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Posts tagged ‘piracy’

To pirate or not to pirate, that is NOT the question

Over the last few days, social media has been alive — again — with author outrage over e-book piracy. Apparently someone on Facebook started a thread on her wall asking for recommendations for pirate sites where she could download e-books for free. It’s no surprise that the authors were up in arms. After all, no one likes seeing work they have up for sale in one place being offered for free — without permission — somewhere else. But, when the woman who started the thread started blocking those who didn’t agree with her, and when others started attacking those who pointed out what they were advocating was stealing, the internet exploded.

I’m on the record as being against piracy. I’m also realistic enough to know there is little we can do about most pirate sites. Those who are often the worst offenders aren’t located in the U.S. They have little concern for the law or for takedown notices. The time and money that it often takes to get that site in the Ukraine or elsewhere can be better spent writing my next book.

What does get me, however, is the attitude of people like the OP and her supporters who have this sense of entitlement to our work. Like so many in society today, they feel they have the right to take our work without compensation, because they want it. In this case, the OP claimed, from what I’ve read, that she was “poor”. Yet she either had internet or the means to get somewhere there was internet. She had access to a computer, tablet or smartphone to post her request. That request also meant she had access to something that allowed her to read e-books. Oh, and from what those who have purportedly seen her post and Facebook page have said, she is a photographer. Hmmm, I wonder if she gives her work away for free.

One of the commenters said that he had no problem pirating e-books because writers make enough money as it is. Yes, I laughed. He suffers from the Castle Syndrome — thank you very much, ABC. For every Stephen King or Nora Roberts, there are thousands of authors working one or two jobs to make ends meet.

From personal history, one of the sites that did — and possibly once again does — have my books listed, they also listed the number of times a title had been downloaded. I lost several thousand dollars from just that site alone. I was lucky, however, because they did take down my books when I contacted them. But I have to spend time every few months going back and seeing if my work has once again found its way onto their menu. That money could have been put to good use doing things like, oh, paying bills.

Much as I hate pirate sites, I know they also serve a purpose, limited yes, but a purpose. The problem is that they also cause issues with retail sites like Amazon and B&N, etc. If those sites learn that our work is being “sold” for less somewhere else, they will send notice, telling us we need to either price match or risk having our work removed from the legitimate site. Fortunately, the few times that has happened with me, either the pirate sites have taken my work down when I’ve sent them a DMCA notice or Amazon, etc., have accepted my explanation that the offending site is a pirate site and has failed to respond to the DMCA notice.

But, when someone tells me they have the right to pirate my work because they like to read and can’t afford my work, well, that does get my dander up. First is the sheer audacity of it all. What is it about our society, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere, that has bred this mentality in some people? I have been known to ask people like that if they are willing to give away their own hard work to someone just because that person wants it.

The argument spotted in the Facebook thread from one person saying they like to read, so they should be able to pirate any book they want, almost had me beating my head against the desk. There are libraries, and most libraries now allow you to borrow e-books, if you want to read something for free. There’s Project Guttenberg. Amazon and other e-tailers offer hundreds to thousands of free titles. That’s more than enough for someone who wants free books to read.

Jim Baen proved the validity of the “give the first taste for free” with the Baen Free Library. Unfortunately for writers, there are some out there who believe every taste should be free. Fortunately, they are in the vast minority.

Here’s the thing. Writing is a business. It is our profession. The reason the vast majority of writers hold down a “real” job — or two — is because writing doesn’t pay a lot. Not when you consider the number of hours an author spends writing and preparing a book for publication. If that author then publishes that book traditionally, his income is cut even further per unit sold. Most of us don’t live in fancy apartments in New York, play poker with famous Hollyweird folks and go out solving crimes with NYC detectives. Most of us are lucky if we can replace our laptops before they wear out.

Here is something else to consider. Most of us are also very thankful to our fans and are more than willing to send a free e-book to a fan in need. I would much rather do that — and have done that.

Now, I know there are going to be some of you out there who will note the high prices of e-books coming from certain publishers. Those books, if I have to read them, I borrow from the library. Sure, it means I won’t get to read it as soon as I might like but I am still sending money to the author that way. The only time I will even consider pirating a book is when it is something so obscure that it hasn’t been published here and isn’t available through any legitimate means — and I have to have a pressing need for it. Funny, I haven’t found anything like that, yet. I have always managed to find an alternative. However, I know there are some reference materials that aren’t available through anything here in the U. S. except pirate sites. Fortunately for my conscience, I haven’t had to use those materials yet.

So here’s the thing, folks. Just because there are pirate sites out there, that doesn’t mean you need to use them. If the download links go anywhere but to Amazon or another legitimate e-tailer, you are taking money out of the hands of the author. If you legitimately can’t afford an e-book, contact the author. I have a feeling if you do, and if you explain your circumstances, they won’t hesitate to send you a copy. That’s especially true if you offer to leave a review for the book when you finish reading it.

Most of all, don’t be a butthead about it. If you are going to pirate, that’s between you and your conscience. Don’t go to Facebook or Twitter, etc., and ask in a post authors can see that you want recommendations for pirate sites. It tends to get our backs up, especially if you then start blocking those who point out that what you are doing is wrong. And, authors, take a page out of Jim Baen’s book. Offer your work for free from time to time to hook new readers. Your bottom dollar will come to appreciate it.

Walking the Plank

Today, I am a pirate, Arrr! where’s my cutlass?

You may be laughing (which was my intent), but I actually feel pretty badly about it. I accidentally bought two pirated books. I wasn’t on a pirate site, I was on Amazon. I saw two Heinlein titles on sale, and I pounced on them as I’m trying to gather all of them in ebook as well as paper. I’ve bought quite a few from Baen, including the Expanded Universe (which, sadly, I’ve learned is no longer available through Baen) but these two I didn’t have yet.

Fast forward a few days, I was writing up my weekly review, and griping about all the horrible typos in the Heinleins, and how I ought to have waited and seen if they were available from Baen. I went over to Amazon to grab links so people could avoid them (the covers are distinctive) and I discovered they weren’t there any longer. Digging around in my order history, I found them, and that’s when I realized I had bought counterfeit Heinleins.

heinlein counterfeits

There are a couple of clues, here. I didn’t gig to the covers at first, because often re-issues of old books get absolutely dreadful covers. These are at least paying homage to the science fiction content. When a book is re-issued, the publisher relies simply on the author’s reputation to make sales. And I am sure these two made sales. They made $5 just off me. The other clue is the sold by: Amazon Digital Services. This is the way Amazon sorts out self-published work, and had I looked for this before hitting buy, I would have known. But Alas, this buyer didn’t beware, and one-clicked her way to reading happiness, and now she feels guilty.

As my First Reader and I were talking about it in the wake of my discovery, he pointed out that they had been taken down. But what, he asked, would happen to the monies the books made? I have no idea. Best I can figure, Amazon keeps it. I’m morally certain the pirate has their account shut down, frozen, and until/unless they prove they own the properties (books) they were selling, they don’t get access. I know this because it happened to an author I know (who did own the books, and was able to prove it, but it took a while). Now, the pirate isn’t going to be able to prove anything, they were stealing. So what then? I somehow don’t think I’ll be getting a refund. Nor do I think Amazon will track the rightful owners down (Baen owns Farnham’s Freehold right now, I believe) and disburse the money to them.

Most of the pirate sites I have encountered, in the course of keeping track of my titles and sending DCMA takedown notices, seem to be located in Russia, or at least that’s where their IPs are. I’m sure there are other countries where it would be impractical for IP rights to be enforced. With this seller on Amazon, who knows? I don’t think it was a terribly intelligent way to make money, as this is Amazon, and they do actually pay attention to copyright, unlike the more notorious pirate sites. I sometimes wonder if the rise of subscription book services, like Kindle Unlimited and Oyster, will reduce piracy sites. I know that my return rate on Amazon dropped to almost nothing when I put my short works (and currently, two novels) in the KU. On the other hand, by not having the second in a series in KU, I recently saw a return on that title, which would be someone liking the first, and then reading the second for free… sigh. Some people.

As for me, I’ve been burnt and will be a more cautious book shopper in the future. Next time I see a good deal on a popular author’s book, I’m going to scroll down a bit and see the listed publisher. I’m not going to lose any sleep over this one, but it does make me wonder if a more clever counterfeiter is out there, and what they might be up to. I know an author named Rachel Ann Nunes fell victim to a clever one, and had a very difficult time prosecuting the case against her plagiarist. Another scandal blew up way back in 2013 (feels weird to say that) around so-called authors who were taking advantage of fanfiction sites.

Sad Puppies 3

I’m including this here, but I strongly encourage you to consider not only going over to Brad Torgerson’s blog and reading the whole thing, but also to vote for the Hugos. We’ll be talking about this more here at Mad Genius Club in the upcoming months, as if you don’t remember from last year… However, last year the Sad Puppies campaign was responsible for the highest voter participation in the Hugos, ever. For an analysis of what happened last year, look at Larry Correia’s blog, here.

Keep in mind something, because no matter how much you hear it, this isn’t about politics. This is about making the Hugo more relevant to the greater fandom, as Brad discusses below, and it’s about keeping the Hugo great. It would be truly sad to lose the award of once-greatness into the morass of thinly-disguised revenge porn and poorly written (but socially relevant! To… someone, I’m assuming at least the author, although then again, marketing being what it is…) books that have turned the Hugo award on the cover from must-buy to ew, putting this down now. So let’s work on finding some really great books to nominate, and gathering interested voters who care. I’m an example of someone who didn’t vote for years, and last year, I finally did it. I’ll do it again this year. They say if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. So I pay my money, and I talk about the awards, because a shocking number of people just don’t know about them.

To that end, SAD PUPPIES has basic objectives:

1) Get works and authors onto the Hugo ballot who might not otherwise be there; regardless of political persuasion. Think we’re just a crazy minority of right-wingers out to destroy science fiction? You’d be wrong. For instance, we’d love to see Eric Flint on the Hugo Best Novel short list. Eric is not only a popular author who does the genre credit with his work, he’s a card-carrying Trotskyite. A man who (unlike most slacktivist internet liberals these days) was willing to put his ass on the line for what he believed — back when identifying as a “red” was physically dangerous business in this country.

2) Encourage people who are SF/F consumers (but not “fandom” according to Worldcon) to participate in the nomination and selection of works. To include gamer fans, tie-in fans, movie and comic fans, and everyone else who might want to have a say in deciding who gets selected for “science fiction’s most prestigious award.” But maybe they’ve not gotten the word? Maybe they’ve just been having fun, and the Hugos have simply sailed beneath their notice year after year? “Fandom” seems to think this is a feature of the Hugos: the fewer who vote, the “better” they are. I say it’s a flaw. Bring on the BIG fans. The ones who keep the SF/F pump primed with dollars and enthusiasm every year! SF/F survives and thrives because they put their money where their excitement is. So SAD PUPPIES tries to encourage them to also put their money (and their votes) where the Hugos are.

Tuesday morning thoughts

Last week — was it only last week? — I wrote about how I was finding myself forced to take some downtime after finishing a novel. That need has pretty much passed, only to be replaced by the body numbing exhaustion that came from a weekend filled with graduation and commissioning activities for my son. Much as I’d like to be able to sit back and bask in the pride I feel for my son, I know I can’t. So I’m pushing through. The only real problem today is there simply isn’t enough coffee in the world to get my brain going enough to blog.

But I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know that sanity has yet to find its way into legacy publishing. How do I know? Well, the price fixing suit filed by the Department of Justice against five of the Big Six as well as Apple has yet to be settled by all parties. In fact, it looks like it will go to trial early next month, barring some last minute settlements or postponements. It is going to be interesting to see how that plays out in court, assuming it goes all the way to verdict. Of course, if the court finds for the DoJ, we all know there will probably be appeals and that means no final result for years to come.

Then there’s this article from Publisher’s Weekly about the increase in e-book sales last year. What’s interesting about it is that it, like so many of the other studies, goes by the number of dollars spent instead of number of units bought. This is an important distinction. Going by the number of dollars spent, e-books represented 11% of the market. But when you consider how much cheaper e-books are — at least if you are talking about non-legacy published e-books — than paperbacks, much less novels, you have to wonder exactly what the numbers of units sold are. I have a feeling that if we had accurate numbers, we’d see figures nearing 50% of the market for e-books. But that’s just my feeling.

There’s also been another warning for authors about the danger of posting your material online. Author Lillith Saintcrow has been posting Squirrel!Terror on her blog for some time now. Imagine her surprise when she is tipped off that someone has been posting her work, with some of the names changed, as their own over on Daily Kos. She went to the posts, made sure she had gotten good information and then posted that these were her work.

And she was attacked by followers of the purported plagiarist, being called liar and other things.

While I understand her upset at being plagiarized, and I agree that she received at best a non-apology from the other party, I have to take issue with a subsequent post she put up and that has been echoed by other writers. She basically lumps piracy with plagiarism and that is my problem. In the world of e-books, piracy is not the same thing as plagiarism (although they are certainly closely related). As she noted in her original post, whole blocks of text were lifted by the other person and the only real changes in the text were names of the characters. Plagiarism clearly, as any student who has had to write a research paper will attest.

Piracy, on the other hand, is taking your e-book and putting it up for download without permission and without giving the author/publisher the appropriate proceeds. No one likes having their e-books pirated. There are differing opinions on whether it helps or hurts sales. As most of you know, I happen to fall in the camp that it helps. I guess this is where I admit that I have been brainwashed by the late Jim Baen not only about the viability and importance of e-books but that folks might pirate one e-book, find they like it and then they will go out and buy others by that author. Why did he believe that? Because he’d seen it work that way and, frankly, I happen to agree. Of course, if you happen to believe that readers are inherently criminal, then you won’t believe this and there is nothing I can say to change your mind.

Frankly, this debate reminds me of a situation that arose several years ago when the author of the then hot YA series discovered that someone she’d given a copy of the manuscript for the next book had leaked it on the internet. She stomped and screamed and pitched a royal hissy fit — in public. Because she just knew it would kill sales of the book — and remember, this was the latest hot YA series and it is still a big seller — she withdrew that book from her publisher and went back to work writing yet another book for the series.

Now, her hissy fit was a marketing windfall for her because it kept folks talking about the series. But it also delayed, iirc, the release of the next volume because she had to go back and write something else. Can I blame her for being mad? No. But at the rate the book was selling, the leak wouldn’t have hurt her. Not really. It didn’t hurt the Harry Potter books — and they were leaked as pdf files before the print books were available and years before legal digital versions were. But she was convinced no one would buy her book.


The lesson from what happened to her and from what happened to Saintcrow is that we have to be vigilant. If we post excerpts, or entire stories or novels, online, we need to periodically do searches for key phrases or passages. We need to search for our titles to see if they have been put up on some torrent site. Then, if you find you’ve been pirated, send a take down notice. It may or may not work, especially if the site is hosted outside of the country. If you find you’ve been plagiarized, do a take down notice and also let the offending party know that you will be talking with your attorney, especially if they are selling your work as their own.

Your thoughts?