There is No Such Thing as Moral Piracy

We lived in a world now where there’s little to no divide between authors/artists and the audience. It’s easy to Tweet a message to your favorite author or musician, comment on their Instagram, interact with them. With the fall of that barrier as comes a decline in morality. Accessibility also means everything is available, from people putting audiobooks on YouTube to copies of books being available for download through sites like Pirate Bay.

This week, one of my friends, Katherine Locke, had her debut pirated two weeks before released. The day before, another friend–a teacher–made a post praising her “resourcefulness” (I’m quoting here) regarding finding audio versions and PDF downloads of a very popular three-book series. She was relieved she wouldn’t have to pay $30 for each audio file and linked the PDFs to her webpage.

Authors like Neil Gaiman have spoken about downloading their work for free and how they support it. But he’s Neil Gaiman. You’ve heard of him, whether it’s through his own work, or through Amanda Palmer, or you happened to go see Coraline when it came out. For Neil, illegal downloads of his book RAISED his sales. But he’s Neil Gaiman, with decades of writing under his belt.

Maybe the author my friend downloaded isn’t as popular as Neil (but you have heard of her,) doesn’t have as many books, but maybe wouldn’t be hurt by the loss. It still doesn’t make it right. There are dozen of resources available to educators. I know some children can’t afford the material, but we have libraries, and yes, they have audiobooks too. There are classroom discounts. In the age of accessibility, why not just ask the author? It’s an email to her or the publishing house.

If I can hunt down the rights to reprint a Cindy Sherman portrait in my college lit mag, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a solution to getting books without stealing.

Because you’re stealing.

Katherine, the one who had her debut stolen, is hurt by the person who pirated her novel. Piracy might help Neil, but it can kill a debut’s career. Sales are what get her additional contracts. Sales are what get you more of her work if you like it. Your inability or unwillingness to pay $2.99 won’t make her starve, but it might deny her a career as an author. She’s a brilliant writer with great ideas, but that doesn’t matter if publishing houses think she’s a poor investment because you bought a cake pop at Starbucks instead of buying her book.

When all you had to do was send her an email or tweet if you truly couldn’t afford it. Maybe she’d have given you the file or encouraged you to read the prequel novella, Turning Pointe, which is currently free on CarinaPress. You can read in its entirety before the launch of her debut, Second Position, which you can still preorder. If you’d like to preorder through Barnes and Noble, click here.

Contrary to popular belief, authors rarely make a living off their work. Making a living means you earn enough to not have a day job. That you can pay your bills. I know authors with more than 5 books out who STILL work full-time and write full-time, many who have multiple jobs outside of writing. Katherine has a day job, an editing business, rescues and rehabilitates cats, and writes full-time. I have day job, a freelance job, a potential second freelance job, and I write full-time.

“But J.K. Rowling….”

is an exception. She was lucky. Like Neil, piracy won’t hurt her sales.

A few years ago, Susan Dennard had her debut downloaded, and to add to the hurt of the theft, the person published a post complained about how long it took her download to finish. Susan’s response is reasonable, and she’s clearly angry.

Dear Person Pirating my Book,

I am sorry you can’t have your instant gratification. That book that I spent 3 years of my life working on full-time is now taking you a whopping ten minutes to download illegally. I mean, jeez. Talk about injustice.

I honestly can’t wrap my head around the fact that you’re waiting so many  minutes when I only spent 9 to 5 of every day since 2009 typing at my keyboard.

Okay, I’ll admit I wasn’t always typing. Sometimes I was scouring the document for plot holes or hand-writing my characters into corners only to then hand-write them back out again. Sometimes I was on the internet researching Victorian fashion (the book is set in 1876, in case you aren’t aware of exactly WHAT you are illegally downloading), or I was online seeking out a critique partner. Other times I was honing my query letter to get an agent or working on my 1-page synopsis.

But most of my time was spent writing (weekends included). So comparing all that time I spent on my book to your 10 minutes is just inconceivable for me (and I do think that word means what I think it means).

Wow, 10 minutes is just SO huge.

Yes, she is passive-aggressive, but she’s not wrong. We spend years writing, editing, query agents, crying over rejections, frustrations, revelations. We put ourselves into our work. Maybe people don’t realize how difficult it is to write a book. It’s not sit down and type and eat macarons. It’s HOURS of every day sitting in front of a screen and building a world. It’s the hardest fucking thing you can do and some days, it feels so impossible you want to quit.

That’s what you’re saying is worthless every time you download a book illegally. You’re saying our effort, our time, our emotional investment, is nothing because reading is your right.

I do want to point out, though, that you wouldn’t have to wait on my book if you bought it for your kindle or iPad or computer. Why, you’d have the file in mere seconds! And, because you would’ve BOUGHT the book, then I would get paid. And the cool thing about me getting paid is that I can afford my bills and then continue to write more books. I mean, hey—sitting at the computer all day ain’t fun and it sure as hell ain’t easy. Making enough money to keep my electricity turned on (so my computer will also stay on) is kind of important if I’m going to finish this series…and maybe even start the next.

Susan did finish the Something Strange and Deadly series, which I loved, and is currently working on her second series. Books are a privilege, and if you want the privilege of reading more, support the authors you love. If you cannot afford a copy, or lost yours, or misplaced it, go to the library. Borrow it from a friend. Ask for it as a gift.

Erin Bowman, author of the Taken Trilogy, also has a post on piracy. Read it. It’s good. One of the comments is below:

um no. if i own the book but i cant find it im gonna read a pirated copy online. if i dont want to support the author (im looking at you orson scott card) but i still want to read the book i will pirate it.

And the response is brilliant:

Um, no. If I can’t locate the physical copy of a book I own and want to read it immediately, I am not entitled to STEAL a digital copy. I go find the physical book, or dig it out of storage, or wait for my friend who borrowed it to return it, etc, etc. There are books I own in print and ebook form for this very reason. Just because you paid for one copy of a book does not mean you get a second for free.

When you read a pirated book in any capacity, you are supporting piracy. You are telling the people running the site, “I support what you do, I think it’s okay to steal from authors, keep running this site and others like it.” It’s simple supply and demand. If no one downloaded illegal copies, these sites would not exist. People say ‘vote with your dollar.’ Well in this case, vote by not clicking.

Lastly, it is 100% your right to not support any author (or artist) you choose. But doing so through illegal channels defeats the entire purpose of making a statement. Go to the library and read OSC if you don’t want him to get another royalty from you buying his book. That library copy was purchased by legal means and can be read over and over without him earning another dime. Better yet, don’t read him PERIOD. That’s real follow-through. And then when someone asks you what you thought of Ender’s Game, for example, you have a wonderful chance to stand on your soapbox and explain that the book sounded awesome but you didn’t read it because you’re not supporting the author for REASONS.

I understand your points and how you are trying to justify your situation, but that’s exactly what they are—your justifications to steal anyway. Authors get paid royalties only twice a year, and many work a second job to get by. Every sale counts, and if you want more books written in the future, buy and read legal copies.

Some people find the ethics of downloading books illegally questionable. With authors like Neil Gaiman supporting it, it’s hard to think that stealing a copy of Second Position will do any real damage. You’re wrong. Plain and simple. Especially for new authors. Especially for debuts. Especially for anyone. Don’t steal our paychecks. Don’t tell me my three years of writing and editing isn’t worth the $2.99 Amazon’s selling the ebook for. Don’t tell my time and energy is worthless. And don’t let other people tell you it’s okay to steal.

Most of all, don’t hurt my friends and their careers.

If one day you find a large box on your porch and open it to find a fuckton of glitter is now in ever carpet fiber, in your hair, on your skin, your clothes and everything you’ll touch for the next thirty years, know it was me.

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