Sorry, this is another rant. But it’s important.
There’s a writer’s joke that goes somewhat like this. The only thing worse than having your books pirated is not having your books pirated. As Eric Flint noted (although before a set of changes in the online environment) piracy is rarely a serious problem for writers; the average pirate can’t or won’t buy the book in any case. (And there is a possibility that some pirates will become fans who’ll pay real money for books.)
But piracy does, however, cause some very real problems for writers. Our books are our intellectual property and, in order to use our property, it has to be clear that those rights rest exclusively in our hands. Publishers tend to worry about pirate sites cutting into sales – a problem made worse, I admit, by the simple fact that most publishers charge through the nose for eBooks – and writers can get nervous if copies of their work are available in formats that allow easy plagiarism. I’m not entirely sure if this is a valid fear – Amazon is quite good at detecting duplicate books (to the point that they identified a free sample as an example of plagiarism) – but it refuses to fade. And programs that require exclusivity – Kindle Unlimited, for example – can cause problems when the online searchers detect copies of the book available elsewhere, even though the author is being pirated and unaware of it!
I mention this because, a couple of weeks ago, I was warned by a fan that one of my books was being sold, online, by a pirate site.
I hit the roof.
Now, I don’t mind – too much – when pirate sites give my books away for free. I try to avoid keeping my books out of any exclusive schemes, so while it is irritating to be pirated it’s not something I let drive me insane. But what infuriated me about this particular set of pirates was threefold;
-They were SELLING my book.
-They were SELLING my book that I’d sold to a PUBLISHER.
-They were SELLING my book that I’d sold to a PUBLISHER that had NOT YET BEEN RELEASED!
(I’m sorry for shouting, but certain points do need to be made.)
This threatened to cause all sorts of problems for me.
First, naturally, I wouldn’t see a single cent from any of those sales. Of course not – I wasn’t the one putting it on sale. Any profits the pirates made would go straight to them, not to myself and the publisher. They were undercutting my sales before my book was even out! And the accountants, the people who decide if I should be offered a contract for a third book in the series, would think that there had been fewer sales.
Second, it was quite possible the publisher would be pissed at me for allowing a copy to get into pirate hands, perhaps through one of my beta readers. (As it happened, it looks like one of the ARCs released to advance readers was pirated, so that isn’t such a big concern.) There could be all sorts of problems, from demands to repay the advance (if I’d lost a copy) to questions over who actually owned the IP rights. The publisher might refuse to pick up the remainder of the series.
This shouldn’t be a major concern, but it is. One of the reasons I use beta readers is to have a chain of people who can say, honestly, that they witnessed the book being put together in draft form, before it was forwarded to the editors. Without it, there might be questions raised over the actual writer or ownership of the IP rights. Not to put too fine a point on it, if I don’t have a clear claim to the rights I don’t have anything to sell. One of the worst nightmares for an author is having their rights to their work thrown into question.
Third, failing to do anything (effective) about the pirates creates an awkward precedent. When you hear about a really big company (McDonalds, for example) bringing a suit against a tiny business that happens to be run by a McDonald family, you think of McDonalds as being bullies. And yet, failure to defend one’s copyright (insofar as anyone can lay claim to the ‘McDonalds’ brand) can be used against you by someone bigger. Another fast food chain can call itself ‘McDonalds’ and, when their use of the name is challenged in court, point to the tiny business and claim that McDonalds forfeited its claim to the brand when it failed to take action against the earlier violation.
Yes, I know this sounds absurd. But stranger things have happened in court.
I’m not sure I have the words to express just how angry I am. This people stole my work and are now trying to make a profit from it! And if that wasn’t bad enough, they may have left me with a major headache to clear up.
<Incoherent furious muttering>
Jokes aside, if you like an author, any author, buy their works from sanctioned outlets. You can normally find these on their websites. Buying from pirate sites ensures that they get nothing, not even sales …
… And if they think the book flopped, they won’t want to write a sequel.