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Apr. 15 2010 - 5:48 pm | 2,142 views | 1 recommendation | 42 comments

Word thieves

The Chicken Thief

Image by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr


There it is, bold-faced, italicized, underlined, with multiple exclamation points and question marks.


Because I’m being ripped off left and right.  I know because Google Alert informs me almost daily of the torrent downloads of my fiction available all over the Net – from as far away as Vietnam.

Chasing them is like playing Whack-A-Mole – slug one and two more pop up.  Some writers consider it the cost of doing business in the digital age, and I guess that’s the mindset that will preserve your sanity.   Some sites charge per download, some charge by time (e.g., $x for 36 hours of unlimited downloads) and some don’t charge at all.

Any way they operate, they’re thieves.  They’ve taken my work – something that would not exist without my effort – digitized it, then published it without my permission.  I already have a publisher.  My agent argues over clauses and even placement of commas before I sign.  I lease my work to them in exchange for royalties with which I pay my mortgage and buy food and gas and all that good stuff.

These guys are stealing my sales, which is robbery.  And robbery is committed by thieves.

But what gets me is the way these thieves justify it.

A recent site I visited – a freebie – has hundreds, maybe thousands of books available for download (I didn’t count) but only two of mine.  I say “only” because a lot of them have the entire run of my Repairman Jack novels (13 so far) for download in a single zip file.  (All of those titles are available as ebooks on Amazon and other sites, so each of those downloads is costing me a pile of royalties.)

I decided to drop him an email: “Well, at least you aren’t charging for them, but you are stealing from me.  You are duplicating my intellectual property — from which I make my living — and giving it away for free. I’m not going to threaten you because I have neither the time, will, nor resources to back that up, so I’ll simply ask you to remove my work from your list.  It’s the right thing to do.”

Simple, direct, non-threatening, appealing to his better instincts, right?  And he replies…with URLs on his site that require me to jump through a series of identity hoops to prove who I am before he’ll remove my property from his site.

Here’s the thing with this particular thief and others like him: they think they’re providing a service to the Internet community by making “literature” (his term) available.  Well, if they want to do that, fine, but stick to  public domain titles – a zillion classics are PD – and leave the work of  living, working writers alone.

They use the library model: libraries buy one copy and give it to many readers.  They’re just doing the same.

Uh-uh. Libraries get the book back after each reading.  And libraries pay for every copy on their shelves.  Not so the torrent thieves.  They download a slew of titles from one site and set up their own.  Then someone downloads their copies and sets up another site.  I know because I’ve downloaded one of my titles from a number of sites and they all had identical formatting errors.  They’re out there cloning copies.  And there’s no guilt, no regard for the writer’s property.

But the topper, the push that sent me to the keyboard today, came on last night’s Colbert show.  This bonehead, David Shields, “wants writers to ignore the laws regarding appropriation and create new forms for the 21st century.”  The video clip runs less than five minutes.  You’ve got to see it to believe it.  Watch it here and then come back.

The gall of this clown.  But Colbert was the perfect guy to interview him.  One of his comments was a thing of beauty:

Could I create new forms for the 21st century by ignoring property rights and obliterating my neighbor’s front door?  Because you know what would look good in my house? Your things.

That pretty much sums it up.

Is it okay to go into a sculptor’s studio, make casts of his creations, then sell them in your gallery?  Of course not.  But somehow it’s okay to go into an author’s head and steal his work and duplicate it ad infinitum.

Are you following this?

Good.  Because I’m not.  Moral contortions like this confuse the hell out of me, leaving me muttering, WTF?!?!?

wants writers to ignore the laws regarding appropriation and create new forms for the 21st century.


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  1. collapse expand

    Book piracy is only going to get worse as more ebook readers come to market and the ebook pricing wars continue. I am absolutely not defending Mr. Shields, but I do think that the publishing industry needs to learn from the mistakes of the music industry and find a way to fairly charge and distribute digital books.

    I believe in authors being paid for their work, and I have never pirated a book. I also believe in customers being fairly charged for the product they’re trying to buy, and I refuse to pay more for a Kindle edition than a print edition.

    This is something I did not have to worry about until Apple announced the Ipad, and the publishers decided to use that launch as an excuse to gouge the faithful ebook reader. It is exactly this gouging that makes piracy more attractive to even more people, which in turn takes money from both the author and the publisher. Book piracy will continue to be growing problem as long as the publishers insist on sticking to an outdated business model.

    On the plus side, I am having a great time discovering self-publishing Kindle authors and I’m also proud to say that I own (paid for!) about 25 of your books.

  2. collapse expand

    I create torrentable stuff for a living, too. I am 100% with you on the “something that would not exist without my effort” parts. The lying, self-delusion or justification these folks engage in is hardly worth inspection.

    Where I start to lose you a bit is re “These guys are stealing my sales.”

    If you figure the same people who are downloading you would instead buy you if there was no FPW torrent, then you’re correct. I’d guess most of your potential audience who wanted your books would get them legitimately. These downloaders – for the most part – are people who wouldn’t otherwise be buying.

    Not to say it’s not unauthorized use, that some sales, at least, are being stolen, or the jackasses doing it have any rights to do so whatsoever. An optimistic way of looking at it is “developing your market:” perhaps some percentage of downloaders grow tired of the formatting errors, would prefer the kindle or ipad version, or grow a conscience / cajones and pay-up.

    There was someone at Adobe, iirc, that was asked about losing sales from all the copies of Photoshop being downloaded. He answered along the lines of “most downloaders wouldn’t otherwise buy Photoshop. But, they still get used to and facile with our tools. When they can afford it, or their job demands it, guess which product they’ll buy?”

    it is optimistic, I know, but … maybe some salve for your sanity -

    • collapse expand

      Are you kidding me? There is no “optomistic” approach to stealing.

      Your argument that it serves as marketing is flawed. Why would someone suddenly start paying for something they have been getting for free? Certainly something like formatting errors is not enough to deter torrent downloaders.

      It is not a marketing channel and should not be confused for one. The only thing it will do is make a theif into a fan and he will tell his or her friends:

      “I just read this great book, I think you’ll enjoy it. Let me give you the link to download it.”

      Then the friend does the same thing until twelve or thirteen people are reading an authors work but not paying for it.

      Software is the same. A lot of man hours went into the creation of the product and people are STEALING it. To look at it as an opportunity to sell is misguided and credulous.

      I think a lot of authors, musicians, film makers and artists simply don’t fight back because it is a battle that can’t be won because of the scale of the problem. Even with Napster being targeted and ultimately remodeled to a pay for product site, thousands of other sites stepped up to fill the void of pirated music.

      Its frustrating and ilegal and we should not try to find any upside in this practice.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Why would someone suddenly start paying for something they have been getting for free?

        Ask the people who buy bottled water, I guess. You know, which seems to be nearly everyone.

        I would caution against assuming that Homo sapiens and Homo economus rationalus are the same species.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Woah. Not the same thing. My argument is along the lines of: “If someone has been stealing bottled water all along why would they suddenly pay for it.”

          The answer is…they wouldn’t if they knew they could get away with it.

          Its not that the people using torrent sites will suddenly want to buy the books they have been stealing. They will continue to get it for free because they see no harm in it.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
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      Just because technology makes it possible doesn’t make it right. Property is property. Would you make the same argument if someone stole a Coach handbag from a store on the off chance that someday they might be able to afford to pay for it? Or if someone “dined and dashed” at an expensive restaurant? Of course you wouldn’t.

      We’ve become a nation of people who must have immediate gratification. Whatever happened to the quaint notion that if you can’t afford it, save up until you can? And if you can’t afford it, go to the library. Not so hard, really.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Ah, but intellectual property may not be property. For instance, it’s a strange kind of “theft” that doesn’t deprive the owner of the object. If I steal a box of your books, that’s one less box you have to sell. But if I make a copy of the book electronically, you still have everything you started with. And if the only people I give the copies to were people who were never going to give you money for your books in the first place, what can you be said to have lost?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Um, I think you’re making the case for exactly why intellectual property laws exist in the first place. Because ideas aren’t tangible. Patent laws exist for the same reason.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            “Ideas not being tangible” would be a case against IP laws, not in favor of them. How can you possibly have a law to protect “ownership” of ideas, which by definition can’t be owned?

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            So you mean to tell me that someone who has created a work of art–be it symphony, a painting, or a novel–should not have the rights to work they originated in a form no one other than they could have created? In the same way that companies have trademarks for the products and services they sell, in essence making those trademarks their property, IP laws make it possible for writers to protect their property from others who might profit from their efforts. The OS for the Apple iPad isn’t “tangible” either, but you can bet an army of Apple lawyers would be all over software pirates in China, for example for the same reasons this author complains about losing sales of his books.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            So you mean to tell me that someone who has created a work of art–be it symphony, a painting, or a novel–should not have the rights to work they originated in a form no one other than they could have created?

            “Rights” is pretty general. I’m pretty sure they should have some rights, yes; should they have the right to demand payment from literally every person who experiences their work of art? If I hum your new song to my buddies, do they have to pay you the price of your CD? I don’t think they should have to.

            And if I use your work as a basis for my art – something only I can create – what about my rights?

            In the same way that companies have trademarks for the products and services they sell, in essence making those trademarks their property

            But that’s not why companies have trademarks. Companies have trademarks for easy association of their goods with their name. It’s important that businesses be able to say “these, and not those, are our goods” because they trade on the quality of those goods.

            IP laws make it possible for writers to protect their property from others who might profit from their efforts.

            What’s our interest, as a society, in preventing others from profiting?

            I think creators should get paid for their work. I don’t think that means they’re entitled to all the money they think they can squeeze from people.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Sorry, Justin. You’re not convincing me. We already have laws on the books for creators to not make money in perpetuity. It’s called the public domain. And until a piece of intellectual property meets the criteria for entering the public domain, the creator should, indeed, profit from his/her work for as long as people want to BUY it, not steal it.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Well, the very existence of the public domain hints that “IP” laws aren’t actually the extension of property rights into the realm of ideas. What kind of property, after all, do you stop owning simply because you’ve owned it for a certain length of time?

            In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      “These downloaders – for the most part – are people who wouldn’t otherwise be buying.”

      So if I walk into a jewelers and walk out with a great honking emerald ring without paying for it, I should use the defense that I never would have taken it if I had had to pay for it? And I won’t ever actually wear it, so it’s okay! I just wanted to have it. Riiiiiight.

      What a crock. The courts do not look at it in that way, not at all. Like it or not, the law that these thieves object to (interesting that those who do not steal have no problem here – most of them would see loosening copyright law as letting the ugly nose of the Anarchy Camel into the tent) is still in effect. Morality and ethics aside, they are criminals.

      What concerns me is that there are so many folks out there without moral boundaries. If they deny the validity of copyright laws, what other laws do they disregard? Deeply disturbing, that.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    Well, confession time: technically, I’m one of the thieves; but by the “tree falls in the forest” measure, I’m innocent.

    I do what I imagine to be a modest amount of bittorrent downloading. No music, no words except the once described below, no movies; just TV shows I can’t get in Canada, or missed last night (which now requires a DVR failure).

    Recently I coughed up for the TV series DVD instead, because it was out. The downloading is when I can’t stand to wait a year to find out what happened next and STILL no Canadian network will buy USA Network shows like Monk, Burn Notice, and Psych. This isn’t a defense, just an explanation.

    So I’m doing this one day and see some giant archive of SF novels, mostly just about everything by R.Heinlein, favourite author of my youth. There is no Heinlein novel, short story, or essay I don’t have in print, but an electronic copy would be *searchable*, quote-findable.

    So I hit the link and became a word thief. To my dismay, it was a messy collection of different file formats, not very searchable at all. Beyond a skim through the file names and opening a few, it lies untouched on my hard drive. I can’t imagine reading from a screen when paper is available. Still, I keep it on the off-chance I just HAVE to find some Heinlein quote some time.

    My question is how much of the downloading is like this; people with the book already wanting an electronic copy for things you can only do with them, or just wanting to “collect a library” they don’t read.

    I know that sounds dumb, but I know a few people who’ve done it with music. An acquaintance has something over 1700 albums’ worth of MP3 downloads; he’s probably listened to about 5% of them and may make it to 15% in his lifetime. He just loves to download and gloat over his huge collection like somebody with every single Star Wars Action Figure, (none of them removed from their pristine wrappers.)

    This speaks to the question of how many sales the artist is losing. It’s natural to imagine nobody would download your stuff and then ignore it, but it’s natural to assume every Star Wars Action Figure is promptly opened and played with, and that isn’t so.

    An author, editor, and publisher named Eric Flint has written extensively on the subject, and his views of Word Thieves are fairly benign. His major point is that you look at how your paper sales are doing. Music sales declined perceptibly when downloading became common, and few defenders tried to claim that none of it was due to downloading.

    Flint claims that when he posts a whole novel on-line, sales do NOT decline and frequently rise. He also claims that sales of his OTHER novels rise, the “it’s advertising” argument.

    All I know is that I have no plans at all for real, meaningful word-thievery; I buy more paper reading than I have time to consume (the pile has a 2-year backlog) and am not crazy enough to add even more, not even for free; I do agree that taking from artists in this way is theft, and am eager to have more options for buying on-line where it comes to TV, my one downloading weakness, partly because of the “unavailable” issue noted above, partly because, well, TV really is free.

    As Jon Stewart once closed a show with, “Hey if you DVR’d this show and skipped the ads, you’re stealing from our advertisers!!” Kidding, because that’s hard logic to sell, as then you’re TV thief if you go to the bathroom during the ads.

    More and more, recently, I’m looking for ways to compensate artists because of the way it feels. I’m starting to donate to bloggers I read all the time, and I’m positively eager to pay the New York Times heavily for site access.

    Whether young people will ever feel this way, I don’t know. If they don’t, content creation as we’ve known it will have to go back to where music was before recordings were possible: all artists will be either poor strugglers, or rich dilettantes.

  4. collapse expand

    Am I a “word thief” if I prevent a sale by telling a prospective reader your book isn’t any good, or spoiling the ending?

    I’m just kind of unclear on what possible claim you can have on sales that haven’t happened yet, and may not.

    • collapse expand

      “I’m just kind of unclear on what possible claim you can have on sales that haven’t happened yet, and may not.”

      There’s a WTF? comment if I ever heard one. The free site I mentioned (I’d give the name but don’t want to publicize him) is asking for donations because (get this) it’s so expensive to maintain a site with 4,000 downloads a day and growing.

      Wake up. Even if he doesn’t serve a single downloader, he has committed an act of theft by appointing himself my publisher.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Oh, and let me add that the thief on this free website is looking for donations because all the time he spends on his rip-off site is “stolen” (his word) from his occupation.

        Tell me, does he work at this “occupation” for free? Nooooo! He gets paid for his labors. But he doesn’t think I should get paid for mine.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          There’s a WTF? comment if I ever heard one.

          I thought it was a perfectly straightforward comment. Can you explain what you find so puzzling about it? I’ll be honest, I don’t frequently get to talk to content producers, so I was kind of excited by the prospect of honest dialogue. Needless to say I’m disappointed by your dismissal.

          Like I said, it’s not clear to me how you’re being “stolen from” if the people who are downloading this material weren’t ever going to buy it, anyway. How can you possibly be entitled to – and therefore harmed by the prevention of – a sale that was only a theoretical possibility in the first place?

          But he doesn’t think I should get paid for mine.

          Oh, I’m sure he thinks you should get paid. So do I! I’m just not sure you should be paid by your readers. Just like I’m not entirely sure that a musician should be paid by their listeners.

          In fact I sort of wonder if you don’t already agree with us – here I am, reading your words for free, yet I assume you get something in return for having written them. Right?

          When an author writes a book I like, or a musician plays a song I like, I make sure I pay them for it, to encourage the production of more in the same vein. But it’s unfortunately the case that “stuff I like” does not encompass all of the media that I consume. So it’s not at all clear that I should pay for all the media I consume, either.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            This is a ridiculous argument. You’re comparing two different models: the model you advocate is advertising sponsored–a publisher, in this case T/S, pays their content creators via the revenue they get in paid advertising and whatever is left over is their profit. You the reader don’t have to pay, just like you don’t have to pay for regular TV. The model the author describes is a book publishing model in which revenue is made based on the purchase price of the book, covering both the cost of printing and the author’s royalties based on how many books are sold. Not the same thing.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Obviously they’re not the same thing, but why does it suddenly become “theft” when an old business model fails to keep up with changing technology?

            In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    I don’t steal anything online, ever, and I am trying my hand at writing novels, myself. Even if I wanted to steal a book, I could never bring myself to finish reading 300 poorly-formatted pirate-scanned pages on a computer screen. And when I’m too cheap to buy a book, I simply go to the library, which earns the author nothing. If my library doesn’t have the book, they borrow it, so it still doesn’t create a sale.

    That said, in part this immoral consumer behavior is attributable to the questionable ethics (and common sense) of the e-book publishers. What we are seeing now is the next step in a chain of e-confusion regarding software, music, film, and now print publishing.

    A more reasonable e-book market would reduce theft, particularly theft by those who would otherwise pay for your books if they had a fair opportunity to do so. (I suppose we are assuming the stealers even read 1% of the potentially thousands of books they have on file–which I doubt.)

    I realize that “WTF?” is primarily a rhetorical question, but I offer the following as explanation–NOT as justification, however.

    Right now, the price point is arbitrarily fixed higher than the actual intersection of the supply and demand curves (supply being potentially infinite). Since it is not curbed by market forces, some people find an illegal outlet for their demand.

    Amazon, B&N, et al. don’t sell e-books. They rent them. When you “purchase” a book, they create a license which prevents you from transferring that book. (Incidentally, those licenses are probably not legal, but they haven’t been challenged yet.) I can’t hand off or re-sell my ebook the same way I could sell or give away a second-hand book (or CD, or DVD, or magazine, etc). Yet they still expect to make the same profit from a more limited product. Would you pay the same new price for a car you could never resell?

    The pricing structure on digital books is ridiculous. The soft publishing cost is nil if it’s already been written, edited, and produced in a hard format. Distribution, retailer overhead, etc. are virtually zero (pun intended). Claims by any industry that cost-savings are passed along to the customer are laughable, although in the e-book business perhaps they are “cryable.”

    Why should I have to pay for an e-copy of a book I have sitting on my shelf, when I don’t have to for other intellectual properties I legally purchased? In my estimation, when I buy a hardcopy of a book, I should get an authorization code to download the digital version for free. I can already freely copy my own music and movies into digital versions, as long as it is for my own personal use. Barnes & Noble and Amazon expect me to pay twice.

    Finally, to purchase an ebook, generally I need an e-reader. Since those are proprietary and can be exclusive, I may need more than one. That’s vaguely like expecting me to buy one of each cel phone to talk to my friends on other networks [which is how landlines originally worked until the industry realized how mad that was]. Someone who commits computer piracy has, by definition, a computer, so not only has he saved himself the cost of the book (by stealing it) he’s saved himself $200 or more on e-readers.

    Again, none of this justifies it, but it may help to explain it.

  6. collapse expand

    Not that I don’t think you have a legitimate complaint, because you do, but how far do you think the law should go to protect your rights to publish your work? Where would you draw the line and say, “That’s a bit much.”?

  7. collapse expand

    This whole thing is a rotten batch. I have downloaded scanlations of Japanese manga books in the past, but as soon as they’re available in English, I make sure to purchase every volume. I’m not one on patience, and can’t read a bit of Japanese. Although some artists/storytellers are SO great, I’ve bought both versions. As the American publishing companies seem to take 1/2 a year to translate usually.
    Anyway! That video bit was nuts! The host was a bit outrageous for me, but he hit the nail on the head, and I Love how he finished the ‘interview’. And will anyone actually purchase such a book? Seems rightly ignorant to pay him, instead of the original authors.
    I do believe the publishing companies need to find new ways though. The original commenter here had a point. Look at what’s happened to the music industry due to pirating.
    And the other comment made by Mr. McNally, I find very wrong. Where he said most people who download your books (or anyone others)online were very unlikely to ever purchase them anyway. That’s just like saying all those people that sit in the local Borders bookstores wouldn’t actually purchase the books they’re so enthralled in. None of them are paying a dime to read through entire books, but are not only allowed to read them at their own leisure, but are provided with big, cozy chairs to do so.
    As soon as an author puts his words down on paper and have it published, it becomes his or her own property. No one should have a right steal it anymore than as Colbert said, and go in to your neighbor’s home and steal their items, simply because you may like what they have. Stealing is stealing.
    I wish the law could do more to protect everyone’s rights.

  8. collapse expand

    Having had my own written work stolen online, I share your pain.

    Dealing with reputable companies, such as the time I found someone passing my work off as their own on a famous social networking site rivalling Facebook, it is common to be asked to go through the similar rigmarole to prove you are the copyright holder.

    I appreciate that reputable companies have put a procedure in place so they can determine which of the two individuals is the legitimate copyright holder in case they end up in court for publishing without consent. I felt they were asking for too much personal data, and thoughts of the risk of identity theft popped up in my jaded mind.

    It feels like the thief has copied this procedure precisely because it is so time consuming and off-putting for the copyright holder to go through, and I doubt they would honor your wishes any way. The important difference, of course, is that they are the thief, as well as the unauthorized online publisher.

    For various reasons I think that many illegal downloads do not constitute lost sales. I do recognise that these downloads may occasionally act as advertising and gain a few sales. I suspect that a majority of these bulk book downloads are not even

    I am aware of two possible responses which are sometimes successful:

    One is to look up the website details and contact the company which hosts the site. Reputable web hosting companies do not wish to be associated with illegal torrent sites, and may take action.

    The other strategy which worked for me was to follow the advertising displayed on the site. Reputable companies will not want their products associated with piracy sites, so contacting them may be worthwhile. In my case I spotted that one site hosting stolen copies of my work was showing adverts for a well known internet search company. I contacted them, and reported what was going on. They responded by investigating, then disabling the advertising account. When I checked back a month or so later, the illegal site had disappeared.

    Without funding, sometimes the site goes away. Of course this is a vicious circle, ‘cos the thief may open another account and start again elsewhere, but it feels good to incoveninece them a little.

    As an author, could your agent not take some action on your behalf similar to the above? I don’t really know how book publishing contracts work, but aren’t illegal downloads hurting your agent too?

  9. collapse expand

    Is David James book published for free? Does he get royalties for this book or was he paid an advance? Pro writers have enough trouble competing with people willing to GIVE their work for free, much less fighting piracy. As you mentioned, there are thousands of public domain titles available out there. But no one seems to understand that work and time was spent to create these works. I can almost understand the pirate who says “I bought this movie/book/CD, it’s mine to share as I wish.” But the people who steal and then charge others for the wares are not only thieves, they’re fences. So is it ignorance or arrogance?

  10. collapse expand

    Read Mark Helprin’s “Digital Barbarism”. He makes a very cogent and articulate argument for keeping copyright law intact, in direct opposition to Lawrence Lessig’s “Creative Commons” theory.

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    Copying is not theft. Plain and simple. You have not lost anything. You have gained popularity and fans. Raging at the people who read and enjoyed your works will only serve to alienate those who want to read it. Studies (http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090604/0117405122.shtml) have shown that “pirates” are in fact loyal customers that DO purchase goods they pirate. This issue is far from the cut and dry “they’re stealing my monies!!!” typically presented by copyright holders. There is now a free infinite good made of your property, deal with it. You still sell and make money off your physical scarce good. You could go even further and find new scarce goods related to your original work to sell. Your inability to adapt to the marketplace is not the fault of the marketplace.

    This is capitalism. Meet the needs of your consumers or keep whining as you fail.

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    Wow Justin…you are missing the point. I know that bottled water is tap water. No big surprise there. It doesn’t change the fact that if I was STEALING it all along I wouldn’t suddenly decide to pay for it because I like it.

    That was the original “argument” made. That pirating someone’s work is like advertising and if the person steals it and likes it then they will buy legit copies. That is the fallacy here.

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      It doesn’t change the fact that if I was STEALING it all along I wouldn’t suddenly decide to pay for it because I like it.

      By Wilson’s logic, how aren’t you stealing it? Every time you fill your glass from the tap, you’re stealing sales from Evian. Everybody who drinks from the tap is just one more person who can get their water for free instead of from the people who bottle it.

      According to Wilson’s argument, how can that possibly not be considered stealing from Evian?

      That pirating someone’s work is like advertising and if the person steals it and likes it then they will buy legit copies.

      But people frequently do exactly that. So what’s fallacious about saying they will?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    Paul, I think most people are unaware how an author gets paid and that is where they are getting confused. They feel you should get paid by the publisher and that’s it. Then your work can go into the public domain because you already got your money’s worth and it shouldn’t matter how many free copies are floating around out there.

    What they are NOT taking into consideration is that SALES dictate how many copies of your next book get initial printings. Whether they will even be stocked, or whether or not your publisher will even keep you because your sales are suffering.

    Pirating work is not a victimless crime. Writer’s want to make money as much as they want to tell a story. There should be nothing wrong with that.

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    Sorry I haven’t been participating. I’ve been on the road with a laptop that refused to open a browser – neither IE nor Firefox. Finally resolved the problem. I’m going to post a part deux in a day or two with some new atrocities, and we can continue this then.

  15. collapse expand

    If I may…I submit that this is yet another example of the entitlement mindset of our society.

    I’ve heard some rather obnoxious justifications for this sort of thievery. Some of my personal favorites:

    “He/she makes enough money without my $xx”
    “He/she is an artist. Turning art into a business is just wrong. They should give away their work for free.”
    “It’s Zeitgeist…a necessary evolution in the digital age.”

    But beyond these rather ridiculous rationalizations, I think there is something far more insidious going on here.

    I think this phenomenon stems from the same ideals that have pushed our society to a slightly more socialistic one (PLEASE NOTE: I’m NOT some alarmist nut who’s out here saying Obama is a socialist. I’m just making an observation about the overall domestic policy direction in our nation). It’s the idea of “fairness to a fault”; the idea that everyone should get the same as everyone else. I believe wholeheartedly that THIS is the root cause for this type of behavior.

    Someone sitting in their basement doing jack squat gets this high-minded idea that everyone has the same worth regardless of how hard they work or how much effort they put into contributing to society would be likely to justify the redistribution of intellectual property. Why? Because you, the author, don’t deserve to be wealthy or even comfortable if they cannot also be equally as comfortable or wealthy. Therefore, this is their way of leveling the playing field.

    Furthermore, many also believe that there should be no such thing as “luxury”. So, because your books cost money, and because some people don’t have the additional cash flow to afford your books, this is inherently unfair.

    Of course, that is all a load of crap. As far as I know, we still live in a free market economy. And to that end, you are still entitled to write books that sell many copies and make a living off of that (of course, I hope you sell millions of copies of “Fatal Error” when it comes out!!!).

    Until that changes, what you describe is a crime…plain and simple. And I hope the day never comes when the majority of Americans decide that “luxuries” like buying music or a book are simply so unfair that we must make them available for free to all (probably by further taxing the upper 10 – 20% of wage earners).

    I don’t know what the solution to this. I hope that international laws are worked out to stop this kind of nonsense. Otherwise, we may have the literary world’s equivalent of John Galt leading us into a literary dark age a la “Atlas Shrugged”.

  16. collapse expand

    Dr. Wilson, I am rereading one of your old works (paperback), “Enemy of the State”. This is the single best and most accurate economic reflection of modern day government I have ever read/watched/heard.

    This entire conversation makes me think about the evolution and advances in technology and how they shape our lives and how we as authors can be caught flat-footed if not prepared to change with the circumstances like the regime of METEP that you created.

    Outrage will get us nowhere. If you cannot control them, figure out how to use them. Evolve and survive or waste away. THIS (THEFT) IS ONE THING YOU CANNOT CONTROL AND WHINING ABOUT IT WILL NOT CHANGE ANYTHING.

    “If I may…I submit that this is yet another example of the entitlement mindset of our society.” (quote by tisafire)

    Why are we as authors ‘entitled’ to royalties from our past efforts? I think a little self-reflection to our own entitlement attitudes would go a long way…

    • collapse expand

      Actually, that’s a bit of a misuse of my statement. Let’s draw a distinction between those who feel entitled to someone’s work for free (old or new), and someone who actually DID SOME WORK in order to publish a book (whether now or 30 years ago). I’m not sure I see how these things can be rendered equivalent.

      The question you raise is “when is it fair to cease residual income?”. My answer may be a bit oversimplified, but so be it. It is this: as long as the market price is greater than $0 (in the absence of illegal means of acquiring the object), which means that there is still at least one person in the world who will pay a nonzero amount for it, then I think the author is entitled to some royalty.

      Finally, I’m not sure this qualifies as “whining”. Righteous indignation, perhaps. But I don’t really detect a “poor me” attitude in the piece.

      I think this is a necessary issue of which people need to be aware. I don’t think there is anything wrong with letting people know that it does hurt the author, and give a glimpse as to HOW it hurts the author.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        It wasn’t accidental misuse. Entitlement is entitlement and self-denial is self-denial.

        I am questioning the very foundation of our concept of property ownership. Historically it is whatever can be defended whether through physical means or social coercion. It is very easy now for black marketeers to sell stolen goods. The world is evolving as is the reach of property ownership when it comes to intellectual goods. We can say we own it but will that stop someone in China from reproducing and selling it without our permission? It’s a fact. Accept it and evolve because it’s not going to change.

        Consider the reality of the macro scale and not personalization of events. The old business model for authors is collapsing like print media. What are we going to do about it? REALLY? As someone marketing his own work I’d like to know…because I face the same extinction as many other authors…

        The “poor me” attitude comes more from the comments than the piece.

        FYI: The USA does not have a “free-market” economy and it is not a democracy. By definition it is a republic ruled by business. Government intervention pervades every breath you take and the concept of property ownership was not created with your best interest at heart…

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          First of all, let me say that I know and understand that America is not and has never been a democracy, although I have to believe that there are some remnants of a free market economy left. As an aside, as I watch the events unfold around me, I am becoming less convinced that we are a republic (or representative democracy, whichever you prefer) and more of an authoritarian democracy (ie, elected officials ignore the majority and puport to do “what is best for us” because we are too stupid to know what is best for ourselves). Anyway, I digress.

          I think that we have a philosophical divergence here. You are focusing on the practial aspects (which is perfectly fine), and the author and I are focusing on the metaphysical aspects (forgive me if I am wrong, Dr. Wilson). I think that everything you say is true. However, if I may quote from the first book of Corinthians, “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial…”. I think that we are focused on different portions of this truism. I agree with you that the world is progressing towards an “everything is permissible” modus operandi. However, I firmly believe that just because it is permissible doesn’t mean that it is beneficial for the world at large.

          Maybe I have a slightly different perspective because of my line of work. I sell very expensive scientific and defense-related lasers. There are companies overseas that have, on occasion, tried to copy some of the lasers that we (or our competitors) have designed. In those cases, for the most part, we have been able to successfully go after those companies (don’t ask me how, I don’t understand law in the slightest). So, my question, if that is the case in my profession, why can’t it be done in the literary world? With advancements in technology that aid the thief, don’t we also have advnaces in technology that can aid the enforcement of laws? I am a bit discouraged by the “throw up our hands and say ‘oh well, I guess that’s just the way it’s gonna be’” attitude.

          Finally, in your estimation, where is the line drawn? When does it become a crime that can be punished? Perhaps when I download Dr. Wilson’s Repairman Jack series and treat it like a Mad Libs and change the name to Repairman Zack, and then submit it for publication…surely that has to be a punishable violation…right?

          In response to another comment. See in context »
  17. collapse expand

    Authoritarian Democracy or Republic ruled by business (those that buy the representatives), either way we don’t have a say so what does it matter?

    When I said stop whining I meant exactly that. Your morals do not affect the outcome of the situation. And given you are part of the military industrial complex which has national support given the size of compensation involved. Also, there are not many companies that can create such weapons/instruments. So your company walks around with big guns behind it. Far cry from an author trying to ferret out piracy on the internet.

    Technology is evolving. The printing press created easy duplication of written work. The computer and internet created a way for that work to be duplicated and shared at almost no cost. International law is not like national law and MUCH harder to enforce if it even exists because of either apathy or growing economic interdependence.

    I AM NOT BEING APATHETIC. On the contrary, I’m trying to figure out a way to continue doing what I love and make a living at it. Whine about it all you want but this won’t help. No matter what I do if I’m successful some asshole is going to try and steal my work.

    Those on the forefront of piracy draw the line, not me. I’m just not going to stand near the old watermark crying about where the lake used to begin. The sooner we start moving toward the water the sooner we get to drink.

    • collapse expand

      First of all, did you ACTUALLY say the words “military industrial complex”? I haven’t heard that in years. I bet you had an image of some overly fat man behind a large cherry desk smoking a huge cuban cigar, didn’t you? Come on, admit it.

      Actually, to fully disclose, we do not make lasers that are powerful enough for weaponry. When I say “defense”, I speak of things like lasers used for remote sensing, projectile tracking, and things like that.

      I actually have no argument with your thoughts that the world is evolving and we must evolve in order to survive. True.

      My problem is that the progressive attitude is so unbelievable permissive. Maybe everyone should look at things like this and just shrug and say “Well, what can ya do?”. Maybe that’s the right way to think about things.

      I just don’t think so.

      Of course, I have no solution to this problem, so this is mainly just a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. I’ll give Shakespeare his credit for that one :-)

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  18. collapse expand

    Paul, you visited my store, Creatures ‘n Crooks once upon a time long, long ago and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve blogged today on an expansion of this topic and thought you might want to know because one of your books was a target.


    Lelia Taylor

  19. collapse expand

    Out of curiosity, how do you feel about used books?

    Surely used books fall into the same category as pirated ebooks, as you do not see any income from either category?

    (I ask as I see many authors decrying pirated ebooks, but I’ve never seen anyone decrying used books. I do like to have some used versions of The Keep and The Tomb around, as they make for good pimping material, and if it’s used then I don’t have to worry about the editions not coming back.)

    As for the actual ebook topic: I just wish that I could buy txtfiles or pdf files or some basic txt format that wasn’t DRM-bombed or limited to a certain type of reader. I don’t own a Kindle/Reader/Nook or any of the proprietary devices to read books, but I do occasionally like to read books on my PDA, but I find I can’t actually buy the right formats for ebooks :-(

    Baen are the only publisher that I know which will give me good formats for ebooks.

    Of course, my favorite form of book is still the physical dead tree version, and the limited edition dead tree version at that. I tend to own your books in multiple formats (I have the Dark Harvest/Borderlands/Gauntlet/Wildside/etc. editions, and the occasional trade edition (when I didn’t catch the limited edition first.))

    I’ll happily add the ebook versions to my collection should plain jane formats ever actually be available. Until then, those damn pirated ebooks are awfully tempting…..(since many torrenters will rip to plain text before seeding.)

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    About Me

    I was born in a happier time (when folks were celebrating the end of the Permian Extinction). I've been called the world's most skeptical man, but I doubt that. I've been writing since second grade and practicing family medicine since 1974. I've written 40 or so novels (you stop counting after a while), some of them NY Times bestsellers, most of them not. I attended Xavier high school in Manhattan and then Georgetown University, both Jesuit schools. I revere the Jebbies because they encouraged my questioning nature (and as a result I'm a devout agnostic). I lived through the birth of rock 'n' roll, the sixties, Vietnam, the Carter administration. I played in a garage band, and still noodle drums, guitar, and piano. I'm a blues hound and am currently teaching myself slide guitar (at this point, I suck, but I'm getting better). I live at the Jersey shore on an elevated tract of land I believe will gain an ocean view after the great tsunami. Oh, and for some unfathomable reason I joined Twitter and Facebook.

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    What I'm Up To

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