A Brief Note on “Piracy”

I have been wanting to read Howard Kaylan’s book Shell-Shocked (his autobiography) for some time now, but when it first came out it was only in paperback, and I’m trying not to buy dead-tree books unless I really know I’m going to want to keep them, or unless there will never be an ebook version, because my flat barely has room to move for books.

It’s now available on Kindle, but I don’t have a Kindle, I have a Kobo.
It is, however, available in (DRM’d) ePub form — in the Netherlands.

So in order to buy this book and read it, I have gone to bol.com/nl , gone through the registration and purchase process *in Dutch* (a language which I don’t speak — Google translate doesn’t work well with that site once you get to the purchase pages), and then gone through the process of stripping the DRM from it so it can be read on my GNU/Linux machine.

(It turns out that the book is also available as an epub in Australia, but that doesn’t show up until the second page of Google results, after quite a few illegal downloads).

I did that because I believe that writers should be paid for their work, and I am willing to go to quite some effort to pay for a legitimate, legal, copy of that work. But I can imagine a lot of people being put off by — or actually unable to cope with — that process, and just downloading an illegal copy, for free.

And here’s the thing — there have been times when *I* have done that, because it’s been impossible to find a book any other way. If someone who’s willing to go to the lengths I am to buy legally will sometimes end up going for the illegal option, is it any wonder at all if someone who cares less about the issue will?

It *should not* ever be easier to go for an illegal download than a legal one. I know that territorial deals are an important part of modern publishing, and that there are good reasons behind them, but still, it comes down to this:

If you don’t make your book (or album, or film, or whatever) available in every format, in every territory, and without DRM restrictions, you *will* lose sales. There *is* someone who would have bought your book/album/film who now won’t, not because they don’t want to, but because you won’t let them. Some of those people will ‘pirate’ your product, but it’s not the ‘piracy’ that’s the problem, it’s the fact that you’re preventing those people from giving you money.

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9 Responses to A Brief Note on “Piracy”

  1. Dave Page says:

    And to make it worse, I bet that some Terms of Service involved in that process disallows you to download the e-book from Holland for use outside the country…

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Entirely possible. In fact, given that I had to agree to the terms and conditions *in Dutch*, I have no idea if I signed away the souls of my children unto the seventh generation.
      (It had better be quite a good book).

  2. Mike Taylor says:

    I know that territorial deals are an important part of modern publishing, and that there are goodbad reasons behind them.

    Fixed that for you.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Actually there are some quite good reasons — Charles Stross explains some of them at http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/03/cmap-4-territories-translation.html (that’s not the Stross essay I was looking for — he has a much better one somewhere — but it’s the one I can find).
      Put simply, different markets have different needs, and some companies are much better than others at dealing with different countries’ markets. Couple that with the fact that most publishers won’t pay significantly more for world rights than for, say, North American rights (because they only know how to deal with the North American market, or because they only have a fixed budget) and territorial deals are a necessity at the moment.
      Territorial *restrictions*, on the other hand, aren’t — and putting books out in different countries six months or a year apart, as still occasionally happens, is ludicrous beyond belief, at least once an author’s established.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        It seems we agree on what the reasons are, and disagree on whether they’re good.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          I think it’s entirely reasonable that if, say, I was to write a novel about teen vampires in love, I would want to sell it to the leading teen-vampire-in-love publisher in the UK, and then, if that publisher doesn’t operate in the US, to sell it to the leading teen-vampire-in-love publisher in the US. To me that’s no different than a TV programme being broadcast on the BBC over here but on NBC in the States.
          The problems, to my mind, only arise if one publisher puts it out before the other, or blocks sale of the other publisher’s version, or any of the other stupidities that happen as a result. Just selling territorial rights itself isn’t the problem, it seems to me (except insofar as territorial rights are themselves an extension of a fundamentally broken copyright law).

          • Mike Taylor says:

            Territorial rights are broken at a very fundamental level: for digital goods, there ARE no territories. We can make some up, sure, play along with a fiction. But the reality is, there are no territories, and everyone knows it.

            • Andrew Hickey says:

              That’s true, but unfortunately we’re in a weird point at the moment where most copyrightable works exist both as purely digital goods and as physical objects. A supermajority of book sales are still of physical books, and the majority of those are in bookshops rather than online (the same goes for films and music, too). Territorial rights are reasonable for physical objects in a way they aren’t for digital ones — you need to be able to get the books into the bookshops.
              One obvious solution would be to have totally separate print and digital publishers, but ebooks now make up such a large proportion of sales that no publisher is going to agree to a paper-only deal.

              • Mike Taylor says:

                Territorial rights are reasonable for physical objects in a way they aren’t for digital ones — you need to be able to get the books into the bookshops.

                Yes. I have no problem with that.

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