Friday, November 2, 2012

Only 9 Commandments Left? Really?

I admit it, I was shocked, stunned, even, when I ran across this article: Good news! Ten Commandments Reduced Now to Only Nine by John Cougar Mellencamp. I missed that addendum in my bible, I guess.

The commandment that's been thrown out is "Thou shalt not steal." Why? Piracy, baby.

Now, admittedly I have a personal stake in piracy. I can't tell you how many sites I find copies of my books on. I used to actively hunt them down, but it was consuming far too much of my time. It's overwhelming the number of sites out there who have not a lick of conscience for making money off the books I wrote.

It's frustrating, angering, and yes, depressing. I finally had to stop, and now only go after ones that come to me (through a variety of channels). Even then, it's time consuming to complete all of the "requirements" of the site to have my work removed. Apparently they can put anything on their site they want on a whim, but I have to jump through hoops to prove I have the right to tell them to remove my work. I'm sure they take it down, wait a few days, then pop it right back up.

I'm kinda curious, too, who is uploading them? Someone who asked for a free copy from me for review who then figures they might as well make a few bucks on it? Someone who purchased my book and then felt they had the right to do so? Someone who downloaded it free from another site and now puts it on other sites? I hate the thought of any of my readers doing such a thing, because I adore my readers, and I know that 99.9% of them are honest people.

JCM has a few good points I'd like to reiterate. He speaks mostly of pirated music, but he's talking about all art forms: music, books, movies. "There is a law that exists to deal with copyright and the Internet that dates back to the good ol' days of 1990s: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It was supposed to bring U.S. copyright law into the digital age but it included something called "Safe Harbor Provisions" that basically says that each artist is responsible for retrieving his own merchandise and shutting down anyone stealing their property, which is kind of a joke. The law was written at a time when there were only a couple of kids running a handful of file trading sites in the world and was created to protect internet service providers from being sued if they facilitated the distribution of pirated material. This law now, unintentionally, allows big search engines -- like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. -- to be the equivalent of a department store as both provide and sell many services and products."

I can't speak as to how the DMCA works on music, but on books if you "protect" them with DRM it only makes life difficult for those who've obtained the book legally. Those who would steal it simply break through the DRM and pirate them. The "Safe Harbors" means that really, I have no legal recourse when I find my work stolen. If the piracy site is "willing" to take it down on my request, there's nothing I can do to recompense money lost.

Before you argue that most of those people wouldn't have purchased the book anyway, let me stop you by saying, I know. But let me counter with this: on one site they'd given away over 2,500 copies of my book before I found them. Let's say of that 2,500 only 20%, or 500, copies would have legitimately sold. That's a lot. Even if it were only 10%, or 250, that's still a lot. How often do you work at your job for free? Just because?

"My answer, and it's really quite logical, is that current search engines ... need to be held responsible in the same fashion as any other business in this country. The law needs to be changed.  ... We need to write a new law that should declare, something to the effect, that if you own and operate a search engine, you cannot allow criminal activity to take place in your virtual town."

Couldn't agree more. If there were actual consequences, perhaps we could stop piracy. Hence, the next article I found. In the UK, which is apparently leaps and bounds above the US in making sure criminal activity is punished, recently did just that. A man was convicted of conspiracy to defraud by facilitating copyright infringement and given two sentences of 4-years imprisonment for running a piracy site. You rock, UK!

In the US, there is the "Copyright Alert System" (CAS) which will track ISP's that have "suspicious illegal activity" going on. Sounds a bit Big Brother-ish to me, I have to say. And yet, we've kinda been force into that, haven't we? I don't quite know how I feel about CAS. I mean, if it catches criminal activity (particularly people who watch kiddie porn) then it's good.


I don't know. Are they suddenly going to be arresting people who are maybe doing something they don't know is illegal? Or maybe a 10 year old is downloading a song because his buddy told him about it and now he - or maybe Dad - is arrested? This one isn't quite so black & white to me.

I think a better deterrent is going after those who run the sites, rather than those who use them. Even better: education. I honestly believe that there are many who go to pirate sites without clear knowledge of what they're doing. So let me give you a small amount of knowledge from the POV of a writer.

Myth: Pirating doesn't hurt anyone.

Fact: Of course it does. I spent a great deal of time writing that book you're downloading free. Then even more time marketing it. I haven't ever done the math (afraid of the heart attack it might give me) but if I were to figure the amount of money made from my books vs. the time spent writing and marketing, I'd guess I'm making less than minimum wage. Whether my self-pubbed books, from which there are still several people making money (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Createspace, Smashwords, employees of all those companies, and me), or my books published by a publishing house (and all of their employees, editors, graphic artists, marketing editors, etc.) there are a lot of people whose income a living comes from sales.

Myth: Now you're saying that if I lend your book to my friend, or I let my friend borrow my CD, then I'm stealing.

Fact: Nope. Absolutely not. And I think any artist would agree. Any author knows, in fact hopes, that you'll lend our books to everyone you know. We'd never make any money if it weren't for word of mouth. If you're lending it, you're telling the world you like my work. Yay me! Maybe some of those peeps will now buy my next book. I have no problem with you lending a copy of my book to any (or all) of your friends. Just don't put it up on a site where someone else (you or the site owners) are making money off my work. Can't afford a copy? Let me know. There's a very good chance I'll just give you a copy in return for a review - good or bad review, I don't care as long as it's honest.

Myth: So it's all about the money???

Fact: No ... and yes. I write because I love to write.I need to write. I also need to pay my bills. Since when did it become undesirable to make money doing what you love? I'm not looking to become a millionaire ... well, okay, I wouldn't say no to a million bucks. But I do have to live. And that takes money. Why is my time and work less valuable than someone who is paving the streets or mowing the grass or running a company? As an author, I am running a company. I'm CEO and COO all in one. I work 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Granted, this is my choice to work this much, but it's because I do want to be able to make a living from my work, so this is the time required. I'm fine with it. Just don't begrudge me the $4 I ask for my eBook, or say that because it came from my mind it's any less valuable than anyone elses work. (See my comment above about what my approximate hourly wage is. Why-oh-why couldn't I have written Twilight?)

Myth: Well, you're getting attention from people who might not otherwise read your books.

Fact: This might be partially true. But do I need attention from someone who isn't going to buy any of my work, but only steal it? Really? How is that helping me? I'm not in this for the fame. (What fame?) As I said, I need to pay my bills. I don't live extravagantly. I don't have an illusions that's going to happen as a result of my writing. Dreams, yes; illusions, no. But I'd like a bit of a return on my invested time. I don't know of any career wherein someone works for no wages. And this is my career.

Myth: Piracy only hurts the big guys who are making lots of money: publishers, movie studios, record labels.

Fact: You're not hurting the big money guys at those places. You are hurting the employees of those companies, the guys/gals who get up every day and go to work, make a few bucks and go home. In other words, the average Joe. You're hurting the person who created the art, because as a general rule it is the artist who makes the smallest amount of money in any project. Pay cuts, layoffs, book stores closing, studios shutting down ... all of these things hurt the little guy. Think it doesn't affect you still? Who do you think comes to your place of business and buys movie tickets, dinner, groceries, gas, cars, furniture, haircuts, whatever? Those same little guys who are now layed off, so they have no money to do/buy anything and so your company suffers. Now maybe you're the one being layed off. It's a vicious circle, and you, my friend, are caught up in it.

Myth: There's nothing wrong with downloading a free book, album, movie because it's there and if I don't do it someone else will.
Fact: Way to justify your theft. If no one pirated anything, all the sites would shut down and the scumbags who run them would have to get an honest job. You know, kinda like you and me. Maybe prices would come down, or at least steady, since the big guy doesn't feel the need to make up the difference in what they should be getting vs. what they actually are.

Bottom line is: don't be a thief. Have some integrity. If you wouldn't walk into a store and put a book into your purse and walk out without paying for it, then don't do it virtually either. If you can't afford the book/CD/movie, borrow it. The library, a friend, someone will certainly be willing to share. Contact the author. There's a good chance they'll give you a copy. Even publishers will share many times for the asking, in return for a review.

Okay, rant over. After all of that, I want to thank all of you who do have integrity and haven't pirated anything. Thanks for reading my work, whether you  loved it or hated it. Thank you for affording me the opportunity to make a few buck so I can keep doing this thing I love. My wish for you? That you, too, will find that thing you love and are passionate about and be able to live your life doing it!


  1. I can sympathize that it's painful to see your work pirated, but in your discussion of the myths and facts, I couldn't help but notice that you never mention any of the pros usually discussed by pro-piracy authors. You also stated all the "facts" without support of any research or statistics or...well...facts. They may seem common sense truth, but people who start doing research in piracy in book publishing, software, music, etc. often find the numbers tell a different story.

    For example, here's Neil Gaiman (wildly successful author) on why he went from fearing piracy to believing it's really good:

    and here's Gabe Newell (game software producer rather than author, but also dealing with piracy) with some really interesting statistics and insights on piracy. For his company, he found that piracy isn't really a price issue, it's a service issue.

    If all this seems interesting, I encourage you to read more from Cory Doctorow (also best selling author) who speaks and writes a lot about this piracy, copyright, and the future of publishing, if your interested. He's most quoted on the topic for saying "The problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity."

    And the Electronic Freedom Foundation has a lot of essays on the problems with current copyright system, including in Britain.

    1. Cathy, thanks for writing. I wrote a reply but it was too long to post here (writers have a tendency to be long winded!) so I've created a new post in response that you can read here:;postID=1813281661059709443
      Thanks for your good points and the links (which I read).