Arrgghhhh, Pirates on the horizon

Here’s another drafted segment from the upcoming (and yet unnamed) Business 101 for Writers.

 

As you move forward in your career and get your work out there, you’re more likely to find your work borrowed, plagiarized, stolen, or outright pirated.
Arrrgghhh.
With the exception of a few Luddites and saints out there, we’ve all done it, whether it was copying a song off of a friend’s CD, ripping a movie from a torrent, or downloading a book. And I hate to be the messenger, but you stole it from the creator(s) and owner(s) when you did.
Now that you too are a creator of content, it can happen to you too. Once it happens, you need to carefully consider how you react.
If you are friends with or at least follow any number of writers and artists online, you may have already seen someone who’s not only had the problem, but has aired it out on their blog and all over social media.
In 2012 when I’d just started seriously writing again, a friend of mine who is a non-fiction writer posted a small rant about having found a book being torrented on a file sharing site. Then the second post hit. And the third. After a couple of weeks with at least one post a day, detailing what was a virtual seek and destroy mission, even tracking down some of the people who’d done the downloads and hitting them with an invoice.
Seeing this, I reached out to him and we had an informal chat to try and talk him off the cliff. As I dug in, it turned out it hadn’t been going on for weeks, but over two months.
I told him that as a friend and a writer, it it painful and feels like a violation. I then told him that if he was my client, he was being an idiot. For the record, it didn’t go over well.
After he calmed down and called me back, he told me that there had been over ten thousand downloads, and his percentage he wasn’t getting was nearly $30,000. His advance had been based on 5000 copies, and that still hadn’t earned out.
At that time, I made the following observations and I still think all of them hold true;
He had not written a word not aimed at the problem in over two months and was behind on deadlines.
His public reaction on social media had gone from where he had some sympathy to one where even his friends and family were tired about hearing about it, and he’d lost some followers of his work.
He had by far done more than required to protect his copyright, and had spent a couple of thousand dollars with his attorney in cease and desist letters.
And most of all, he hadn’t provably lost a dime.

I sense a number of you out there tensing up on my last statement. My argument is this. Having been in, around, and worked in technology for over thirty years, and raised in small business, theft is a cost of doing business. I’m not saying it’s right, but locks only keep out the honest and the lazy.

Having gone on this long rant has taken away sympathy for the problem, and makes you sound whiny and bitter. That doesn’t do much to keep customers and readers, much less attract new ones.
And knowing enough people that regularly torrent movies, music and books, I have a few observations:
A large percentage of material ripped from the Internet through file sharing is never seen, heard or read.
Of those who do consume the material, the ones who enjoy what they find usually also buy the movie or the book, or at least subsequent work.
Those who aren’t going to pay for it, never were anyway, and can always find something other than your stuff to rip.
Print media is not immune. Technology today makes it easier and faster than ever to scan and publish printed work.

Again, I’m not endorsing or condoning it, I’m just being a realist. And it may be a shock to you that it may not entirely be a bad thing when this happens to you. Just think, someone thought enough of your material to put it out there in the first place.

Now that we are all aware that some people in this world do not always act legally and ethically, here are some ways to take advantage of the systems and processes that allow for pirating of work.

Make sure all of your work includes links to your website, social media accounts, mailing list, podcasts, and anything else you can market.
Solicit reviews in your work. If they are going to steal it, at the minimum they can leave  you a review.
Use torrenting and other sites to circulate short stories and other mediums to attract followers and drive traffic to you.
Use the same sites to circulate promotional materials and solicit speaking engagements. Use it for free advertising.
Use them to circulate short videos and podcasts publicizing your work.
Circulate samples of work. I may, one time, have released a copy of a book where it cut off in a pivotal scene, and then had links where you could buy the full copy.

At the end of it all, you do have to protect your rights, and your property. In this case it’s your work, and your art.  At the same time, you can’t expend so much energy in the process, that you do nothing else. Creators must create. South Park may have given one of the best examples in the episode, “Christian Rock Hard.” One side was rampantly successful in spite of itself, and the other side refused to create in fear of theft and streaming.
But the good news is, if you don’t produce anything, there’s nothing to lose. And no way to gain either.
Arrgghhh, me maties.

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