Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Hines: Wrong on Piracy, Wrong on Batman

The title is a reference to this Shortpacked strip, and probably made no sense to anyone else.  But it amused me, so I kept it.

I received a great deal of feedback on last week’s post about book piracy.  My thanks to everyone who jumped into the discussion.  While I still believe much of what I wrote to be true, I also find that some of my assumptions were either overly broad or flat-out wrong.

Legality: I was going to start out by saying at least we can all agree that downloading copyrighted books without permission is illegal, right?  But maybe not.  While it’s illegal under U.S. law, Corinne Duyvis was kind enough to translate copyright law in the Netherlands, which gives broader allowance to make copies for home use.  The uploading/file-sharing part appears to be illegal, and you can only download small portions of books … except for “works of which you can reasonably assume that no new copies will be sold to third parties in whichever form possible.”

In other words, downloading out-of-print (which is not the same as out of copyright) books in the Netherlands is currently legal if those books don’t look like they’ll be coming back into print.  Thus blowing away my “simple and obvious” assumption.  Oops.

Americentrism: Another friend messaged me privately to ask who my audience was for my piracy post, which was a tactful way of pointing out that I seemed to be assuming everyone downloading illegally had convenient, cheap, legal alternatives.

I started up a very informal survey in the comments.  Take a book that costs $7.99 in the U.S., or $8.99 in Canada.  In Australia, that same book might sell for about $20.  Another commenter said SF/F paperbacks in Ireland generally run about 25 Euro, or roughly $35 U.S.  And these aren’t generally considered to be poor or third world nations.

Does the fact that something is expensive mean it’s okay to steal it?  No … but it makes me less willing to level an across-the-board charge of dickishness.  If you’re sitting at home with your high-end computer and smartphone and are downloading because you’re too lazy to go to a nearby library or too cheap to shell out $8 to buy the damn book, then the charge stands.  If you’re living in Malaysia and a book costs as much as eight meals?  Maybe not…

Marina on Dreamwidth takes this a step further, asking “I’d like to see how many of these authors who complain about their books being ‘pirated’ would still have the libraries they do if every paperback cost them 25$+ and took weeks to acquire.”  She goes on to say, “the places where ebook … ~piracy~ is most widespread are not developed, Anglophone countries, and there are reasons for that.”

I wish I had a source for that last claim.  I follow the logic of why readers in less developed countries might be more likely to download books and other media, but I’m not sure I accept the claim that piracy is most widespread in those countries.  It could be — I don’t know.  I just want more info and haven’t yet been able to find it.

The publishing industry has problems to address, no argument there.  A number of people expressed frustration at the way regional limitations prevent them from being able to legally buy e-books.  While I somewhat understand the basis for regional sales/publishing restrictions, I also recognize how frustrating it is that someone from the U.S. can click and buy an e-book in 30 seconds, while someone in another country can go to the exact same website, click the exact same links, and be denied.

Deconstructing the Western Foundation of Intellectual Copyright Law: Colorblue has another good post which points out various abuses of copyright law, and goes on to challenge the entire western foundation and assumptions behind intellectual property.  As an author currently working within that intellectual property system, this was a challenging read, one I’m still processing.

Links: Tobias Buckell has a long, thoughtful piracy post today.  He does a nice job of addressing various arguments for and against piracy, and I’m hard-pressed to argue with most of his conclusions.  In addition, Charles Tan and Fantasyecho both did link roundups of the discussion, which are worth checking out.

I’m still sorting this out.  I do think that for people like me, piracy is pretty much a dick move.  But of course, I’m privileged as hell.

Does that mean it’s all right for someone to pirate my books if they’re poor, or if they’re in a country where it’s harder to get books or where books are too expensive?  I don’t know.  But I’m not convinced they’re doing me much harm, if any, and I’m no longer comfortable with across-the-board condemnation.

Your thoughts?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



Jan. 27th, 2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
I appreciate that you can see a distinction between "for people like me" and "in all cases." Copyright lets art turn into business, but we as a society have given something up in return.

As a younger reader, it is sometimes hard to understand the sheer personal entitlement authors exude about downloads, especially when so many are pro-library and have probably bought used books themselves. It seems like the medium is the important thing. I can't imagine any of them looking at a full card in the back of a library book and saying "how dare these 50 people borrow the book instead of buying it! And enabled by my tax dollars!"

My dad's an author and kind of flipped out when he realized how many people were downloading his book. I passive-aggressively downloaded it (I had free author copies of anyway) and said, "there, see? Not a lost sale." In hindsight, I probably should have waited a week or two first...
Jan. 27th, 2011 03:19 pm (UTC)
The comparison to libraries and used book sales doesn't work.

1. A physical book is a finite resource. The library buys the book (and the author gets paid), and it can only be borrowed by one person at a time. Likewise, a used book can be resold, but only to one person at a time. Whereas a file can be downloaded an infinite number of times.

2. In many countries (not the U.S.), authors are paid each year based on how frequently their books were checked out from libraries.

The argument just doesn't hold up.
Jan. 27th, 2011 03:27 pm (UTC)
As a younger reader, it is sometimes hard to understand the sheer personal entitlement authors exude
I think this sense of entitlement comes from

1. Having gambled the time and done the actual hard work of producing a publishable novel

2. The opportunity cost of the above usually requiring a a business case to justify it, e.g. to the rest of one's family

3. The observation that other people get paid for the work they do, even if they enjoy it

4. The sense that if somebody enjoys your story, then they owe you a beer.
Jan. 27th, 2011 04:26 pm (UTC)
Re: As a younger reader, it is sometimes hard to understand the sheer personal entitlement authors e
I get that people feel like people are taking food from their mouths, but hearing author after author go through the same "I lost *how* many sales!?!" rant (which has been going on for years, again and again) it feels like a lack of perspectives other than their own. (Especially because the only reason this is illegal is because capitalism is broken, but that's a very different issue.)
My gut reaction to those rants is very similar to my gut reaction to authors who rant against fan fiction, which is essentially: "man, you sure think you're important." That's everyone's right and responsibility, to think that they are important, to make sure their needs are met, but it doesn't endear me to them when they do it in public by attacking readers. This is of course compounded by the kids-these-days rhetoric that so often accompanies it. As a reader, even one who has never pirated a book, it is easy to feel attacked or erased by these rants. Like all the audience is is a meal ticket, rather than the interpretive force without which the story would just be ink on a page.

It's the same reaction I get when Ani Di Franco chews out her fans for singing along at a concert. I want to imagine my connection with these works is in some way communal, and when that gets reduced to "I produce, you pay for the privilege of consumption" it bursts my reader bubble. I don't enjoy that authoritarian dynamic, and I definitely don't want to pay for it.
Jan. 27th, 2011 07:17 pm (UTC)
Re: As a younger reader, it is sometimes hard to understand the sheer personal entitlement authors e
You raise a lot of interesting issues here.

Ultimately, I think it's not about art-as-commodity as in "I produce, you pay for the privilege of consumption".

Rather it's about something more primal and communal; the implicit contract between the minstrel and the audience, "You feed me, and I'll be able to keep making these stories you like."

And if somebody listens attentively to your well-honed story, but when the cap comes around, laughs and spends his coppers on beer instead - is it not right that he feel the sharp tongue of the storyteller?

(Whether it's really rational to worry about piracy; that's a different matter. Some well informed people online think not. I wonder if this might change.)
Jan. 29th, 2011 02:54 pm (UTC)
Re: As a younger reader, it is sometimes hard to understand the sheer personal entitlement authors e
if somebody enjoys your story, then they owe you a beer.

Many readers agree with that. Would be happy to provide beer money to authors whose stories they've liked, once per story.

Many of them have trouble with, "if you enjoyed my story, you owe me a beer ... and you owe my publishing company a steak dinner." Even acknowledging that publishers add value (most of us do; some don't) it's a big stretch between "like story = beer money" and "like story=night on the town money." And DRM makes it like "if you enjoy my story, you owe me a beer, which needs to be picked up from this particular microbrewery between the hours of noon and 4 pm on a Monday or Wednesday."
Jan. 29th, 2011 07:12 pm (UTC)
Re: As a younger reader, it is sometimes hard to understand the sheer personal entitlement authors e
Ah yes, but then we're into the marketing side of things. I don't think publishers always get it right, though of course some do.

And, yes, it's a hard mental leap to accepting that publishers - which means editors - are crucial to the whole process.

I think Mr Stross talks about it here: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2009/03/reminder-why-theres-no-tipjar.html
Jan. 31st, 2011 06:02 pm (UTC)
Re: As a younger reader, it is sometimes hard to understand the sheer personal entitlement authors e
The sense that if somebody enjoys your story, then they owe you a beer.

The flipside of that could be used as an argument for illegal downloading as "full-size-sample": "I don't want to give someone money if I dislike the story."

Mind, when the first chapter or something like that is available for a sample that works even less as an argument.

Thanks for passing on the link to the ost on why publishers deserve/need money from sales, by the way.
Jan. 27th, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC)
Actually, it is very old school to complain about library copies, and libraries are still a somewhat sensitive subject in authorly circles. I use the library a lot, but I try not to talk about it with writer friends because I don't know which of them will have a "OMG you're taking bread from my mouth" reaction.
Jan. 27th, 2011 03:40 pm (UTC)
That's fair enough. I grew up in the era of library-sponsored READ posters and Reading Rainbow that made it seem like libraries were universally considered awesome.
Jan. 27th, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)
I think they're awesome, but some authors don't like them. Our library actually will buy dozens of copies of popular new releases to keep up with demand, so I think it works out pretty well for authors, but, well, you know.
Jan. 27th, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC)
FWIW, I've never been able to understand and sympathize with the anti-library, anti-used book arguments. Now that I have the income and means to support authors by buying new books, I try to do so, but the window of that opportunity will be shuttering soon enough for me once retirement hits. But I spent enough time in my life searching for used books and scavenging cash for my book fix, and paying library fines because I could only afford to check books out, not buy them, and then needed more time with the book for research or rereading.


Jim C. Hines

My Books


Latest Month

March 2018
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow