Monday, March 23, 2015

In Real Life, Pirates Aren't Sexy or Nice

Pirates with a heart of gold are a mainstay of romance, fantasy, and science fiction, as well as defunct historical novels. They’re dashing rebels with sexy outfits and underneath the disguise of the rogue, they’re really nice guys who do the right thing. We see them on the book covers and in the movies and television shows. We even celebrate them with Talk Like a Pirate Day.

But in real life, in the modern world, pirates aren’t any of those things. They’re not Robin Hoods stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Despite a lot of discourse on the internet, they’re not rebels against the establishment, hurting no one and setting “content” free.

Content. Like the book I worked on for years and still haven’t earned out my advance on. Like the book series my friend wrote and went into debt to promote until her publisher dropped her because her sales weren’t rising fast enough—while people were downloading those books for free from pirate sites.

I have young relatives who use these torrent sites. It makes for heated discussions at holiday dinners, their mother embarrassed, them seeing it in that Internet-discourse rebel-Robin Hood fashion, me trying to explain the facts of life. I notice all the time that they and the internet groups that they parrot like to use George R.R. Martin, author of the bestselling Game of Thrones, as their example. “What can it hurt him with his millions?” they say disdainfully.

On the other hand, I’m in the field. I see the other 99% who are damaged by it. One or two hundred copies sold through an outlet that records the sales and pays the publisher and author versus that same number ripped off and given away without any record or payment can make the difference between an author being able to continue to write the books readers want to go on reading or being dropped by the publisher and having to give up that series and try again, often under a pseudonym or even in a new genre. George R. R. Martin and J.K. Rowling, they are not.

Today, again, I found my novels, Every Last Secret, Every Broken Trust, and Every Hidden Fear, on a pirate site. It doesn’t take long for those free downloads to destroy a career for most midlist writers, which is what the majority of us are. Even more than the money in royalties lost, which is not a tiny problem for those of us who must make rent and buy food for our families with it, even more than that, the lost sales are a problem because they can lead to a writer being dropped. So I’m not happy about finding my books pirated.  

I’m of the generation who were taught that it’s wrong to steal, and that’s that for us. Many of the younger ones I know don’t have the same idea of stealing=wrong. They see that equation only some times. When it’s convenient for them. But perhaps if they realized that pirating was a good way to kill the author’s chances to publish the books they like so much, perhaps then they would stop and ask themselves if it was really worth it.

What’s your opinion on the pirating question?


Jim Jackson said...

The commandment says, “Thou shall not steal.” I have never seen that footnoted with a list of exceptions.

I know people who would be mortified if someone accused them of stealing a book from a store, but have thousands of stolen books on their laptops.

I know others who consider that abhorrent, but cheat on their taxes, which is stealing from the rest of the taxpayers.

I am not claiming never to have stolen anything, but I always knew I was doing it, and I always knew it was wrong.

~ Jim

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

DVD's have a huge FBI warning at the beginning about stealing the content. I guess it's time to do the same for books. I've seen the "no front cover" warning for years.

Kara Cerise said...

I'm sorry to hear that your books are on a pirate site, Linda. That's terrible!

We just had this talk with my teenage niece about music. She gave us a blank look and didn't actually roll her eyes, but I knew she wanted to.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, that's one of the things that bothers me the most--they truly don't think they're stealing.

Incidentally, many thanks to our intrepid blogmistress, Elaine, for posting my blog for me. I'm finally hunting and pecking a little now, but didn't feel confident of getting this blog up and looking good with a broken right wrist.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Margaret, I don't know if it does much good. DVDs are heavily pirated, too.

Elaine and Kara, thanks for understanding.

Kait said...

I agree EB. I've gotten Google alerts that, when followed, led to pirate sites. I've been fortunate that most have taken down the pirate when confronted. It's disheartening.It's illegal, for most (all? -these sites are usually out of the US) of us it's non-prosecutable. There seems to be a mindset that is prevalent now (maybe always was) that the thrill is not in the end result (reading a good book) but in getting away with something. Was the music site years ago Napster? That was a lesson in you cruise, you can lose.

Shari Randall said...

Linda, one of the worst things about this attitude is the mindset that an artist's work is simply "content" - as if it doesn't take blood, sweat, and tears to produce. Thank you for putting a human face on the problem.
I've had the same holiday dinner conversations. How on earth do people not get that taking something that doesn't belong to you isn't stealing?
I get a hard time because I work in a library - we're the original pirates according to some, but at least libraries buy books steadily, archive authors' work, and introduce readers to authors. I feel great when patrons tell me that they get hooked on authors I've told them about and then go on to buy.

Warren Bull said...

It is hard enough for any artist to earn a living at his or her craft. I don't think the thieves have any idea about how much a time and effort go into creating a work of art.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Kait, yes, illegal downloads have been the downfall of the music industry. Now, they could end up doing the same to publishing.

Shari, I hate that term, "content," as applied to our creative work. We novelists are not just mining Wikipedia and internet sites to repackage facts about something (though that is unethical also). Libraries are different from pirates. They buy our books in hard copy and replace them after so many checkouts or in e-book form and have to replace those after so many uses. And the sales are recorded.

Warren, you zero in on the bedrock truth. Most writers are not G.R.R. Martin or J.K. Rowling. They are constantly struggling to make a minimal income. Pirate sites and those who make use of them make that struggle harder, if not impossible.

Gloria Alden said...

I think it's horrible. Stealing is stealing whether it's shopliftingn bank robbery, tax evasion or downloading books or music from pirate sites. I'm not sure how much an hour I earn for writing, but I'm betting it's something like 25 cents if even that, and when you think of the hours, sweat and sometimes tears involved with the editing, etc. how can those people stealing someone else's work begin to justify their actions.

Sarah Henning said...

Uggggh, pirates. Jerks. An artist should be paid for whatever they create. Drives me batty.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gloria, it's amazing how they seem to think that our creative work isn't really work, at all.

Sarah, me, too.

Paula Gail Benson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paula Gail Benson said...

Linda, thanks for this informative post. What can an author or anyone do if they discover a pirating site? Does it take many reports to close one down?

Linda Rodriguez said...

Paula, there's nothing really that can be done to close down the pirate sites. Almost all are located outside of this country. Sometimes you can get your book taken down if your publisher sends a takedown notice threatening legal action, but then it just pops back up again after being off for a few days.

KM Rockwood said...

When I was teaching, I'd often have those discussions with my classes. Mind you, this was an alternative school, so most of the kids were already in trouble with the law.

The most successful discussion had an outspoken young lady in the class who was interested in photography. She wanted to do "artistic" photography, but was from a rough and tumble background and realized she had to make a living. I helped her get an internship at a local studio while she was still in school.

When we started the "pirate" discussion, the kids didn't understand how their actions could hurt anyone. Suddenly, this girl said, (paraphrasing here--I didn't write it down) "You mean, it's like if I buy my equipment, spend two months getting up at dawn every morning to get just the right light, set up my picture with at the birds' nest, finally get the shot, print it out--which I can at school now, but will have to buy a computer and a printer when I graduate--and put it on my website to try to sell it to somebody who makes notecards or something, only to have them copy it for free off my webpage? That's what we're doing when we download pirated songs and videos?"

Once in a while, the light comes on.

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM, you've done better than I've managed to do. I have a nephew whose degrees are art and creative writing.He'd like to write and publish graphic novels one day. Yet he's the most prolific user of pirate sites and hotly defends such use. No matter how I try to point out how those sites will hurt him if he's ever published.