So for the past year or so, I’ve found myself entering into discussions about e-book piracy — most recently on author Jim Hines’ blog — and sounding a bit like a crazed woman because I honestly am amazed at how tight a knot people can tie to justify certain behaviors. So I have decided to stop talking about such piracy, unless pressed, as such topics will largely die off in a few years once the e-book market is more developed anyway. But in the meantime, here are some of the exciting things I have learned about e-book piracy in these conversations:
1) E-book piracy is large and can never be stopped. (This I already knew.) Therefore, what e-book pirates do is not offensive, even the computer hoarders who steal 20,000, 30,000 titles that they will never read, and even if they are making money off of it. Authors complaining about e-book piracy, however, and pointing out that they are the victims of it and don’t like it and it makes it harder to buy groceries, is highly offensive and they should shut up.
2) Other goods and services should be paid for, but creative works are not really owned by their makers, copyright is a lie, and writers should be grateful that pirates are preserving their stuff as a free service. At the same time, since e-book files are temporary and transitory, they won’t last or be conserved, and so it doesn’t matter if pirates have them.
3) E-book piracy is a gray market and there’s always a gray market that helps the legal market develop, putting money into economies, jobs, etc. At the same time, nobody is making any money off of e-book piracy; it’s just a bunch of nice people who want to read books for free.
4) E-book piracy is just like the used book market. In the used book market, someone or some company, like a bookstore or library, buys the book originally, giving money to the author. The books then are re-sold at cost in the used book market, allowing booksellers to recoup losses, increasing the size of the book market, putting money into the legal economy, and keeping titles in circulation, often for a long time. In e-book piracy, seldom does anyone ever buy the book originally, giving money to the author. Instead, they steal them, take them from libraries, hack computer files or use advanced reading copies (bound proofs.) It does not allow booksellers to recoup losses, put money into the legal economy and many of the files are simply dumped or deleted after use, so circulation is limited, especially past the short term. But really, they are exactly the same.
5) Books are not usually a necessity, like food, water or shelter. But in certain places in the world, books and education are vital for, say, African villagers to get out from under crushing poverty and build a better world for their children. Donations, aid funding, and government grants are deeply needed to supply rudimentary schools, and sometimes copies are transcribed because the need is so great. A guy in Poland or Australia, with a place to live, food, running water and electricity, educated, possibly bi-lingual, with a computer, modem, software and lots of equipment, who has to wait a couple of years for the legal e-book of a foreign book he wants to become available in his country due to trade negotiations and technical issues, is exactly the same as those African villagers and we should have the same sympathy for his pain and need to illegally download so that he is not inconvenienced.
6) If you own a DVD of a movie for $15-25, and you get a Blue Ray player, you have to buy a new copy of the movie, usually at a greater price, so that it can play in your new player, even though it’s the same movie. This is fine. If you buy a game cartridge for your portable game player for $50, and you want it for your game console at home, you have to buy another copy of the game that will play on your console, even though it is the same game. This is fine. If you buy a print copy of a book and then get an e-reader and have to buy an e-book of the same book that will work on your e-reader, this is a crime against humanity and thoroughly justifies illegally downloading the e-book.
7) Authors are not really losing much business to e-book piracy because the people who illegally download for free won’t ever buy the legal book anyway, no matter the price. At the same time, most of the people who are illegally downloading would totally buy the legal book if only publishers would not be big meanies. And if you totally would buy the legal book, then you’re not a thief if you illegally download the book instead.
8 ) Just because people who support e-book piracy are deeply hostile to authors and publishers and express this hostility publicly is no reason for authors and publishers to be hostile to potential customers who pirate but might buy a book someday instead of taking them for free. Or not. (See Lesson #1.)
As I often tell aspiring novelists, you the author will never be very important in the equation — only your stories are, and nothing perhaps illuminates this better than e-book piracy. It’s a delightful combination of desire and loathing, and it does slow the industry down, but books will adapt. Now I’m going to go take some pain meds for my headache.