I’ve seen a bit of an uproar regarding book piracy these past few weeks in the various author circles I frequent. A good deal of it involved a general sense of freaking out. “How dare they steal my life’s work!?” some proclaimed as if they’d just had a child snatched away and sold into slavery. For others, no amount of punishment would fit the crime – leading one to imagine prisons full of rapists, murderers, and downloaders.
My response to all of this is simple: Chill Out.
“But they’re taking money out of my pocket!”
Prove it, I say. If you can show me hundreds of sales a day drying completely up following a mention of the Pirate Bay then perhaps you’re on to something. If, on the other hand, you point to your one-sale / week average, which has since slipped a bit, then I might eye your logic somewhat dubiously.
Now before you get your feathers completely ruffled, I don’t think all digital piracy is a laughing matter. However, a lot of that depends on the industry in question. For example, small development shops hinging their success on niche software comes to mind. Piracy within the book biz, though, doesn’t give me much cause to lose my shit over – especially for small independent authors like myself. If you’re a part of this industry I ask you to give the below some consideration before you pull out the pitchforks and torches.
First off, freaking out doesn’t solve anything. So quit it. Get your head together and take a look at the actual situation before running around crying “Pirate!” to everyone. Understanding a problem is the first step to solving it, and might even lead you to conclude it wasn’t a problem to begin with.
See, in addition to writing fiction, I’ve been employed in the tech sector for a long time and have had my fair opportunity to take note of this situation. While I don’t exactly consider my observations to be an entirely scientific study, I find that most of the downloaders I’ve come across can be placed in the following buckets…
For starters, there are those who simply will not pay for digital goods. They might be of the “software should be free” ideology. They could be doing it for the thrill of getting away with something. Or it might just be a case of them being generic cheapskates. Here’s the thing, though, they weren’t going to buy your book to begin with. There’s no lost sale there because they wouldn’t have made a purchase regardless. Fretting about these folks is a waste of time due to one simple reality: you really can’t stop them. That train has long since left the station. Send them all the DMCA take-downs you want. They’ll disappear and then pop up again somewhere you haven’t found yet. All in all it’s not worth the effort – unless you really enjoy a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that you ultimately won’t win.
Worst case scenario: They’re annoying. Ignore them and don’t lose any sleep over it.
Best case scenario: They love your stuff and tell their friends, at least some of whom might not spend their days surfing warez sites. Positive word of mouth is never a bad thing.
Some people turn to downloading not from a sense of entitlement but because times are tough. They don’t want to take anything from anyone, but their financial situation is desperate. “Go without, then!” you demand. Me, I’d say give this group a break. I’ve been there and know that things can be bad enough as it is without laying a guilt trip on someone. Sometimes the only thing standing between a person and crushing depression is that momentary escape that a book provides. Note: just to be clear, I’m not advocating that it’s okay to commit actual violent crimes like, say, robbing a liquor store, if someone is out of work. I’m just saying, on the scale of punishable offenses I’d rank downloading a copy of my book to be pretty low on the list of things I want my local police force to be spending their time investigating. In short, you can count me in the camp that considers copyright infringement and actual theft to be two entirely different matters.
Worst case: Times never get better or they hate your stuff and never give you a second thought.
Best case: Their situation improves. They remember the joy your book brought them and become a loyal paying customer going forward.
There are most certainly those who like to try before they buy. Is this right? I’ll leave that debate to others, but it definitely isn’t always a bad thing. I remember once passing by a coworker’s desk to find them goofing off. On their screen was a grainy copy of Pirates of the Caribbean – which was still in the theaters. I’ll admit to watching over their shoulder long enough to realize I’d soon be plunking down my cash to watch it on the big screen (which I did). I’m pretty sure that movie would not have been on my radar had that encounter not occurred.
Worst case: Once again, they hate your stuff and move on.
Best case: “OMG! I love this author. I need to buy their paperbacks and get their autograph!”
Last but not least, let’s not forget those who turn to downloading because there is simply no easy or reasonably affordable way for them to obtain your goods legitimately. This might be for any of multiple reasons: lousy DRM, they’re in a country where you’re not selling, you’re exclusive on Barnes and Noble while they only have a Kindle…et cetera. In short, they want to specifically read you, but the only ones catering to their needs are pirate sites.
Worst case: You continue to ignore them and they continue to download your stuff.
Best case: You get off your butt, figure out how to serve them, and love the fact that you now have a wider audience buying your books.
That’s probably enough examples for you to get my point. The main takeaway is that in most cases the very worst scenario is probably the angst you’re causing yourself. At best, though, you have the very real possibility of adding new readers. Why would anyone turn that away?
The only real exceptions I make to the above are websites that are selling my products for profit without my permission and/or proper compensation. They’re the true pirates as far as I’m concerned. Sadly, they’re also the hardest to deal with as they’re typically far better organized than some kid downloading your book from his bedroom. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about someone selling your used paperbacks on Ebay. There’s nothing wrong with that. First sale doctrine is in effect and we should all be cool with that. I’m strictly talking about digital goods that can be sold an infinite number of times.
My advice for dealing with this group is simple.
- First – once more, don’t freak out. See my note above about this not being particularly constructive.
- Before you do anything, make sure they’re not actually a legit operation. Amazon and Kobo, for example, have lots of affiliates out there. Do your homework – put something in the shopping cart and see what happens (although don’t ever use your credit card on a suspect site). If you’re immediately taken back to Amazon to complete the purchase, then that site is probably A-okay. Move on and use your witch-hunting skills elsewhere. Likewise for lending sites. You might not like them, but many are operating under the letter of the law (if not the spirit) according to Amazon. Make sure the site you’re on is actually directly selling your stuff (often at a discount) before you take any action.
- The above done, contact them to let them know your intentions. This can be an email or a DMCA takedown, but you want to let them know you’re the rights holder and they don’t have permission to sell your stuff. Give them a finite time frame to comply (say, 48 hrs or so) with your request. Ultimately this may be a pointless effort, but you should do it anyway.
- Check their site again, after the time is up, from a different location. Go to a library or a friend’s house – seriously. Some of these guys are very clever. Rather than change anything, they’ll just blacklist your network address so that it appears to you that their website is gone. You will have gained nothing, save the bliss of ignorance, if this happens.
- Make a note of how they accept payment and then hit them where it hurts. Complain to Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, et cetera about their operation. Most likely they’re in some country where you can’t touch them, so contacting their ISP is probably worth jack-shit. However, you can make it much more difficult for them to do business if you manage to get their payment providers to cut them off. This is probably your most effective weapon.
- Be prepared to do it again and again. As I said, sites like these are far more organized than some dude downloading your book via his neighbor’s wifi. They’re also making money, allowing them to be flexible with their methods. It’s not a big deal for them to do something like pack up and move their operations to a different URL.
- Accept that you probably can’t stop it, but you sure as shit can make life difficult for them. That money is lost from your pocket, but you can take some satisfaction in being a major pain in the ass.
And that’s pretty much it. The above group are the ones truly taking cash from your wallet. The rest, well, you’re potentially dealing with possible fans of your work. Unless you’re in a position where you’re selling in the thousands a day, it might be best to tread lightly there. If you do so correctly, you may very well find yourself coming out ahead.
At the very least, you’ll save yourself some sleepless nights haunted by things that aren’t necessarily the doom and gloom you might think they are. Fret about something else, I say. There’s never a shortage of problems in this world – just be sure to pick the ones that are actually worth worrying about.
When he’s not busy monkey-clicking words, he can typically be found jealously guarding his collection of vintage Transformers from all who would seek to defile them.
Rick Gualtieri is the author of:
Bill the Vampire (The Tome of Bill, Part 1)
Scary Dead Things (The Tome of Bill, Part 2)
The Mourning Woods (The Tome of Bill, Part 3)
Holier Than Thou (The Tome of Bill, part 4)
Sunset Strip: A Tale From The Tome Of Bill
The Tome of Bill Compendium (vol. 1)
The Poptart Manifesto
Amazon Author Page:
Bill the Vampire
Go bother him right now!