Saturday, February 09, 2008

Piracy. . . not just hot Jack Sparrow anymore

Piracy. I knew it was rampant in the music biz. I sympathize. So, I've always been careful to avoid the "burning a copy" moral dilemma. I believe strongly in the rights of creative artists to earn a living from the sale of their work, so I've always purchased my music, books, and software. Even when friends shook their heads at me for being so naive.

I never honestly thought that there was much danger that my work would be pirated and sold , much less just given away. I mean, many of my books are long. . . 120,000 to 150,000 words! That's one big-assed file. Who would take the time and put in the effort to scan one of my tomes and then sit forever at the computer to upload it? And who would want it enough to tie up their computer for however long it would take to download. . . much less want to READ it at a computer monitor? It all sounded a little improbable to me. So I didn't take piracy too seriously.

Until yesterday. When I went to a web site and downloaded one of my early historicals --totally free and without signing my name or joining anything-- in all of 7 seconds! 130,000 words in 7 seconds! It's on my computer now! I'm flabbergasted.

I'm also furious. I chose the flag symbol shown here because it's truer to the real spirit of piracy than the traditional "Jolly Roger." There is nothing "jolly" about stealing another person's livelihood.

I was alerted to the site "ipmart" by other writers on a loop I've just joined. One of the writers in the group googled her books and found them on this site. . . uploaded in entirety and available gratis to any and everyone who wanted them. As an anonymous user I was able to find and download my book. But to make full use of the site, the viewer is required to register (free). The site makes available movies, songs, cd's, and books. . . the gamut of creative publishing. And they have forums and boards to discuss some of the works. . . where chat is limited but very ordinary. A bit surprising to find them so affable and even admiring of the works they're stealing. Evil sometimes does have a very respectable face.

And you may think that "evil" is a strong word to use in connection with just uploading a few favorite books or songs. But it's the proverbial slippery slope, folks. This is just one site out of who knows how many! How long will it be before all of our works are available through pirated sites on the web? With the proliferation of hand-held "readers," how long can it be before lots of people are downloading our books free and ignoring the trip to the bookstore. Yes, we still have a lot of readers who cherish the experience of the paper-and-ink book. . . but books sales are declining. . . as are print runs. . . and advances and pay-outs. If the situation isn't corrected and soon, how long will it be before making a living as a writer, film-maker, musician will be difficult, if not impossible?

One of the writers on the loop said that her February '08 release was posted on the "ipmart" site only days after it's release. Days, folks. This is not deep backlist, we're talking about. This is current, I-need-the-advance-to-pay-bills publishing.

Want to see if your books are there? The best way is to google "ipmart" and the title of your book. Or your name. See what comes up. I'm curious-- hurry and do it and report back. Apparently Harlequin has a special e-mail address that is used to report piracy: (There's a shift/dash between report and piracy.)

I don't know if other publishers have such a reporting system, but it might pay us to all contact our publishers and ask. . . and point them to the "ipmart" site.

Meanwhile, have any of you had experience with pirating before? Clue us in! What do you think the future holds? Will copyright go the way of the dinosaurs? Will storytellers all be back to "strolling minstrel" status before long? Dependent on the good graces of the uber-rich?


Cindy Gerard said...

Very topical post, Betina. I've been hearing a lot about free download sites on the PASIC loop and I see that RWA has issued an alert as well. This is very troubling. We love our fans and they love our books but it does make one wonder. Do those who scan and offer books on the net free of charge realize that they aren't just impacting author sales and income, they are committing a crime and could actually be affecting what might be available to read in the future? If writers can't make a living writing because their books are being pirated, then they are going to quit writing. It's just plain economics, no matter how much we like to think that the 'art' will win out over all. A person still has to eat.
I'm so sorry this happened to you. And I truly hope that an organized and effective attempt can be made to stop it.
It's good to know that Harlequin has established an avenue for writers to report. RWA has also provided an online address for anyone to report piracy:
Again, I understand the need to save a buck where ever you can - money is tight - but stealing someone's income is not the way to do it.

Betina Krahn said...

Right, Cindy.
If money is really a problem, there are libraries that lend books for free and make all kinds of information and entertainment available.

Interestingly, one of the uploaders listed The Book of True Desires as one of her favorites for 2007. I'm sure she has no clue she is cheating me out of sales. (Though, true, it may be only a handful of them.)

Is this the equivalent of loaning out a book to three or four friends? If not, why not? Just thinking. . .

Megan said...

Hey, Betina. I got the same info you did about ipmart and I hope I don't find myself there!

I don't think it's the equivalent of loaning a book to friends. If you loan a paper book to friends, it's still just one book. When you give away an e-copy, each one you give is it's own, separate copy. You start with one, you get two. Then four. Then who knows how many?

I don't think the readers understand the impact; maybe some don't care. It's easy to focus on "I want this and I don't have the money (or don't want) to pay for it. Only one won't matter."

I love the idea of e-books, but internet piracy is a scary, sad truth, for musicians, authors and artists.


Betina Krahn said...

Good point, Megan. It's the proliferation of on-line uploading that is the scary part. It seems to be flourishing. As soon as they close down one list or site another pops up.

I'm even a lot more careful about the photos I use online. . . have to make sure they're stock photos or in public domain (like this nasty pirate) or that the creator has given free use permission.

M said... closes, another one pops up, and I don't know what can be done except maybe educating people about why it's wrong...


Cindy Gerard said...

Hopefully RWA will really become proactive about this and watchdog these sites judiciously. Seems the authors guild should also be on board. And, of course, the publishers who had just as much vested in this issue as the authors. And they also have legal departments that can mix it up with the pirates.
E technology is so very exciting but also so very scary - especially in the piracy issue.

Yvonne Lindsay said...

One of the things that really bugs me about this is the rigamarole we have to go through to be allowed to use our covers and excerpts of our work (to which we hold copyright) on our websites, yet these thieves blithely put up covers and the whole book for the world to download. One site I checked yesterday had one of my books on it and there had been 81 downloads to date for that book alone. Other sites had each of my first four books available for free download. I wonder how these people would feel if we wandered into their homes and just helped ourselves to their possessions before waltzing merrily out the door. What they're doing is no different.

Michele Hauf said...

See the H/S loop is already giving you good information! (Okay, so not good info, but important info, all the same.)

I have a book at ipmart as well. Emailed H/S right away.

What makes me wonder is if they can get these files to open on their computers, what's to prevent them from using our text in their own stories? I know, that may be thinking far too highly of my own writing. But I just don't like the idea of anyone having my words to play around with like that. And yeah, I know I make mere pennies for each book sold, but I think I'd like my pennies for those pirated books, please. Every penny counts.

I don't think this is something that we can ever stop. A whole generation of kids exist believing it's perfectly fine to download music for free wherever they can find it. So why not books? And movies? They don't make the connection that they are stealing. They just don't.

Betina Krahn said...

True, Michelle, they really don't see that they're doing anything wrong. They're being "nice". . . SHARING.

There needs to be a lot more education on copyright. But part of the problem is the public generally thinks that musician who record and writers make a lot of money(unless they're fortunate enough to have one of us in the family!). Many just figure they're sticking it to the big fat music companies and publishers. . . they never connect it with hurting the writers and musicians they love.

Christie Ridgway said...

With sales of books shrinking, this is only serving to make it more difficult for writers to make a living. We must continue to educate people in understanding this concept! No sales = no money = no food/rent = author no longer writing and turning to other kind of work.

No writing = no books.

Kathleen Eagle said...

The Writers Guild strike went a long way toward educating the public about the role writers play in Hollywood. It was the new technology issue that brought their strike about. I think we need to get on board before the train leaves the station, folks.

Conventional wisdom has long been that print-published writers could never be organized, but with the kind of technology available now, it might be the only way to save ourselves. Writers' Guild might be a start, but I suspect we need more protection than they can offer. In some countries writers are paid when their work is borrowed from libraries. The technology for keeping track of these things is clearly available. Surely it can be used for us as well as against us. We just have to figure out how. And I think the time has come for us to come up with effective ways of sticking together.

Kathleen Eagle said...

I can't figure out how to search the site. I went to ip mart and tried my name and Betina's--no matches for either. So I googled ip mart kathleen eagle and the first thing that comes up is today's post on RWTTD.