Piracy and SOPA

January 20th 2012

Posted by: in: From the Author, Non-fiction
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Right then. Piracy. SOPA/PIPA. Stuff like that.

I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. On one hand, people who download music, films, books and audio that they would have ordinarily had to buy in order to listen to/see/read are stealing copyrighted material from their copyright holders. Downloaders make it increasingly difficult for artists to firstly, earn anything from their work, and secondly, make a living from their work so they can give up the day job and concentrate solely on their art.

In the case of the Metrozone books, they were pirated within a couple of days of being released as ebooks. Orbit (and their parent companies LittleBrown and Hachette) try and get those copies removed from file-sharing sites as soon as they can: they do so because the person uploading those files has no right to make them publicly available without the copyright holder’s consent.

And that copyright holder is not Orbit, or some faceless megacorp. It’s me. I’m the creator of the work, and it’s my copyright. By torrenting my work, you’re denying me income which I could put to good use – like repairing my roof and walls, which badly need doing, or saving for my children’s education.

Furthermore, because I’m losing digital sales, the next time I sell a book to Orbit, my advance goes down. Lost sales for the publisher results directly in lower advances for authors. Which means that fewer authors will be able to support themselves, and perhaps their families, with their work – and the vast majority of writers make peanuts as it is. With long, long hours and little pay, they’ll have to do something else instead of dedicating the time and effort into producing good prose.

And unlike musicians, authors don’t have an alternative income stream. Why have the cost of live concerts gone up in the last few years? Blame the downloaders. The live experience is the one thing you can’t stream. It always used to be that a band would tour to promote the album. Now the albums promote the tour, because there are decreasing returns from the physical and digital recordings. Sure, you can go and hear an author speak, but aside from Neil Gaiman (who I understand charges an outrageous fee simply to dissuade folk from booking him: he’d rather be writing), I can’t think of many writers who the general public would pay to go and look at. I’m no oil painting, and Toby Leonard Moore (who reads the audio versions of the Metrozone) is simply better at speaking my lines than I am.

I don’t get much from each sale. But I do get something. Other people get somethings too. The cover artist. The editor. The copy editor (and they’re worth their weight in gold). The publicists. The lawyers who draw up the contracts. The distributors and the booksellers. My agent (who is also worth his weight in gold). I don’t have a problem with that, and neither should you.

There is, of course, very little I can do about any of this, except two things. And you can do them too. Firstly, don’t pirate copyrighted art. If you like an artist’s work, you’ll want to support the artist so they can produce more of it. So do your best to pay for it. I’ve no problem with you buying second-hand books, and I’ve no problem with you going to the library (all my books are registered with the UK’s PLR scheme). The more you support artists, the more art there’ll be.

Secondly, don’t approve of piracy. It might seem just a bit, well, dad-like (guilty as charged) to withhold your approval. But if your friends torrent and download like bandwidth was going out of fashion, that doesn’t mean you have to. It’s not a victimless crime, and it does hurt people – the very people who produce the fantastic music, brilliant film or riveting book you’ve just enjoyed. Hurting people, ripping them off, that’s just not cool, especially when they’re in no position to stop you. It would be lovely if pirating art became socially unacceptable, and those that did it, frowned on and ostracised.

On the other side of the coin, do I want kids to go to prison for five years because they’ve downloaded a copy of Equations of Life? No, I don’t. As someone pointed out, someone torrenting a Michael Jackson song could end up with a longer gaol sentence than the doctor who killed him. Neither do I want websites that promote legitimate content taken down for a single rogue link.

SOPA is sledgehammer to crack a nut. It’s virtually unworkable, and the effort to make it workable is so great and the disruption it would cause so widespread that it’s completely counterproductive. The internet would become unusable within days.

There does need to be something though, that protects artists in the digital age. Real, physical art is difficult and time-consuming to reproduce. Digital art can be copied millions of times, perfectly, and distributed at the click of a mouse: the old copyright laws can’t cope with this new reality. So the solution may mean that sites like megaupload.com get taken down and their owners sued: claiming ignorance when the majority of traffic consists of copyrighted work seems more than a little silly. Whatever the final answer is (and there probably won’t be one), copyright holders need a quick and easy way to not only remove illegal content when it goes up, but prevent it from going up in the first place.

The bottom line is that copyright is how artists make money. Without any way of asserting it, we’re in trouble. You can, however, be part of the solution. Which is a positive note to end on.


10 Responses to “Piracy and SOPA”

  • mdlachlan says:

    I concur. My thoughts exactly. What really doesn’t help is when groups such as anonymous bully people who simply have a different view from them. I have to admit to hypocrisy here, because I like it when they do it to Scientologists.
    The pro-pirate lobby claim they’re helping the little guy.Not so. Large corporations make plenty of cash out of piracy. It’s people like you and me who lose out.
    This link is worth looking at. http://popuppirates.com/ It explains who profits from piracy.

    • Sandra says:

      Totally agree I don’t think aonnye against SOPA is for piracy, but I think it will boil down to the definition of piracy. If I buy an album and I sit in my room and let my best friend listen to it, is that piracy? What if my best friend lives across the country and I share via the internet, would I be treated the same as those who are actually infringing copyright? I think for certain sites it’s obvious but when it gets into the finer details of it, that is where it gets muddy. Then sites like Facebook, youtube, and google will be hurt financially because people can’t share with their friends any longer.

      • JulesLt says:

        I think you hit the nail on the head – when you copy an album for a friend, it is someone you know, and generally speaking there is some kind of reciprocity in the relationship.

        (In fact a friend of mine who ran a small label in the late 80s who didn’t get any radio play outside of John Peel attributed 50% of their sales to people passing tapes of earlier releases to friends)

        But we soon tire of ‘friends’ who only show up when they want to borrow something.

        I also think we need to view it as something akin to speeding – something we all do from time to time, and where a society that enforced it 100% would need an intolerable level of policing, but where very few people would say that we should abolish all speed limits.

        Also, I once heard a guy on a train complain that by trying to stop downloading the government were affecting his freedom of speech. I wanted to pin him up against the window and ask him exactly how much he donated to Amnesty or Reporters Sans Frontiers.

        There is something loathesome about the way these people try to justify their own selfishness with politics they don’t really care about.

  • Robert says:

    Let just say this.
    This is now a world market.
    Your books are being sold at 9.59 $ at Amazon Kindle.
    That is almost 1 KG of high quality meat in my country and a lot of daily food.
    There are a lot of potential readers who would pay your books.
    But we do not have enough money in our dail budget to cover our thirst for reading.
    So what do we do? We find ways.
    I am sory that it troubles your profit expectation.
    But like in Metrozone, we survive. We educate ourselves, we read by any method.
    Like Petrovitch we need a new society, that can appreciate your effort through other means and give you rewart for it.

    • Simon Morden says:

      Hello Robert.

      I do understand, I genuinely do. Which is why I said, “do your best to pay for it”. And I’m guessing that you might live in part of the world that doesn’t have libraries with only a few, if any at all, of the latest paperbacks. This post is directed at those who could pay for a book, or a song, or a movie, but choose not to. Peace on you and yours.

      But just to say, this isn’t about profit. This is how I earn my living, and last year, I just about earned enough to pay some income tax, which means I didn’t make much money at all. People who are richer than me shouldn’t be stealing from me, is all…

      • Tara says:

        I am an arsitt and am dealing with a worldwide company that I started with as an on-line vendor around 2004. My art was being sold on their products and I was getting very little money for my sales. Right now I find my art is all over the world and I am not getting a penny and have not given permission for the company to do that. ( I was away for a few years and thought my site was taken down.)Anyway I am pretty sure that if you read their terms of service you would find that they say they are against on-line piracy. But in reality they do it all the time So anyway it’s easy to lie about that. How do you know?(I am getting help on my case soon.)SylviART

        • Khaled says:

          Like it or not, you cannot diaesrge that piracy is ruining the quality of a lot of products we consume. A lot of people complain that video-game quality is getting lower, and that companies are starting to care less about their consumers.And who can blame them? The majority of them are just lifeless jerks who do not respect the work the companies do and get their share for free and STILL complain.In my honest opinion, and with all due respect, if it does happen, it couldn’t be soon enough.

  • And now the government is at it too, reducing the payments that authors get when schools photocopy their books. See, for example, this item from the Independent.

    • Max says:

      People are seheple, and the rich media companies know it. How simple would it be to show the media companies that they provide a service that is not needed to live or thrive. A simple boycott of their goods and services, for a week, or a month, or how ever long it takes would show them they are a ENTERTAINMENT SERVICE and that people can get along fine without them (but the media companies can not get along at all without consumers). But it will never happen. Too many stupid people just can’t go a week without their tv or movies or music to drive the point home (and the media companies know it).

  • Systemsanarchist says:

    As an aged hippy and, finally, a drop out from the commercial world with below taxable earnings I’ve found out 2 things about myself in the Internet age:
    1. I need and desire the intellectual and emotional stimulus that downloadable “products” provide
    2. As I can’t afford most of it at RRP I am prepared to compromise my morals by downloading it for free.

    The thing is, I would happily donate what I could to the artist(s) directly but there is very little provision for this. In the case of music I need to be sure before I blow a tenner that I’m going to like at least some of what I hear! Books, I agree, are a mite trickier but I’ve read so much rubbish lately that I have forked out for Simon’s new one anyway:-)

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