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?