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Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Books, the latest target for piracy ...

There has been quite a lot of focus on the downloading of music tracks from 'free' sites and a number of attempts to end it. There has equally been a lot of opposition to any attempt to put a stop to the 'sale' by unauthorised sites of these 'free' recordings. Those in favour of the continued supply of free downloads of music often claim that 'no one suffers from it; music must be 'free' and anyway, the recording companies are ripping off the people.' You also hear the argument that the artist and the recording company are only 'capitalist exploiters' who 'deserve to be ripped off'.

The same arguments are advanced by those who sell pirate copies of DVDs, videos and CDs. Yet another argument advanced, usually by those who 'buy' these pirate copies, is that the 'exposure is good for the artist'. They think that a few thousand pirate copies of something somehow 'promotes' sales through normal outlets, so it must be good. Right?

Wrong. On every level. It may be that the royalties on a few thousand copies of a hit song by a multi-millionaire Pop Star don't make a great deal of difference to his or her earnings, but to the vast majority of performers, actors and authors it does. Authors? Yes, the advent of e-books means our work is also now being ripped off. Sometimes quite blatantly, and the people doing it claim to be striking a blow against 'capitalism' or for 'freedom'. Frankly it is simply theft, and what is worse, those who buy from them are encouraging the crime - and very likely feeding the profits of international crime syndicates in the process.

Recently an author I know published a book. In the first few months sales went well, clocking up a few thousand a month. Now some folk would look at that and think - 'Hah! He's making a mint. He's rich!' What they forget is that a book takes time to write. There's a lot of sweat and tears invested in writing it, editing it, correcting and often rewriting parts before it is finally in a shape to be published. The author has invested heavily in terms of time - and often his return is less than a dollar per copy. The vast majority of authors don't get enough from royalties to live on them. So, when sales of his book suddenly 'tanked' and dropped to single copies he wondered why.

Thanks to some sophisticated searching on the web, he soon had the answer. Pirate copies of the book were being offered for free on some sites and sold through ebay's eBooks on others. Nor is he the only one to suffer from this problem, several other authors I know have also been hit by these thieves. It leaves you wondering why you made the effort in the first place. For some of us, independent authors, our books are published through Joint Ventures with our publishers. Not only have I got time and effort invested in my books, but some of my money as well. The return on each book is quite small, electronic or hard copy, and I have to sell quite a few before I recoup my outlay and can start showing a return. A thief can destroy my sales - and thus my outlay - in the blink of an eye.

Copying and reselling any electronic book is theft. Copying it to sell for your own profit takes it further, and if it continues it will destroy any incentive for creativity. After all, why should anyone write a book, create a picture, make a film or record a song if some thief is going to steal it and profit from it at the creator's expense? The UK government is currently changing the law concerning photography - and it will affect any writing posted on the internet as well - to make it legal to use any image, stored electronically, which cannot be identified as the 'property' of the creator. Since some sites that display many images strip the Meta Data out of the files, there are literally millions of images now available for anyone to claim are 'orphan' images.

There is a danger in this for writers as well, as another acquaintance discovered when he posted his poetry online on an author website. Another member of the same site copied the poems verbatim, relabeled and refiled them - then published them via Lulu as his own work. To add insult to injury, the thief entered them in various local and national competitions and boasted that he'd won awards for 'his' poetry. The theft was so blatant it was breathtaking. It has cost the real author - resident in another country - thousands to regain the intellectual rights to his creations and have the sale of the book stopped. The damage is, however, done, and he will never recoup his costs.

So far I have been fortunate - but I am watching very carefully!

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