Re-thinking Piracy?

I read an article on Publisher’s Weekly yesterday about Wiley going after Bit Torrent pirates. It seems that they’ve uploaded some of their For Dummies titles on various torrent sites, and Wiley has had enough. While the article claims that this is the first one of their infringement cases where they’re going after “John Does,” later referring to the case as their first in the “Bit Torrent environment,” I was pretty ho-hum at the implications of the case.

I am a big supporter of the rights of authors to protect their works from illegal use, and if an author trades his or her copyrights to the publisher for money, then I agree that the publisher has a legal right to protect its works from rampant digital theft.

My problem comes from some of the assumptions hidden within the article. The third paragraph starts with the sentence, “In the complaint, Wiley said losses from the pirating are ‘enormous,’ though it could not put an exact amount on the damages.” It seems straightforward enough, but my problem comes from the fact that Wiley simultaneously claims enormous losses but an inability to quantify the losses exactly.

I thought back to another time in my life when my own opinions on digital piracy were a bit looser than they are now. I would download a bunch of music or movies, sometimes never even opening the files on my computer. I once downloaded six albums from a band that I thought I liked, but later realized that there was only one of their albums that was any good (and I promptly went to the store and bought a shiny copy of the CD, complete with a little booklet filled with fascinating art). The point of that little story is that I didn’t download things instead of buying them; I downloaded garbage because I could. If there was a gem in there, I would certainly have to own the original, because there is something about having the original on the shelf, screaming to others as they walked in the house that I am in indeed cool enough to own it.

With that being said, I’m not going to blindly defend pirates. But I do think that there is a time for realizing that every download doesn’t necessarily mean a lost sale. It could mean that, god forbid, your product isn’t good enough to cause a reader to go out and buy your over-priced, crappily made, printed-overseas, waste of a book.

Additionally, and this is where I’m really going to start ranting if I don’t pull those reins in. One of the commenters to the article said, “Only when an intellectual pirate faces 20 years without parole will there be an incentive to find a more legitimate pursuit.” No, no, no. I understand the tenacity and emotion behind that comment. But when an intellectual pirate faces 20 years without parole, there will be a market for increased torrent privacy. It’ll be even harder to find them, because that kind of measure will undoubtedly create the need for increased secrecy. I’m not saying that we should cave and accept it, but we should also get off our high-horse and realize that there are much bigger issues out there that need legislation and mandatory minimum sentences.

Wiley, good luck in your pursuits. I hope you get what you deserve (and I don’t claim to know what it is that you deserve; I just hope that it’s fair in the most legitimate sense of the word), but I would also suggest that you re-think piracy a bit. If people can get what they need from your books online, maybe you should start to think about your business model a bit, incorporating a larger digital presence at lower prices. Your Kindle ebooks are around $15 a piece. That’s ridiculous. Maybe you could get some more impulse-buys with a lower price, thereby negating the impulse piracy.

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