May 4, 2010

Piracy, Publishing, & the Plebeian (That's Me!)

I just wanted to take the time to rant a little bit about piracy and publishing. I'm no expert on either subject, but that's hardly a deterrent for others who opine online ad nauseam.

If a thief never has to look a victim in the eyes, is it really theft?

A couple of weeks ago F. Paul Wilson blogged about e-book piracy. It's an interesting view coming from a long established author who now finds his hard work being pilfered by "pirates" (click HERE to read it). Wilson is the newest among many authors who feel obliged to rail against what they view as out-and-out theft. And when I look at the situation from Wilson's perspective, I am inclined to agree.

Unfortunately, his opinion sparked a rather terse and derisive response from some people who relish downloading free content--regardless of how it's obtained. Hey, I like free stuff too, but I acknowledge the copyright violations inherent in downloading bootlegged e-books. I've got a collection of e-books on my hard drive that I didn't pay for either, but I got them because they're either in the public domain or were offered directly by the author.

Then again, maybe it's easy for me to sit on this high horse because I don't own an e-reader--and I really don't care for reading novels off my relic of a computer. If I had a Kindle or a Nook or a Libre, maybe I'd feel that gnaw of temptation to download some titles I've been dying to read. I'd like to think I've grown out of that, though--that I've come to appreciate what artists put themselves through in trying to make a living off their craft.

I certainly didn't care much about the artists a decade-or-so ago when I was using Audiofind and Napster to download music. I was completely ignorant to the concept of copyright back then. All that was going through my head was how record companies were gouging me on overpriced CDs that only had a couple songs I wanted in the first place. So when a venue appeared that allowed me to not only get music for free but cherry pick songs off those CDs, I rather smugly believed I'd put one over on the highfalutin' record execs. And heck, the musicians could still make their bread and butter through concerts and live performances--that's the way to take in music anyway, isn't it?

For an author, however, I don't see much of a second option. They can't fall back on ticket sales at concerts to pay their bills. It's book sales that keep a roof over their head--or at least keep the electricity bill paid up. So, when a person downloads a pirated e-book, I wonder if they take into consideration how they are not only bypassing the publisher and the bookstore, but the content creator as well. It's pretty easy to stick it to a corporation like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and all those other faceless companies. Screw those guys, right? But, try saying it to F. Paul Wilson's face or to any other author whose work you've downloaded illegally.

Some authors are fine with it. Heck, J.A. Konrath damn near endorses it on his blog. Nah, he doesn't endorse it, but he's accepted the reality of the situation in that a lot of people are not willing to pay to download e-books. You can click HERE to read Konrath's own words regarding piracy and publishing.

But not all authors have the same opinion. You can click HERE to check out Nicole Peeler's opinion about it all after she discovered her books were being pirated online. And she laid out a pretty good argument to the piracy advocates, though I'd bet it fell on deaf ears.

I guess what I see with regards to online piracy is this: It's one more example of how the anonymity of the internet has accommodated a convenient abandonment of decorum. Downloading pirated e-books is okay for so many, because it's not only anonymous, it's convenient, it's discorporate, and it's a spit in the eye of the "gatekeepers."

Oh sure, I remember using the old argument that it's not about stealing, but about sharing. I also remember that all that sharing between me and my friends didn't amount to much if any renumeration for the musicians years ago, and I wonder just how much it's truly benefiting authors today.

Another topic for another day, I guess.

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