Piracy is bad m'kay

Yesterday I read an amazing blog post from Chuck Wendig about piracy*. At the end he invited people to share their thoughts on the subject, suggesting we make the 6th of Feb ‘Please Don’t Pirate My Book Day’.

It doesn’t take much to get me to give my opinion about anything, so here it is…


But first, a note about pirates

I’m talking about old school pirates. I know the majority of the world loves pirates. They’re cool and dangerous and often seen as funny.

But let’s take a step back and think about them for a moment. A pirate is a person who attacks or robs ships at sea. They do a side-line in rape and murder. They also have the best PR people ever! Because, despite how awful they are, society has a soft spot for them. We even dress our children up as pirates. Like that’s supposed to be cute. Last time I checked the local store didn’t stock a Hannibal Lecter costume for the under 5’s or anything else from the ‘my little criminal’ range.

I’m just as guilty myself. I tell my son pirate jokes and we even have a game where we each dance like pirates and the best one gets the pirate feast.

But the point is that despite it all appearing fun, there is something weird (and I suspect, wrong) about celebrating the acts of violent criminals.


Let’s talk about literary pirates now

In case you’re an alien or new to the idea a literary pirate is somebody who uses another person’s ideas or words as if they were his/her own.

We’d all agree that’s bad.**

But what about the people who don’t sell the words on, they just want to read them for free? You might argue it doesn’t hurt anybody physically (like the old school pirates do). You might argue that they’re just sampling the merchandise. You might argue lots of things.

Fundamentally, though it’s still wrong. This is a very dull argument but there it is.

It hurts the writer of the words, whether they are poor and struggling or sitting back in their heated pool. It doesn’t matter which one! (You can’t justify crime based on the wealth of the victim). It hurts the publisher of the words and all of the many people involved in that writing process (very few of which will be getting paid much btw). And eventually it hurts the pirate when they go to Book Hell.***

It’s easy to copy a file and that means it can be easy to disengage morality. The reason I’m excited by Chuck’s idea is that I believe the more people engage with what they’re doing, the less they’re likely to do shitty things. In this case book piracy but hopefully other things too.


*Actually he wrote 2. The other is here.

**If you don’t, please leave a comment (which must include the word ‘Yaarg!’)

***I made that up to have a third point in my paragraph. Still, I’d love to hear about your conception of book hell. You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine.

8 responses to “Piracy is bad m'kay

  1. I have that Google Alert thing, too. So far, no pirate links. The thing I've seen is the occasional return. It started out with 1 out of 31 copies being returned (like clockwork for the first 124 sales, in fact), and is currently 1 out of 100. I find it amusing rather than rage-inducing… I mean, the book is 99¢ (US), I can't bring myself to imagine someone cheap enough to do that for a freebie. My guess is that people hit the purchase button (that 1-click thing can get'cha) instead of the "download excerpt," or maybe they send it to the wrong device, return it, and send it to the right one (not realizing they can send copies to all their devices). Meanwhile, over a dozen people have bought (on Amazon) a novella I'm giving away for free on Smashwords. Go figure.

    J.A. Konrath maintains that piracy actually boosts sales, a point that Chuck makes in item #10. Me, I'll worry about it when I get popular enough to get pirated. 🙂 Seriously, there are so many free eBooks now, you could never pirate a single copy yet spend the rest of your life reading without spending a dime. As I pointed out a couple weeks ago, I even got one in my email. (I read it, and it turned out to be not bad.)

    • Thanks for the info Larry. I suspect in the right circumstances piracy does help sales, especially if you've written something controversial.

  2. Neil Gaiman has some very interesting things to day about piracy in this video http://youtube.com/watch?v=0Qkyt1wXNlI

    I think it partially depends on volume, and for a number of people, rightly or wrongly, it is a way 'into' an author. Sort of like secondhand books; I have a lot of these and the authors have never *directly* had the benefit of my purchase. On the other hand, if I have enjoyed the book, I do very much tend to buy their other books. And the hardbacks. Etcetera.

    Regardless, I don't condone it as an act (the piracy). Morally, whatever the justification and eventual outcome, it is wrong. And they should go to book hell*.

    I do like your "My Little Criminal" range though.

    * where the only reading material is Dan Brown, that Fifty Shades lady and Worthy Literature.

    • Just watched the video. Damn, that man is cool! Hmm. Well is Neil Gaiman says it's okay, who am I to argue…

      My version of book hell is very much like yours. Although I also like a version where you have your favourite books with the last 100 pages missing.

  3. My brother, in a fit of spite, once ripped the last ten pages out of the last book of a series I had been reading. So yes, good addition to the hell.

  4. The "piracy debates" are always so interesting, but there's one point I've only ever seen Lawrence Lessig cover, and it's this: a lot of the pirated stuff that is out there is not easy-to-buy current books still in print, but stuff that's out of print.

    There's a book I've been trying to get my hands on for years, but it has long been out of print as a regular book. The only version available costs $700 US, because it's a specially-bound "collector's edition".

    And yes, okay, anyone is free to sell or not sell their goods as they see fit, but doesn't that seem rather absurd?

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