Steal This Blog


Yaaar!  Tis a word that brings terror to the hearts of men.  I’m not talking about the piracy found on the high seas.  I’m referring to that dreaded scourge of electronic media!  That’s right!  The horrid ILLEGAL DOWNLOADS!

I have a hard time taking this quite as seriously as most other artists.  It’s true that with the invention of electronic media, file sharing, and the internet, piracy is easier than it’s ever been.  There’s no doubt that there are many a wicked soul out there who profits from stolen movies, music, and e-books.  And there’s no doubt that there are many people who use illegal downloads without a second thought.  Heck, I’ve known many a writer who has used illegal downloads without a second thought.  Always struck me as a bit odd, but in the end, it’s hard to make much of.

Yes, I’m certain that if you went and looked right now, you could probably download your own illegal copy of Gil’s All Fright Diner, In the Company of Ogres, or The Automatic Detective.  Gil’s just came out on downloadable audio, and I’m sure you could probably steal that too.  And, yes, it’s stealing.  Just because you didn’t have to pull a gun or leave your house to do it doesn’t make it legal.  I’d much rather everyone buy my books legally.  Or at least borrow it from a friend or library that did buy them legally.  I want to get paid.  I like gettin’ paid.

But if someone does steal my book via the magical internet machine, then odds are good they weren’t going to buy it anyway.  So it’s not like I’m losing a sale with every illegally download.  And I figure it’s probably better, pragmatically, if someone reads my book and enjoys it (even illegally) than to languish in obscurity.  If someone steals my book, reads it, and ends up talking to someone about it, then maybe that person will buy it.  Probably not.  They’re just as likely to illegally download it, but maybe somewhere down the line it’ll lead to a sale.

It’s funny because I consider illegal downloads to be stealing, but I don’t consider used bookstores to be taking money out of my pocket.  But I don’t get anything for a used book sale either.  So what’s the difference?  The difference is that a real paper book is a physical object.  When someone buys a real physical book, it’s theirs to do whatever they want to do with it.  If they want to sell it, that’s their right.  The big difference is that you can only sell and share a physical book with so many people at a time.  There’s a natural limit.  You can’t copy a book.  Well, I guess you can, but it’d be a hell of a lot of work and probably not worth it in the end.  But if you have a couple of extra monk scribes hanging around in your basement, and you want your own handwritten version of Too Many Curses, then by all means knock yourself out.  Even if you sell it to your friends, I gotta figure it’d be cost prohibitive, time consuming work.  I can afford the hit to my sales if that’s the piracy path you choose.

Electronic media is different.  Electronic media is easily duplicated, easily shared.  And I’m sure it’s taking money out of my pocket right now.  But that’s the modern world.  Can’t find progress.  Just gotta live with it.

What amuses me is that publishers of media, be it music, film, or books, couldn’t wait to jump on the electronic media bandwagon for all the reasons that make it so easy to steal in the first place.  Of course publishers love e-books.  It saves on costs considerably, makes distribution a breeze, and helps them reach a far wider audience.  They love this.  They just wish they could have it without the dark side of piracy that comes with it.  But that’s like wanting to eat all the chocolate cake you want and then being surprised that you get fat.  There’s no free lunch.

I’m not condoning media theft, but it’s nothing new.  We’ve just made it easier.  Hell, we’ve ingrained it in our culture.  We gave everyone the tools to download anything with the click of a mouse.  We can’t act surprised that people are going to abuse it.

Personally, I’m a fan of physical books.  Physical books are harder to steal.  More importantly, physical books have a permanence that dancing electrons can never have.  I can’t help but think of Fahrenheit 451, the classic novel about a future where a “fireman” burns books.  Little did Bradbury realize that in the future, all anyone will have to do to get rid of books, music, and films they don’t like is to just push a button in some dark room somewhere.  click. All gone.

That bothers me a hell of a lot more than someone stealing from me.  In our quest for progress, I worry that we are creating an erasable culture that will disappear, intentionally or unintentionally, one day.  Vanished without a trace.  That’s far more frightening than someone profiting from an illegal download of something I wrote.  At the same time, I love that electronic media has allowed us to reach each other more than ever.  If it wasn’t for electronic media you wouldn’t even be reading this right now.  So it’s not like this is a black and white issue, and I am not especially bothered by the piracy issue.

But do yourself a favor every now and then.  Buy a real, physical book.  Read it.  Enjoy it.  Sell it to a used bookstore.  Give it to a friend.  Stick it on a shelf and never read it again.  Just revel in the fact that you are a custodian of something sacred and beautiful, an artifact that doesn’t require any electricity, that will last for as long as you can  hold onto it, and is worth having, even if you can’t convert it to electrons and listen to it while you go jogging.

Some things are worth the inconvenience.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Posted December 3, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    What amuses me is they act like they’re the first to come upon the whole piracy thing. Like the software industry hasn’t been dealing with it for decades. And instead of learning from the software industry, they’re making the same mistakes.

    (Aside: I remember when Spore was released–with its overly draconian DRM–and pirated by the thousands within days. They were following the torrents and determined they’d lost X many millions in sales because of those stolen copies. As if every download represented a lost sale. I’d estimate about half of those were protest downloads, in response to the DRM. In fact, I’d make a guess that only about 10% of those were actual lost sales–people who would’ve bought it but didn’t once they got it free).

    Some people will steal electronic media, and the more you lock it down with draconian DRM and other methods, the more likely they will be to steal it. Because DRM may stop casual thieves, but it never stops determined ones. And while they may argue it’s the casual thieves they want to stop, those methods also make it very, very hard on honest people to use their legally purchased products. So hard they become either averse to purchasing the product or steal it just to get a working copy.

    There’s a site that provides no-CD game cracks of 99% of the games that are published. The site has been around for years, and they’re very clear that they intend the use of those cracks for legitimate owners of the games. Those no-CD cracks are often available days, if not weeks, after the game is released. You can use the cracks on stolen copies of the games if you want; nothing stopping you. But you know what? I’ve never used one for a stolen game, but I have used that site for years for games I’ve legally purchased. (I often play multiple games at a time, and I don’t want to have to search for the discs, though lately I’ve made most of my purchases through Steam). Sometimes you have to use one of those cracks just to bypass the copy protection on the game so it’ll work (some games have problems playing in CD- or DVD-burners).

    People have no problem buying it if you don’t go out of your way to make it hard on them. Publishers: don’t treat your customers like thieves, and they won’t act like it.

  2. Rusty Eulberg
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I’ll admit that I’ve downloaded a book or library here or there.

    the funny thing about that is if I hadn’t, I’d probably never found A. Lee Martinez– I now have (legally)purchased copies of all his books — and have ‘Divine Misfortune’ on pre-order.

    While downloads are frequently lost sales, they also lead to greater sales(at least in my case).

    For me the problem is that I can’t trust advertising to introduce me to new media. The only thing that seems to get advertised at all is the most popular.

    What about people who like books/music/film that is not the most popular? Where do we find reliable recommendations for entertainment purchases?

    Sadly, my best finds have come from piratebay and bookchan…
    I wish there was a legal way to find good stuff to buy.

    I do believe in voting with my dollar, If I find something I like, I buy it under the hopes that if i support those who make stuff I like, they will continue to make stuff that I like. Too bad that doesn’t always hold true (I’m looking at you Laurel k. Hamilton. turning Anita Blake from supernatural noir to supernatural bodice ripper)

  3. Jesse
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I have thus far read two of your books and both of them were digital books legally purchased from Amazon through my Kindle.

    I used to think like you. I want physically movies, music, and books. The idea of getting rid of them was absurd to me. Then this past December I was packing for a move and realize how much physical space my books took up. And then I realized I was boxing CDs I haven’t touched in years because I have a computer and an iPod. I made the commitment to myself just then to get a Kindle and buy digital books.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted April 29, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

      From a personal convenience angle, I can’t disagree with you. I have nothing against new media that allows us to store data more efficiently with easier access. But in terms of posterity, we are creating a disposable culture that can more easily be erased and controlled. That scares the hell out of me.

      Your kindle isn’t “yours”. Those paper books might take up a lot more space, but short of coming in and stealing them from you, they are yours to own. If tomorrow they (as in the terrifying “they”) decided to erase everything in your kindle, it would be gone. Just like that.

      That should terrify all of us.

      This is less about the convenience and more about the long term importance of having art that can withstand the test of time, that can’t just disappear either intentionally or by accident. I too have things I never look at anymore, but I don’t consider myself holding them for myself, but for future generations. Are they worth holding onto? Who knows? But it’s nice to have the option, and when it comes to electronic media, that option is as intangible as a stream of electrons.

  4. Asheldon
    Posted December 10, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Ha, just get more knowledge and protect your stuff. So they cant erase anything :p

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