Sunday, March 28, 2010

E-Books and a Certain Act of Piracy

By now, most of you know my stance on e-books. I love them, but I hate DRM. I don't think they will totally replace print books, but they have their place and it's time publishers recognize it. That said, I have little use for websites that knowingly and willingly put up copies of e-books that are currently under copyright for download without proper permissions.

I am not talking about the Baen free library, Joe Buckley's The Fifth Imperium, Suvudu or the like. These are all legitimate sites authorized by the publishers and their authors to make available for free downloads of certain books. I love these sites. I've found a number of new authors to read because of them.

No, what I'm talking about are the torrent sites and other websites that don't give a damn about authors' rights. These sites, and their operators, are pirates. I'd use stronger language, but I don't want to be kicked off the blog. Yes, my feelings about these bottom feeders are that strong.

What, you might ask, brought on this tirade? Very simply, I read a blog entry by Nancy Kress and her "discussion" with one of these parasites. Not only does he refuse to remove her books from his site, but he claims there is no "ownership" of words, ie books. Worse, this person claims to be a librarian, someone who ought to at least be willing to protect the rights of those who write the books in his collection.

I won't repeat the conversation (actually a series of emails). You can find it here. Normally, I wouldn't do that much, because you can find the link to this person's website. However, this time I'll make an exception. This person knows, or should know, what copyright is. On the site, he specifically says this is to gather, and allow for download, books that do not qualify for inclusion in Project Gutenberg. He includes books from authors like King, Atwood, Grafton and many others. Oh, he couches it in terms of "loan" and "limited number of downloads" per time frame. But then he turns around and asks for donations. Oh, and then there is the "free" DVD you can get -- as long as you "donate" the appropriate amount and then tell him where you want the DVD sent. Sorry, that's a sale.

Now, before someone pipes in and says that everyone who has ever busted DRM is also a pirate, no. We bought the book. We removed the DRM so we could read it on another ebook reader. We aren't -- or at least none of the folks I know who break DRM -- are out there giving the now DRM-free books away to the masses. Nor are we charging for those books, making money off of them to the detriment of the authors who wrote them.

And, no, this isn't the same thing as selling a hard copy of a book to a second hand book shop -- or going to one and buying the book. Publishers and authors might not like the fact they get no royalties from these sales, but at least they know the book was originally bought from a legitimate retailer. We don't know that with this particular site -- nor, frankly, do we know it with any of the sites that allow for illegal downloads of books. In fact, I'm confident in saying that a number of the books on his site were not originally purchased as ebooks. If you read the list of books available (currently more than 2,000) and when you read his explanation of what his site is, you will see that there are books available that are not currently offered in electronic format and that he has scanned them in AND he encourages others to do the same.

Bottom line, folks, if you want an ebook, there are plenty of legitimate places where you can find thousands of them for free. Go to Amazon. Go to Barnes & Noble. Go to Fictionwise. Go to Baen's free library or webscriptions. Check out Teleread for a list of places. Or even wikipedia. Just don't go to these sites that aren't affiliated with legitimate publishers or that operate without publisher or author approval. If nothing else, respect the writers you enjoy reading enough not to visit these sites. And, when you do find these sites and see books you know aren't out of copyright yet, let the publishers and authors know.

Me, I keep an eye out for these sites with regard to several authors I know and give a yell when I find their books on them. I'd like to be able to do more, but the authorities frown upon stakes and boiling oil. So that does bring up the question of what should be done about these pirates? I think we all agree that the government and music industry have shown how foolish it is to try to fine and jail those who illegally download. But what should be done about those who put the books up for download, knowing they have no legal right to do so? Should anything be done? Tell me what you think.

29 comments:

Brendan said...

While I don't support people making money from pirated works unfortunately especially when looking at a lot of out of print works, the only place you can get them is via illegal download. Out of print but not out of copyright works can be very hard to come by and when you look at situations like Andre Norton's works where legal proceedings stop any sort of legal re-issuing of works the only way to read much of her writing is by illegal e-books.

It doesn't help that the general public sees the most sensational and negative side of copyright enforcement being reported and tend to the side of the pirates.

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, I share your frustration about the OOP works and would love a way to legally have access to them. What sent me over the edge with regard to this particular site was the site owner's attitude of "screw you" when Ms. Kress asked him to take her works down. Then I looked closer at the site and saw how he was profiting from the sale of these illegal copies. That puts him in a whole other bracket from those who put their digital editions up on a bit P2P feed or something similar.

You're also right about the view most folks have about copyright enforcement. Which is why I think it would be better for the powers that be to go after, not the person who downloads the pirated copy, but the pirate himself. How to do that is another story since the pirate may be in another country or using a fake ID, etc.

Jim McCoy said...

I think it's lawsuit time. These authors deserve monetary remuneration for the piracy of their works. So they should sue the guy for as much as they can get and then have the site taken down in court. Since this guy happens to be taking money as well, it might be interesting to place a call to the IRS and see if they're aware of this source of his income.

Amanda Green said...

Jim, that was my first reaction. The issue is complicated by the fact the site is, apparently (and assuming I remember the comments from Ms. Kress' blog correctly) hosted in Russia. So, like I said, complications ensue. Another possibility is to simply block that site or all sites from that host but that smack of censorship to me and I am most definitely against that. But it does point out one of the problems with the internet and how it crosses borders without check. How do we handle situations like this? Any suggestions, guys?

Stephen Simmons said...

At the risk of blundering into politics, which I'll strive to avoid (I promise) ...

One of the 17 specifically Enumerated Powers of the Legislative Branch of the federal government in Article I Section 8 of the US Constitution is to "promote the progress of scuence and useful arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive right to their respectiv writings and discoveries".

In the past century, the federal government has undertaken LOTS of things that have, at best, tenuous linkage to their Constitutional authority. This one's very clear. And the reason We The People granted government this power at the federal level is because only the federal government is in a position to interact with foreign entities.

This case clearly calls for encouraging Congress=Critters of every stripe to step away from their various idealogical pursuits and get back to their fundamental job description. This foreign national is stealing taxable income from a US citizen, depiving them of revenue, after all.

John Lambshead said...

Dear Amanda

In practice there is nothing anyone can do as he is operating out of Russia. One of the authors pirated is Iain Banks, for example. Russia is a gangster state with staggering levels of corruption.

I doubt if he is losing writers much in the way of sales since the people who use such lowlifes probably wouldn't buy a book anyway. Just regard it in the same light as shops regard shoplifting or accident insurance - an inevitable loss. Anything else just leads to blood pressure.

John

Amanda Green said...

Stephen, not much I can say without getting into politics -- and I'm not going to do that. I will say that it does point out a huge, gaping hole in internet law as well as pointing out the issues involved with the differences in copyright law from country to country.

Amanda Green said...

John, I have to respectfully disagree with you -- at least with regard to this particular site. A lot of people go to sites like this one because what they have done is scan in books that aren't currently available in e-book editions. No matter what a lot of publishers think about e-books and the buying public, the number of people wanting e-books is growing. With that growth comes a demand for books that are currently OOP but the rights haven't reverted back to the authors. True, sometimes those authors do have e-rights but, as we've seen in recent months, publishers are trying to claim they still hold ALL rights to books, even those they published before there was such a thing as an e-book.

So, sites like this make it easy for people looking for books to get them, especially when publishers refuse to offer an electronic version. These often are people who are more than willing to buy the book -- if it is available in e-format. Then that feeds into the publishers' belief that if they put out an e-book it will be pirated, even if they add the ever-accursed DRM to it.

How do we fight these two issues? We let publishers know we want electronic versions of certain titles that aren't currently available and that we will pay reasonable prices for them. That's the first step. The second is to make sure sites like this are exposed for the pirates they are. And, much as it pains me to say it, we look at strengthening the protections for writers. (and that is as close to politics as I'm going to get)

RJ_CruzeJr said...

Obviously this person (much like far too many publishers at this time) doesn't understand how books and e-books work. It's not about the book, whether ink on pulp or electrons on a hard-drive. It's not even about the words themselves. It's about the story and compensating the author for her skill in creating that story -- this is the actual product.

Bottom line: just like any skilled professional, authors want to get paid for their time and their work. I'm sure this statement must deeply offend the "information wants to be free!" crowd, but I offer no apologies. Not all of us have the luxury of living rent-free in Grandma's basement.

Fact is, it takes a lot of time and work to craft a publishable-quality novel -- time that the author could have spent working on something else besides writing.

Here's a thought: if "information wants to be free," why the hell does it take so bloody much time and effort to get it out of your skull and on to paper (or a screen) in a coherent format? Sure there's times when it just wants to "leap on the screen" -- but then there's other times that it's more like "Will." Kick. "You." Kick. "Get." Kick. "The." Kick. "Hell." Kick. "Out." Kick. "Of." Kick. "My." Kick. "Head!" Kick! Kick! Kick!

You stop making it possible for authors to earn a living at writing, they're going to stop writing and start doing other things besides writing, because then there will be no more incentive for authors to write.

"Information Wants To Be Free," meet "TANSTAAFL."

Stephen Simmons said...

Amanda,

I'm reminded of a line from Heinlein's "Friday" (paraphrasing): The "people's right to know" cited here is much like the people's right to be a concert pianist -- without spending the years of study and practice required to obtain such skill.

This is theft, plain and simple. It also, coincidentally, strikes a strong chord with a central theme in one of my two current works in progress ...

Jim McCoy said...

Amanda,

I was gonna reply to you but this gets to close to politics. If you wanna know what I think, just reply here and give me your public email and I'll write and tell you what I think.

Amanda Green said...

Robert, isn't it amazing the justifications some people will go to in order to excuse their behavior? This fellow's audacity and ill-manners (yes, I'm still toning it down) in his responses to Ms. Kress shouldn't amaze me after checking out his site. Still, I was raised better than that....

What truly amazes me is that this so-called librarian thinks the work of writers should be freely distributed. Does he go out and steal the books that are in his stacks? And, if our work should be free then, by extension, shouldn't his? After all, he merely facilitates our work getting into someone else's hands. (Yes, tongue firmly planted in cheek here)

Taking his "information is free" argument one step further, that would mean all computer programs should be free. After all, they are only bits of data and information and electrons floating around. And how about movies? Music? Where would this argument end? Oh, wait, it's not an argument. It's an excuse and a poor one at that.

You are right about TANSTAAFL applying here. Too bad he doesn't recognize it and neither do all those who continue to use his site to download books that are easily available for purchase.

Amanda Green said...

Stephen:

Gah, I get tired of "the people's right to know" being used as an excuse. It's not a right. It is a privilege in that it isn't something that is fundamental and necessary to our existence. Even if it was, the right would be to know that a book was out there. It wouldn't be to unrestricted free access to the product of a writer's inspiration and work. That's like saying you have the right to two week's vacation every year whether you work a full year and meet the other requirements as set out by your employer or not. Or that someone has the right to fly on a commercial airline. Sorry, but that is a privilege you pay for. Maybe one day, folks will wake up to the difference between right and privilege.

Oops, once more wandering into politics. Shutting mouth and removing fingers from keyboard now.

Amanda Green said...

Jim, I appreciate you not getting any deeper into politics than we've already delved. If you want to contact me, you can at amandgreen at gmail dot com . Put in the subject line, MGC if you will, please.

Dave Freer said...

Actually the only effective thing you can do with this problem is to use society's mirror (yes actually I believe Adam Smith got that right too ;-)). And, bluntly right now these lowlives are using it against us.

Because we're vain and stupid.

He and his ilk are able to do this because they portray themselves as Robin Hood - taking down the big greedy rich exploitative barons for the benefit of the poor. Therefore is nothing socially wrong or unacceptable in ripping us off.

We live in society where 'success' is measured in dollar terms. And let's face it, in dollar terms 98% of writers are failures. They earn less per hour than janitors or street-cleaners. However, the other 2% do very well. So it suits our egos to play along with the 'our little secret' of what authors - the copyright owners get out that copyright. This works very well for the rest of those who earn from that copyright, and they are very happy to encourage it. And so 'Robin Hood' can steal, and society at large sees no ill in taking the proceeds... because we're rich, greedy, gouging barons.

On the other hand here - on this site - Authors have given some REAL insight into the financial position of authors. And there is no support whatsoever for 'Robin Hood'. In this little society, the mirror would shame anyone who downloaded and deprived an author of their income from copyright. The bulk of the readers here call for hanging, drawing and quartering of 'Robin' as an exploitative thief.

The downside - for the industry (and this applies as much to the music industry as does to publishing) - of taking this route is that the public would be making space on the gibbet for publishing executives and the boards of retail sellers - because readers ARE outraged when they discover that actually the paperback book they just moaned about paying $7 for is making the new writer 42 cents. That a year's work could earn newbie $4000, or even Mr reasonably well known is lucky is lucky to earn $12 000 for that book, and could easily be getting half that. And it's not easy for any of us - authors or the rest of the industry - to admit well, our numbers of sales are actually pitiful. How many authors do you hear say 'It's not millions of copies... it's barely thousands'? So: much better to leave it as our little secret, eh. Of course even that is self-deception and not good for our industry. As can be seen by publishers laying off staff and bookstores going out of business, they're doing well out of this. So maybe it is time to be less vain and more open. Yes, it might mean authors would have to get more of the e-book income, but actually I think it would also mean the public would be happier to support authors, publishers and retailers. And if society wants to support us and value us, we actually can't lose.

Brendan said...

John, if the potential reader wasn't going to buy the book in the first place the author has not lost anything and may in the future gain paying readers from the exposure.

Surveys show that many people who pirate(ie. download) material are also above average purchasers of material.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, you are exactly right about the reaction of the reading public if they really understood how much a writer gets of the cover price of a book. When the big publishers decided to force Amazon and other e-book retailers to raise the price of e-books, the readers were in an uproar. That settled down some when McMillan said that the higher price would mean more money for Amazon and the authors -- until an author actually broke down how much he'd be getting; and it was less than he was getting now, especially when factoring in the fact fewer people would buy the e-book at a higher price. This was especially true when the release of the e-book was delayed for weeks or months after the release of the hard cover. With that information available, a number of those on the Kindle boards once more decided not to buy the higher priced, delayed e-book titles.

I also agree with you that the only way, right now at least, to deal with sites like this particular one is to use society's mirror. But to do that, we have to not only bring their attention to the site but also educate them to what the site means -- to the writers involved as well as to the readers.

Also, he just pissed me off with his "I'm playing Robin Hood" attitude just before he turns around and offers to "give" you all these books for a "donation" of X-dollars. Sorry, that's more the Sheriff of Nottingham than Robin Hood and it's time the public realized it.

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, re: Surveys show that many people who pirate(ie. download) material are also above average purchasers of material.

This is something publishers, on the whole, seem to have a hard time understanding. When they delay the release of e-books, or don't bring out older titles in e-format, they encourage piracy. Look at how quickly the last Harry Potter book was pirated. I saw links to it days before the book hit store shelves.

Do e-books represent a small percentage of business for most publishers right now? Sure. But it is a growing, rapidly growing part of their business -- if they let it. And that means releasing e-books on a reasonable schedule and at a reasonable price. They don't have to be released the same day as a hard cover, although it would be nice. But don't wait to release it until almost time to release the soft cover, and don't charge as much for it -- or more -- as is charged for a paperback.

Long story short, listen to your readers, re-evaluate and adapt your business plan to reflect changes in the industry, and embrace the new technology.

Stephen Simmons said...

A note on the history of Robin Hood, before it was "adjusted" to support modern myth: Robin of Locksley didn't "steal from the rich", precisely; Robin stole back from the government monies which were confiscated above and beyond the taxes set by the King, and returned those monies to the citizenry.

Chris McMahon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate said...

Clearly this specimen (calling it a person is far too generous) is in favor of returning to the bad old days of censorship and patronage.

While specimens like this may think they're making hard-to-get material available to all, as long as they're doing so, they're giving the industry all the excuses it needs to keep using DRM, and to make DRM even more restrictive and unpleasant. As for said specimen's statement about authors having no right to anything other than egoboo once they've finished writing a book, well...

It takes many thousands of hours to write a book. To edit that book, find and purchase appropriate cover art, type set it, print it and/or convert it to an appropriate ebook format, get it into stores virtual or brick and more takes even more time and quite a lot of money (much more for dead tree, but there's still a lot of set costs like editing and copyediting and the like) - all of which happens before the author can hope to see any profit out of the thing.

Take out that chain (irrespective of how good or bad it is or isn't) and the author is left with no way to support his or her writing.

Enter patronage: wealthy people paying authors to write.

And censorship: if Bill Gates is paying you to write, you do not say anything bad about Microsoft. If the only people supporting authors are making mega $$$ and donate to party X, you do not say anything against party X or people who make mega $$$.

The current system is a long way from perfect. Specimens like this do not help.

The only way I could support this kind of website is if they are only making orphaned out of print works available, and putting a portion of the proceeds aside for the copyright holder should that person make an appearance with sufficient evidence of ownership.

Someone who's got Stephen King books up? Hell no.

Chris McMahon said...

Quite clearly this guy is benefiting from other peoples work. If he was some sort of saint or truly believed his own rhetoric he would not be sticking his hand out.

Maybe the only way to go is to have some high profile website where these guys can be outed - try and erode their base. Educate ebook downloaders about what is on and not on. Something like an ebook version of Predators and Editors.

Great blog Amanda.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, if we go to the patronage system, can we also go to the punishment system that was in place at the same time? And what would be the appropriate punishment for a literary pirate? Hmm....inquiring minds want to know.

Kate said...

Amanda,

My inner medieval royalty wants to impale them all. I tend towards a more merciful penalty, like the rest of their miserably lives shoveling out the bottom of a nice, big, ecologically friendly composting sewage pit.

Amanda Green said...

Chris Mc, I wish there was such a high traffic site. Since there isn't, at least not to my knowledge, the next best thing is to publicize sites like this on as many blogs as possible. Instead of "outing" him once, we'll out him time after time after time again.

As for educating the e-book reading public, again, that's what blogs are for, as well as fora like the Kindle boards and those for the other major e-book readers. It's also where each of us who are in favor of reasonably priced e-books, with or without DRM (preferably without), must not only let our readers know, but also our agents and publishers. That means not only coming out in favor of e-books but explaining why - including price point breakdown.

Stephen Simmons said...

Kate,

They're pirates. I'm a Sailor. I say keel-haul 'em and be done with it ...

Dave Freer said...

Amanda, trust me it pisses me too, but the way to win against him is NOT to play into his hands and threaten him with retribution. He knows he's as safe as houses, and all those who shout out that he needs to be crushed do... is to make him able to say 'lookit me, the poor victim, your hero who was trying to HELP readers'. We need to work on our image here, and not go with gut instinct. And that means making sure the public DO know that authors are the exploited peasants, not Prince John.

Francis Turner said...

As it happens I think that in the Internet age a kind of distributed patronage system may in fact be the best way to reward authors. Not that I'm in favor of eliminating copyright all together but I'm coming close. I want authors of good books (for a definition of good that includes utter dreck that other people like) to be rewarded - and likewise film-makers musicians etc. - but I'm not convinced that copyright works in an age where the cost of duplication is effectively 0. Given the current ridiculous Disney etc. inspired copyright laws where things never go out of copyright and where copyright holders are attempting to stop readers actually owning what they have bought I think the public at large and many creative sorts would probably do better without copyright.

Now this particular lowlife is really not worth the trouble to deal with [Although it seems to be a nasty mean person could set a background task on many computers and continually download his (latge) homepage and thereby raise his bandwidth costs]. To the extent he has any real effect on the authors whose works he is booklegging then he's acting as advertising.

Dave Freer said...

Francis - I find myself to some extent in agreement with you here: If a law is utterly failing at its purpose (and is in fact being perverted to act against that purpose) isn't it time to scrap the law and start again. The purpose of copyright law is pretty clear: to enable the creative artists of repreducible original material to make a living - thereby fostering the creative arts, thereby benefitting the entire society. How Disney's efforts can be squared with this is a mystery to me. However, I don't like 'patronage' much, and I would say we need to revisit copyright - and simply make it untransferable. So no author could aquire royalties. Publishers instead would do work for hire for fixed sums and no continuing rights - much as printers do. No, not going to happen is it?