My Response to E-Book Pirates: Walk the Plank!

Found this article on the web… And my blood pressure went up! Here’s the link (authors, beware… it’s liable to raise your blood pressure, too!):
http://www.themillions.com/2010/01/confessions-of-a-book-pirate.html/

Here’s the comment I left for all the pirates and would-be pirates who thought they could rationalize away their theft:

I’m an author of (predominantly) e-books. And I won’t be shy. Last year, I made a whopping $25 in royalties. Why? No, it wasn’t all due to piracy. But I’d wager that entire $25, plus some, that at least 50% of the problem was piracy. As more piracy sites went up, and e-book piracy became more prevalent, my royalties dropped from around $500 a year to *blinks* $25?? Coincidence? Well, you do the math and see if you still think so.

For those of you arguing that authors should just put our books out there for free and consider ourselves lucky you’re all reading them, you’re so missing the point. Look at it this way: Say you create Widget 1, and put it up for sale. Then someone comes along, says “Oh, I like that, but I don’t want to pay for it” so they simply TAKE Widget 1, and then make their own copies and distribute them (for free) to 20 of their closest friends, what do you think that will do to your business revenue for the year? You’d consider that to be thievery, no doubt. Well, you’re still “taking” something when you download a book from a torrent site. You didn’t pay the author in any way, shape, or form, and they are the “craftsman” of this particular brand of widget. And when you upload to one of those sites, you are, in effect, giving away free copies of something you haven’t paid for the right to give away (unless you’re giving away your only, purchased copy, and erasing it from your hard drive, and let’s face it, you’re not).

This is a lesson in economics. Yes, I believe that the price on books can be palpably absurd. I’m not arguing that point. But I, as the author, don’t set those prices. All I see are my small %s that make up the royalties. And I don’t see those if people are stealing the books, rather than buying them. You want a free copy? Come along to one of my contests and EARN one, by simply participating… It’s not difficult, and you’ve put in a little time, instead of money. If you’ve got time to surf a torrent site looking for my books, you’ve got time to come and hang out online with me – the result’s the same for you (a free book), and yet you’ve shown you actually DO support me, rather than just SAYING it.

There is no justification for copyright infringement. Believe me, authors are held to the same (and higher) standards in that regard. I remember the recent media coverage of the Cassie Edwards copyright infringement case, where she supposedly “borrowed” directly from non-fiction texts. People were up in arms about her use of small amounts of information taken verbatim from the non-fiction texts… I imagine some of those irate people were simultaneously sitting in front of a piracy site, downloading entire books. And I know enough about copyright law to know that YES, it is copyright infringement to download a work without proper compensation to the author, or at least the author’s permission. And NO, it is not a “gift” from the reader to the author – it actually IS a right, under the law. That’s WHY it’s written law. It’s not implied. It’s not hinted at. It’s not just a rumor. It’s written law in the USA, and violation of it can end up with you in court. Ask Cassie Edwards.

I don’t mind giving away a few free books, here and there. I’m all for encouraging reading, and I’m usually happy to help out a reader who approaches me openly and says “Hey, I really want to read your book, but I can’t afford it right now.” I can be quite creative about coming up with ways to help them get a copy for a reduced amount, or even for free, if I happen to have extra copies available. I’m even likely to autograph a physical copy on CD-ROM and send off, at my own expense. But I DO mind when someone takes something without asking. It’s a lot like breaking into my house and stealing the family silver. It’s going to leave me violated and angry. I have a right to those emotions when someone steals from me – the same way I’m sure all of those pirates would be angry if someone stole their computers or e-book readers… So, my point is this: If you want a book but can’t afford it, try approaching the AUTHOR first. If they can help you out, I’m sure most will. We don’t want to alienate readers – but we DO want to be respected, same as everyone else, and theft is a sure sign of disrespect.

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