Pirates Ahoy!

I was recently contacted by an indie writer in a panic: Her work was on offer in one of the innumerable pirate sites that crop up over the internet every other day and twice on Sunday, and what could she do about it?

I want to start out by saying that pirate sites are infuriating. And even when they’re giving the work away “for free” they’re making money off it, by requesting donations. I suspect they don’t make much, but it’s some and they’re making it on the back of creators who get nothing.

I don’t know a single writer who likes them, and I’ve seen people go to war with them and get consumed — time and money — for years, sometimes succeeding, sometimes losing, but always, always to their detriment. There are books not written, life not lived, while the writer chases down pirates and beats them, only for a new one to come up, again and again and again.

Don’t do that. You don’t have to “defend your copyright” by sending a cease and desist letter to every *sshat on the internet. I mean, you can send them the letters. Every so often I do. But in the end the result is absolutely nothing.

Even though a lot of these places have “offices” in the US or Canada, most of them are run by well, Chinese, Arab, Indian or other “unclear on the concept of copyright” cultures. And they move, and change names, and the books will show up again.

One of these is giving away blog posts of mine. Individual blog posts as “books.”

It’s infuriating.

But here’s some things to make clear:

1- These people aren’t costing you money. Maybe the people who download your books actually read them. This is POSSIBLE, but unlikely. Most of them just want to brag about the size of their pirated collection.
There are exceptions, granted. When we were much, much younger and the internet was an innocent place, we sometimes “pirated” books or games, because we simply didn’t have the money to buy them. No, we didn’t think it was right. Yes, if WE LIKED IT first money we had we bought a legal copy. This will sometimes happen, in which case the pirates worked for your good. (Take note, because this is one of very few things I agree with Eric Flint on: The problem most writers have isn’t piracy. It’s obscurity. To the extent pirates might expose new readers to your stuff, they’re a good thing.)

And then there is what I consider “licit piracy.” If you have the book on paper, and can’t find a copy in ebook, and your eyes are going bad. I still don’t do it, because someone in this house has threatened to skin me alive if I risk the virus infested torrents, but that… well, if the book isn’t available and won’t ever be again (unlike Darkships. I had some problems with editing, but they are coming back, I swear. And there will be hard covers.)

But other than those two cases, most people who download your books are unlikely to read them. And those who download and read them likely couldn’t afford to buy them.

In fact, giving stories away for free now and then (these days mostly on my blog, but I used to have books in the Baen Free Library) seems to have a positive effect on sales. either people feeling guilty and buying, or just people reading a bit, liking it and buying more.

Yes, pirates are still annoying and infuriating. But the authors I’ve seen go to war with them, spend years and money and– And another site crops up, with their books.

It’s not worth it, and I’d rather you wrote more books.

Meanwhile you should, of course, register your copyrights, because well, the new hotness if for someone else to copy your entire book and put it up for sale, then get Amazon to kick you out for stealing “their” book. And that, you want as much documentation as possible to go after Amazon with.

The rest?

Meh. Sip your pina collada and ignore the pirates. They’re not good people, but they’re hurting you less than you think.

47 thoughts on “Pirates Ahoy!

  1. i’ve seen the ‘copy your entire book’ thing, and heard the person complaining and saying they never registered it because then someone could get it and steal it… o.o

      1. yep, and the stupid even leaks into the film industry regarding copyright. There’s been a few ‘i wrote this screenplay buy never copyrighted it and never registered it with the WGA so it won’t get stolen but X film Distributor stole it anyway’ cases over the years.

    1. You do not need to register anything in order for a copyright to apply to your work. It would make things easier in court, but it’s not required. It’s not recommended and you make your life more difficult etc etc but…

      The mind-bendingly bigger question is *what exactly did you write the book for then?* To print one copy and put on your shelf? πŸ˜€

  2. Must confess that I have on occasion pirated a particular book then pay the author the full cover price directly by a tip jar donation or if necessary some other means such as a free or discounted edit, or even cash handed over at a con.
    Why you ask? Because there are a few publishers whom I simply refuse to reward for their abusive and rapacious treatment of both their authors and their customers.
    But then I am by my own admission a very mean and surly old man.

  3. I’m reminded of how the Wright Brothers, after inventing flight, ended up spending the rest of their working lives trying to defend their patents instead of making new and improved airplanes.

    The end result was the US ended up equipping it’s air arm with French and British designs because the best we had were years behind them.

    Ultimately Wright would even merge with its arch-rival Curtiss, and while the Curtiss side of the house would go on to be an extremely successful aircraft maker during the inter-war period, Wright really only ended up doing engines, the part of their plane that they didn’t really try to patent.

    They were pretty wildly successful too. Pretty much every single radial engine made in the US was either made by Wright, or Pratt & Whitney, the company founded by a bunch of break-off Wright engineers, and most of the Soviet radial engines were made based on a Wright cylinder design that they liscenced from them.

    Moral of the story? Yes, you should protect your rights, but you best course is to spend most of your time making cool stuff. That’s what pays.

    1. I did not know that.

      Yay for brain candy!
      (Another story idea that would take a lot of research, and be very niche? There are many worse problems to have.)

      1. The Wrights claimed that instead of just patenting the Wright Flyer and wing-warping (how it was steered,) they patented controlled, powered flight. Glen Curtis challenged that, arguing that 1) it was too broad of a patent and 2) Octave Chanute had done it before the Wrights. However, Curtis got caught improving the Chanute design in order to prove his second point, because Chanute’s design had some fatal flaws in it . . . It’s a real soap opera. Meanwhile, Louis Bleriot and others are off doing their thing and developing better (or at least different) designs.

        1. Thing is, they actually had a reasonable claim to it, as no-one prior seemed to have realized you needed full 3-axis control.

          Greg’s Airplanes and Autos has a really deep breakdown on just how revolutionary the Wright Flier was, and why it was the first:

          But instead of forging ahead with what could have been years worth of a head start over everyone else, they prioritized the legal fight. It’s just sad really.

        2. I think it wasn’t Chanute, but Langley, whose design Curtiss improved until it worked in an attempt to overturn the Wright patents. Chanute acted as a sort of clearing house for aircraft experimenters, distributing information to anyone who asked from anyone who sent him stuff. He didn’t actually do much building or flying, though – mainly some hang-gliders. Langley’s Aerodrome didn’t have full 3-axis controls, so it would not have developed into a practical airplane even if the first flight attempts had been successful.

          1. Thanks. I was going from memory, and it’s been a looooooong time since I read anything about the patent fight.

    2. All through the 1920’s and 1930’s so many entities had patents on various aircraft parts, nobody could build a complete airplane without getting sued over somebody’s patent.

      In the end, the U.S. government nationalized all the aircraft patents and forced the various squabbling concerns into mutual licensing agreements. U.S. aviation took off, just in time for World War 2.

      One of the few times the government did something useful.
      At my house, the ‘things that go bump in the night’ are cats.

      1. “…government did something useful.”

        Can’t help but notice that the problem to be fixed was, in fact, the result of a government program.

        Mind, I find it fascinating to discover that the Wright brothers (and apparently other early American aeronauts) were patent trolls.

    3. Arguably the issue goes back even further than that.

      Apparently Watt and Boulton, having patented a steam engine, managed to convince the British Parliament to extend the life of the patent. There are examples of rival designers who were ruined by the pair for having violated the patent without permission. Then the patent ran out in 1800, and the various rival inventors all revealed the improvements that they’d been sitting on until then (and could now reveal without risking bankruptcy). Watt and Boulton went back to designing improved steam engines, and managed to retain a good portion of the business.

    4. Well, the big radials, anyway. Below about 250 hp, Continental and Lycoming made a lot, usually for trainers. There were also a lot of small manufacturers like LeBlonde, Szekely, Kinner, etc. making even smaller radials. Those got cut off in the late 1930s by the development of the opposed-cylinder engines, which eventually took over the market up to about 400hp.

      1. Oh cool. I wasn’t terribly aware of the Continental and Lycoming radials.

        I’m trying to run down numbers, but I still think the P&W and Wright engines were built in greater numbers though. I’ve found references that over 170k R-1830 Twin Wasps and another 125k Double Wasps were built, and I’d expect a similar numbers from Wright’s various Cyclones given how comparable they were. As near as I can tell, they pretty much owned commercial aviation in the US.

        And in a pretty wild twist, the Grumman FF-1 Fifi biplanes (their first aircraft design) and their later F4F Wildcat of WWII fame, both had versions powered by different versions of the same Wright R-1820.

        The Fifi had a 1930’s era Cyclone 9 that put out 700hp, while the last gen Wildcat, the FM-2, had a version that put out 1350hp. They managed to nearly double the engine’s power output over its lifetime.

        1. Yep, pretty much every US radial-engined fighter or bomber used either P&W or Wright engines. The Continentals and Lycomings (and I forgot the Jacobs, earlier) and others were lower power and used mainly on trainers and small transports. There were a lot more bombers and fighters produced than trainers, and the bombers used more than one engine, so there was a lot more production of the P&W and Wright designs. You’re also right about the huge increase in power output that the big manufacturers managed over the course of the war. By the end of the war, we were pretty much at the limits of what could be done with piston engines.

          1. Well, that’s actually the funny thing; we weren’t. Modern piston engines have far higher energy densities and power to weight ratios.

            What happened was that the brayton cycle is just so much more effective than the otto cycle that there wasn’t much value in developing them further for aviation applications.

            The jet does have problems at lower speeds, but it’s power output at higher speeds meant even the dinky turbines the 262 were using wildly outperformed the piston engines of the day.

            Looking it up, it appears that the thrust to horsepower conversion is the thrust * the current airspeed, and that 375mph is the 1lb = 1hp, so the 1980hp engines of the Me-262 would be producing the equivalent of 1980hp each when the plane was cruising at 375, and that number would go up the fast it got, until the engines started losing power from transonic effects in the inlets.

            Meanwhile propellers start losing power rapidly once the tips are approaching the speed of sound, and their speed is both the forward motion of the plane and rotation speed of the prop, so at the speeds piston engines start running into a brick wall is right where jets start ramping up in power output.

  4. Eh, one author managed to greatly increase sales by no electronic ARCS and having her brother flood venues with bad copies of the book.

        1. Oh. The New York Special then.

          Could still have been worse. One of my relatives got an entire hardbound ten volume set of the index of the New York environmental regulation code, printed over and over and over. Not the actual regulations that had been requisted, mind you, just the index of them.

          Fortunately said relative didn’t have to pay for it. But, any of you who lived in New York? You all did. Your tax dollars at work. Sorry.

  5. Somebody copied several months worth of my blog and put it up. Which made me laugh, because I know how much traffic I got in those months. It very much did not cover their effort.

    However, now that I go and check, I found something a bit alarming. My blog does not come up on Duck-Duck-Go, same on Bing. Only the copy comes up. What the hell is that? Still comes up on Google, comes up on Brave, so that’s good at least. I notice all the pictures from my blog come up too, so clearly this is a snafu.

    How irritating. 😑 Luckily the blog is just me venting, so I don’t care what the traffic is.

    So there you go, important safety tip. Check the search engines to make sure your blog/book/whatever comes up.

    1. Read with KU, then buy it. I’m hoping the author gets both royalties that way, and even if they don’t it doesn’t cost any more. It probably does screw up their sales metrics, though. πŸ™‚

    2. Ok. Sucked in by the first couple chapters, gonna have to read all the rest of them now. . .

      1. “And they were venturing into Nightsong with a cop. Anything illegal in plain view would be license to unleash smitation as needed”

        This .. is good. It gives me vibes of Dresden Files crossed with.. Lois McMaster Bujold. I can’t think of a better way to put it!

  6. Yes, the pirate sites are annoying – but when it came up on my original author discussion group, the tech-oriented among us pretty much said what Sarah did: the most of them aren’t really reading your book, they’re just stashing away the file for bragging rights because they are bit-hoarders. It’s not worth the time and effort to try and take them down, and we have better things to do with our time and effort.

  7. I would suggest that piracy is such a non-issue, one shouldn’t even bother wasting the emotional energy on it to be annoyed.

    Sanderson did an experiment with putting Warbreaker up online for free, to see whether it would affect sales positively / negatively. Overall his experience seems to have been a positive one.

    Sites like Royal Road where authors publish whole books and then go on to successfully publish their book on Amazon seem to indicate that readers having free access to your books is a net positive.

    A total tangent, but Blender (open source 3d software) has a thriving market for plugins which are mandatory ‘free’ as per the license. You can charge for the service to download the plugin, but any code touching Blender must also be GPL. There are torrent sites full of plugins etc . . but lots of very successful plugin developers who get paid on site like Gumroad, BlenderMarket, etc.

    All examples are ones where creative people *keep creating* and the effect of free access to that creation is a positive one.

    Where it comes apart is when you have an author with 1 book and never writes another, or old dead authors who have estates that want to protect their IP. I tend to disagree with the long term type of copyright / patents anyways though. . .

    1. But a plugin for blender can link blender to proprietary software… (Vray, 3dcoat, Substance Designer)

  8. When I was young I read the John D. McDonald Travis McGee books from the public library. A half century later I own legitimate copies of all of them. That is just one example

    1. The filing fee is $65 each, not $45. I just registered three. Ouch.

      1. I understand that a non-American should be able to sue for statutory damages without registering. Don’t think anyone has managed it yet though.

  9. The pirate scene is weird, and indies don’t get the worst of it. One of my computer books was published by a big NYC press in 2009. Just a few weeks later, the actual high-res print-image PDF showed up on the Pirate Bay, several pirate sites, and, egad, Usenet. I bitched at the publisher, but it was up there for months. What happened was that the publisher farmed out layout to some small firm, and somebody there evidently put the print image on a thumb drive and took it home. That file was bouncing around the pirateverse for years. Most of the books aren’t ever read, but are used as a kind of currency to “pay” for access to private torrent sites. In order to download, you had to upload new material. It sounds weird and I don’t know if it still happens, but that’s how one of the pirates explained it to me circa 2010. Books are a small part of it. Most of what’s traded are DVD rips, music, and TV episodes. I don’t even bother searching for pirate sites anymore. Bad use of my time and stomach lining.

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