Pirates Aren’t Always in the Form of Johnny Depp

pirate (public domain image)Contrary to popular opinion, writers aren’t writers because they have nothing better to do and are merely killing time until they end up at the cemetery. The majority of us who toil with the pen (and keyboard) need to earn off our labours, just like everyone else on the planet. If you ask a bricklayer if he/she would work for free rather than be paid, what do you think the answer would be? How about accountants, librarians, school teachers, electricians, farmers, architects, graphic designers, nurses, shopkeepers, janitors, clerical workers, street cleaners, and so on and so on?

Unless they’re offering their services for charity, I suspect the answer would be a resounding NO. We all have to make a living. We all have bills to pay. And we all have to survive.

So why is it that some individuals out there seem to be under the impression that the product of our labours should be given away for free and without any form of compensation? If you wonder what I’m on about, I’m talking about pirates – and by pirates I don’t mean Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. I mean pirates who steal copyrighted content and upload it to websites so others can read it FOR FREE. We all know this has been going on with music, but how many of you are aware that authors are likewise having our work stolen and, consequently, the food taken out of our mouths?

Despite the existence of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, many authors such as myself have had the displeasure of discovering that our work has been pirated in the form of our copyrighted material being illegally copied and made available for free for download on the internet. It’s all well and good that hugely successful (and wealthy) authors such as Neil Gaiman think it’s just fine and dandy to have our work ripped off and not be paid for it, but hey, Neil can afford to be ripped off. The majority of us cannot. “You’re not losing sales by having stuff out there,” he says. Get real, Neil. Don’t compare your international sales levels to that of the overwhelming majority of writers whose wallets really feel the pain when their work is pirated.

Contrary to what many people might believe, this form of theft isn’t always a matter of scanning print books. These pirates have managed to bypass the digital security measures put in place by electronic publishers such as Amazon Kindle and do their copying that way. (Clearly a lot more work needs to be done on the part of Amazon and others to prevent this from happening.) I’m assuming that these pirates were interested enough in these books to buy them in the first place. So what’s the motivation behind copying them and uploading them to be read for free? Isn’t that what public libraries are for?

Frankly, I just don’t understand what these book thieves are getting out of it. Have they nothing better to do? Do they not have a job or a family or a dog that needs to be taken for a walk? What’s the point of this exercise? Are they serving a greater good? Not if the greater good is a crime, they’re not. Is what they’re doing any different to that of a shoplifter stealing a book from a bookshop? If a shoplifter is caught, he/she would be prosecuted for theft.

Theft is theft.

Unfortunately, it isn’t only copyrighted works that are being pirated. A growing number of authors (many self-published) have been discovering that content they’ve written and posted on websites for free have been stolen and offered for sale on Amazon Kindle as electronic books. Talk about ballsy! But yes, there are opportunists out there stealing work that’s already being offered for free, putting a different author’s name on it, and then selling it for money. It’s bad enough to be cheated out of money, but to be cheated out of getting credit for your own work as well? Talk about adding insult to injury!

Some of the file sharing sites that have uploads of copyrighted material work in conjunction with an organisation called the DMCA (apparently nothing to do with the governmental statute), therefore pirated material can be reported (and hopefully removed) by them. However, for those sites that don’t have a relationship with this group, you’re sort of shit out of luck, especially if you can’t find anyone at the site to report the stolen content to (which is often the case, especially if they’re outside the USA). Having said that, if the site collects a subscription fee from its users, you can report them to the financial services they employ, be it PayPal, MasterCard, etc, which may or may not result in the financial relationship being terminated (and therefore causing inconvenience to the site offering the pirated material). The point is, writers need to be vigilant and chase after these bastards themselves – and be prepared to make it a part of their regular work routine. Further to this, book publishers need to become pro-active about this issue, because they too, are losing money. The responsibility should not be borne entirely by the author.

For those of you out there who have no sympathy for writers and can’t understand why we’re bitching when our work is at least being read, let me pose the question again: Would YOU work for free?


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29 Responses to “Pirates Aren’t Always in the Form of Johnny Depp”

  1. Laura B Says:

    Well said!!! I can’t believe people would have the audacity to do this!!..I never thought about it. I mean, I knew they would steal music but books?!..Imagine having the perfect idea of a book, spending endless nights trying to finish it and then find out that someone already post it on amazon?!! OH NO!! I hope this never happends to you!

  2. Sharon Bidwell Says:

    I totally agree, Mitzi. The problem is so many don’t consider writing to be work — that it’s all ‘fun’ tapping away at a keyboard enjoying oneself. I wish. Even worse, many more assume that the moment one is published an author is raking money in. I wish even more! I love Neil’s work, but I think he’s totally forgotten the wealth of smaller writers who are struggling, and the most important factor you’ve covered: theft is theft. On some level I don’t even care if Neil is right and piracy could in some way benefit me. I don’t believe in condoning criminality. I’ve often heard the file sharers complain that authors should stop bitching and that the illegal copies made don’t translate to a lost sale, missing the point that they are still criminals. They also claim that if it’s an e-book, that the book cost nothing to produce. Do they believe the rubbish they’re saying? All books cost no matter the format. It costs in hiring editors and cover artists, in the actual running of a business, but before all that it costs the writer in TIME. Why do people think a writer’s time is so unimportant? It’s not just a question of would you work for free, but would you work for free in the evenings as well as do a day job (as most writers have to do) AND also put your social life on hold to meet deadlines? Somehow, I doubt it.

  3. mitzi Says:

    Well said, Sharon!

  4. Graeme Talboys Says:

    Well said Mitzi. What gets me, on top of everything else, are the knots these creeps tie themselves into to justify stealing.

  5. mitzi Says:

    Yes, I’m getting the impression the pirates seem to think they are entitled to our content and entitled to disseminate it. I don’t understand where they get off thinking our hard graft is public domain.

  6. Erste Liebe Letzte Liebe Says:

    Same with photographs. There aren’t any laws provided for these kind of crimes. Or noody cares, because nobody “got harmed” physically.

  7. Bill Gunn Says:

    What a facinating article Mitzi, firstly I can totally understand where your are comming from, although I am a musician, illegal downloads, peer 2 peer, Bit-Torrent sites and the sheer amount “Free” availability of media on the net has nearly destroyed my career and income on 3 occassions already in 2011.

    It’s interesting and distressing to read that you and other authors who spend so much of their time committing to paper, or any media like kindle or audio book are also having your works stolen buy these mindless individuals.

    I personally think that authors and musicians are all working in that labour of love, whilst we enjoy writing or recording, we all have to make a living!

    It’s even more perverse to think that most who download or obtain illegal copies of our work are working or at least can afford it, and if we ask them to do there daily work stuff for no recompence I can imagine the sheer disgust on their face at the suggestion!

    The only real way to stop this happening is for ISP’s to monitor p2p or Bit-Torrent ports and report the accesses to the authorities, this will never happen, as it is a personal encroachment on the users rights!

    But apparently we who publish or record are not subject to these same rights, on the positive side though, my biggest nemesis “Limewire” has been forced to close bringing half the Gnutella network to a halt!!

    Good luck with the writing and trying to scrape a living, it is a really tough market made a million times worse by theifs.

    Like you said it doesn’t affect the big names but there are many of us who support them or are independant who loose out almost totally!!

  8. mitzi Says:

    Thanks for your comments, Bill. And yes, we in the creative arts seem to have no rights, despite having our work “copyrighted.” Kinda makes you wonder who’s really being protected here, because it sure as hell doesn’t seem to be the good guys!

  9. Mindy fangedmom Says:

    WELL SAID! I think this is such a load of crap. How can anyone feel that this is ok to do?

    I do know that one author I worked with had SUPER HUGE problems with this because she was sending out PDF copies of her book to bloggers to review. They were in turn offering it out to their followers & it spread like wild fire. I advise all the authors I work with to not use the PDF copies to send out to bloggers. It is just asking for trouble.

    Ebooks are so popular today and so easy to pirate it is sad. I wish they would WAKE up and get some laws into place to protect the authors. I agree with what Erste said too about photographs. Will there be anyone to wake up? Music got a lot of attention, why can’t books and photographs too?

    Good luck with this Mitzi! I hope they figure this out soon!

  10. Mindy fangedmom Says:

    Sorry forgot to check the box to email me for follow ups :0)

  11. mitzi Says:

    I think your email address is transposed!

  12. Bill Gunn Says:

    Mindy, as a musician, I agree with your comment completley, music has got a lot of attention, only because of the Major Companies out there like EMI and BMG and Sony Soho, what is seriously lacking is that there is still little or no protection for us musicians who are independent.

    In fact we are worse off, because these companies have upped the value of tracks on things like Itunes meaning that independents can’t really break through and get any turn over.

    I really hope the government will finally man up and make the ISP’s more accountable by act of law to protect all of us in all creative arts fields just to give a fair chance!

    Having being on the end of this piracy, although harsh I really want to see the people committing the crime being taken to task.

    There are trackback capabilities on all this illegally uploaded materials, it just takes a dedicated person to find the original source and prosecute, if you get the original people, the many copies will eventually fade.

  13. Mindy fangedmom Says:

    OOOPS corrected it Mitzi! You are right! Ha leave it to me to mess up my own email address! You figured it out though!!!

  14. mitzi Says:

    Yes, I’m fast, Mindy! I emailed you, btw.

  15. Viola Russell Says:

    I agree with you, Mitzi. I write because I love it, but I also would love to make enough money to support myself. I research before I write (particularly for a period piece), and I spend hours making sure everything is accurate. I also revise endlessly before submitting to a publisher. Sadly, too many see nothing wrong with theft. We see it all the time in students who don’t cite sources or in public officials who take citizens’ money for no services.

  16. Ric Wasley Says:

    Brovo – well said!

    Ric Wasley
    MYstery Writets of America & Cape Cod writers Group

    Author – McCarthy Mysteries

  17. Brenna Lyons Says:

    A few more things to keep in mind… Every week, I find illegal copies of my published works selling illegally on sites like eBay and iOffer. These people aren’t even content with illegally selling my work. They lie to the purchasers and tell them things like…

    Lie #1- This content is in the public domain. Am I dead? No. Did I release it to public domain? Not even my free reads are released into public domain, because they are covered by a creative commons licensing (designed to protect not only me but also my readers). The licensing and copyright information is in every book. Said licensing states that my free reads are allowed to be passed far and wide, the more the better, FOR FREE. They are not permitted to be altered in any way, including trying to strip my name off of the work. They are not permitted to be sold…in fact, to be used for ANY financial gain. Selling either my contracted works or free reads is illegal as heck, but while those selling my contracted works are stealing my income directly and on a one-to-one correlation or nearly so, it can be argued (unlike sharing pirates that are doing in an indirect route and not on a one-to-one correlation), those selling my creative commons protected free reads are cheating other readers directly. There is no “helping other readers” in this practice. They are selling what I offer for free and intend everyone that wants it to get for free.

    Not that the idea of cheating or outright stealing from other readers is a big surprise, even with the sharing type, since many are doing things like embedding noxious code that will steal information off the computer of other readers, enabling identity theft, disabling computers, stealing credit card or PayPal information… In short, no one should trust a pirate. You never know what they are up to. Hey, breaking one law…breaking ten. Some of them really don’t care.

    Lie #2- I (the illegal seller) own copyright on this item or group of items. Clue arriving. No one but ME owns copyright on my work. Even my publishers have contracted for certain rights under copyright to reproduce and distribute. If you have not signed a contract with me (or by extension, directly with my publisher), you are not endowed with any rights to my work AT ALL. I will state that part of this problem is specifically eBay’s misinformation that infringers on their service could not offer downloads of ebooks but it was “okay” to offer them on CD or DVD. The pirates ran with that and decided that simply burning an ebook or collection of them onto a CD makes it their own copyright material, since they created something. Nope. Sorry. Just taking someone else’s copyright protected material and placing it on a CD or DVD or whatever does not make it your copyright.

    Which leads to lie #3, potentially the most damaging to us as creators…

    Lie #3- I (the illegal seller) am selling resale rights. Since they claim to believe (and I really don’t think most of these scam artists really believe what they spout) they own copyright, they claim they have the right to bestow it upon others. NOT! None of them own it to begin with. But why is this even more damaging? Now, you’ve got someone selling stolen goods and encouraging others to make more illegal copies and sell them too. It’s a domino effect.

    And don’t get me started on Neil Gaiman. The man (for an intelligent man) seemingly has no empathy and no common sense. Sure, piracy works for HIM. He doesn’t even see ebooks as “real books.” The piracy of ebooks may well boost the sale of his “real books” (aka to Mr. Gaiman, paper books). We KNOW that works. It’s been working for Baen Books in the form of the Baen Free Library program for many years. But, what about the authors that don’t HAVE paper books? Many indie authors are ebook only. If your books are in ebook only, the piracy of ebooks do not help your ebook sales. Why would they? Once someone reads a pirated copy of an ebook, he/she may well purchase a paper copy, but he/she won’t be purchasing an ebook copy legally. Come on, even if someone has, it’s one in a million or less.


  18. mitzi Says:

    Thanks for your additions to my post, Brenna. It’s very distressing, indeed. What is even more so is the justification these clowns use for their theft. As for Gaiman, he needs a great big kick up the backside.

  19. Nancy Lynn Jarvis Says:

    I do write for fun and I’m thrilled when people read my books. That does not mean I write for free, however. I’m also concerned about authors giving away their work “to establish a fan base.” When writers’ work is free, it feeds the opinion out there that we don’t need to be paid for what we do.

    Maybe it’s because I was a Realtor before becoming a writer that I’m so sensitive about working for free, but I learned when you give your time and efforts away for free, it demeans what you do.

    Nancy Lynn Jarvis
    Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries

  20. mitzi Says:

    Thanks for commenting! Indeed, it should be our decision as authors/creatives what to distribute for free and what not to. Seems even this has been taken away from us.

  21. Brenna Lyons Says:


    A dear friend of mine named Rob Preece once summed up the free read thing very succinctly. He gave the example of a new Mexican restaurant opening and offering a free sample of tacos to draw business in. Now, just because the Mexican restaurant is giving free tacos does not mean someone can walk into the steak restaurant across the street, order a steak, eat it, and refuse to pay for it, because “The Mexican restaurant is giving away tacos, so I shouldn’t have to pay for any type of food I want.” It’s lunacy, but that is what some pirates demand. I don’t blame the authors giving free reads. I blame the entitlement crowd that truly believes it’s reasonable to demand that free steak.

    Personally, I use free reads…about a dozen of them, at the moment. They are all fairly short…maybe 15K for the longest of them. They do their work very well…the primary work of bringing in readers that read something and want more. I’ve tried to use them in another way. I’ve taken down pirated copies and put UP my free reads on the same site, with the notice of what is legal or not with regard to ebooks. Did it work? Maybe not, because the vast majority of pirates know what they are doing is wrong and don’t care. But if that convinced even one person that was fuzzy on copyright that he/she shouldn’t be using that sharing site, it worked, and I’ll choose to believe it worked. Better than assuming all pirates are reprobates that don’t give a fig about authors.


  22. James Beattie Morison Says:

    I have mixed emotions about this issue. I am still a “beginner” writer, so my main interest is to get readers to read my stuff.

    I haven’t had the kinds of problems others have mentioned. I guess I don’t have much that a pirate would want.

    I have had some articles I posted on-line reposted by others. It is difficult to even identify who to complain to.

    The most recent case was where someone reposted more than half of my article on their blog. She did provide a link to my artcile, but didn’t mention my name.

    My immediate response was to complain and ask her to take it down. But I noticed that her post had sent some readers my way, which I saw as a good thing. I decided not to contact her about it.

    At least it gave me a topic for my own blog.

  23. mitzi Says:

    Yeah, I hear you, but the main issue is – taking published copyrighted content and disseminating it without any royalty coming to the author. Every author should have the right to control his/her content. The pirates have stolen this from us and, in the interim, stolen our potential income.

    If the blogger you mention at least linked back to you, that is something (though yes, you should have been mentioned as the author at the very least!). Let’s not even talk about those who steal the content and claim it as their own.

  24. Melissa (ForstRose) Says:


    Great reminder about copyright laws and what to be aware of as readers as well as note of caution to authors and writers who may be in the position of having their work affected.

    To some extent I agree with Mindy about PDF’s but Adobe does now have Digital Editions which is a companion to their reader software and registers all DRM activated files on a given device. This is intended to protect all DRM documents offered legally from being shared illegally or transferred to other devices and media.

    In other words PDF’s can also be protected through DRM just as music and other media are. All DRM documents that are legally obtained are protected from copying, printing, or redistributing by the person who initially obtained it legally. Not to say there aren’t those out there that circumvent the protections built into the files but those that do for unethical and criminal motives seem to have no obstacles to breaking the protections of any file format which makes Kindle, Nook, PDF, and other ebook formats just as vulnerable as the others.

    Anyway as a blogger and reviewer I am dismayed and disappointed to hear there are other bloggers out there taking advantage of the trust placed in them by authors, other bloggers, publishers, etc to misuse review copies that are provided freely for their personal or reviewer’s use in sharing feedback via articles or reactions to the material. In many cases I’ve seen publishers and authors offer only PDF’s or a limited number of hard copies and supplement PDF’s for tours in order to increase the number of participating reviewers beyond the distribution restraints on printed books that sometimes exist allowing only US or US/Canadian distribution of hard copies. I’ve also seen the same practice applied to cases where a small publisher or author with very limited resources to cover the cost of hard copies will offer PDF’s for reviewers beyond the number of hardcopies they are able to provide tour hosts.

  25. mitzi Says:

    Thanks for your insightful comments! I do find it dismaying that reviewers (be they blogger or traditional) would share this content around, but I guess common sense is a thing of the past. As for the digital protection for digital versions of books, I’ve heard from enough technies out there that it’s pretty much worth s**t – and is quite easily stripped off. Why someone would buy a legal digital copy of a book and then pirate it (esp for no personal gain) is beyond me. I think the industry needs to get their backsides in gear and come up with something much harder to crack – and keep updating it, since these criminals are all very good at putting their efforts into illegal activity rather than putting that effort into something substantive – like gainful employment and legitimate “hobbies.”

  26. LJ Burton Says:

    I’ve found this in every field I’ve worked, that there are just so many people out there who think they deserve your hard work without having to pay for it. Very often they also complain about the quality. I keep finding so many social networking venues consider my photographs (of my art) to be public property. Until we all opt for socialized government and I get to live and eat like everybody else, it’s still mine. I complained to my Senator and he responded that he thinks all copyright laws should be abolished. It seems to be happening.

  27. mitzi Says:

    Tell your Senator to quit his job, write his memoirs, get them published, and not get paid any advance or royalties. Then see what he has to say!

  28. Tony Soloman Says:

    So, what’s your take on used books? The same mentality applies. The book was purchased new, at some point, and then sold back to a book store. When it was sold to the used book store, neither the author nor the publisher profits. When the book is sold again to the consumer, as used, neither the author nor the publisher are paid.

    I do not condone piracy in any form. I do, however, frequent my local used book store on an almost weekly basis.

  29. mitzi Says:

    Of course, as authors we don’t earn revenue off a used book (which always stings), but you’re talking maybe one or two extra set of hands it passes into (and done so legally), not potentially hundreds or thousands when it comes to pirated material.

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