Friday, June 12, 2009

Debra - Piracy is a dirty word.

Okay, I'm taking a stand. Stealing the work of writers and posting books on file sharing sites is evil. I'm not good-natured about this anymore. I'm tired of people telling me, "Well, there is a school of thought which says piracy builds readers."

No. It doesn't. What it does is steal money from the author and the publisher. In the last two days I've had ONE file-sharing site take down files with over 500 downloads for ONE of our titles - BITE ME by Parker Blue.

What did that mean to her in real dollars? A lot. You can assume that not every scumbag who downloaded the free book would have bought a copy, but this is still a lot of money the author has lost, and from just one of these file sharing sites.

Large publishers and their authors suffer just as much.

When did it become okay to steal?

I checked this same site (there are dozens to work through) and found other books of ours. For EACH violation I have to fill out a separate form to request the file be pulled. www.4shared.com has quickly taken down the files, but WE (the publisher and the author) are required to find these violations. The process is a continual one. Get to the end of the file sharing sites and start again. Why? Because new files had been posted within 24 hours of having the first files removed from 4Shared.

How about the authors on this blog?

Christie? Probably a 1000 downloads from 15 files.

Cindy Gerard - tons of files, many foreign editions

Michele Hauf - yep, her books were there and not just the free one from Harlequin

Lois Greiman - 106 downloads from 2 books, 3 files.

Kathleen Eagle - yep. Looks like mostly foreign editions.


I bet Helen and Kylie's work was there. My work wasn't on the site. Neither was Betina's or Susie's. But there are many other sites. Dozens.

Some folks say book publishing better take a lesson from music file sharing and get the price down. What they don't realize is the printing cost is nothing. Not if you're a large publisher printing thousands of units at once. Books can't be divided into discrete units in the same way that music can. Kindle lets you download a nice sample for free as do most of the ebook sites. Can't get much fairer than that. When wholesalers and booksellers expect discounts of 40-55% off the cover price of the book, there isn't much room for maneuvering on price. No one works for free.

If the authors can't make a living, maybe they'll go back to Corporate America, to the farm or simply retire. Then where would we be without that next great book from our favorite author?

Romance Writers of America has compiled an extensive list of file sharing sites. I see this as a never-ending battle, but I'm going to make the effort to treat this like the crime it is. I'm not going to ignore this.

Am I over-reacting? Is stealing a basic human right that stems from our survival instincts? Have we missed the boat in teaching some of these concepts to our children? Please don't tell me to bend over, close my eyes and think of England!

32 comments:

flchen1 said...

Nope, not overreacting. This piracy thing makes me livid. Shiloh Walker and Pamela Clare have had some excellent posts regarding this and the impact on their writing.

Some of Shiloh's posts:
http://shilohwalker.wordpress.com/2009/03/04/piracy-again/
http://shilohwalker.wordpress.com/2008/12/16/how-piracy-also-affects-readers/
http://shilohwalker.wordpress.com/2008/04/17/guest-blog-a-reader/
http://shilohwalker.wordpress.com/2008/04/14/more-on-ebook-piracy/

Pamela's:
http://pamelaclare.blogspot.com/2009/05/if-you-steal-books-you-suck.html

Bottom line is that some people are greedy and selfish, and are using technology to faciliate and justify stealing. May their harddrives crash irreparably and their books end up mildewy and wormy!

Betina Krahn said...

Okay, it is bad that they don't WANT to steal my books?

Deb, you're so right. It is stealing and it is wrong, wrong, wrong. But what chance do we have to stop it when one of the largest and "coolest" corporations in America thinks it can just scan books anytime it wants--regardless of copyright!-- and use them to make a profit? Google just didn't think about a little matter of COPYRIGHT?

Come on/ They KNEW what they were doing. You can bet they have a whole raft of lawyers protecting the COPYRIGHT of THEIR software and trademarks. They just figured they were big enough and "cool" enough. . . and the publishing world was so diffuse and sp scattered powerwise that they would get by with it for a long time. AND THEY DID!

They took the Napster mentality "corporate" and used it against an industry still in the 20th century. . . to stunning effect. They're not happy about having to pay out 445 million, but they just shrug. . . it's the cost of doing business these days. Or the cost of stealing. And when corporations do it, nobody goes to jail.

Helen Brenna said...

Deb, I'm glad you brought this up and out in the open. You're not overreacting at all.

I don't get why these sites aren't simply forced to be taken down after a set number of violations.

The FBI went after napster users. Why aren't they going after these folks?

None of it makes any sense to me.

Kylie said...

Totally agree with your point, Deb. And I got a very recent reminder of the mentality of these people. I'm currently on vacation and my 20 year old nephew was telling me about all the movies and software he downloads for free from torrent sites. I explained to him that I don't like those sites because they steal my work. He was fascinated, as he didn't realize books were available, too. Then he said, "Well, it must be sort of flattering that people want your books that bad." I pointed out that stores aren't flattered by shoplifters and I feel similarly. If I could press charges against each and every one of these people I'd do it.

A couple times a month I troll the sites. I have the DMCA template on my desktop. I regularly send them take down notices and have noted that they are complying more quickly and making nice about it, too. I think they're getting tons of these now and maybe getting a clue that they are skating on thin legal ice.

On the other hand, one of the sites that sent me such a nice note about discouraging illegal activities on their site, also has a page advertising their software that will *hide* where the activity came. So that's aiding and abetting to my way of thinking...

Cindy Gerard said...

You're a gem, Deb. This really is a difficult issue in that I think many readers honestly figure that if it's out there and it's free, then it must be okay. Otherwise, it wouldn't be out there, right? I'd like to think that the more attention we bring to the fact that it is illegal and it does affect our livelihood that the illegal downloads will stop or slow down. I'd also like to believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny.
My I.T. guy was out the other day to fix a little computer problem and he was telling me about this site where he downloads all kinds of movies free. So, we got into the same kind of discussion that Kylie had with her nephew and wow, he hadn't realized either that authors were susceptible to lost income because of free downloads. Well, he'd never do that to me because I was a friend - but he planned to keep right on downloading the movies. So does that mean that anyone who isn't my friend figures, hey, it's okay to steal from me?
Okay, it's a tough economy, people are looking for ways to save - I can't blame them for that - but I can blame them for taking income away from me.
I think there's a widespread myth that if an author is published then they are rolling in the dough and it's no big deal if they lose the sale of a book or two on these pirated sites. The truth is, the Sandra Browns and Nora Roberts and Lee Childs mega stars are few and far between and the rest of us are all just working for a living like everyone else so it stings when we see one of our books offered for free. I mean, we don't stand at the teller line in the bank when someone cashes a pay check and say, "Hey - I'll take some of that just because I can."
So, it really is a problem and it's very disheartening. Wish there was a viable solution but I fear that writers and publishers are going to continue to be victims and sadly, it will get worse before it ever gets better.

So, bless each and every one of you readers who buy our books. Without you, we couldn't and wouldn't be writing.

Helen Brenna said...

I second the thanks to all our readers who buy our books. Or lend them from legitimate places. Like libraries.

You can read them free it just takes a little effort to reserve them and pick them up.

As for movies - they're a buck a pop at places like red box.

Debra Dixon said...

Flchen1--

"May their harddrives crash irreparably and their books end up mildewy and wormy!"

Yes!! And I have to say that I've had spyware issues and computer issues just from hijacking attempts on some of these sites. So, not only are we forced to take time to combat this, authors and publishers put their computer systems at risk.

Thanks for those links.

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- Trust me, you'll be on the other sites. You don't have to worry about being screwed...uh...I mean "loved."

Yes, Google thought this was noooo problem. And, yes, I don't like it either, but at least there was a judgment against them.

Rat bastards.

Debra Dixon said...

Helen-- Many of these sites are not on U.S. soil. Physically the servers are not reachable by the FBI.

But I agree they should be doing more. The feds work with other countries on piracy issues for big corporations, I'm not sure why they can't work more effectively on behalf of writers and multiple publishers.

Debra Dixon said...

Kylie-- YES. Yes. yes. If the sites are offering software to make this less risky...um...there goes their plausible deniability in my mind. ARRRGH.

When I think of the time you spend doing this every month when you could be writing...

Keeping up is a long-term task. Makes me crazy.

Debra Dixon said...

Cindy-- I thought long and hard about posting. I know some readers really do feel it's okay to get files this way. But I'm fighting for my author here, which flipped the switch in my head that made it okay to come out swinging on this issue.

I'm so glad you talked to your IT guy. I think we need to speak about this issue whenever we can. Gently offered information can help us in this fight.

I've had to have this conversation with some of the under-30's in my life. I'm boggled that I've had to have this conversation because I thought they understood "how an author makes a living." Nope. It was like a light bulb went on. "You mean it's possible a publisher will drop an author because they don't have enough sales?"

Duh.

Liza said...

I know of a few sites where authors have actually posted free short stories for their readers to download. I will always download a free story, as long as I know that the author has approved the site. Lara Adrian offered up a free ecopy of the first book in her Midnight Breed series to celebrate the release of her most current book. If readers are wanting free downloads, there are so many free ones available each month on various sites, there is no reason to steal. Sony has at least 5 free ebooks a month, plus at least one a month for $1.00.

I also go to the library to borrow books for free, or even borrow from friends and family. My library will let you put books on hold and even let you pick the books up at any of the library branches.

Debra Dixon said...

Liza-- Exactly. There is a lot of material being made available as promo or "thank you" to readers. Material available inexpensively.

Heck, Harlequin has made one of Michelle Hauf's books free all year.

Michele Hauf said...

Deb, the last I heard Harlequin had gotten over a million downloads of the 16 free books they are offering for their 60th Anniversary celebration. And I think this just started in February. That's very cool. ANd it just goes to show how many people do want free books.
I used to think that those pirate sites falsified their download numbers to make it look like they were getting more downloads than they really were, but maybe not.
I just can't expend the energy though, of getting upset over this. It does upset me, don't get me wrong. But I can't think about it, because it could take away a lot of hours in my day trying to track these a**holes. I appreciate that Harlequin does have an email to report these piracy places, and then they handle it from there. I have to trust that they do the best they can.

Debra Dixon said...

Michelle-- As the publisher, I have to be concerned. I've contracted for the rights and must do the best I can to protect those rights.

I have heard it quiety reported that even the major publishers have little time to police this stuff and are turning a blind eye.

Time is money. We all have to draw a line regarding where resources can best be used.

It sucks that we have to make the decision at all!

Christie Ridgway said...

Ouch. Thanks, Deb. I just have to say again that this is my =job=. I work so I can be a contributor to the family coffers. Writers will not be able to afford to write if their work is stolen.

Debra Dixon said...

Christie-- I was blown away to see how many downloads just one of these sites had for you! Yikes!

I'm not allowed to steal plasma screen tv's just because I don't think the manufacturer should be making that much profit! "It costs too much" is not an argument that supports stealing as a behavior.

Just as those companies have research, development, packaging, production, promotion and ongoing overhead, so do writers and publishers!

And maybe one of the messages we haven't been sending strongly enough is that Little Johnny needs new shoes and unless we earning a living wage, Little Johnny isn't going to be getting those new shoes.

What we do is magical but the joy of creation doesn't buy fruits and vegetables. Or health insurance which writers much provide for themselves. They pay twice as much in social security and medicare taxes because no employer shares those costs.

Estella said...

Stealing is stealing! No matter what the article.

Genella deGrey said...

Debra - No way are you over-reacting!

I'm sure the sites don't announce, "By the way, welcome to Theft-land!" But the readers should know by instinct that downloading "freebie" books from these sites is wrong.

The readers should also know the difference between heroes & villains - We can only pray they figure out what they are doing is in fact stealing and act accordingly.

G.

Debra Dixon said...

Estella-- Another voice from the amen corner! (g) Thanks for the support.

Debra Dixon said...

Genella-- LOL! "Welcome to Theft-land." I like it!

Kathryn Magendie said...

Hear Hear!!!!!

Playground Monitor said...

Another issue is fanfiction. A friend of mine found fanfiction based on her romantic suspense series on a website that's actually owned by the parent company of her publisher. She's emailed them and asked them to take it down but as of right now, it's still there.

I feel bad buying a book from a used book store, but since I read a lot of category romance, sometimes that's the only way to find an author's backlist. But at least the book was purchased originally.

Rant on, Debra!

Marilyn

Caroline said...

Yes, Debra, of course it’s steeling. 20 years ago when I was just starting out in the equine photography business people used to send my proofs to the horse magazines for ads. The publications, being on a tight deadline, and feeling they couldn’t contact me for a print and make the next issue, felt no compunction about using my proofs to make deadline. I wonder if they gave away free ad space to someone who couldn’t pay. NOT! I had to write lots of letters explaining how they were infringing on my business and taking income out of my pocket—surprise, surprise..(Like they didn’t already know—right!) Many were good and stopped, but every once in a while another would pop up.

Today with the Internet, piracy is so much easier and acceptable since the perpetrators can remain pretty much anonymous to their peers.

I still say it stinks to high heaven.

Debra Dixon said...

Kat-- Hey! Good to see you over here. Now...get back to work on that book. (g)

Debra Dixon said...

Marilyn-- The used bookstore has been a love-hate relationship for lots of authors. Loved them before being published; lost that warm fuzzy feeling after being published.

For out of print books the need is obvious! Category authors see their books treated like magazines (here then gone) and the used bookstore is prime hunting ground for backlist.

My favorite used bookstores don't place new books in the shelves until they are at least 3 months old. That's a reasonable compromise.

But many many stores don't care or would see their store go under without trading the new releases. So the author loses sales on which a royalty would be paid.

It's a tough world out there and striking the happy medium for readers, authors and business owners is a tricksy business.

Debra Dixon said...

Caroline!

I have a friend who shows dogs and the show proofs are all low res digital now which makes them impossible to use for printing! Or all but impossible. And the photogs have had to go to bigger and bigger watermarks to make it more difficult to photoshop it out. Sad! But without the protection the photogs won't make enough to make covering a show worthwhile.

flip said...

I have to be the unpopular one. I don't see piracy as a huge threat to authors. The numbers you are giving are pretty small. Unlike music, there isn't much peer to peer sharing of books. I haven't seen any information on who is pirating books. Would you feel differently if the people who are downloading your books do so because your books are outlawed in their country?

Frankly, an author is going to hurt more by a publisher who decides to publish your book in limited number. More importantly, publishers have been pushing some trends which may books even more expensive. Publishers are pushing more and more large trade paperbacks at a higher price. They are publishing more hardbacks and waiting longer to go paperback. It is irritating to have a series go hardback mid series. Recently, I bought a JAK paperback at the airport. When I realized that I paid $9.99 for a mass paperback, I was pissed. With all due respect, I will not be buying another JAK novel brand new. The rising costs of paperbacks far exceed inflation.

I just bought the J.R. Ward book second hand. I am waiting to get a good deal on the new hardbacks by Briggs and Harrison.

I don't pirate books, but I do spend an average of $50 per month on new books.The return policy needs to be changed. Plus giving a huge discount to a few select chains has hurt the book industry overall. Believe me, my local bookstore is not getting a huge discount from the publishers. Walmart is getting a huge discount and they abuse the privilege by trying to censor the books.

Most authors are getting only 10-15% of the price on the book. They do their own self promotion.

So while it may infuriate you that someone is stealing your books, the real problem is that the booklovers are finding it harder and harder to buy books.

Debra Dixon said...

Arrgh! My reply didn't post yet and I fear Blogger ate it. A big long juicy post!! So, I'm reposting the high points!

Flip-- Thanks for the comments. All comments are welcome. No one ever has to agree with me. :) Except the DH. And thanks for not pirating! (g) But I didn't much suspect our blog folks.

Let me add a couple of things though...

Ebook royalties are not like print royalties. When determining lost income to the writer, you need to apply the much larger split on ebook sales. At least for us, even a portion of Cristie's downloaded ebooks would have been a large chunk of change. Our author did have 500 illegal downloads on one site. I consider that significant numbers when there are so many sites and new files going up every day.

The ABA filed lawsuits over 10 years ago regarding the chains and publisher discounts. That lawsuit resulted in settlements that weren't perfect but leveled the playing field significantly. They sued both publishers and the large chains on behalf of independent bookstores.

Most readers don't know that the large booksellers are squeezing the publishers on ebook discounts. They want to keep an EVEN LARGER percentage or discount than they keep on print books. They want to keep LARGER THAN A wholesale royalty even. The discount the bookseller is giving readers on ebooks is coming right out of the publisher/author pocket. They are in essence asking the publisher to share in their overhead costs, which after initial gear-up are much less than handling print books. And they do this with a straight face while saying it's non-negotiable.

The retail price of books has not kept pace with rising costs. Book profit margins have shrunk dramatically. A hardback publication represents the publisher recognizes the author has enough readers who won't wait for the book that the reader will pay a "convenience and quality fee" fee in order to get to the head of the line and buy a product that's sturdier. Libraries love the hardback.

Readers can pay more, wrangle a LEGAL copy somewhere or wait and pay a reduced price in paperback.

With paperbacks the same holds true, if an author's readership is big enough the cover price could rise. It also might have something to do with what it costs to print and ship the sucker! Robert Jordan books are gargantuan.

In any event we have to recognize that the author's costs have risen too. Their rent, utilities, gas, food, insurance and more. Increases in book prices aren't just to cover increases in paper or printing or graphic artists or design or advertising or freight or salaries or rent.

If readers can't afford books, the library is an excellent resource. They buy books (yay!) but provide them free. (also, yay!) They'll do inter-library loan to get books that aren't available in a reader's own hometown.

I had other things to add but let me close since this is my second time doing this long response.

These are hard issues. But for me the bottomline has become and will remain, "This is intellectual property which is legally protected."

Scribd has taken a HUGE step forward in policing piracy. They've already put up a store and for every publisher book available in their store (at a YUMMY discount to the publisher) they will proactively add that book to their piracy prevention technology.

flip said...

Please note that I am not condoning piracy. However, I am not convinced that the price of books is justified, certainly not on the data that I have seen. Textbooks are especially a problem area.

However, it seems romances and fantasy book sales are actually up during the recession. Also, bookfinder had this interesting article about Will Wheaton's experience with his ebook.


http://journal.bookfinder.com/2009/02/ebooks-the-final-frontier.html

Debra Dixon said...

Flip-- Were you a debater in college? :)

Interesting. But I don't believe it's reasonable to build a business model from this example which the exception not the norm.

A celebrity "throwing something up on Lulu cheaply" is too different from the normal cost equation of a professionally selected, edited and promoted book from an unknown author who doesn't have a Twitterverse of fans.

I don't think you can compare the ability to set $5 pricing on Lulu to the pricing on Amazon/Fictionwise, etc who demand much larger discounts from the publishers than Lulu does. That's my beef right there! The bookstores are trying to leverage ebooks to create profit for them and less for the publisher.

Also, Wil isn't paying anyone a royalty out of his cut. He is paying taxes on his earnings, I assume.

I'm all for the Lulu concept but I think it's apples and oranges in terms of a comparison.

If you're making the point that the day may have come for authors to cut the publishers out...that's another discussion! My answer to that is for some writers, it is time to fly solo. For other writers, that just isn't a solution. And I think most readers are happier with well edited books.

Too many writers just aren't interested in the marketing or don't have the fan base to pull it off without heavy marketing.

But today there are no impediments for an author who wants to put a book out. It's doable. The question is only whether the author has the skills and the talent to put out a fabulous product. Some will/would. Others? Not so much. (g)

Lou said...

I have to weigh in here, because the problem I have is too fold.

I don't have enough money to afford even used books because of my dad not having a job (he's a cancer patient who's also recently diagnosed a diabetic) and my mom's disabled.

Michele knows a bit of my troubles, so I know she could back me up.

I would love to even buy a used book, if it meant I got to read all of the fantastic authors I have met via email/blogs over the years. They are a great source for my own writing.

My library also only has large print hardcover books from what seems to be the 70s and 80s (maybe even the 90s--talk about being hard to judge a book by its cover!) The only people they get new books from would be Mrs Roberts, and Laurell K. Hamilton it seems.

I've asked my library to get the newest romance novels for fans of Harlequin and other publishers to read and I have actually gotten yelled at twice that due to the economy, the library can't even afford to do interlibrary loans (even though it's apart of the deal of having a card.)

So on my end, at least, that's two ways of not having the ability to get books. I have been blessed that some of the Harlequin community members have sent me old/used books from years past. And I do enter contests, very rarely win, but I still enter. Why? Because I love the books that I read and I love the authors that I meet through these books.

I don't condone piracy and I'm not saying it's right. I don't even do it for things that are free (though I suppose that's not piracy) I am saying though, that sometimes people do follow the "when times get rough.." mentality.

I can not trying to condone the person's actions either, as I know and so do they that it's against the law. I am merely saying that sometimes people don't care, they'll do anything they can to get what they want or need (not saying books when i say need.)

I only hope that this problem can be resolved and that authors can get it done quickly.

I know this post is old, but I had to say something.