Here’s How You Deal With Piracy

Today, a critic I like released his first book: a combination autobiography and a critical analysis of Super Mario Bros. 3.  It’s an excellent piece of work that shows seriously-polished writing, and I’m enjoying it greatly so far.

But the reason I’m writing this is what happened shortly after:

Somebody pirated the book.

Not only that, but they posted links to the pirated copy on his blog.  In the comments of a post titled “Buy My Book”.

Yikes!

I won’t provide links, because I doubt if Bob wants it to be “the story” surrounding his book, but essentially, on the very blog-post announcing the book’s release, some jerk thought it prudent to create and then link to a bunch of pirated copies, all while ranting about free information, first-sale rights…yadda yadda yadda, you’ve heard this story before.

Here’s the thing.

We all pirate from time to time, or have in the past.  Every one of us.  I’ve done it, you’ve done it, let’s put that out in the open.  I don’t know a single person with Internet access who, upon hearing of a new band, doesn’t go straight to Youtube to listen to (what is almost always) a pirate-upload.  And countless articles have been written espousing the benefits of piracy: as PR, as fulfilling neglected services, and on and on and on.  “Does Piracy Hurt Sales” is now as common a rhetorical headline as “Is Coffee Really Bad For You”.

As a consumer/creator, my feelings are conflicted on this, and I think its effects vary depending on the medium in question.  On the one hand, most of my favorite bands I heard “illegally” first.  On the other hand, having lots of people consume your work while not seeing any return (financial OR otherwise) can be kind of a downer.

So for Bob, or for any other first-time author looking to publish soon, I thought I’d share my Bonafide Iron-Clad Strategy for how to preempt piracy, while simultaneously turning its benefits to your advantage.

Here’s how I did just that.

– – – – –

The following paragraph appears on the copyright page of my book:

Both text and cover image are individually licensed under the Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0” Unported License.  To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/deed.en_US.  Cover image may not be deleted from the text, and text may not be reproduced without inclusion of the cover image.

A non-legalese explanation followed in a subsequent Note From The Author:

Note From the Author:

If You’re Somehow Reading This Book For Free…

…no problem!

This work is released under a Creative Commons license, the exact details of which you can read on the copyright page. Put simply: you’re free to read, share, copy, and distribute this book however you please, so long as you keep my name on it, don’t change the words, and aren’t making money off the deal.

I do this for several reasons.

The first is realistic: I recognize that the sharing of data is inevitable, and I’d rather embrace that than ignore it.

The second is pragmatic: I think it’s free publicity, and sells more books.

But the third is purely idealistic: I believe in a magical world where unicorns roam free, gumdrops rain from the sky, and artists thrive by the sum total of their craftsmanship, self-discipline, and creative passion, rather than their commercial viability. I don’t know if this world exists, and if it does, I don’t claim to know how we get there. But it sure does sound like a nice place to live.

That All Having Been Said

I don’t live in a magical world where artists get a free ride for being really cool guys. I live in a cruel world full of mean people who make you pay for food before they let you eat it.

Also: Fifty cents of every sale will go to the Chelsea Hutchison Foundation, a nonprofit organization which helps families affected by epilepsy. Therefore, if you don’t buy the book, you are by-proxy helping epilepsy. You monster.

So if you’re reading this book for free, and if you dig it, then do me a solid and help save the world at the same time.

“Deep Sounding” is available for the cost of a cup of coffee, from these fine retailers…

This is followed by a link to the Amazon purchasing page.

I caught a lot of flack for that!  People I knew questioned the decision, and whether “I read about it on the Internet” was sturdy-enough grounds to take such a huge risk on my first book.  I dismissed them out-of-hand, and stood by my decision.

– – – – –

Shortly after the book’s release, I went to (brace yourself) 4chan.  Yes, 4chan.  I’m not ashamed to admit it.  (Well, I’m a little ashamed.)

What can I say?  I like the place.  I’ve frequented it for years.  Sure it’s a treacherous hive of scum and villainy, rife with appalling misogyny, racism, etc…but it’s also one of the fastest-moving places on the Internet: the rapidly-oscillating sphincter from which every Facebook copypasta and hu-lar-ious cat meme finds its origin.  It also fulfilled the druggie-information-dripfeed role Twitter now does 10+ years before Twitter even existed.  It’s a place where you can go at any hour of the day to talk to any group of people about any subject whatsoever.  Just watched Constantine for the first time at 3AM on a Tuesday?  Somebody on /tv/ will talk with you about that.  Dying for a sequel to the PS2 cult classic Robot Alchemic Drive?  So are all two-hundred other guys who played it, and they’re all hanging out on /v/.  4chan is the Bronx to Reddit’s Times Square (or the Hong Kong Slums to Reddit’s Olympic Park): sure, there’s a greater chance you’ll get stabbed there, but the place is legit, you can score hookers and blow at 2 in the afternoon, and damned if every outing isn’t exciting.

So I went to 4chan.  I went to /tg/, the tabletop gaming board — one of the friendliest on the site.  These are guys who play Pathfinder and read Warhammer tie-in novels.  A book about dwarfs, I figured, would be right up their alley.

So I started a thread, and I said “Here’s a book about dwarfs, it’s $3.99, enjoy.”  Some of them bought it.  Some didn’t.  But the thread was overwhelmingly positive and I saw a jump in sales (and the posting of some very-positive reviews on Amazon, from some really genre-literate dudes).

There was piracy almost immediately, of course.  Some people didn’t like that it was exclusively an e-book, and that you either had to own a Kindle or download Amazon’s proprietary software to read it.  Predictably, Deep Sounding showed up almost immediately on Megaupload and 4chan’s /rs/ board.

I shrugged, thanked the uploaders for reading, and asked them to do me a favor: if they liked the book, drop a review.

Then I reminded them that every sale of the book saw a fifty-cent donation to an epilepsy charity, and by pirating my book, they were, in effect, giving the finger to children with diseases.

Sales spiked, reviews rolled in, and all was well in the realm.

– – – – –

But it didn’t end there.  I sought out the Megaupload postings and other automatic botnet-driven internet-aggregation recreations of the same.  I posted messages thanking people for reading, and pointing them to the purchase page.

– – – – –

Later, I went back to /tg/.  This time, I was doing a free giveaway.  “Here’s my novel, guys.  Read it and enjoy it.  And if you like it, drop a review.”

Read, enjoy, and review they did.  In fact, they downloaded the book in such volume that I briefly jumped all the way to #7 in all Epic Fantasy on Amazon.  For about an hour.

It was pretty neat.

– – – – –

Deep Sounding has by no means been a runaway success.  I’m still a small-fry with much work to do, and I wear that fact proudly on my sleeve.  But for a first-time book from a no-name author, it’s definitely seen above-average success, and at least a decent portion of that is directly attributable to piracy.

The lesson I’ve learned from it all–like CDProject and countless other game developers, bands, and authors before me, whose “author-endorsed pirated [art] jumps to #1 on [art distributor]” articles are as ubiquitous as the “Is Piracy Bad” pieces–is that piracy is inevitable, and pirates are not bad people.  Some of them don’t have the money, some of them want the product in a form you can’t offer, and some of them just have different ideals about how information works than you do (or a different/lacking understanding of what it means to build success as a self-driven artist).

Piracy of artistic works is inevitable with any degree of exposure or success.  The question is: are you going to piss and moan about it?  Are you going to bury your head in the sand and ignore it?  Or are you going to try to understand it, to harness it, to establish measures of control over its uncontrolled aspects, and thereby turn its benefits to your advantage?

They’re untested waters, to be sure, but there are more examples rolling in all the time.  My main man, author and oblivious stalking-victim Hugh Howey, upon hearing that the first book in his Wool series was being pirated, promptly dropped the price to $0.00 and made the book free.  The same week.  (Whether one caused the other, I can’t say.)

My point is this: your copyrights are not a static thing.  Think about them, with the same care and attention you give to any other element of your work.  Think about what rights you’d like to hold onto, and which ones you don’t mind putting out there in the open, and what advantages doing so might bring.  Peruse the Creative Commons site and its FANTASTIC license-customization wizard.  Do some reading about the “pirate culture” guys.  Go read some Cory Doctorow.

You don’t have to agree with piracy — just give it some thought.

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