Piracy is Not the Bogeyman

Aug 21, 2012 | Opinions

If the LendInk fiasco has taught us anything, it is this: when authors are faced with the prospect of someone getting their work for free, their initial reaction is one of panic. It’s possible that this is a learned reaction, from big media companies that make a huge deal about piracy. I think many of the authors involved were independent, and didn’t have the benefit of a publisher’s legal guidance. The end result was predictable, if nothing else; authors saw their books listed on the site, got no response from the owner, and assumed the worst immediately.

It is also the wrong reaction, and here is why.

“What about lost sales?”

No. Stop. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. You get to complain about lost sales when you can prove that piracy is causing them. You are a business person; step up to the plate and act like it by relying on the one thing we know works – facts, figures, solid information and statistics – instead of your gut reaction.

“It’s morally wrong!”

Oh please. That’s not an argument. It’s a justification, if anything, and it’s your gut reaction talking again. Everyone disagrees about what should be considered morally wrong. The bottom line here is that the only thing that should count is whether actual harm is caused. So, see point one about facts, figures, etc etc – if you can prove harm, then you can point to that instead of talking about morality.

“It’s against the law!”

Yes, it is. (Non-commercial copyright infringement is a civil case, however, not a criminal one.) This means you need to really do your homework and be 100% sure of your facts before throwing accusations and legal threats around – and, again, you need to know that it’s actually worth your time and money to enforce your rights. Businesses make the decision every day not to pursue legal action because it’s not a good use of their resources, both now and in the long term, and the crime in question has had a negligible effect on their bottom line. Again, back to point one – get the facts straight, know exactly what piracy is costing you in actual dollars, and compare that to what you’ll spend in legal bills.

“People need to know that that behavior is unacceptable!”

That ship has long since sailed. The music, movie and TV industries have been there, done that and bought the T-shirt. They have thrown millions at re-education. It simply doesn’t matter. People just don’t value infinitely copyable digital files in the same way as physical objects. They don’t rationalize the act of copying a file and giving it to their friend as something bad. By extension, they frequently don’t rationalize the act of downloading a file as something bad. They know they shouldn’t, and they’re certainly not stupid or ignorant, but that generally has no effect on their behavior. They want to read this book, see this TV show, listen to this album. They can’t get it in their region, they can’t afford it, it’s DRM restricted and won’t work for them. They’ve been using piracy to solve those problems for as long as the Internet has been capable of delivering large files to the masses. If you think you can successfully change the behavior of a large population so that they will not pirate any more, then go sell your ideas to the MPAA and RIAA – you’ll become a millionaire faster that way.

“If we can stamp out piracy -“

I generally don’t listen to whatever comes after this statement, because the speaker clearly doesn’t know anything about piracy if they’re talking like this. Let me spell it out: you are talking about something that (a) may not be a problem (see point one regarding facts and statistics) and (b) cannot be solved. DRM doesn’t work and will never work. The biggest torrent site on the planet has defied every legal, illegal and technical threat thrown at it, to say nothing of the hundreds of others who keep a lower profile. Companies with multi-million dollar budgets have employed very smart people and probably bribed many politicians, and they have yet to find a way to even put a dent in the rate of piracy worldwide. Again, if you think you know a way, go sell it to them and make millions that way instead of writing.

Frankly, I know my opinions are not all that popular when it comes to piracy, but I at least have done the research. Authors need to do the same and act in an informed manner – and, above all else, they need to get out of this mindset that the world will end if they don’t stop their books being pirated. This fear is what lead to LendInk getting taken down. The reality is far more benign – piracy probably can’t ever be stopped, but it also probably doesn’t have much of an effect on sales, and, for most indie authors, it’s quite literally nothing to write home about.