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,