Today, a large chunk of the internet is protesting SOPA by blacking out their sites. It’s an interesting tactic as on the surface it seems like Rosa Parks sitting in the back of the bus to protest having to sit in the back of the bus. But really, when you think about it, it’s about the only way to draw attention to this issue. Especially since most sites have helpful links to pertinent sites, so it does actually make sense.
That said, I’m not going to black out this site. Instead, I’d like to go ahead and talk about SOPA, piracy, and how these things pertain to me and my perspective on them. It’s a topic I’ve written on before, but it’s worth exploring again because even if SOPA is put down (which it probably will be) this subject will come up again. And again. And again.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I think the specter of online piracy is greatly exaggerated. There’s no doubt it happens, and that it happens a lot. While googling my own name and books on the internet (which I do fairly regularly), I’ve stumbled across more than one site that has pirated versions of my books. It doesn’t fill me with joy to see that, but at the same time, I still get paid to write. So obviously, it’s not killing my career.
I’m not endorsing piracy here. If you can afford to buy my books, you should. If you can’t afford it, find a public library that has them. Or borrow them from a friend. And if none of those options are available to you, I’m still not for piracy because, as much as it pains me to admit this, my books are not worth committing crimes to obtain. Even minor ones.
But piracy will happen, and I’m less concerned with how people obtain my books than I am with people discovering my work. If someone pirates a copy of one of my books and then goes on to buy others, I won’t feel too bad about it. The goal of publishing is “to make public”. That’s the whole point of it.
On the other end, I don’t like when someone suggests that anyone who puts their work on the internet is volunteering to be pirated. It’s a dangerous philosophy that suggests the only way to protect a creative work is to hide it away where no one can see it. That’s a paradox. You don’t become a successful artist by hiding your work. And if someone decides to sell their book in electronic format, this shouldn’t be seen as the go sign to steal that book because you don’t have to push them down and rifle through their pockets.
I have no patience for those who think of casual piracy as no big deal. Nor do I have much for those who act as if it’s the end of the world. It is a big deal, but it isn’t the end of the world.
Really, I believe piracy bothers corporations not because of the money it costs them in illegally downloaded copies. It bothers them because of the money it costs in legitimate sales. Corporations and artists want exposure. They just want to control that exposure as much as possible.
The music industry, for instance, used to make a lot of money selling people albums they didn’t want. Not the whole thing, anyway. Maybe they only want one or two songs off that album, but you still had to buy the whole thing. And that translated into extra profit. Then people gained the ability to download individual songs. The music industry was hurt by this because no longer were you required to spend extra money on extra content you didn’t even want. Now, you could pick and choose. You could enjoy the stuff you loved without having to purchase the stuff you didn’t.
It hurt the entire music industry business model. The response from the music industry wasn’t one of adaptation, but of an effort to preserve the status quo. Corporations will only reluctantly abandon a successful business model, and that’s not to be criticized. But things change, and you have to change with it. The music industry eventually did. It adapted because it had to.
Really, the corporate structure is wanting to have its cake and eat it too. It wants readily available sales without the downside. It’s not just corporations either. I’ve seen some self-published authors decry piracy as if it is destroying their career. And I get where that comes from. But without the internet, without e-books, without modern distribution, most self-pubbed writers wouldn’t have a career to be destroyed in the first place.
If piracy destroyed careers, then public libraries would’ve made novelology a dead art long ago. And if someone is making a billion dollars a year and complaining that they aren’t making enough, it’s hard for me to be sympathetic. And while I can certainly empathize with the smaller artist who struggles against piracy, it still comes down to nobody has every truly been hurt by getting more exposure. There isn’t a book / movie / TV show out there that is popular in piracy that isn’t also popular in legitimate sales. If media were truly being undermined by electronic piracy, then why do movies still get made, books still get written, etc.?
I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but these are just my thoughts on a complicated issue. Hope they make some kind of sense.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,