Most of us love or have loved a good highwayman or pirate story and where would those tales be without the romance and swash-bucklingness, the sense of robbing the rich to give to the poor - or at least just robbing the rich in an era where all the laws were made for the rich and justice was hard to come by?
We don't much enjoy being reminded of the truth about highwaymen and pirates - that pirates ruthlessly and violently terrorised (and still do in some parts) honest seafarers bringing food or goods from country to country and that highwaymen were reckless and cruel in their robbery of people of all classes, ages and weaknesses. Dick Turpin's gang, for example, is said to have been responsible for countless violent robberies, mostly against people too poor to matter to the authorities, with gleeful torture and rape thrown in.
Which brings me to that other sort of "pirate", very different from both the parrot-ridden, shanty-singing, jolly-roger myth and the genuinely dangerous, ruthless robber of the seas: I'm talking about the scummy thieves who steal our work and prevent us being able to earn. I wish people wouldn't call them pirates, because there's really no comparison, either in perceived glamour or in power. Scummy thieves, they are. They just take what isn't theirs, without bravery, risk or effort.
This is close to my heart right now, as yesterday I received a Google alert, directing me to where I could (apparently) get free downloads of my ebooks. These are ebooks I published myself, no advance, no fee, no earnings unless people choose to pay the c£2 I dare to charge for them. No publisher to serve a take-down notice for me. They took me countless hours to create, and I paid real money for proof-reading, cover design, formatting and promotion. And three days before they appeared on this torrent site, I noticed that my sales on Amazon had plummeted to almost zero.
Well, thanks for that, to the thieves who put them up on the site.
And thanks, I must say, to people uncaring or unaware enough to download them.
I can't do anything about the site and the scummy thieves - though I'm following a few leads and doing what I can without spending a ridiculous amount of time. I contacted the Society of Authors, and, amongst other things, they suggested informing the Publishers Association about the
NB - incidental warning: I did not click on the links to download my books - including the audio version, which I was particularly intrigued about because I never created an audio version - and Kate Pool at the SoA said I was right to be cautious: "By no means all sites purporting to offer pirated copies are in fact doing so. In addition to entirely legitimate online retailers offering to sell new copies, or second-hand copies some are virus-ridden, and some are pfishing sites just after bank/personal details e.g. encouraging rights holders to contact them, and promising (not always truthfully) that they will remove the book from their site if the rights holder pays a fee." And I think, in fact, that's what this particular site was; which doesn't make it better, just different.
Anyway, as I say, I can't do much about the little thieves with their scummy sites. But I can do something about the uncaring or unaware behaviour of people who download from them.
And so can any of us. Two things. First, call them on what they're doing. Whether it's our kids or our friends, or casual acquaintances who drop into the conversation with a little laugh that they know a place where you can get any ebook/music free. Ask them (and yes, it can be done politely, and usually that's all it takes before the penny drops) exactly in what way deciding not to pay for a book or music or image because it's easy to steal is any different at all from shop-lifting? Explain that actually yes, writers need and deserve to be paid for their work, in exactly the same way as the shopkeeper or any other human does. But even if a writer happened to be very rich and moderately unsaintly (only one of which things I am), you still can't steal from them - just as if I left a cake cooling on a kitchen windowsill you wouldn't steal it. "But Nicola doesn't need that cake and anyway, I don't like her," doesn't make it OK to steal my cake.
And second, stop calling the people who steal the files and put them up there "pirates". Just stick to scummy little thieves. Because they are.
Most people, I still believe, are decent, and wouldn't do this if they understood and realised that it does hurt and that there are victims. Call me an idiot, but it is what I believe. And I think that making decent people understand is the best thing we can do.
----------------------------------------------------------------------For my article on copyright for ALCS, see here. Anne Rooney and John Dougherty have also blogged for ABBA on the topic before. So have I. (And so have others.)
PS At only a slight tangent and still on the subject of money, please note that there is NEW SOA ADVICE ABOUT FEES FOR AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR VISITS. If you detect my voice in it, there's a reason... Each author/illustrator is entirely at liberty to charge whatever feels right, but you might like to know what many were charging last year. And yes, every author/illustrator is different and every event/school/budget is different, but if your visit is valuable, give it a value. Interestingly, a lot of wonderful librarians and schools have retweeted that article, with supportive comments. Thanks, to all of them.