Piracy, Authors and Trust

This week I took some time out from sipping a cup of coffee and hitting ‘send’ on an email, and doing various other publisher-related tasks, and read the Guardian article by Lloyd Shepherd on his recent experience with eBook pirates.

I usually don’t read articles on piracy and try not to write about it because the debate is so vast and terrifying and I’m still sitting on the fence about DRM mostly. But this seemed to be pretty neutral as its written by an author, and I’m always interested in hearing pirates justify their actions in case I find something I hadn’t considered.

Unfortunately, the justifications people on this sharing site were giving were really shitty.

First publicity; second that they are justified in pirating the eBook if they already own the work in printed format (so they get to decide what’s bundled now?); third more publicity.

This ‘I’m helping the author by stealing their work’ rationality (synonymous with Doctorow’s ugly ‘we have more to fear from obscurity than piracy’ rhetoric, which ignores that these both result in the same situation – an industry that can’t support its producers) is almost disgusting in its irony. And worse, authors encourage it. Authors like Coelho, who puts forth the UTTERLY INSANE argument in the final sentence of this article and allows people to assume he is speaking for all writers everywhere.

On one hand, many authors are saying ‘we need publicity’.  On the other, many authors are saying ‘we don’t need publishers’.

My heart = punched cake. I know it might be hard for some people to believe but publishing houses… well, we have publicity and marketing departments so these sorts of measures aren’t necessary.

But there’s a common thread between these contradictory statements. Trust.

If an author trusted that a publisher was doing their job properly and was able to adapt to new distribution models, they wouldn’t be encouraging users to pirate their work in an attempt to start conversations about themselves.

Last week, Random House US announced the release of an Author Portal which gives its authors access to sales, rights deals and distribution information for their titles. This is exactly the sort of tool that will breed understanding and trust in your authors – empowering them with information and including them in business conversations in and around their work.

Of course it’s a risk. But is it any less risky than leaving authors to read slanderous articles and draw their own conclusions about how much work we’re putting into the promotion and distribution of their books?

People will pirate books whether it has the authors’ blessing or not, and I know having flexible and intelligent digital distribution is perhaps the most important thing if piracy is going to be combated. However, authors are powerful advocates, as Shepherd shows, and should be the first people to defend their right to make money from writing.

I can’t help but feel that if an author would rather risk making no money from their work than credit a publisher with doing theirs properly, we’re doing something wrong.

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  1. As an author, I will never support Piracy. I work my behind off and just because I haven;t been lucky enough to get an agent/publisher, that doesn’t mean my work is a free for all. It is MY work and as such should be protected in the same way as anything else of a similar nature. The world was up in arms over music piracy, but authors are expected to be quiet and thankful that their work is being spread. I would rather my work was never read and accepted as my own, than span the planet but someone else is given credit for my work.

  2. Good article.

    At the moment my book Fated is being pirated on the same site Lloyd Shepherd’s talking about.  Haven’t really decided what to do about it, if anything.  I’m tempted to go talk to them, but not sure there’d be any point.  I know enough about the technical side of the business to know how easy it is to copy a book, and how hard it is to stop it being shared.  I’ve definitely got no desire to blame it on the publishers, though!  

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