A few words about piracy

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A Few Words About Piracy

One of my most persistent and unwelcome FAQs in recent months has been this one:

How can I download your books for free?

The short answer is unprintable. The long one follows here.

A pirate in the old days was rather a jolly fellow, associated with robbing ships, hob-nobbing with parrots and saying “Aaaarrr” a lot. He rarely, if ever, read a book, let alone uploaded one onto the internet for others to steal. A person who does this, who uploads, downloads or otherwise supplies copyrighted material illegally is called a thief, and is a very different kettle of fish.

Let me explain.

The internet allows for a vast amount of digital material to be downloaded, used and disseminated. Much of this is legitimate. Some online resources deal with out-of-copyright material, which, quite rightly, is available without charge. However, to download copyright material such as books, audiobooks, films, music, etc. without paying for them is exactly the same as stealing them from a shop – and it’s happening all the time. Most people know it’s against the law, but some may genuinely not realize why this is such an important issue, or simply make excuses to convince themselves it’s not stealing.

These are just a few of the commonest excuses I’ve heard so far.

I wouldn’t have bought the book in a shop. I only downloaded it because it was free. So – you haven’t really lost a sale, have you?

This is a bit like stealing an expensive bottle of champagne, and saying to the arresting officer: “Obviously, if I’d been paying for this, I would have chosen a cheaper brand.” Theft isn’t the same as getting stuff free.

Yes, but digital books cost too much. If they were cheaper, more people would buy them legitimately.

Wrong. Yes, books are expensive. But when you buy a book, you’re not just buying paper and binding. And when you buy an e-book, you’re not just buying pixels. You are buying the expertise of editors, copy-editors, proof-readers and a whole army of professionals – not to mention the author and the author’s agent – all of whom work hard and deserve to make a living. The price of the book includes all this.

Yes, but writers earn so much. Bet Dan Brown wouldn’t notice if I just downloaded a copy.

Wrong. Most authors don’t earn enough to make a proper living. Many have to take secondary jobs just to make ends meet. Sure, some authors make a lot of money, but they are the exceptions. Most just can’t afford to lose the thousands of sales that are being lost right now through e-book theft.

Yes, but surely the loss is to the giant publishing corporations, not to the authors themselves.

Wrong. Downloading a book illegally means robbing the author of a sale. And if an author doesn’t make enough sales, then they will get dumped by their publishers. Basically, pirating books puts authors out of business. And not all publishers are giants. Lots of small publishers have already gone under because they simply can’t compete.

But I want to make sure I like a book before I buy it. I download books onto my e-reader, and if I like them, then I buy them legitimately. If not, I delete the book and move on. Why buy something you might not enjoy?

Irrelevant. You don’t steal a bar of chocolate, taste it and then go back and pay for it afterwards. Every purchase is a risk. Take the risk, or do without. Or borrow the book from a library.

Aha! Isn’t downloading a book online just the same as borrowing a book from the library, or from a friend? Either way, you don’t pay for the book.

Wrong. The book has been paid for. What’s more, the author gets a small, (but for some, quite important) fee for every time a book is taken out. E-theft hurts authors and publishers, but it also hurts our libraries, which exist to allow people to read books for free, without hurting anyone.

Well, authors will have to change with the times. It worked for the music industry…

Wrong. Like authors, a lot of musicians struggle to survive. But bands make money through touring and merchandising. Authors can’t do that.

Authors tour as well, don’t they?

Yes we do. But we do it for free. We don’t get a percentage of ticket sales. We don’t even get a per diem. Basically, we tour because we feel we owe it to our readership, and because we hope it will sell books. Touring counts as goodwill, and most of us do it happily, but it’s hard work, we don’t get paid, and we mostly end up out of pocket.

But – downloading stuff is so easy. And everyone does it –

Wrong. There are plenty of decent people out there. The question is: are you one of them?

Well, I hope this answers my least welcome FAQ. And I hope that all of my readers will answer a resounding YES! to that last bit.

Thanks for your support, folks. You are the reason I’m still in print. I’m counting on you to reject piracy (except for the Johnny Depp kind), and to speak up against e-theft in all its forms before it ruins the publishing trade and puts the storytellers you love out of business for ever…