NOTE: When I speak of ‘sharing’ I am referring only to pirate sites, peer-to-peer sharing sites. I am not referring to readers who share books with friends and family. I’m speaking about pirating sites that strip all the digital rights management from ebooks and then upload them to a website or multiple sites.
Gird your loins folks, this is going to be a long post on an ugly topic. And I'm going to be brutally honest and very blunt.
Until I became an author, I had absolutely no clue that 'book pirates' existed. Whenever I wanted to read something, I either purchased a book, borrowed something from my mom or a friend, or went to the library. Needless to say, it was a rude awakening.
I really wish they would quit calling these people Pirates. The term pirate oft evokes an image of a misunderstood and handsome swashbuckler. (Think Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.) I'm here to tell you that these people are not Johnny Depp-like characters. They're dishonest, disingenuous thieving bastards. There. I said it and I'm not ashamed.
Several times a week I either see a post on someone's blog or on Facebook on this very topic. I even receive private messages or emails with the same vein running through them: OMG! I just found out my books are being pirated and your's are too! Yeah, I know.
I know my books are being stolen. Countless numbers every day across the world. I know I'm not alone. I know it happens.
In the beginning, I used to spend hours contacting these pirating sites, demanding they remove my books, informing them they don't have permission to 'share' my books, and warning them to immediately halt what they're doing.
I'm here to tell you that this does absolutely no good. Its as smart as trying to scoop water out of a leaky boat with a teaspoon. A sane person would try to plug the hole.
As soon as you get one site to remove your books, another one pops up to take its place. No amount of haranguing, screaming, or 'sign the petition to stop book pirates' is going to get these people to stop. It doesn't matter how many times you talk about it on your blogs or how diligently you work to warn people not to buy your books from anyone other than Amazon, B&N, Kobo, or other reputable book sellers. You can scream the message from the top of your lungs day after day after day until the end of time. These thieves breed like cockroaches and are just as disgusting.
By now, I'm sure many of you are floored by my apparent pessimistic attitude on this subject. A few of you might even believe I have a fatalist attitude and believe there is nothing we can do to stop them. Not true. There is a solution. Is it an easy one? No, but it is the only answer to stopping these people.
Does anyone remember Napster? Napster was a 'peer-to-peer' file sharing internet service. The operated under the guise of 'freedom of speech' or 'I should be able to share my music with my friends.' Hundreds of thousands of music files were downloaded for free. This went on for years. Artists and musicians lost lots of money. Napster swore they were simply sharing. I argue they were stealing.
Don't get me wrong, if my readers want to buy a paperback and hand it out to all their friends, I'm good with that. I'm even okay with them sharing the digital versions. I’m not talking about honest readers who get their books from bookstores, Amazon, Kobo, or other legitimate businesses.
I love readers, you all know that. But what makes the 'sharing a paperback' different than a peer-to-peer file sharing service is this: Someone originally bought the book. (Or I personally gave them a copy.) The original reader bought the book for his own personal enjoyment and if he or she likes the book, they’ll want to spread the word or even share their copy with friends and family. I do this all the time. The book might make its way to a dozen or so people. Again, I'm fine with that. But with peer-to-peer sharing, thousands upon thousands of people are getting to either listen to the music or read the books because someone (the thieving pirate) stripped the DRM (Digital Rights Management) from the original copy and made it available ‘to the world’. The thief didn’t purchase the book or piece of music with having it for his own personal use in mind. He took it with the intent of sharing it with thousands of people.
"But Suzan, what about the library? Libraries all over the country have thousands of copies of all sorts of books. People go in and borrow them for free all the time. Isn't that the same thing?" No, it isn't. Because the library bought the original copy or copies of the books or the audio books or the albums. While some pirates might buy one copy, many are able to steal them. But buying it with the intent to distribute it widely at no cost is still different than sharing with your immediate circle of friends and family
"But Suzan, musicians like the Beatles or Aerosmith or Toby Keith are all rich gazillionaires. Certainly they don't miss a few songs here and there." That's like your boss telling you "Listen, you worked 60 hours this week, but I need to buy my kid a new car, so I'm taking $15.00 out of everyone's paychecks for the next four years to pay for it. You won't miss it, its just a few bucks here and there." You'd be mad as hell.
Stealing is stealing, plain and simple. People can try to justify it all they want to.
Napster tried to justify what they were doing by saying this: A recent study of more than 2,200 online music fans by Jupiter Communications suggests that users of Napster and other music-sharing programs are 45 percent more likely to increase their music purchasing than fans who aren’t trading digital bootlegs online. (from ABC News.)
Excuse me? Your argument is that if I let people steal my music or my books, then they're more apt to actually by my music or my books in the future? That is BS and I'm calling BS. Why on earth would you purchase music or books if you know you can get them for free?
These sites act as both thief and fence. They steal the work -- be it from musicians or authors -- and give it away to potentially hundreds of thousands of people. All under the guise of 'sharing'. I don't know why they do it and frankly, I don't care. I simply want it to stop.
Yes, I make a very good living as a full time author. Yes, I give away lots of paperbacks, ebooks and audiobooks every year. It is my work. My blood, sweat and tears that went into creating the book. It is my right to give it away to whomever I please whenever I please because it is mine. And again, let me reiterate that I am fine with people who have purchased my books or people who were given my books as gifts, to share them with their friends and family. I'm not talking about my devoted readers sharing books. I'm talking about the pirating sites.
It doesn't matter who they're stealing from. Whether its the famous Hugh Howey's of the writing industry or the new guy just starting out, it is still stealing. This isn't about the haves and the have nots. This is about a group of people who steal from one group of people to give it to another group of people.
If someone wants to read my books buy them or go to your local library and borrow a copy. If your library doesn't have a copy, ask and they'll get a copy for you. I have lots of contests throughout the year so a person could even win a free copy. Just don’t steal it.
Just because I gave away copies to people doesn't mean someone has the right to come in and steal copies from me and then give them away. And that is what these sites do - they steal.
So what is the solution? Three words:
Class Action Lawsuit.
We need every author -- traditional or indie -- to come together and file a class action lawsuit against these thieves. Yes, it might take years of court battles and buckets of frustrating tears before we see a final conclusion. But I say it would be worth it in the end. It isn't about suing them to win a ton of money, its about getting these people to stop. What we want is to get these websites to quit stealing our work and giving it away. Personally, I’d rather see the bastards do hard jail time than for me to win a dime. Either way, I’d be happy with seeing these people punished.
We can't get these thieves to stop by sending emails saying "Take my book off your site." I would wager they get dozens of such emails every day. I imagine some idiot in a grease-stained muscle shirt, oily skin, and long dirty hair, sitting behind a desk littered with empty Doritos bags, a family sized box of Twinkies on his lap, and diet soda cans spilling out of the trash can, smirking every time he opens one of those cease and desist emails. I can hear him say, "Yeah, right. We'll take it down for now, baby cakes, but come next week? Your little book will be on fifty other sites! Take that honey pie!" After he promptly moves my cease and desist email into his trash folder, he switches over to the 24-hour porn sites. I wonder if he pays for the porn or steals that too?
And the DMCA? The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is supposed to protect authors, artists and musicians against these thieves. Ha! Its as effective as trying to use a peacock feather against a horde of pissed off Alaskan Brown Bears. What are you going to do, tickle the bears to death? All it does is give us a fancy schmancy letter to send to these sites. I bet greasy twinkie guy has wallpapered is third-floor walk up studio apartment in copies of the DMCA. He might even use them as toilet paper. Yeah, that’s how I picture these slimeballs.
Until we band together against these thieving idiots, we'll never stop them. I say we unite ourselves against these fools. Instead of waving our feather made out of DMCA notices, I say we become the horde of pissed off authors who stand united and letting them know we're not going to allow this any more. Who is with me?