Today, I want to launch a tirade against theft, but that’s much too simple a description of internet piracy. Historically, pirates were men and women who lacked funds but possessed the expertise to attack bigger ships owned by the wealthy. Sometimes they did it in the name of their country, as was the case of English privateers attacking French and Spanish galleons for their gold and cannons (early terrorists, you will note!). But even then, despite their so-called patriotism, they did it so poor sailors could put money in their own pockets at the expense of the rich and powerful. It was very little different than a mugger standing in the alley, knifing a guy with a fat wallet. Crude, but effective.
Internet piracy doesn’t involve physical violence, thank heavens, but it’s a form of mind rape that’s no less painful, and it steals from the poor as well as the rich.
I totally understand the basis for it, which makes dealing with the morality and legality of today’s issues even more difficult. As a poor student, I loaned books and records to my friends all the time. The books eventually fell apart and the records wore out and had to be replaced. As a struggling newlywed, I’d copy albums to tape to put in my car and sometimes I’d trade tapes with my friends. The latter was totally illegal, but there were just a couple of us and we didn’t own a lot of music, and eventually, the tapes wore out and had to be purchased new when we had money. So we respected the product enough to shell out our hard-earned cash for the ones we wanted.
The internet changed all that. Now, the single purchase of a single CD can be circulated not just among friends, but among strangers from coast-to-coast, and around the world. And that file never wears out. Music companies have gone to war over the enormity of this type of theft. Movie and TV studios are following. And now it’s books.
I know very little about the business of recording and film artists, other than to know my musician friends wait tables to make ends meet, and the meager royalties off their recordings barely pay for their instruments. So I no longer copy their albums and pass them to my friends. If my friends like the music, then they have to go out and buy the CDs. The music will eventually crank to a halt if musicians have to give up recording and get jobs because their last album circled the world without paying them a dime.
I do, however, know a great deal about the business of books. When I was a starving student, I thought book authors were rolling in dough like Danielle Steele. It turns out even Danielle was once a starving writer who just happened to marry wealth. But I digress.
With the rapid advent of e-books and e-readers, this is no longer so. Books are now becoming part of the internet piracy that recording artists have been fighting for years. It will one day be possible for an author to sell one book and have a million people read it. Since authors are paid roughly fifty cents for a paperback and two dollars for a hardcover, they’re not likely to spend a year of their lives writing a book to sell just one copy. Or even ten thousand. Selling fries is more profitable.
Artists are generally peace-loving people. We don’t want to carry cannon on our ships to blow people out of the water. We sympathize with the plight of the economically challenged since—at fifty cents a book—we’re quite often in those waters ourselves.
But when it comes to defending our right to put groceries on the table for our families, we are given no choice. This is no longer a war where the poor rob the rich. It’s the poor robbing the poor. There are no Robin Hoods here, no heroes. If you COPY a book or CD, you are stealing. Period. No excuses. Not Get Out Of Jail Free card. The lawyers of our publishers are already lining up to be our cannon.
There’s nothing illegal about loaning the physical copy of a book or CD. The person who buys the physical book or CD, owns that one single copy. If he loans that copy, he’s loaning the wear and tear of an item he has purchased. But the words in the books we write, the songs on the CD, are protected by copyright. They belong to us. They are our property. You have the right to loan the physical book, but not steal the words inside of it, not even to post them on the internet.
So I’m asking all my friends and readers out there to pass this on for informational purposes. If you’re tempted to copy a book or a recording or a film and post it on the internet so your friends can copy it—please consider the future you’re creating. It will be a future without new books, without new music, without new films. Or it might be a future where every new book, CD, or film comes armed with so many weapons that it will disintegrate after a single play.
The future is in your hands. Do you want to waste it on an “I want it now” policy, or are you willing to work for it? And especially, those of you who hope to make careers of writing or recording—how do you expect to make a living ten years from now? Is waiting tables all that will be available by then? Think before you steal the livelihoods of others. You reap what you sow is not a tired cliché. It happens.