Hoist the Jolly Roger!

Piracy: the scourge of the creative world!

I read someone railing against piracy. It is theft, it destroys the modest incomes of writers, it destroys civilisation. It is the duty of the gummint to crack down.

Well, I disagree. For one thing, giving governments more powers to snoop around what we are doing online and more laws to punish more people, well hello 1984.

Piracy sites have always existed and always will exist. They might be thinly concealed from public gaze, but with a little digging and a proxy and a VPN, they pop up easy enough.

Do they really deprive honest hard-working writers of a living? I dunno, but I rather doubt that someone who downloads a hundred books from some pirate site would have gone out and bought these same hundred books from Amazon or the local bookshop. Who has that sort of money?

And since when is copying something theft? Theft is intentional permanent deprivation without permission. The owner has to have had something taken from them and is deprived of the use and enjoyment of that thing. If someone comes along and makes a perfect copy of a book on your shelf, but leaves the original there, then where is the deprivation?

Lost earnings, I hear you say. Yeah, well maybe, but you have to prove that the person was going to buy the book, otherwise it’s all kind of confected and synthesised. Did they deprive the author of their property? No. Did they deprive the author of income? Well, maybe, but how do you tell?

To my mind, it’s kind of hard to find a crime in this. It’s not theft, it’s not breach of copyright unless the pirate goes out and sells the thing. Unless you go and create a whole new crime, of course, and that brings me back to confection and synthesis.

It’s not even illegal in Australia. You can’t set up and run a pirate site, and you can’t go and sell the stuff you download, but it is no crime to download copyright material for personal use. It might be a civil matter, but the author or their publisher has to prove that the downloader created an actual harm to the copyright holder.

Tricky, without being a mind-reader.

I have a friend who wrote a book about some technical subject. I found their book on a pirate site and urged them to send a takedown notice. They declined, saying that the copy was a ratty scan of a PDF, riddled with errors, and he felt like sending them a decent version.

Besides, there was a better version of his book on Library Genesis, and how do you nail those Russians down?

I tend to think that worrying about the moral welfare of others is not the proper way of spending one’s time. If one hasn’t been harmed by someone’s action, and all one really has is some sort of vague outrage, it’s all kind of arid calling for the gummint to sooth your hurt feelings.

Is it really an economic problem? I’m not noticing writers putting their hands in their pockets and refusing to write because pirates are the only ones reading their books. My guess is that if nobody is buying a writer’s books, then most likely nobody is pirating them either.

Piracy of printed books isn’t a major problem. Piracy of e-books is. Perhaps this is because charging the same price for something that has an actual physical existence and can be resold, or passed on to one’s descendants, or even given away at Christmas, as for an e-book that is none of those things is seen as sheer greed on the part of the publisher.

An interesting subject, and I always like to examine the souls of those who are outraged by piracy.

As for me, I’m kind of disheartened that the two largest piracy sites, Library Genesis and BookFi don’t list me amongst their authors.


life, publishing , , ,

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