NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pirates, Tramps and Thieves...


by Janis Patterson
I’ve had it. Dealing with pirates has become too much of a part of a writer’s life. No, don’t think galleons and romantic figures in worn velvet and torn lace – these are modern thieves. They take books, books which writers have worked for months, perhaps years, on and post them on the internet for free. To add insult to injury, some even charge a ridiculously low price for them – money that the writer, the creator of the work, will never see.
A third kind of pirate is oddly becoming less and less rare – the plagiarizing pirate. This particularly loathsome specimen of lowlife merely takes another writer’s book, changes the main characters’ names and perhaps eye colors, and maybe – if they are conscientious – the name of the main town, then republishes the book under her own name with a new title and cover.
The first two kinds of pirates I can understand – if not condone – because both come down to simple money. The first kind just wants to hand the book around without anyone having to pay. The second kind wants some money for himself but without having to have to do anything to earn it. Both are despicable, but their reasons are obvious.
The third kind is a mystery. There are penalties for copyright infringement. Do they really think that no fan (the stolen books are invariably from popular and well-known authors) will notice the similarities? Due to the first two kinds of pirates books from unknowns don’t make that much, so it can’t be for the relatively small amount of money they earn. They are the ones doing the stealing, so they know they didn’t really write the book, unless they think just changing the names and eye colors constitutes writing. All that is left is that they appear to the world as a Published Author. Is that so wonderful that it is worth risking humiliation and legal repercussions? I guess so to them. Every so often there’s another one.
As pathetic and annoying as these egoist plagiarists are, though, they are small potatoes compared to the first two kinds. Their numbers are increasing exponentially and there’s very little that can be done about it.
Part of the problem began back in the days when paper was all you could get. It has never been difficult to find used copies for very little in a used book store, or for next to nothing at a garage sale. This too is blatantly unfair to the writer, but until recent years the technology for fair recompense was lacking. Nowadays the technology is there (think ISBN) but no one except the writer is interested in the writer getting paid for resale of their work. Paper copies have always been traded and resold and the modern naïf thinks that electronic books are no different. They refuse to acknowledge that there is a big difference – used paperbacks are self-limiting. Given enough time and enough readings they will dissolve. Ebooks can be copied with just a button-push or two, and the millionth copy will be just as pristine as the first. All with no benefit to the author, who created the story.
This ease of duplication was not lost on the second, money-driven type of pirate. To them each keystroke was the sound of a cash register as they made free money on the work of others. Every day writers spend valuable time – time that would be better spent writing more books – sending down takedown notices to pirates. Lucky writers have publishers who pursue takedowns. Others are not so fortunate and must do it themselves, as must self-published authors.
Sometimes the crooks comply, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes when their payment protocol is disrupted the site vanishes only to reappear a few days later with a very similar name and the same list of books. As so many authors have said, it’s like playing whack-a-mole and so frustrating and time consuming that some authors have simply given up, claiming that the pirated books are to be counted as free advertising.
I will admit that I have a number of free books on my Kindle, but a book given freely by the author as a promotional offer is a totally different thing from a book taken, i.e. stolen, without permission or recompense by a third party. Many authors have used a free book as a sales tool, but the important thing is that the choice to give the book away has been only theirs.
There have always been cheats, however, and there have always been thieves. Perhaps the most frightening thing about this uncomfortable world of piracy is the attitude of entitlement which surrounds it. On several ‘file-sharing’ sites I have seen posts where those who take these free files deny that they are doing anything wrong! If it’s on the internet, they say, it should be free. Others, more bold, decry the idea that copyright equals ownership. Copyright, to them, means only bragging rights for having written it – if that – and that it is greedy and wrong of the authors who are all obviously very wealthy to want to be paid for their work.
One man’s sublimely self-serving comments stayed with me. Roughly he said – “I pay for my entertainment as much as I can. I buy what I want until I don’t have any more money, but then my appetite for entertainment is so large that I have to take free stuff to get all that I want.” Wonder how far that philosophy would get him at the grocery or the hardware store?
And that brings us to the worst part of this unholy trade. There are penalties for illegally acquiring software. There are penalties for illegally downloading movies and TV shows. Books? Who cares? Apparently no one other than the authors who see their income being ripped away. Obviously not the thieves. The law doesn’t seem to want to be bothered.
So where does all this end? I postulate that it will end in chaos, as disintegrating systems usually do. Contrary to popular belief, most professional and popular authors write for money. Not for the feeling of self-accomplishment, not for the thrill of seeing their name on a book, but for money. It’s a job. A job they may love, but still a job. When that job ceases to be remunerative, they will stop writing and find something else.
Oh, there will always be books, but books written by those who do not regard it as a profession. Those who want to see their name on a book no matter what. Those who want the fame of being a published author. And let’s face it, those kinds of books are usually lousy. The quality of books will go down as more and more professionals leave the business and eventually the glory-seekers will be pretty much the sole providers of novels.
Apocalyptic? Perhaps, but dentists don’t do crowns just for the thrill of being recognized as a dentist. Mechanics don’t give free tune-ups because they enjoy playing in an engine. I can’t think of any profession that gives away its product just because they have it. They expect fair recompense for their goods/skills. Why do people regard writers any differently?
It looks to be a bleak future, with one rather deliciously snarky exception. Something I’ve been noticing is a lot of the pirate sites have been exposed as simple phishing sites that take the buyer’s credit card information and give nothing but a big bill.
Karma, it’s wonderful!


          Janis Patterson is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson. 

14 comments:

Shelley Munro said...

Sigh, I hear you. It's so irritating getting alerts for readers requesting a shopping list of books, some not even released yet. The bad thing is I can see this problem becoming even worse. :(

JB Lynn said...

Arrrrrgggghhhh!

Wish we could make them walk the plank.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

As a fellow writer who has had work pirated, I connect to your discussion. It's frustrating to put in all the effort only to have thieves derive financial gain.

Cathy Perkins said...

The inevitable comparison to the music industry ran through my head. Pirating of songs was rampant until the industry (was it Sony? Sorry, can't remember which one) actively pursued anyone downloading pirated music - and law enforcement prosecuted the offenders. All of a sudden parents of teens had huge bills and bigger legal problems.

The stealing mostly stopped.

I don't see that same willingness to enforce the same laws for books.

Rita said...

I’ve given up bothering with them. Why allow them to steal my time also? Have you ever seen cyber conversations or received an e-mail from those who have downloaded a free book and are upset because the formatting was wonky? Well bless their heart. Yes, I received an e-mail from a person who said that the free book that they downloaded was a hot mess and would I send them a better copy. Well bless their heart. As for those sites that are charging a dollar or dollar and a half for books, well, I hope those who use their credit cards to buy have identity theft insurance. And the ninnies who plagiarized and are caught at it better have a day job because in this business they will become instant pariahs.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Nicely put, Janis. Nobody else is expected to give away the product of their toil for free.

On a side note, a member of a book club I belong to recently said she would put copies of the latest book we're reading on her porch for us to pick up. My first thought was, how sad that we don't have to worry about thieves stealing books off someone's porch. They're valuable commodoties! Not so in the digital world, unfortunately...

Jean Harrington said...

Well said, Janis, and after reading it, the word that keeps bouncing around in my head begins with a 'b," and it's not "beloved" despite the lovely exhortations of the new Pope.

Liked Cathy's mention of the music industry's law suits against people pirating songs--maybe book publishing will be forced to come to some such solution. In the meantime, what to do? Give up writing? I hear a chorus of "No's and they're louder than those "b's."

Thanks for your insights into a growing problem.

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

i keep waiting for someone to come up with a kill switch in downloads that blank the book out after so many reads or opens or when someone tries to copy it. you know there's someone out there that could do that. where is a virus creator when you actually need one?

Elise Warner said...

I find myself growling in agreement. A pox on all those pirates.

Susan Oleksiw said...

This is the most depressing topic. We spend so much time working on our stories only to get a pittance from an advance, a long wait for royalties, and even longer wait for a return of copyright so we can launch our own ebooks or PODs. And now we have pirates. My first book, a nonfiction guide for readers, had pieces of it pirated and there was nothing I could do about it. I do hope publishers decide to challenge the thieves and drag some of them into court. It bothers me that the written word is so weakly protected in this country. You're right to worry, Janis. It would be awful if the only books left to buy were schlock by hacks. What a dismal future.

Morgan Mandel said...

The pirates didn't find me until one of my books did very well as a freebie on Amazon. Then, magically, my book became available where it shouldn't have been. Very irritating.

Morgan Mandel

Anonymous said...

I have heard the arguments against using DRM, but has anyone, who has had their book stolen here, used DRM? I'm just wondering because with all those not using it, maybe just to remove the DRM, makes it a little bit of a deterrent for a pirate. (You know, like in this house’s door is locked, but this one hasn’t bothered so I’ll just walk in here and plunder because it's easier....) Thanks for any thoughts on this issue.

Wynter Daniels said...

Ah, the bane of my existence! The day one of my books is released, I get a Google alert - always from a pirate site. That is priceless that some of the sites are just taking credit card info - absolutely karma!

J Wachowski said...

Bloomberg Business week did a great article on Piracy back in September. Really interesting data on how the French law did slow & help choke-off the volume. Maybe we should be lobbying our Senators & members of Congress to pass SOPA?
Here's the link if you're interested: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-09-17/three-myths-behind-internet-pirates-always-win

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