Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Book Thieves. Why book piracy is harming writers directly, and why NOW is the time to do something about it - A ReadItTorial

With the rise and rise of digital devices capable of storing vast quantities of data, and of course the stratospheric popularity of e-readers such as the Kindle from Amazon and many others, book piracy is rapidly becoming a huge problem for publishers, authors and illustrators who are seeing a huge increase in the numbers of nefarious folk basically stealing their work and putting it online and up for grabs.

In this Guardian article we hear from a couple of authors who are so cheesed off with the blatant levels of piracy - of theft of their books essentially - that they're considering chucking in the towel or at least are now faced with difficulties caused by huge drops in sales / earnings from their work because of piracy.

Pirates are universally unapologetic, in some cases actually 'rubbing the authors nose in it' by talking about how they've gleefully downloaded everything the Author has written rather than paying for it. That's just incredibly sh*tty in our opinion (excuse my language), no better than walking up to someone's brand new car and keying it right in front of their unbelieving eyes.

Recent big budget book releases may look like they've done fantastically well on paper (with books such as Phillip Pullman's "The Book of Dust" selling in considerable numbers, again in no small part due to some pretty hefty throat-cutting when it comes to prices).

For every copy sold though, statistics suggest that at least 15 copies would also have been obtained by nefarious means (pirated in other words).

It is theft. Let's not try and dress it up as some sort of harmless whimsical and romanticised thing here.  Coming from a creative background I feel that theft of intellectual and creative properties in any form has always been dealt with rather ineffectively (whether your work was stolen through mass piracy, or just some  smug idiot online pinching your work from DeviantArt or Tumblr and sticking it on T shirts to sell, or worse still just making a land-grab for all your work and passing it off as their own, or worse, getting commissions based on your stolen work!)

The big problem with E-Books and E-Readers is one of convenience. Though there are platforms that offer methods of digitally signing books and proofs to ensure theft is kept to a minimum before a book is released, in a large number of cases you still rely on individuals to make the right judgement call and not steal your work - either by distributing pre-release digital copies to folk they shouldn't be sharing them with (ie, ANYONE) or meticulously scanning in books (in some cases we've heard of pirates sitting down with a copy of a popular book and taking mobile phone pics of every page before wrapping it up in a PDF and shoving it on a download site). From a reviewer perspective, it's an absolute arseache to try and download a netgalley book for review, then realise that there's no kindle version of that book so you'll end up having to dig out a laptop or read it on a desktop computer through Adobe Digital Editions or something else that can decrypt encoded CBRs. Most press folk will just resort to offering PDFs and though we take great pains to properly handle these appropriately (and dispose of them once we're done with our review) not everyone's quite that conscientious.

In much the same way as movie piracy took decades to properly bring under control (and some might argue that movie piracy has never effectively been resolved to the point where there are more sales than illegal downloads) I fear that the cost of convenience is directly being shunted on to creatives who really just want to do what they're good at, and make a comfortable living doing so.

Worse still, it means that most creatives will adopt to lock down their work. You know what it's like when you're really proud of something but become so worried about sharing it with the world in case it's stolen? That's usually what happens so we end up with situations where artists and authors don't have effective enough toolsets, or a universally-applicable set of laws across the globe to protect their work adequately.

Describing piracy as a 'victimless crime' is callous and woefully ill-informed. A huge drop in book sales for an author can mean they're dropped by a publisher or agent, can mean that they have to then try and balance a creative career with some mundane job to pay the bills - and in some cases it's enough to put a creative off for life, meaning that particular talent is lost to everyone.

Of course, there's no point in trying to appeal to pirates' good natures in this way, as in most cases pirates' excuses of being 'too poor to afford your damned book' are particularly rubbish, again with statistics seeming to back up the notion that it's definitely not low income folk that are pirating and sharing books online, rather the affluent who are merely doing so for some sort of online bragging rights ("Dude, I totally PWNED that Pullman! I got it up there a good 12 hours before anyone else!") - or worse, to push through a revenue stream from someone else's work through sticking their pirated files on file sharing services crammed full of computer-rogering ads or nasty trojans ready to harvest personal details.

It's a crappy situation throughout, and one that really needs to be reined in and properly addressed by publishers, online hosting companies and the digital technology industry working together towards some sort of a secure distribution standard that locks pirates out - as well as a serious shakeup in copyright law. Balancing that with making things convenient for genuine readers who want to pay for and enjoy those books (like us) will of course eventually result in a better deal and a more secure livelihood for the creatives that share their awesome imaginary characters and worlds with us.