The post I made on 27 January certainly got a lot of people stoked up, that’s for sure. Which is really good, because I want people to read this blog, because I want people to know who the hell I am and consider buying my books, but more on that later. And now, some more on the subject. You’ve had emotive me, now here’s something a little more reasonable.
I warn you, there are more questions than statements in today’s blog. The topic is: Pirates – evil sea-rapists who terrorised shipping for a century, or lovable cultural memes and suitable subjects for children’s parties?
Referring to the first part of my previous blog, it seems that an awful lot of people feel entitled to download free things off the internet. From a strictly “Thou shalt not steal” point of view, that’s baaaad. But is it as simple as them being very naughty, amoral villains, and me being a poor little author? Shall we see? Okay then.
2. Try before you buy
There’s suggestion (not just you lot, but research and that) that some pirates are super-consumers, ie, they’ll consume creative stuff, and if they like it enough, they’ll pay for it. If they like it a lot, they’ll pay for a lot of it. They just might try it for free first, or pay for it when they feel like it, but enough of them generally contribute money to a creative venture to make it worthwhile.
The problem is for creators and publishers is that this removes all control (control is a loaded word, I choose it deliberately). How do I know if my book will be paid for by the majority of people who try it for free, or none of them at all? This is frightening for me, and my mortgage.
3. This is not a new problem, and is it a problem?
Copied tapes, bootleg videos, unauthorised reprints of Dickens – this has been going on forever. Is it, even, a necessary corollary of the distribution of entertainment? (Let’s leave other idea “sharing”, like patent infringement, out of this). One comment on my other post suggested pirated copies should be regarded as shrinkage/wastage. Maybe it should.
Here’s a positive example, again inspired by a comment – the entire anime SF subculture in the west might never have been as big as it is were it not for those bootlegged, home-translated videos of Japanese shows doing the rounds in the 80s and 90s. I’m no otaku, but I’ll bet there are still self-taught anime freaks translating the latest Naruto before the official DVD comes out and banging it on the web. Without that, there’d be no action figure, spin-off/original manga or dodgy little schoolgirl cosplay costume sales. Or even legit Naruto sales. Is anime an entire geek subculture, a lucrative one at that, founded in piracy? I don’t know, answers in the comments box please.
4. Someone is making money
Whether it’s the operators of upload sites coining it in off advertising (have you seen how many advertisements are on those site?) or it’s the more obvious villains selling copied DVDs at a car boot sale, someone is generally making some money off the distribution from illegal copies. You might do it because it’s free, if you’re of a particular mindset you might think you’re getting one over on “The Man” – those Hollywood coke-snorting whoremasters, or Wicked Publishers Inc, but instead you’re giving money to criminals. At the lower, non-internet, car-boot (yard-sale) end, a lot of this cash goes into more serious crime. So, er why not just give the money to the person that made it?
I’m not for a second suggesting upload sites should all be shot down in a cyber-orgy of digital destruction while we all wave the Stars and Stripes (why the hell would I do that? I’m English) and hit people offenders in the face with rolled up SOPA manifestos. Upload sites do have legitimate uses, I use them for such. However, I don’t have the facts, but I’d be really surprised if the majority usage is legit… Still, they do have legitimate uses. Like guns, yeah. You can shoot targets with them, not just people! (I’m joking, chill out). And the people who run them can stop it dead themselves: Don’t allow illegal crap on your sites. Easier said than done, but if there’s enough legal threat, they’ll employ people to do just that. Enough legal threat to outweigh the ad revenues, at any rate.
On the other hand (there’s a lot of hands in this post), the advent of the digital age actually cuts out revenue for baseline crims. A copied physical book sold on by Mr Dodgy does not the same social impact as Joe Average getting my book for free.
I still don’t get paid mind, but I’m thinking bigger. Isn’t that big of me?
5. This is not just you
I’m no psychologist, but a large number of the responses I’ve had (except for the one in Spanish that told me to have sexual congress with my dear old ma – funny, I didn’t approve that one) have come from people who are attempting to justify copying. I use justify, because they kind of sound like they know they’re doing something a bit wrong. But it’s not just you. What about those corporations who advertise on upload sites which have a large amount of illegal content – they know that site has a large audience because of its illegal content. Do they care? Um, not really.
6. Fair usage
“But I loan books!” Yep, so do I. And DVDs, and I copy my CDs onto my computer, and I buy second-hand books. So what? But, someone, originally paid for even that secondhand book. That’s the killer difference. And it’s legal.
My industry relies on sharing, it’s called word of mouth. More on this later. It’s the killer question, I’m saving it for last. Is potentially millions of people not paying for something the same as lending a book to your sister? No, but then I ask myself, is it really “millions” of people downloading this stuff?
7. The nightmare scenario
This is the thing that keeps scaredy pants like me awake at night: What if we get to a situation where NOBODY EVER PAYS FOR ANYTHING EVERY AGAIN. And I don’t mean in a Captain Picard “Oh, hero Cochrane from the past, we do not have money anymore, we’re all communists now, and it works!” kind of First Contact way. I mean in a culturally inculcated, why should I pay when I kind have it for nothing,?kind of way. It doesn’t matter if it’s still there when it’s been taken, if no one pays, no art, and no job for me. This is happening in some countries/ cultures.
8. What will happen
But honestly, do I think this will happen? No. I think people are in the main too moral. I think people who enjoy the kind of stuff I write aren’t that stupid. I think people are of this mentality: “Hey guys, if we like oranges, let us pay the orange growers to grow oranges and we can all have yummy oranges forever and a day.” And not the “BURN ALL ORANGE TREES AND STEAL THE FURNITURE!” Viking-types (heck, even the Vikings were more of the former, not the latter, unless you were a monk. I don’t think they ever really saw the point of monks).
People do pirate, have pirated, and always will pirate. But it’s important it does not get out of hand. SOPA and the rest are not the answer, that’s a 20th century solution to a 21st century issue.
People pirate not just for free stuff, but for flexibility, to try things out, to experience new, foreign stuff. The solution to the “Oh Christ, they’re downloading my crap for free!” is one of accommodation. The current situation has arisen from an imbalance between what people expect, the technology that enables them to do what they want, and the slow response by the industry. The equation’s a complex one, but it can add up for everyone. Rock stars might not be living it up quite like they used to, but then I don’t see many begging on the streets either.
And “free” can work. Spotify? Artists get money per play. Libraries? You actually get money every time someone takes your book out. Very cheap and instantly available works even better. iTunes? I buy a ton more music than I ever did and funny, all of it is legitimate. Do I think Ebooks are overpriced? Absolutely. Would I rather sell ten million books for £1.00 (at my 8% I’d get £800,000) or ten thousand for £7.99? (I’d get £6392) What the hell do you think?
9. Publicity and exposure
The internet is a very powerful tool, that’s for sure. I was advised by my publishers to start this blog. I use it as a kind of diary, and an archive of work I’ve done –there’s a fragment of my journalism here, but when I have chance, I put more up. (By the way, the copyright on that I do not own, but I asked permission to reprint it). On average, I’d say I get about one hundred hits for every post.
By deliberately choosing something contentious, like piracy (heartfelt though, it’s not fake, I wouldn’t do that, but I did think about it), I’ve had well over six hundred hits. I’ve sold books. A lot of people who have no idea who I am have at least glimpsed me, even if some of them think me a jerk. That’s me exploiting the internet, not the other way around.
By that extension, is the wide availability of my book for free on the internet actually good for someone like me? Or is stealing simply wrong?
I give work away for free for publicity. Here is a sample from Reality 36. Here from Champion of Mars, here’s a free Richards & Klein short story. Here’s another free short, and another. There’s plenty on this site, I’ll be putting more here over time. But that’s my right to do so, it’s not a pirate’s right, because it’s my frigging stuff.
And I will say, people do expect to have everything given to them for nothing. And I will also say, when my book is available as cheaply as you want, as conveniently as you want, when there are free samples of it here and on my publisher’s site and it meets all the other halfways and market forces we’ve been discussing and you still choose to download it for free? Then you really are ripping me off.
It’s all going to change. New encryption systems and bigger computers will eventually put the lid on this (mostly). I wouldn’t be surprised if every piece of entertainment in the world has free elements, but then quantumly encrypted, embedded programming demands payment every time you get past that. Whatever, I reckon this whole debate will be of far less importance in a few years time. Seeing my work given away for free by people who have no right to do so upsets me right now, though. Still, creators and consumers will meet halfway.
Thanks for reading, and commenting.