You Ain’t Jack Sparrow

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.


You Ain’t Jack Sparrow — 10 Comments

  1. Pingback: Friday Flash – Jimmy Checks Out | David Gullen

  2. I despise people who do that. I admit a do practice drawing by doing a copy of another artist’s work but I never pass it off as my own nor do I try to sell it. I keep it in a sketch book to study. People that steal a copy written work are the same as those who rob a bank.

    • Thanks John. I think lots of artists do what you do as part of their learning process, and I know I consciously copied the style of various authors while I was finding my own voice. That’s not stealing, though. Sadly I think there are people out there who just don’t want to admit that what they’re doing is stealing.

  3. Don’t let the crooks keep you down. You have a lot of people who enjoy your books. “Even if we do have to pay for them”. By the way are you working on a sequel to Babylon Steel? I don’t keep up with everything like I should.

    • Hi John
      The sequel’s out, it’s called Dangerous Gifts – available at the usual outlets!

  4. Pass the details to your piblishers’ lawyer and forget about it. These people aren’t worth any more of your attention.

  5. Ah, the piracy debate, yes…

    See, I don’t pirate. I don’t have stuff to pirate. I’m entirely removed from this debate emotionally. And I think this gives me a perspective others don’t, because I’m neither defending nor decrying piracy. And I think there are cases where piracy has actually improved the lot of a creator because it’s helped spread the word and, thus, has breached markets that were potentially unavailable. Well, you get the idea.

    But the thing with piracy is you get people equating 1 Pirated Copy with 1 Lost Sale. It does not *ever* work like this, because chances are the pirate is either getting your book without even thinking about it (i.e. they may get it as part of a pack of pirated books, they might just download random ones, etc.), i.e. they’re not singling you out. The fact every author is pirated should really prove this argument – they will only target you specifically if you give them reason to. So whether it’s you, L.E. Modesitt, Jr. or Charles Portis, people will be pirating your books without specifically doing it to spite you.

    On top of that, the argument that 1 pirated copy = 1 lost sale doesn’t add up. If you worked out the numerical side of those copies (i.e. how many sales that’d be, how much money you’d be making), that doesn’t fit in with the publishing model. Almost every book would be selling at least double what the market currently supports, at least. Obviously that doesn’t make sense, how could the market support that? It doesn’t.

    Tor US and UK, last year, went DRM-free to counter piracy (i.e. people pirating copies to get around device restrictions). Did you read the post on Aside from the fact it was vapid, PR nonsense, they made no comment about any decrease in piracy (instead only saying there was no appreciable increase). So… yeah, what did that move do? And Baen have been DRM-free for years. Even their free titles were pirated, but the print copies still sold (and still sell now). So even offering your book legally for free doesn’t stop pirates.

    You cannot stop pirating. All you will do is wind yourself up if you think about it. Ignore it. It will not go away, you cannot do anything to stop it. Solaris can’t. Tor/PanMac can’t. No-one can. What you have to do is give people a reason to *buy*. Be a great presence, be funny, be engaging. It won’t stop the piracy on any level, but it will get you sales.

    Piracy is not a personal attack on you. It is not done to spite you. The pirates don’t care about you, yes, but nor do half of the people who buy your books. They just want a book, and you’re just a name on it. It’s your followers who care about you. Pirating does hurt your self-esteem, yes, but if you take it personally then it’ll hurt more. So ignore it. You can’t truly do anything about it. Instead think about how you can maximise sales, rather than getting angry over sales you never would have had in the first place.

    • Hi Gaie,

      Just wanted to apologise if any of this came across as harsh, I was trying to get it out before leaving for work.

      I know it’s hard for authors to see their work stolen, I mean as someone who engages with a number of authors online, it’s quite easy to see many take it personally or see it as a major issue. And I think it is a big issue (something I didn’t make clear), but it’s an issue that you can only do so much to avoid. Even if you give your work away for free, it will be pirated, and that’s kind of my point.

      Pirates don’t really care about you. Not in a malicious way, but in the same way most consumers don’t care about the people who write the books they buy. They’re just a name on a cover, maybe a picture and a brief biography. It’s only those of us who follow authors on Twitter, Facebook, even blogs, who see anything else. I have a number of author friends, I frequently post on L.E. Modesitt, Jr.’s blog, I get involved in genre discussions, etc. So to me, buying books by these people is often a personal thing, but for most people who’ll buy your books? Nada. Not a thing.

      I don’t think we can ever excuse piracy. It is fundamentally wrong. You’re accessing – whether you’re going by the copying or taking viewpoint is irrelevant – information that is not free to access. You have to pay to legally access (or own a copy of) it in most situations (the exceptions being borrowing a friend’s copy, using the library, looking at it in a store, you get the idea). So subverting that by piracy is evidently wrong. But (yes, but), it’s all too easy to portray pirates as malicious, vindictive little scrotes. Hardly the case. Spotty 19 year olds, rebellious 14 year olds, indifferent 40 year olds. Everyone of every creed, style and age can be, potentially, a pirate. And most of them aren’t doing it to spite you personally (I would be surprised if any were), but instead just want to take it for free, whether they feel justified (e.g. low income) or otherwise (e.g. just downloading it for the sake of downloading it).

      The problem I have with the ‘lost sale’ argument, other than what I said in my earlier comment, is that it disregards the other ways sales are lost. Consumer indifference (they might open it in a tab on their browser, think about buying it, but then not do so), stores not stocking (enough) copies, low visibility in stores and on websites, etc. It might be that one of your books is perfect for a consumer, but they haven’t bought it because they’ve not seen it in a store and then forgot about it. I mean there’s dozens of ways sales are lost, and piracy accounts for *some* lost sales, but not all.

      So what I’m saying is this, really. I think piracy is a problem, and you can report the sites, but it’s like a hydra. Cut off one head, two more grow. You can’t stop it, no matter how hard you try. And if you try, it will take time and energy away from your work, and that can affect your chances of either making it or getting a reasonable income. Instead, accept that piracy is going to happen and accept that chances are it’s not a personal attack (though it may feel that way). It’s just a sad fact of life, one we can do little to stop. Pirating is old. It was rife on the Playstation 1 back in the mid-90s, for example.

      Put your time, energy and your skill into your books, as I’m sure you are doing. Instead of trying to hack away at the amorphous mess of piracy, do what you can to raise awareness of your books. Tweet more, do giveaways, get in contact with blogs, con appearances – just be the best you can. These are things most authors can do to some degree, and maybe you’re doing all of them, maybe you’re not. Maybe it’s your publisher, maybe it’s not. So many factors as to whether a book succeeds, and piracy may only factor into the failure of a few books in total.

      Those are my thoughts, anyway.

      • Hi Kathryn
        Interesting points, and I do get that a pirated copy may not directly equate to a lost sale, and certainly that many other factors can contribute to a book not doing well. However, it is a principle, it bugs me, and I wanted to state my case. It’s stealing whether or not it makes much financial difference.
        Also, books were my best friends when i was growing up, they mattered to me, and still do. I find piracy insulting to that relationship. That may not make much sense to other people, but there, that’s my take.
        Anyway thank you for taking the time to comment.
        All the best