution: flood the market with corrupted copies of your work. If no one can find a free book of yours that doesn’t abruptly end with the last chapters of Moby Dick (instead of the juicy, delightful ending you actually wrote) or isn’t full of odd garbledygook replacements for the word the, they might just break down a pay for a copy. If it’s on sale.
Image by Carlos Porto via FreeDigitalPhotos.net