I’ve just found my books on a pirating site. Again. Second time in a month, this is, that someone’s decided it’s OK to pass on my work for free. And this particular site seems to think that they’re doing something rather wonderful; with patronising little cartoons about how piracy isn’t ‘theft’ because with ‘theft’ you take away the original of something, whereas with piracy you only take a copy, the original’s still there, so you see, it’s all fine and dandy and anyone who believes otherwise is a big old silly.
Well, no, actually, it isn’t fine. The ‘copy’ argument is utterly meaningless. What you’re taking away is my living, mate. That’s actual money for things like buying groceries and paying bills that I now don’t get. Any copy of one of my books that’s stolen, not sold, is money taken from me exactly as though you’d taken physical coins out of my pocket.
Just because I didn’t sit down and write out every single word of every copy of my books by hand on vellum like a medieval monk, that doesn’t mean they’re not my work. Hours, days, months of work, that I spent trying to make it as good as it could be.
You’re also stealing the work my publisher did on it, like the many hours that went into editing. Work they did to make it a better story. They’re not a huge company. They’re not Monsanto. They’re just people – people like me who have mortgages, babies, bills. When you pirate you’re making it that much harder for a good publisher to keep going, to keep producing the stuff you like so much you’re prepared to stuff it under your jacket and walk out of the shop whistling.
Except you don’t even take that risk, do you? You sit safely behind your screen, merrily stealing away, knowing you’re extremely unlikely to get caught and making lots of self-justifying statements that only go to show you do actually know exactly what you’re doing.
You might like to define yourselves as some kind of revolutionaries. But me, I think you’re grubby little crooks, no better than someone who nicks a granny’s pension out of her handbag. You don’t make theft into untheft just by calling it something else. You can call the sky the ground, and spend the day walking around on your hands calling anyone who disagrees with you an old-fashioned misery-guts, but it doesn’t mean the sky is actually now the ground – it just means you’re walking around with mud on your hands and your arse in the air.
If you like it enough to read it, bloody pay for it. It’s only a few quid. If you’re so broke you can’t afford that, borrow it from the library – that way I still get something. Not much – pennies - but it’s better than nothing, and it proves you had enough respect for another human being not to steal from them. Borrow it from a friend! I have no problem with borrowing, I borrow and lend books all the time – it does mean that somewhere down the line the author and publisher actually got paid, if only once.
And you know what matters even more? It’s not just the money. It’s the fact that if you steal my work you’re showing you don’t care about me at all; you’re happy to exploit me. Just because you’re doing it at a distance, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And it hurts, emotionally as well as financially. I’ve been an obsessive reader since I learned how. I write for readers. I write to make a connection with them, to give them something fun, involving, a few hours out of the world. If a reader then acts as though it’s OK to rip me off, it’s like being turned on by someone you thought of as a friend.
If you like to think you’re not the sort of person who would come into my house and walk out with my mother’s necklace, then don’t be the sort of person who walks off with my book. And don’t be the sort of person who encourages other people to do it. That’s no more moral or revolutionary than a kid egging other kids on to nick a bag of crisps from the corner shop and run away laughing.
Grow the hell up. Stop stealing and pretending you aren’t. And stop pretending you aren’t hurting me by doing it. You are.