Piracy in the Digital Age

“I just ran a Google search for your book, and noticed it’s on several piracy websites.  How do you feel about your work being pirated?”

I’ve run into this same question on multiple writer’s forums–so when I was asked personally about this topic, I already had plenty of time to form my opinion.  As with most of my views, I like to tap it down from more than one angle.

If it’s really a question of whether I have a problem with people reading my work for free, as an author my answer has to be, “Of course not.”

No, that’s what my answer has to be.

No matter how you’re published or how you market your material, not every reader is a sale.  Let’s say a library purchases one of my books.  That same library is going to allow hundreds of readers to borrow it.  None of those readers will add anything more than the single sale I made to the library.  It’s the same deal as Stephen King has.  It’s the same deal as J.K. Rowling has.  I want that library to buy my book, nonetheless.  Do you know why?  Because hundreds of readers will find it that way, free or otherwise.  They’ll know it exists.

I don’t make all-inclusive statements lightly, but I’m willing to say that every avid reader in the world has visited a used book store, or purchased a used novel at a yard sale or thrift store.  If you buy my novel from such a place, all I’m going to do is thank you and hope that you enjoy it–even though not a single penny of that sale ever made its way into my bank account.  You may have spent money to purchase it, but from my point of view you’re a free reader.  I have no bones to pick about that, either; as a matter of fact, it puts a smile on my face.  Pass it around to friends and family, knowing you’re doing so with my unreserved blessing.

In forums, I’ve seen other authors rage and foam about lost sales for every copy downloaded from a torrent.  I can’t join them in their anger.  Let me put this into proper perspective for you:  The e-book version of Through the Eyes of Outcasts is, at the time of this writing, priced at $3.99.  Four bucks.  About the price of a latte.  Less than the price of a deli sandwich.  Less than a month of Netflix.  If you were to purchase this work through my Payhip store and share the link on social media, you would pay $2.  That’s probably less money than you have hidden in your couch cushions.  If you wouldn’t pay $4, and you wouldn’t pay $2, you’re not a lost sale.  Enjoy your pirated download.

No, I have no problem with others reading my work for free.  Obscurity is far and away a larger enemy to myself (or any other author) than Internet piracy.  Besides all of that, there are so many of these sites that I would be wasting my time playing whack-a-mole trying to clean things up.  I’d rather be writing.

The only thing I do have a problem with is finding my work for sale under a different author name.  My writing is from me to you, and I don’t give a damn if it sounds selfish to say that I claim ownership of it.  I’m the one who spends sometimes up to a year writing and refining it.  I’m the one who puts money and time into creating it.  You bet I’m selfish about owning it.  If I ever find out that someone else is listing my work under his or her own name and claiming credit for it, I’ll own that person.  I register my work.  I have proof of publication dates.  I also have the ability and will to pursue the matter in court.  Make no mistake, I’ll win.  If this paragraph is speaking to you, all I can say is… your move.  Choose wisely.  My advice is to write your own book.

I also have a problem with the prevalence of viruses and malware that infest some of these piracy sites.  I build and work with computers on a daily basis, and I can tell you horror stories about the agony of those who were infected with such things.  Surely avoiding all of that is worth $2-$4 to you.  Or maybe it isn’t.  Either way, you get what you pay for.

You also might not be reading the most up-to-date version.  I’m a human being, and sometimes despite my best efforts the specter known as Typo makes his appearance.  Maybe my terminology wasn’t correct, and it mattered enough to the story that I decided to fix it.  While these things don’t matter much to a paperback book–that version of the novel is what it is and can’t be changed–anything you buy on legitimate sales channels is going to represent my latest and greatest.  I also can’t claim responsibility for any formatting errors the reader encounters when the pirate may have added formats I never made available.

Pirated work may be freely available, but sometimes free comes with a price after all.

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