Today is the first annual Please Don’t Pirate My Book Day. Says who, you ask? Says Chuck Wendig in this post here. Since he is the Lord Emperor Penmonkey of Interwebistan, that makes his declaration binding. What the hell else do we need? We have a Sweetest Day just ‘cause Hallmark was overstocked on cheesy Valentine’s Day cards one year, so I guess we can have a Please Don’t Pirate My Book Day on the say so of a pants-less, shaggy-faced wordslinger.
My take on this is antiquated and likely will be dismissed as quaint by you young whippersnappers who’ve been bathed in a ceaseless flow of screen-emitted electrons since birth and thus mutated into this barbarian horde of virtualosos who keep changing shit without my permission and making me cranky.
My take is this. Books are things. So, too, for that matter, are songs (or records as we used to refer to them in those Halcyon days now lost to the mists of antiquity). So, too, are movies and whatever other shit you young punks have turned into so much digital vapor with your interwebby, file-sharing malarkey.
See, in the analog world I grew up in, books weren’t just words, they were objects. Songs came on these vinyl discs, unless you were that cool kid with the Chevy conversion van that had the wizard and the chick with the big bazongas painted on the side and all the good pot connections, then they came on eight tracks. Movies? Hell, you had to go to a theater to see movies.
Back then, if you wanted to get your mitts on a book without paying for it, you couldn’t “pirate” it, you had to actually steal the thing.
Sounds harsher, don’t it? Stealing?
See, the thing is, that book is the product of somebody’s labor. Even if it’s a self-published e-book, it took the author a butt-ton of hours to write it, format it and release it into the wild. Is it worth the $0.99 or $1.99 or $2.99 or whatever they’re charging for it? Subjective question. That’s up to you, as the consumer, to decide. But that’s the value they’ve ascribed to it. The way you get to weigh in on that value is to decide to pay it or not. You can always tear the author a new one in a review if you like.
If it’s not self-published, if it’s a book released by a traditional publisher, then there is a whole chain of folks with work invested in the product. The author still, of course; probably an agent; a publisher – which translates into an editor; copyeditor; proofreader; a designer; various folks who do the typesetting, formatting, printing and binding; sales and distribution teams; booksellers, whether bricks and mortar, virtual or both. All of these people do this for a living. It’s how they pay their mortgage, feed their kids. I mean you have a job, too, right? Whatever it is that you make, or that the capitalist oppressor who pays you makes, selling that book is how all those people earn the money to buy it so that you get the paycheck that lets you buy the computer gadgets you are using to steal their work. See how that works? If people decide to stop paying for things, pretty soon nobody has nothing.
Yeah, I’ve heard all the arguments. How pirates aren’t thieves, they’re readers. How piracy isn’t theft, it’s exposure. How the fact that the game is now digital changes all the rules and how we old codgers have to stop trying to apply quaint concepts like property rights to this brave new world.
Yeah, and hiding behind the internet’s wall of anonymity to terrorize some kid you don’t like because of his sexual orientation or her looks isn’t bullying ‘cause it’s done with electrons instead of fists so there’s no reason for you to feel bad when they hang themselves or snap and go on a shooting spree.
Can I stop you from stealing my book? No. Is it easier than ever to steal intellectual property? Yep. Are my words going to make any difference? Probably not.
But you aren’t romantic. You aren’t Robin Hood breaking down the old analog barriers that prevented the dissemination of art and knowledge. You’re just a thief. Just another punk with no respect for the labor of others, a jerk who thinks that the gratification of your wants trumps the right of other people to earn a living.
Make up whatever bullshit rationalization you want about how you’re actions are harmless, about how you are the vanguard of some new paradigm – that’s what assholes always do to justify their crap. Just don’t ask me to buy it.
See, you don’t have a “right” to read my book. It ain’t a liberty. It’s a product. My product. My publisher’s product. We’ve offered it in a free market for your enjoyment at what we consider to be a fair and competitive price. If you aren’t willing to pay the price, that doesn’t mean you get to steal it. Check it out of the library, you lazy ass. Borrow it from a friend. Wait until a dog-eared copy shows up on online for a nickel.
Can I stop you from stealing it? Probably not. But you can’t stop me from calling you a thief, either.
Because that’s what you are.