So. I have Google Alerts set to let me know when new torrents and downloads of my books become available. (If other authors haven't done this, it's a good step to take, just to stay informed.) And I'm conflicted about this, because I am not an "all or nothing" person, and my stand on copyright has considerable flexibility.
So I figured I would set forward my thoughts on this whole thing, and where I stand.
I will quote from one of the major torrent sites, Isohunt, which actually has been extremely interesting to chat with about this issue. Here's what they have posted on their front page (quoted under a Creative Commons licence, btw):
This is an age of rampant sharing and remixing, and if you can make the connection between sharing and culture as Doctorow has, you will see this war between rightsholders and consumers will never end and the rightsholders will never win. The band Girl Talk and Lessig and James Boyle and Terry McBride of Nettwerk and isoHunt all echo a common point: Remixing and sharing is good for culture, suing consumers and technologists who enable sharing is destructive for everyone. The internet is a more efficient information machine than the printing press or VCR ever was, and also a whole different animal. It's time the content industries learn to put it to better use as well, by discarding past notions of how business is done based on an economy of scarcity. In Star Trek, currency becomes irrelevant with virtually unlimited "copying" of physical objects with the Replicator. The internet is the Replicator of information. When a 13-month-old dances to Prince's music, copyright infringement is nowhere near his consciousness. It's an endorsement that he likes it, pure and simple.
I've said a number of times that I'm not against copyright, but copyright does need significant reform in the internet age. If all this rampant copying on BitTorrent and the internet has not made a dent in Hollywood's record earnings, why can't we all just get along without rabid lawsuits? Why can't they see that sharing and remixing is a human urge for culture, and when we share and remixes art, it's not a liability but an endorsement for the artist or author or producer?
When the majority of society has no ethical conviction of wrongdoing when they violate copyright law, it's not society that's wrong, it's the law. Because no one can really own ideas. Newton once said, "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of Giants." It's how the arts and sciences progresses. We share, we inspire and we remix.
You know what? The writer is generally correct.
Of course, where I differ is this: IDEAS are free. EXECUTION OF IDEAS is not, because that takes people's time, effort, and commitment to bring that to fruition.
I can have an "idea" for a book. Nobody owes me a dime for an idea. I will blab the idea all day long to them, because he's right: ideas are free.
However, if I WRITE the book, it's no longer an idea, but a "work." As in, I worked on it. And skilled work deserves some kind of agreed-upon compensation, if it is good work. Art for art's sake is all very well, but as any artist will tell you, 'tis better to get paid and stop foreclosure proceedings on the house. Few of us really find poverty and garrett-having all that attractive or romantic, once winter (and therefore reality) sets in.
So after all the hard work, when you see people uploading your books -- all of them, in one file -- and see larger numbers of people downloading them with cheerful disregard for any kind of compensation to you, the creator ... well.
It's a primal reaction, the same one you'd have if you came out of a building to see somebody taking the radio out of your car, cheerfully waving, and walking away. It's not a rational reaction -- it's emotional all the way. The cost of the radio is secondary. It's the emotional feeling of violation that takes command on a visceral level.
There are many, many arguments. One, which I've heard frequently, is that some people really want an electronic form of the story that they can use on their handhelds. Okay, I'm cool with that. (I'm especially cool if they already bought the book, of course. But if it's a one-off, I'm not going to gripe about it at all.)
There's also the "I can't afford the book" argument. Which, lord knows, is valid enough, especially in our hard economic outlook. Book sales are bound to plummet, y'all. It's not even a question. (However, that is also hurting the writers far more than anyone else; wait until you see the Great Midlist Bloodbath of '09 and '10. It's coming, just as sure as you see the job loss figures march through other sectors of the economy.)
And there's the "marketing" argument: By letting people read for free, they will become enthusiastic and go buy your work. Yep, that will probably happen for some segment of downloaders. For others, certainly not, because for many, many uploaders (and downloaders) it's a simple statement of rebellion against the status quo: they don't like the way copyright works, and books are sort of caught up in a much bigger "copyfight" against the music industry, the movie industry, and the software industry. I see their excellent points as to why they hate the system as consumers. I'm not so fond of it, either.
Nobody's stepping up to offer reasonable compromises, as far as I can tell. It's another "all or nothing" from the pirate's side ... "give me everything for free because that's my statement." Whereas, from the creative side, it's, "I'm giving nothing for free, dammit."
I think we're swimming in a murky, murky sea, and nobody's in the right. But inevitably, creative forces will suffer economically. Bestsellers are probably kind of bulletproof, to a point, but their download erosion will also increase as real-book sales do. Midlist is the delicate tipping point, where every download may erode sales enough to really make a go/no go decision by the publisher for the next book a reality.
So here is my clearly set forth stand on these types of things.
UPLOADING OF MY SHORT FICTION FROM MY WEBSITE
Y'all, it's under a Creative Commons license. I put it up there to be free, and freely shared. Go for it. I will never say boo. In fact, I say YAY!
UPLOADING OF MY VIDEOS AND GRAPHICS
I have taken care to buy licenses for all images and music I use on my website. No, it' ain't cheap. Yes, I did it because I feel it is the right thing to do. I prefer to keep the videos hosted on my website and the associated YouTube links because that's what my license says, so please don't copy them and put them in other places -- just link. Graphics are downloadable and shareable. YAY, yet again.
UPLOADING OF BOOKS, AND SHORT FICTION CONTAINED IN PUBLISHED COLLECTIONS
Rubber, meet road. Okay, as the copyright holder, I do not give permission for any individual or group to upload my books in e-format to sites where the general public may download them without cost. Guys, if you want a book, ask me. I send out hundreds of free books each year to people who can't afford to buy them, or who are in special circumstances. I do it at my own cost of buying the books and shipping them out, even overseas.
If you tell me, straight up, that you cannot afford to buy the books, I will make used copies available to you through a "read and recycle" program I'm establishing. And if you have a book you want to donate to the "read and recycle" program, I will have info published about that on my site soon.
But I do not welcome mass uploading and downloading of my books, especially in large clumps that contain everything I've done. It's not respectful, and it's not productive to me, my publisher, or ultimately to you, if none of us can afford to continue to operate this writing thing as a business. So I will pursue sites where the downloads are posted and -- in an efficient and respectful manner, according to the templates they provide -- request the content be removed. It takes my time and effort, but I will do it. Weekly.
Is copyright broken? Heck, yeah, and it needs to be looked at through the lens of the most good for the most people. But let's not toss the writer out with the murky water, here. Buy the books, please. In fact, go buy from any author you'd like to support, and do it before the end of the year, because October was a horrible loss month for publishing in general, and it will be felt across the board.
Dissenting opinions arriving in ... three ... two ... one ... :) Also, welcomed. I love discussion.