Here There Be Pirates

A few days ago I found my first novel up on a free torrenting site. Initially I was…surprised. Part of me felt violated but another part felt a little proud that someone would actually want to steal it. Eventually the violated part (mostly my ego) won out and I sent the website administrator an email asking him to remove the book. I haven’t heard back yet but at this point I’ve sort of come to the realization that my email was probably sent in vain. Pirating has been around forever and now that everything’s gone digital there’s really no hope in trying to stop it now.

I’m going to be honest, when I was in middle school I used to download music off of a site called limewire. I’m not making excuses for my behavior but, at that time, I don’t think I really understood that it was stealing. I understood that I was getting something for free but not that I was getting it at someone else’s expense. Maybe because it felt too easy or too anonymous…I’m not really sure. Not to mention, all of the music I was downloading were top 40 pop hits by artists so rich I couldn’t imagine them possibly missing a dollar or two. In fact, why should they get any richer? They already had way more than they needed and I was sure they weren’t doing anything particularly productive with it like feeding the hungry or saving the world. I was the one who needed a break. Not them.

And so on…you get the point. Teenage me was a little self-righteous. Most teenager’s are. But the truth is, this is a toxic attitude to live by and it’s one that’s watered down the moral repercussions of piracy and made it the most socially acceptable crime of the 21st century. See, that’s the real problem. It’s accepted; even encouraged. Because in an economy where everyone is struggling, everyone thinks they deserve a break. From their responsibilities, from the law. And what’s easier to steal than something that already feels invisible?

No, you can’t hang a digital copy of a song or book above your mantle, you can’t even hold it in your hands, but just because it doesn’t exist in the physical world doesn’t mean that it has no value. It’s still art. It’s still the product of someone’s hard work and imagination. And it’s still a product that should be paid for by consumers.

This is my opinion when it comes to piracy–I don’t agree with it–but I’m not going to start some kind of crusade to try and wipe it from the face of the earth. Why? Because these days the moral issue of e-book piracy is not a writer’s issue, it’s a reader’s issue.

Even if every writer joined forces to try and end pirating, the impossibility of that task is so…impossible, that we’d never have time to do the one thing that actually matters–making art. But readers, they’re the ones who can really make a difference. Because all they have to do is say no. To stealing. To degrading art. And the good news is that most of them do. Someone who truly loves reading and appreciates authors believes in paying for books. They don’t need to be convinced that writing is our livelihood. They don’t need to be convinced that books matter. That writers matter. So as long as there are still book lovers out there, there will still be writer’s earning enough money to continue doing what they love, which is writing great books for the readers who support them.


15 thoughts on “Here There Be Pirates

  1. People who pirate books are either A) people who never had any intention of buying it anyway, so no big loss, or B) people who might honestly enjoy your book and be inspired to pay money for more in the future. So there’s really no downside to having your book pirated, other than … free publicity, I guess 🙂

    • Exactly. There’s always the chance that you might be able to convert some readers. And when you really think about it–the amount of books being pirated can’t be more than the number of books being checked out at a library. Although libraries are paid for by tax payers, there’s still the feeling of “free” there and we all can agree that libraries are pretty awesome.

  2. Hang in there; that must suck after all the work you put into it, but you’re right – it’s up to the people looking to buy things to make the ethical decision. I used to use limewire too, for much the same reasons. Thankfully more and more people are becoming more conscientious about how piracy affects artists. Hope that website takes appropriate action.

    • That was the initial sting. I looked at that free download button and all I could think about were the hours I’d put in to bringing that book to life. I’d already priced the book at a fairly cheap price point so I was a little surprised that someone would think 3.99 was too much to pay for a book. But on the flip side, you could say it’s akin to someone loving the book so much they just wanted to share it with everyone they know! Maybe I’ll get some loyal readers out of the deal, who knows?

      • True! And I imagine a lot of people who find something for free and really like it will actually end up buying it, too. That’s what happened with me and Tori Amos back in the limewire days haha.

    • Thank you! And you’re right. We’re all consumers and this is a consumer issue. It’s our morality that’s at stake when we choose to pirate something and even though it can be financially damaging to the person we’re stealing from, I’d argue that’s it’s even more damaging to the person who’s doing the stealing.

  3. I completely agree with you… but I know when I had the option to encrypt my book so it couldn’t be shared or easily pirated (because there’s seems to be people who can find ways around encryptions anyway) I chose not too because as someone trying to get their name out there I figured if someone pirated it then it might help it spread faster… but then again I would actually like to make money off of it…

    pirating is such a slippery slope… I know I have friends who are like I can just download that movie for you or burn that song… and I’m like if I really like it I don’t mind paying for it… and I have stopped downloading music because amazon has made it easy to just buy the songs I like so why not take the money I earn to get myself pretty things to go buy those pretty things… but it is tempting at times… but the real endless cycle of it all is that people are like well it’s so overpriced I’d rather just get it for free… but it keeps getting more overpriced to make up for all the people stealing it… it’s really messed up when you think about it…

    • I know so many people in life who do the same thing. They’ll offer to burn me a CD or drop box me a movie and I can never accept it. Not anymore, anyway. I guess I’m just too big of a believer in karma but since I’ve started putting my own work out there, I’m much more defensive and protective when it comes to other artist’s work. Fortunately I like to think that I keep my price points pretty low but I know most traditionally published e-books are in the 9-15 dollar range, which may seem like too much to some people. So I do understand how they might try and argue that it’s not worth the money and they’d rather just get it for free. But just because something might not be worth 15 dollars doesn’t mean it’s worth nothing. I think people just feel too entitled these days and they’re used to having easy access to any kind of content they want thanks to the internet which is why they don’t feel like pirating something digital is really stealing.

      • even though logically I know it’s stealing it is hard to think that way… after all your not in a store just grabbing something off a shelf… someone is sitting there offering you free stuff… which is why I think you’re absolutely right that it isn’t the producers of these things that need to fight piracy… it’s the consumers who need to rethink what they’re doing…

  4. I was JUST thinking today about how I used to download music for free in high school. I justified it in similar ways (what does Coldplay need my money for?) and now am kind of horrified looking back at it. Even in college, I would spends hours searching for streaming sites so I could watch TV shows illegally. Like you said, it just didn’t feel like a crime since I wasn’t taking anything physical.

    I don’t know if I now understand what’s wrong with pirating music/books/movies/etc because I’m an adult or if it’s because I’m a writer and would never want someone to illegally download a book of mine. Either way, I vow not to pirate others’ work ever again. Even if you’ve done it in the past, you can decide today to do right by these artists and not steal their work.

    I hope you can get your book taken down from that website :-/

    • I did the same thing with TV shows too! When I was in college it was just part of the culture. I would be at someone’s house and they’d say hey do you want to watch the new episode of Dexter? And I’d be like sure! So they’d pull it up on some torrenting site and for some reason it didn’t feel like a big deal. But when you stop to think about all of the other people out there doing the same thing–taking a product or service rather than paying for it–the amount of money that’s owed to the creators of these products is impossible to imagine. I do hope that they take my book down from their site but if they don’t I’m not going to obsess over it. Besides, it looked pretty shady anyways and I warn anyone who wants to try downloading it that they’ll most likely get some kind of virus. The universe is funny that way.

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