the piracy question

Illegal downloading is a subject I’ve been wanting to write about for ages. It’s very murky – it’s emotional and ethical/unethical and no one has a clue how to start untangling it (or rather, everyone has an opinion about how to start). But it’s an important topic.

David Lowery, a musician and lecturer in economics, wrote a public letter on Monday to an intern at NPR (national public radio). She had written on NPR’s music blog: “I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums.” In his letter Lowery breaks down some of the misconceptions about file-sharing and actively calls on our generation to think about the ethics of our actions.

His letter is passionate and articulate, but there were a couple of key points that I felt he either didn’t address, or which didn’t satisfy me. I want to outline them here in full knowledge that they’re not definitive answers to the digital media conundrum – but that I would like to begin challenging, discussing and rethinking them.

1) Consumers are not philanthropists.

There’s an image of the artist that pervades Lowery’s letter – the poor, struggling artist. He gives anecdotes of the ways artists have suffered – deeply – from losing their income. It’s tragic, the way thousands of people losing their jobs when a factory closes is tragic. But I don’t know that playing on peoples’ pity will change consumer choices – not on a scale large enough to affect the market.

He ends his letter with a call to action to donate money to various charities that help artists. That seems really odd to me.

On the one hand, yes, artists need a lot of financial help, and anyone who’s prepared to give it – thank you!

But artists who are serious about making money from what they do – the artists who would suffer from losing their livelihoods – are not charity cases. They’re business people. (Serious question: do business people in other industries also have access to charities?)

So: consumers are not philanthropists – and artists are not charity cases.

2) Artists are business people.

Lowery talks about the hidden costs of file-sharing. He points out that you might be able to download stuff for free, but the money is being exchanged somewhere. Internet providers get your money, the people who own the file-sharing sites get your money and the people who advertise (as well as the people who sell them the advertising) get your money.

So people are definitely making money off this – large corporations, mostly, not artists.

What Lowery fails to point out is: PEOPLE ARE DEFINITELY MAKING MONEY OFF THIS. There’s income to be made. Artists and artistic studios/companies/organisations just haven’t figured out how to get a piece of it yet.

3) Digital objects don’t have the same value as physical objects.

This is confounding, because just as much love and labour goes into, for example, an ebook as a paper book. It is the same object. But the simple fact that you can’t hold it devalues it in a consumer’s eyes. The simple fact that you can jump on the internet and have it almost right away devalues it. Probably it shouldn’t. But the fact is that it does.

I suspect bemoaning this undervaluing isn’t going to change what’s happening. Artists can’t browbeat their consumers into sharing their views – consumers feel the way they feel, irrational or not (and hasn’t consumer desire always been irrational?). I can only assume value has to be found elsewhere for digital objects, like Amazon have done with the Kindle.

We see this in other markets where a product is intangible. Public transport systems have to police commuters. Cinemas have been redesigned to have one door in, and one door out. And they charge $12 for a bucket of what is essentially the cheapest grain on earth and hot air. Notice, though, how people choose to buy popcorn? It’s all part of the experience and they don’t mind paying for it.

4) It’s not a matter of “not wanting to pay” – it’s a matter of lifestyle.

Lowery points out that consumers have already spent $1,000 on their laptop before they can get any “free” files. It’s kinda off-point, because no one buys a laptop just to illegally download stuff. (Okay. The world’s a big, populated place. Probably someone does.) They buy it because it’s one of the necessary lynchpins of their lifestyle.

No one denies that the internet has changed the way we conduct almost every daily transaction – so it makes sense that it also changes the lifestyle we expect. Actually, expect is the wrong word. It’s more like simple experience. We don’t question it. We rely on it, we breathe it. We know it’s there when we reach out.

TorrentFreak recently collated all their illegal download data and found Australia topped the Game of Thrones ranking. (The comments, by the way, are enlightening.) There’s this phenomenal tv show that every online community you belong to is talking about. Every day you see the images, hear spoilers. There’s buzz, because HBO wants you to watch it – so you want to watch it.

And you can.

The internet turns geographical restrictions into an abstract concept – because Game of Thrones isn’t on the other side of the world in America, it’s right here, where you are, at your fingertips. I should point out that it airs in Australia one week (I think) after its US airing, but only on Foxtel. I couldn’t find any exact figures on their website, but let’s say $50-$80 per month?

I was chatting with Jo Bourne on twitter about the geographical restrictions problem, and she said, “But isn’t there value in preserving local communities?” Well, yes. But just look who said that to me – Joanna Bourne, an American writer, who is part of my everyday community. Because of the internet.

Many of my localised communities are not geographical.

And yes: sharing files that don’t belong to you is an illegal act. There’s no getting around that. I can’t explain why our generation is taking to it anyway. It’s a full-blown ethical question, and I enjoyed how Lowery’s letter engaged with it. We have responsibilities to each other as human beings that are more complicated than just what we want right now.

But I do not see this trend reversing itself. And I want to make it very clear that when I say trend I don’t mean taking things illegally, I mean the systems people use to consume their media. This is also what I mean by lifestyle. Not some odious sense of privilege – but the day-to-day, lived experience of life. The way people consume media has changed – the market has changed.

Which isn’t to say artists won’t figure out how to make it profitable. I have every faith in human inventiveness.

Lowery shakes his head at a generation who doesn’t use their morality and principles to guide them through technological change, but rather lets technological change dictate their morality and principles. I’m researching the industrial revolution at the moment. Technology (which comes from people, not the Jules Verne nightmare Lowery points to) has always felt beyond us, pushing us into the future despite ourselves, from the first train engines – which were named after gods and dragons – to the internet.

But the wonderful thing about people is – just as quickly as technology changes on us, we change on it. We’re so adaptable – so ready to put what we have to good use.

Take Pioneer One, a crowd-funded tv show that’s released on the sites where people download their tv. The creative team fundraised enough for the first two episodes – and then relied on its fans wanting to see what happened next. It’s absolute proof that people aren’t scared to shell out. People want to contribute to the culture they belong to. The Nazi-spoof Iron Sky that was recently on at the cinema? Crowd-sourced.

I can only imagine the visceral rage artists feel seeing their hard work up on file-sharing sites. What downloaders are doing is illegal – but I don’t know that anyone’s going to change their minds. Those people artists rage against? They are the market. I said earlier that the value of a digital object has to be found elsewhere, and when it comes to ebooks I suspect the value is somewhere in community, tied to media systems that work with consumer habits.

I greatly respect Courtney Milan for blazing the way with self-publishing – but even more so for her generous approach to her community. In the back of her novella The Governess Affair she doesn’t sternly remind the reader that this is her property, she writes: Thanks for reading The Governess Affair! I hope you enjoyed it. Did you know you can lend this book? Please consider sharing it with a friend. And: Where such permission is sufficient, the author grants the right to strip any DRM which may be applied to this work.

Here’s what I’m facing: All things going well, people will be pirating my books in the next couple of years. That’s going to be my reality.

It’s natural to expect that when that happens my neat little aphorisms about “lifestyle” and “philanthropy” will be chucked to the wayside while I chase down my titles and remove them from illegal download sites.

Right now – I don’t want that to happen. I want to put my money where my mouth is. I believe there’s a market out there – bigger than there’s ever been – it’s just a new market, and no one quite knows how to access it yet.

I’m a writer, not a marketer. I don’t know how to look at this mess and create something from it. But then, three months ago I didn’t know how to write a business plan, either. Actually, it was worse than that. I was sure I couldn’t write one. I was so confronted by trying to do it, when I had no clue how to even begin, that I felt physically sick. But I kept at it, and now I have one – and boy is that a useful document!

So I’m going to approach this whole new-market thing the same way. Something I can’t do. A lot of hard work. Necessary, if I want to make it. As Philip Pullman writes*:

You don’t win races by wishing, you win them by running faster than everyone else. And to do that you have to strive your utmost, and sometimes even that isn’t enough, because another runner just might be more talented than you are. Here’s the truth: If you want something, you can have it, but only if you want everything that goes with it, including all the hard work and despair, and only if you’re willing to risk failure.

* from Clockwork

Comments 32 Responses

  1. Mike Innes

    Corey Doctorow, the futurist, novelist and one of the editors of Boing-Boing, releases all his novels for free on his website under a creative commons license. He has said that despite this, he still makes money from his print copies. I, myself, bought one a couple of years back. I don’t know how he got his publisher to agree to it, though! 😉

    1. anna cowan Post author

      I think people like feeling like they belong to a community more than they like feeling like a customer. So you give people a space to be with your stuff with no expectations and yeah, I can see how they’d get involved and invested. IS he traditionally published? That’s a pretty interesting set-up, if so!

      1. Another Steve

        Doctorow has several novels out from Tor Books, a division of Macmillan and the world’s biggest science fiction publisher. He does retain the right to release his ebooks free under a Creative Commons license, and has done so since before anybody thought electronic rights were worth very much. Since then, he’s insisted on it and because he’s a money-maker for Tor Books, they continue to go along with it.

        From a money-making perspective, this approach made sense at one time. Few people wanted to read a book on their computer, so it was thought that they could be given an electronic version of the book, they might download the copy and start to read it and then decide to buy the hard copy. The greater the proportion of people reading on electronic devices, the less sense this model will make. I think it’s likely that in a few years most fiction will be read on some electronic device, and this “giving away the free copy” won’t make sense from an economic perspective.

        Others — novelist Rudy Rucker and publisher Small Beer Press, for two — who used to make it easy to download free electronic copies of their books have discontinued the practice. For a futurist, Doctorow is very backward-looking.

        1. anna cowan Post author

          This is where the object-value comes in again – because I see often on online forums people buying paper copies of ebooks they loved, so that they can own the OBJECT of it. In this sense, I don’t think the market has made Doctorow’s approach too different. However, people are becoming more comfortable with the idea of ebooks, so they’re no longer simply a gateway to paper books, as you say.

          We also have to acknowledge that the ebook market seems to be stabilising – suggesting paper books will keep a fair chunk of the market. I suspect they shouldn’t be seen as opposing markets, but as symbiotic. One can certainly still be used to support sales in the other.

  2. Alyssa Linn Palmer

    I think part of the problem that exacerbates piracy is the antiquated idea of ‘regions’ and ‘distribution’ where you have to wait a week (or more, depending where you live) to watch the latest ep of Game of Thrones, all the while trying to dodge spoilers. That worked pre-internet, but it doesn’t work anymore.

    As a Canadian, I have similar issues with ebooks — they’re on the Kindle store (& Canadians have to shop thru for Kindle, btw), but yet they’re not available to Canadian residents. Why? Some distribution deal. I won’t torrent that file, but what is most likely is that the sale has been lost, and the money the author/publisher/etc. would have gained will be spent on something else.

    Mike Innes mentions Cory Doctorow… and Cory states on his site about sharing:
    Mix ‘em up. Send them to your friends. Get creative. Tell me about it. Make cool junk. Some weirdos actually get pissed off when their readers like their stuff enough to share it and improve it. Me, I’m over the moon when that happens.

    Like Tim O’Reilly says, “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”

    I’ve always thought that last statement is the eye-opener.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      Yes! to all of this. I’m in Australia, so believe me I FEEL YOUR PAIN with the geo restrictions. I suspect it’s the crux of what made the system break down – laws are geographical, culture isn’t. I’ve really felt it ever since I got my kindle (we have to go via too!) and I agree, absolutely – in the buzz around a new book you really want to buy it, but once other people are talking about it online, and have read it, and stop talking about it, it can start feeling old, or done, even if you haven’t read it. So you move on to something else in the time it takes to become available. I found the conversation about geo restrictions with Jo Bourne interesting in that she didn’t see that as a problem – but of course she’d in the US! They really don’t realise how good they have the immediate culture-feed, I think.

    2. anna cowan Post author

      Oh, and totally agree with that Doctorow quote. People who prohibit fan fiction of their work are mental. When people get that involved in your work, when they love it that intensely, they form strong communities around what you do. Why would you alienate that? Why would you not enjoy people enjoying what you do?

    3. Another Steve

      According to news accounts, Game of Thrones is also one of the most frequently illegally downloaded programs in the United States, where HBO subscribers can see it before the rest of the world, so I don’t think the deal about waiting a week is the big problem.

      The problem is greedy people who don’t respect other peoples’ property.

      HBO is a premium cable channel that shows theatrical movies as well as their own content. They would probably have fewer illegal downloads if they allowed people to view their offerings a la carte. But their goal isn’t to minimize illegal downloads; it’s to maximize profits. (If their goal was to minimize illegal downloads, they could simply give their stuff away free.) For better or worse (and I’m not going to second-guess their marketing decisions) they’ve decided that the bundling strategy, making their programs available to their subscribers first and only later making them available elsewhere, was the one they’d follow.

      “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”

      That’s true in the sense that if nobody wants to read your stuff, then piracy isn’t going to be an issue. If you achieve enough popularity (and I wish you all the best) that people want to steal your stuff, then you probably won’t want to be stolen from.

      Doctorow is the weirdo here; very few authors as successful as he is share his attitude.

      1. anna cowan Post author

        You raise such an interesting point here. I remember seeing a while back that James Patterson tops all the illegal downloads lists, and I thought, “Well he tops all the bestseller lists, too”. If you’re popular, you’re going to be popular with paying customers as well. So I guess the question is how much of your actual income illegal downloaders are taking away – whether they’re people who WOULD otherwise pay. And I wonder whether there’s a sweet-spot between the authors who are so popular their paycheck doesn’t suffer and the authors who are so anonymous no one’s pirating their stuff anyway. And by sweet-spot I mean: authors who are getting royally screwed.

  3. Cheryl Wright

    I totally disagree with both the quote by Doctorow, and the statement that people who prohibit fan fiction of their work are mental.

    No, I’m not just saying that to disagree. Let’s look at the realties of both.

    I’ll begin with piracy. Do you believe that it’s okay to walk into a store, any store, take goods off the shelf, then walk out the door with them without paying?

    No, of course you don’t – it’s stealing, right? You wouldn’t do it, and you wouldn’t expect your friends or relatives to do it. Yet you are condoning the same thing for digital goods. Piracy is the act of stealing property owned by writers. Real property that took a lot of time and effort to produce. Property that is owned by the creator. Property that has a real-life value to the creator. (Hence the fact that copyright applies from the moment the creator begins the work.)

    Next, Fan Fiction. Perhaps start with what Fan Fiction is. It is the taking of an author’s characters – wholly, as they were created by the author – and ripping them off to use in the FanFic author’s own stories.

    Again, the original author has spent a lot of time and effort creating and perfecting their characters to use in their book. Why should they allow other writers to take shortcuts and rip off their characters?

    The courts have proven it’s illegal purely by the fact many FanFic authors have been sued for stealing the original (and true) author’s characters.

    Sorry, Anna, but I totally disagree with you on both counts.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      I’m not condoning the illegal downloading of books – I’m saying it’s the reality of the market. It is theft, but I also don’t think we’re going to change consumer choice simply by pointing that out to consumers. It will sway a small percentage of consumers, but I don’t think it will shift the market back to an older model of media consumption.

      Authors absolutely have the right to defend their work, and to try and curb illegal downloads.

      What I’m talking about is not the moral implications of downloading, it’s the fact that whether we like it or not there is a new model of consumption, and with it comes a new market that we can take advantage of as artists. I hope I’m making that distinction clear.

      As to fanfiction 🙂 “mental” was probably too strong a word, but I think you harm your readership more than you help yourself by lashing out at the people who love your work. The people who write fic are absolutely passionate about the fandoms they write in and they’re never in any way trying to encroach on the writer’s work. They’re a loyal fanbase and a huge percentage of them are going to buy everything the author puts out. There isn’t a finite amount of attention people have for one work that will be used up if they read the fanfiction instead – it only increases their desire for more – to be more involved, consume more, feel more a part of the community.

      I know we have very different experiences in relation to this kind of fiction and the kind of lifestyle I’m talking about, but I really appreciate your honest thoughts on the matter. I certainly don’t think there’s on right answer! Or even twenty right answers.

      1. Cheryl Wright

        I hate to say it, Anna, but just because illegal downloading of books is a reality doesn’t make it right or even acceptable.
        It is difficult enough for authors to make a living from their writing unless your name is Bryce Courtney or some other big name author, without having people steal your livelihood out from under you.
        In my eyes, it’s the acceptance of piracy that’s caused a lot of the issue. People turning a blind-eye doesn’t help at all, whereas reporting piracy sites to the appropriate authorities (for example Blogger when it’s on a blogger site) will actually cause the site to be shut down.
        Sure, they’ll probably move on, but if we make it hard for them, they’ll (hopefully)
        eventually give up.
        Still don’t agree about FanFic. They ARE taking away from the copyright author. If
        FanFic writers publish a book using characters they’ve stolen (yes, they have stolen them), then the real writer loses royalties and therefore income.
        It’s the natural progression.
        I don’t think anyone can really understand how it feels to have income stolen from you like this until it’s actually happened to you.
        I’ve been plaguarised several times, and have had to resort to threatening legal action before the person has taken the stolen work down. I’m not talking books, but rather articles and entire webpages. Word for Word. And she had the audacity to simply add her name where mine belonged.
        It’s really not a nice feeling. I don’t suggest you try it.

  4. margtanner

    Hi Anna,
    Great blog, you raised some interesting points, but illegally downloading books ( I am talking books here because I am an author) is theft, if it is done without the author’s knowlege and approval. People can sugar coat it all they like, but if you steal (and downloading a book without paying for it, or having permission from the author, is theft. Just because you want it doesn’t mean you should steal it if you can’t afford to pay, or don’t want to pay for it. I see no difference in doing this than in going into a book shop or a clothing store and helping myself (without paying) for the merchandise just because I want it and I can. It is stealing. Obviously many people have not heard of self retstraint or moral responsibility. And let’s face it, we aren’t talking big money here, $3.99, $4.99 or $5.99 per book, for God’s sake.
    There are plenty of things that I want but can’t afford to purchase, so I do the honest thing and go without or wait until I can afford it, probably an unusual trait in these instant gratification times in which we live, but at least I have a clear conscience.
    If authors can’t make a living because their work is being stolen, chances are many will eventually give up writing. Now if that is multiplied over a few years, it would be quite reasonable to expect, that there may not be many books for the next generation to read, because who wants to put in all those weeks/months of work on their book, and not receive any reward for it?
    Well, that’s my take on it, anyway.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      thanks for your comments Margaret – I feel these are the thoughts many authors dealing with!

      It is completely arbitrary, but there is a material difference in the mind of the consumer between a physical item (your example of walking into a shop and taking something) and a digital item. This is why I feel the value needs to be placed elsewhere, if we’re to keep making a living off what we do. It doesn’t entirely makes sense, and it’s certainly not ideal – but it is the real experience of a whole new generation. We’re not going to convince them otherwise! So my interest here is in moving forward and figuring out how to take advantage of the ways this new generation consumes media.

      It is a question of morality and self-regulation – but I just don’t think we can afford to wait for people to grow better consciences!

      The reason I want to start looking for ways into the new market is so that the future you’re talking about doesn’t have a chance to come to pass. Writers are much more likely to lose out on income and give up writing if they don’t adapt to their market and find a way to make money from it. I feel more optimistic than you about the future of the book market – I think people are marvellously adaptive and inventive and will find ways to get their products to their readers in a way that profits both.

      Thanks again for engaging in this discussion!

      1. Cheryl Wright

        I honestly don’t believe this is a matter of writers adapting to the market or the future. It’s really a matter of people being honest, and stop trying to get something for free that they’re not entitled to get free.
        As Margaret pointed out, most digital products are very inexpensive, and $3-99 for an ebook is not expensive. Even $12 for an ebook is not expensive when the equivalent -in print – would set the buyer back at least double that amount.
        It’s an unfortunate fact but many people of this generation simply feel the world owes them something.
        Free is good, but only if you’re legally entitled to it.

        1. anna cowan Post author

          When I say I think the value has to transfer to other things like community, that doesn’t exclude people paying for the object as well. I’m not talking exclusively about creating markets around free downloading – I think creating community first is a way to encourage people to pay. That was why I included the wonderful example Courtney Milan creates where she’s generous with her community, which in turn makes people enjoy being part of what she’s offering. The two are pretty bound up in each other.

          I don’t think people are just going to just stop being dishonest of their own accord. Can you envision any actions that would encourage that change in the market – or are there any initiatives out there now that you think are working/have the potential to work? It would be interesting to look at what solutions people are trying.

  5. margtanner

    Hi Anna,
    Again, some of what you say does have merit, but how would you suggest we adapt to a new/different market, and why should we, just because people are thieves. Surely that is encouraging theft. I am sure, that once your book is published and you start to be robbed of your royalties, you will have a better understanding of this. In fact, I would go so far as to guarantee it. Every writer/musician, published or unpublished, should fight this scourge, because you never know when it will happen to you..


    1. anna cowan Post author

      I find it interesting that you say, “Why should we adapt to a new market?” My answer would be: because that is our market. We as authors don’t get to choose what our market is – unless we’re out there actively working to ensure that the market remains what it has been, or that it changes into something we like the look of. I think it’s in the nature of markets to change, and we simply have to adapt to survive.

        1. anna cowan Post author

          I don’t have any answers yet! This post is part of me beginning to think about it. I think re your point about programmers etc. – you’re right. Publishers and distributors take a huge part of this responsibility, and we have to hope that they’re being forward-thinking and innovative about it (like I said, Amazon’s headed in exactly the right direction with their ‘one-click’ system). I think part of it falls to the author, though. One thing I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on is self-publishing. And I’ll be modelling myself on Courtney Milan’s attitude towards her readership, which I outlined in the post. Those small things make a huge difference. Further than that, I’m not sure yet, because as you say I’m not there yet. But my attitude right now is that I want to embrace the way the market works and try to figure out for myself how I can best make use of it.

  6. Ebony McKenna (@EbonyMcKenna)

    Hi Anna,
    Yes, I understand the frustration of geographic restrictions. In Australia it’s hard not to read spoilers about Once Upon a Time or The Amazing Race. But that feeling of geographic frustration has morphed into a mislaid sense on entitlement, where people can justify what is, in effect, outright theft.

    I’m an author, I’m a creator. Sure, I write because I love it, but I also write because it’s my passion and my profession. I spend hours every day at my job of writing.
    Just because I love it, doesn’t mean I should do it for free. How do I support my family if I don’t get paid? Or am I supposed to have some kind of benefactor paying for my ‘indulgence’?

    The authors have been paid because publishers pay advances to writers, but they are advances against future royalties from the sale of books. If people don’t buy the books through legitimate channels, the author doesn’t get royalties. The publisher then doesn’t offer the writer another contract.

    Therefore, in solidarity with other creators the world over, I take this pledge.
    “I do solemnly swear that I will not steal anything.”
    Say it with me 😀

    1. anna cowan Post author

      I’m realising what I haven’t made clear in my post is this: I’m not saying let’s just let people have our work for free. I’m saying let’s figure out how to make systems that work with the way people consume media. The Kindle one-click is an excellent example of this. I read a review – sounds interesting – I follow the link, read the blurb and reviews on Amazon, decide I want it right now, click ONE BUTTON – now check-out etc. – and it’s on my Kindle. That’s completely intuitive, works with the way I naturally consume media, and facilitates purchases I want to make.

      I totally get what you’re saying about the false sense of entitlement. It really is false – but it reminds me of the way a historian described national identity: It’s completely made up, but no less real for that. The longer people take the media they want, the more it becomes just a day-to-day lived experience. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying that’s my observation of what is actually happening.

      When you’re sitting at home and the only person policing your actions is you – every single time you want to watch something becomes a moral act. I don’t think most people are up to that kind of moral behaviour, all the time.

      So the question is how we can bring in elements other than morality like ease, convenience, enjoyment, belonging – even, yes, a good old rap on the knuckles. My example with public transport: they use a combination of “it’s wrong to steal” advertising, the redesign of stations (so that you have to use your card just to get in), and the straight-up fine.

      Do you think there are any systems in place at the moment that are making a difference in people’s purchasing choices? I think the one-click works, as I’ve said, but then of course you have the whole problem of the Kindle and DRM.

  7. Dora

    While my sympathy is with anyone who is suffering from theft I understand what you’re saying, Anna. Stores have little electronic tags on their products and detectors at the exit to make sure no one is stealing. There is need for better systems to protect author’s work. Stores are not relying on customers to be honest so neither should internet publishing. Once I buy a book from Target I can lend it to 30 people if I wish. That is my right. I cannot however reprint it and give a hard copy to 30 people. This is a big issue.
    In some ways putting a book up on a site is, I believe seen as a type of lending within our community. I feel you have illustrated effectively how our sense of community has changed and grown beyond physical borders through the advances in technology,
    So while no one disagrees that not paying an author for their work without permission is stealing. And I understand you are clearly saying this in your post. Perhaps you agree with me, Authors need to get off their victim box and get on their creative action box. ‘Poor me’ attitude really never does solve anything. Business people identify the problems and adapt. Because Authors need to make the money they need to take the responsibility for change withing the online word.Just in case I have not been clear enough to post readers I’ll repeat Anna’s words which I think we all agree with ‘…sharing files that don’t belong to you is an illegal act…’. I feel that people who are making that clear, help to change the attitude of downloading unauthorized e-books from borrowing borrowing or lending to stealing. Good work!

    Having said that…

    I did an essay on remainders for study a few years ago. The selling of remainders by budget book outlets means the author doesn’t get paid. While this is a real drawback for authors financially and is really a hot potato issue that rarely gets talked about because publishers benefit from selling remainders,there is a view by some that a person who hasn’t read the author’s work may buy one of their books at a cheap price and like it so much that they will pay full price for the next newly released work. So in a way, having your work out there can have benefits to the author, in a holistic sense, looking at your overall career. There is a view that an author’s work is reaching a far wider audience through the illegal site’s network. I have happily loaned print books from friends and downloaded the free e-books made available with the author’s permission from Mills and Boon I have never illegally downloaded from a sharing site and never will and don’t condone it and in my understanding, Anna doesn’t condone it either. I feel this is a valuable discussion aimed at looking at ways of understanding the situation and being creative about how we choose to work with it to our benefit. Making victims of ourselves does work. Encouraging debate and finding solutions through that process is the answer

    1. anna cowan Post author

      That’s an interesting way to look at the physical shop analogy – people don’t expect us to be moral with physical-object purchases, either. Not being able to lend ebooks easily is probably the biggest downside (also not being able to flip easily forward and back through the book – grrr). That’s why I loved Courtney Milan’s message to much. It’s not easy to lend books, but she’s encouraging it. It has to be encouraged and widely practiced before companies like Amazon make it easier to do. I saw ages ago a proposal for/projection of ebook social media. It all revolved around personal libraries and lending – and I can’t wait for those sorts of networks to come into being.

  8. Cheryl Wright

    Dora, I feel very offended at your comment that “Authors need to get off their victim box and get on their creative action box. ‘Poor me’ attitude really never does solve anything.”

    I’m sure it wasn’t your intention to offend, but it’s how I feel.

    Perhaps we need to look at the logistics of it: authors write books, we don’t create software. Therefore, we have no control over the formats that are used to create the ebooks.

    We also have no control over how the books are delivered. So again, we have no control over the delivery options provided to buyers.

    The bottom line is this: stealing is illegal. It doesn’t matter who is doing the stealing, it’s wrong. Authors have a right to the royalties they have earned on their published books, and by downloading a book illegally (i.e. stealing), that can’t happen.

    The problem simply won’t go away by calling authors victims.

    I don’t know what the answer is, and because I’m not a programmer, I doubt I’ll ever know.
    What I do know is this is a wide-spread problem, not just affecting authors, but also other creatives, such as singers, bands, artists, photographers, webdesigners, and more.

    Everyone who creates something – i.e. their intellectual property – is entitled to be paid for it.
    This is not just an issue for authors, it’s a problem for anyone who tries to sell a product, any product, on the internet.

    And don’t get me started on remainders. Again I will reiterate that authors are entitled to be paid for their work. Remainders are sold off cheaply to clear out any left-over copies of books.
    So the publisher gets paid, the bookstore selling them gets paid, but the author is again left out in the cold.

    And no, it doesn’t matter if you find a new reader via remainders or illegal downloading. We’re being ripped off either way.

    Let me ask you a question. Would you go out and work for your employer all day every day and expect not to be paid? It’s no different for authors. We’ve put in the hours, and deserve the payment at the end.

    1. Dora

      Your ” I’m offended” response sounds like victim mentality to me. Love that you are passionate about your work and want to stand up for yourself and authors. I’m one of those who doesn’t say it’s not my responsibility to fix this. I’m wanting to be involved in finding a solution, because I DO believe author’s should be paid and said nothing other than that.

      1. anna cowan Post author

        It’s great that you guys are getting into what all this means, and the implications of what we’re talking about here.

        Just a gentle reminder to keep the discussion about the market/the implications of consumer choices/the consequences for readers. We’re all personally affected by this stuff, but let’s try not to get personal in our comments. We’re all in this together! None of us really know what’s going on, and this is a fantastic forum to air our different ideas, look at them, reject what doesn’t work for us, think about what speaks to us, and have a say.

        Thanks ladies!

  9. Another Steve

    Hi Anna,

    I followed a pingback from Lowery’s post to find your blog. I’d like to respond to some of your points.

    You said:

    1) Consumers are not philanthropists.
    I say:
    No, of course they aren’t and of course Mr. Lowery is not claiming they ought to be. I think you’re completely misreading him. Emily White is claiming she wants to support musicians even though she says she just stole thousands of dollars worth of their music. Lowery suggests one way would be to donate the money to musicians’ charities.
    Is a thief who gives back the money she stole a philanthropist?
    You said:
    2) Artists are business people. . . . So people are definitely making money off this – large corporations, mostly, not artists. There’s income to be made. Artists and artistic studios/companies/organisations just haven’t figured out how to get a piece of it yet.
    I say:
    The money that’s being made by Google, Pirate Bay, and the like through ad revenue is a tiny fraction of the value of the copyrighted materials that are being stolen. There’s money to be made, but because there’s a lot less of it.
    You said:
    3) Digital objects don’t have the same value as physical objects.
    I say:
    Baloney. I can browse through and see all kinds of MP3 albums going for more than the price of the CD, and Kindle books for more than the price of the physical book. And looking at the sales ranking, quite a few people have no problem paying a little extra. For a novel or other book that I’ll read straight through, I find that the ebook is superior to the physical book. Many are willing to pay a little extra to download the audio files right away.
    You said:
    4) It’s not a matter of “not wanting to pay” – it’s a matter of lifestyle.
    I say:
    When it comes to music (the topic of Lowery’s letter) it’s almost always a matter of not wanting to pay. The stolen material, whether downloaded from a pirate site or friend-sourced, is usually available legally either as an electronic file or on CD, which can be easily and legally ripped into whatever format you like.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      Hi Steve – thanks for your comments!

      You’ve made me think more about the philanthropy question – and what I’ve come to is not pretty, which is probably why I didn’t say it straight-up. There’s a huge percentage of media people consume that they would never pay to consume. There were comments on Lowery’s letter to this effect, e.g. I get to listen to a much wider range of music this way – music I wouldn’t pay to listen to because it’s a risk, but later I might buy this or that artist I discovered.

      I’ve said in earlier comments how you’re the only person who can police yourself in the moment you’re sitting alone at your computer about to download something illegally. So every time you actually pay for something, it becomes a moral action – voting with your dollar, essentially. This was Lowery’s call – make the moral decision to put your money where your mouth is.

      So here’s where my philanthropy point brought me when I thought more about it: Even though in all legal and ethical terms the media belongs to its creators, when we pay for it we choose to support them. So paying for media we wouldn’t consume unless it was downloaded for free becomes a kind of philanthropy.

      I know the term is taken wildly out of context, and this bares the ugly bones of the whole illegal downloading discussion. But that’s how I see the consumer experience of that moment of choosing to pay or not pay. Most people won’t choose to pay on a principle, I suspect.

      As to the small amount of money ads and pirate sites are making – good point! I still find it interesting money’s being made, though. If a smaller group of artists put together a download site, for example, then probably the profit would be good for just that small group, if it wasn’t whole industries having to make an income off it. More publishers are making it possible for readers to buy directly from them, which I think is heading in the right direction (which is all making me think: distribution is where the money is).

      As to the value…I still can’t agree with you. What I’m talking about is PERCEIVED value. I would happily pay $30 for a hardback, especially if the cover had a particularly nice texture/design. I would never pay $30 for an ebook. To me that amount simply doesn’t make sense connected to an ebook. It begins to feel emperor’s new clothes-ish – like I’m paying for air. Many Australian publishers charge these kinds of prices for their books – and I don’t download them illegally, I just don’t even think about buying them at all.

      Many of the romance authors who are making really professional self-pubbed ebooks are charging $2.99. That amount of money isn’t money in the same way that a digital book isn’t an object, so it feels like a completely fair exchange – one I’m more than happy to make.

      And you’re absolutely right – it really is about not wanting to pay. But I’d say lifestyle can make paying not feel like paying. I’ve mentioned a few times that I think the Amazon one-click system has the right idea. It works flawlessly with how I consume media online, and with only one click I have the book on my kindle. It’s by far the most efficient way to get an ebook, including illegal downloading. That alone is worth my 4 or 5 dollars. As soon as a website takes me to a shopping cart, I start to rethink my purchase.

      So it’s not just the paying – it’s feeling like I’m paying. If media outlets integrate seamlessly into my media lifestyle I’m totally happy to hand over my cash.

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