It is my very great honour (okay, I’m a fan, what can I say? *g*) to introduce author Jeaniene Frost to the blog. Jeaniene is our Dame for a Day, and she has written an in-depth piece about e-piracy. The post is interesting and informative – I learned a lot from this and I hope you do too. If you stick around to the end, there is also a giveaway. I’ll just step aside and let Jeaniene talk to you guys.
Hi everyone! Thanks so much to the Dames for having me as a guest today. I’m the author of the Night Huntress series featuring Cat and Bones, as well as the upcoming Night Huntress Worldnovels featuring Spade and Denise (book one) and Mencheres and Kira (book two).
But instead of a post chatting about my upcoming release, I wanted to talk about something that’s been discussed in other places, yet a lot of people still aren’t aware of why this is a growing problem. Or why they should care. I’m talking about e-piracy. Authors and publishers are all too aware of it, but if you’re a reader who hasn’t heard of e-piracy before, or you’ve heard a few things but you’re not sure why authors/publishers are so concerned, please read on. This is a long post, but I promise a treat at the end.
What is e-piracy?
A lot of people are doing it and they’re not even aware that it’s illegal. The FBI, in their Anti-Piracy warnings, refers to e-piracy as this: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of copyrighted work.* So if you’re not the copyright owner of a product (like a book, song, etc., but this post focuses on books), yet you downloaded that product for free on a torrent or other unauthorized “share” site, you’ve engaged in an illegal, unauthorized reproduction of a copyrighted work. Does buying a product make you a copyright owner? No. Only being the creator of a product does. Most books are also registered with the United States Library of Congress (or Creative Commons license), but if you didn’t create a product yourself, again, you’re not the copyright owner and you don’t legally have the right to upload/download it.
So, now you know what e-piracy is and that it’s illegal. Below are the top 13 excuses I’ve seen e-pirates give as to why e-piracy shouldn’t bother me (or any other authors), with my responses.
1. E-piracy is free promotion, so you should be happy more people are hearing about you/your books this way.
Promotion implies I get something out of it. But if the people I’m being “promoted” to are the same people who illegally download my books instead of purchasing them, how is this helping me? My publisher decides to continue my contract based on only one thing – sales. Illegal downloads don’t count toward sales and there is no “You were pirated the most out of our authors, so you win another book contract!” award.
2. But people who didn’t hear about you until they illegally downloaded your books might go buy your new book, if they liked the other ones. So that helps you.
We’re talking about the same people who illegally downloaded the first several books, right? And since Google alerts informed me that my last two books were all over “share” sites the same day they released, why would people accustomed to downloading my books for free (instant gratification) go to the book store and buy my new book instead? (delayed gratification plus cost plus effort = not very likely). It does happen occasionally, but not the vast majority of the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I wish e-piracy was great for the book industry. That would mean more job security for authors, editors, book stores, etc. But e-piracy percentages have skyrocketed in recent years while book sales have taken a sharp downward turn, so the numbers don’t add up to e-piracy “helping” the industry.** In fact, if you look at the music industry, which has dealt with e-piracy a lot longer, artists/studios have had to recoup a lot of their e-piracy losses from higher-priced concert tickets, tee shirts, other merchandising, etc (not that I’m advocating e-pirating of music, but just detailing why this didn’t bankrupt the industry).The book industry has no such fall-back option to recoup lost pirated sales. Publishers make money when books sell, period.
3. But books on those “share” sites can’t be illegal, because it’s just like going to the library or borrowing a book from a friend.
First, read the FBI Anti-Piracy warning again, which clearly states that it is illegal to reproduce/distribute copyrighted work. Second, libraries or a friend handing over a book doesn’t duplicate and make another copy of that book, thus, the FBI’s Anti-Piracy warning doesn’t apply. Libraries loan out books one at a time, and first they have to buy those books from the publisher. But a library book can never become more than one book, no matter how many people check it out (and a standard paperback, studies show, can only take between twenty to forty lends until it falls apart and the library has to buy a replacement from the publisher). Likewise, if I loan a book to a friend, that book is still only one book. My friend could loan it to a friend and so on, but it’s still only one book. No copyright violation, everything’s cool and legal.
But mass-distribution on those share sites takes one book and turns it into hundreds, or thousands, of separate unauthorized copies. Let me put it in another context. Let’s say you have a dollar bill. It’s your dollar and it’s perfectly legal for you to use it however you want, either by spending it or loaning it to a friend. But if you take that dollar, make a bunch of copies of it, and try to buy things (or give those copies to your friends), you’ll have a problem. Since you aren’t the creator of that dollar and you didn’t get permission to make copies of it (and the US Treasury Department sure won’t give you permission ;)) then you can’t distribute copies of that dollar even though the original dollar was legally yours. Same principle with books. Didn’t create it/publish it? Then it’s not legal to reproduce copies of it by uploading/downloading on torrent/share sites.
4. A book is nothing more than an idea, and ideas can’t be copyrighted.
Ideas can’t be copyrighted, true. If you wanted to take my book’s idea and write your own book about a female half-vampire slayer who falls in love with a Master vampire, more power to you, that’s legal. But if you take my product – and once a book is copyrighted, printed, and distributed, it’s no longer an idea, it’s a product – and try to call it yours, there will be a problem. Ideas = free for all. Products, on the other hand, have moved from the abstract to the tangible and thus have different laws regarding them.
Some may think copyright violation is a stupid law, but disagreement of a law doesn’t mean that law becomes invalid. I don’t like a lot of laws, but I follow them because I know saying, “Yeah, I didn’t agree with that” to a judge won’t be considered a credible defense.
5. We as a society have a cultural right to the arts, so we shouldn’t have to pay for our cultural right.
This sounds wonderfully altruistic, but aside from being illegal (see FBI statement again) it’s also impractical. If everyone had a “cultural right” to the arts and didn’t have to pay for them, then that would bring about the end of the movie, book, music, photography, and various other industries. Because if no one’s paying for the products these industries turn out, how do you think the industries will continue to produce them? Inspiration and ideas might be free – and free from copyright law – but again, once inspiration/ideas turn into a product, that product comes with a price tag because it costs money to produce. If there’s no money coming in because society has a free right to all products of the arts, then you’ll be hard pressed to find people who will take the time, effort, and money to produce these products for you to enjoy.
6. Everybody’s doing it, so it’s no big deal.
Everybody is not doing it. If everybody were e-pirating, the publishing industry wouldn’t exist (see my response above for why). E-piracy is growing, yes, and hurting the industry, book stores, authors, distributors, and more, but you’ll know when “everybody” is really doing it because there will be no more publishing industry. Businesses shut down when their source of revenue dries up. This isn’t a new, shocking financial principle – it could be labeled Duh 101.
7. Authors are supposed to encourage reading. If people are reading books on these sites, that’s encouraging reading and so authors shouldn’t try to stop that.
First, see the Duh 101 rule of business again, because no publishing industry (print or digital) to produce books = a hell of a lot less reading. Second, authors do encourage reading. For people on a limited book budget, I’d point them to their nearest library. Or a used book store. Or Paperback Swap, or other places where readers loan each other books for free (legally, where one book changes hands with another person but still only remains one copy). I’m all for those things. Plus, several publishers have authorized free reading on their sites, like HarperCollins, Harlequin, Baen, and Tor. I gave away over a hundred books in contests last year alone and most authors I know also give away books. There’s plenty of free, legal reading available. But when people ignore the law in favor of their own convenience, that’s not cool and no, I don’t encourage it.
8. I never would have bought your books anyway, so what I download can’t count as stealing.
If someone doesn’t want to buy my book(s), that’s fine. All I’m saying is please don’t steal my books – and if you TRULY don’t think it’s stealing, walk into a book store. Grab a book, wave it at the store employees, and try to walk out without paying for it. Then when the store calls the police, give them the same reasoning behind why you feel illegal downloading is okay. Tell them how you’ll tell all your friends about the book, so it’s free promotion and you’re doing the author a favor. Or how you weren’t going to read it anyway, so it’s not stealing. Or how arts are the cultural right of the public, or how most books suck so you shouldn’t have to pay for them, etc. You’ll get proof on how disagreeing with a law doesn’t equate being exempt from that law – and if you know it’s stealing to do it in person, it shouldn’t be confusing to realize it’s stealing to do it online. If a computer hacker siphons money from your bank account, you wouldn’t feel less robbed because that hacker didn’t physically snatch your purse off your shoulder. Just because online theft is impersonal doesn’t mean it’s not stealing.
9. You should be flattered people are reading your books, no matter how they got them!
I don’t care if my book was bought new, used, borrowed from the library, received as a gift, loaned from a friend, won in a contest, etc. As long as it’s legal, you bet I’m thrilled and flattered when people read them. But if someone steals from me, I am not flattered. If you walked out to your driveway and saw that your car was missing, would you think, “OMG! Someone loved my car enough to steal it. That is so cool!” Or would your thoughts be more in line with, “Holy *#!$!, someone stole my car! How am I going to get to work? How much will this cost me?” Authors feel the same way about our books (our source of income and the things we’ve labored over for a long time) when we see hundreds or thousands of them pirated, because it costs us time, money, frustration, and sometimes even future contracts.
10. Authors don’t really lose money. They get paid in advances, so e-pirating only takes from fat-cat publishers because authors were already paid for the book.
An advance is based on the amount of money a publisher absolutely expects to make back on a book. If a book does not earn out its advance, when it comes time for an author to try and sell another book, publishers are a lot less likely to buy because they didn’t make back their expected investment on the first book. An advance is generally expected to be earned back within the first year of release, too. So that’s a fairly short window of time for a book to earn back its advance.
Plus, in this shaky market, I know quite a few authors who earned out their advances, but because their books didn’t earn out by a lot, or earn out fast enough, the publisher declined to buy more. If an author wants to stay published, that author is hoping like damn that their book earns out its advance as quickly as possible and that only happens through sales.
11. I’m on a tight budget and I can’t afford all the books I want to read.
Well, same here. There are lots of books I want that I can’t justify buying in comparison to my budget. So I buy other books that are cheaper. Wait until a book is out in paperback or available at my local library. Buy used. Read books that are legally available online for free (see sites under reply to #7). Borrow books from my friends. There are lots of legal ways to get books very cheap or free. All you have to do is choose those routes versus illegal ones.
12. The reason why there’s e-piracy is because ebooks have that annoying DRM and/or cost more than paper books. It’s not readers fault; it’s the publishers.
I wish e-piracy was that easy to fix. But my e-books are priced at around 30% less than my paperbacks, they come out at the same time as my paperbacks, and yet I am still pirated over fifteen to one in comparison to legal e-sales (and that’s only a conservative estimate based on sites I’m aware of). Furthermore, when I go to those share sites to report my books, I see other authors’ books right there along with mine, DRM-free and downloaded illegally hundreds or thousands of times. I agree e-books should be priced lower than print books. I also agree that DRM should be discontinued because it only inconveniences honest readers instead of curbing e-piracy. But even if the day dawns where all e-books are DRM-free and cheaper than print books, e-piracy won’t cease. It probably won’t even make a dent. Look at the music industry. You can buy songs for less than a dollar in formats for every type of player, and yet e-piracy is still rampant. So e-piracy is not as simple as blaming the publisher about prices and DRM.
13. I don’t care if it’s illegal and it hurts authors and publishers; I’m going to keep pirating anyway.
You know what? There’s not much I, or other authors, can do about that. Aside from talking about e-piracy to people who haven’t already resolved that they’re going to keep doing it (and filing endless takedown notices), authors are mostly powerless. E-pirates know it, too, and on other posts where e-piracy has been discussed, I’ve seen e-pirates say things like, “Ha ha, I download all the time and I’m going to keep doing it, so take THAT!” Or comments like, “I stole your books and I’m glad, because they suck and you don’t deserve any money!”). Some threaten authors by saying that since an author spoke up about e-piracy, they’ll put that author’s books on even more share site as retaliation, and authors can’t do much except duck and cover.
So if e-pirates choose to kick authors when we’re down, well, we can’t stop you – but if kicking someone when they’re down is your idea of fun, then in my opinion, you have more things to ponder than just why you think stealing is okay.
If you take nothing else away from this very long post, I hope you remember this: e-piracy isn’t free. Someone always ends up paying for it, and sometimes, paying dearly in lost jobs. It will also cost readers in the long run, because the less money publishers make, the less willing they are to publish new authors. Or publish books that are outside what might be considered very mainstream. That’s not the publisher’s fault; they’re trying to stay alive (see Duh 101 business rule again). Plus, it costs readers another way. If a series you love is being pirated more than sold, that series will be discontinued, guaranteed. It makes me sad when I see comments on share sites saying things like “Love the Night Huntress series! Can’t wait to read the next book. Someone please, upload it ASAP!” because those people don’t realize what they’re doing actively hurts my chances to write more books. If I don’t legally sell enough books, my publisher doesn’t buy new ones, period. It’s that pesky Duh 101 rule of business again.
Piracy costs. If you love reading, please support that love by obtaining books through legal channels.
And in the spirit of promoting free, legal reading (and as my promised treat for everyone whose eyes are sore after reading this long post ;)) I’m giving away three signed copies of FIRST DROP OF CRIMSON, book one in the Night Huntress World novels. To read the first 20% of FIRST DROP OF CRIMSON, plus see the book trailer, click here.
If you want to be included in the contest, just leave a comment with your name asking to be entered. The three winners will be drawn by Randomizer and the giveway closes 5am EST, Tuesday February 9th. Kaz will announce the winners during her post on Tuesday. Yes, I will ship internationally. Best of luck to everyone!
* Complete FBI message: “Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.” http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/