Monday, January 31, 2011

Reading, 'Riting and Ripping 'Em Off

I read a discussion of online piracy a while back that noted that merely saying to someone that DRM (digital rights management) doesn't stop piracy isn't actually a persuasive argument.

Why? Because the people trying to stop online piracy would like to know what will work. Until you've got a better suggestion than DRM, they're not going to dismantle what little protection they've got.

Then, while I was still thinking about what can be done to stop piracy, I read the following eye-popping article by Tobias Buckell:

His take on fighting piracy is definitely the approach most likely to maintain your sanity. He essentially says just don't worry about it.

The article is really worth reading, but here's a summary of Mr. Buckell's main points:
  1. It isn't fair to say a pirated book is a lost sale because the people who pirate your book never intended to buy it. They were never going to be your customer, therefore you haven't lost any money.

    If you made it impossible for them to steal your book, they would not choose to purchase it instead. For whatever reason, they don't believe your book is worth the money.

  2. Yes, you're angry that someone read your book and refused to pay for it. However, when it comes to business decisions, it's better to get your emotions out of the equation and consider whether you are actually being done financial harm.

  3. The best data on whether piracy harms authors currently implies that piracy neither hurts nor helps sales.

    Thus, the people claiming their sale numbers are being gutted by piracy are wrong, and the people claiming that giving away work for free is the key to boosting one's sales are also wrong.

    Book piracy plays a role similar to second-hand book sales. The author gets another reader, but no extra money. If you can stomach the existence of second-hand book stores, you should be able to stomach piracy.
The central point here is that the vast majority of people who want your book are willing buy it legally. Thus, wisdom dictates you worry about the things you can actually control.

You cannot control piracy.

You can, however, write such great books that you turn a few pirates into fans and thereby convince them they should maybe shell out for your next novel.

In other words: don't worry, be happy.


What do you think of both Mr. Buckell's article and this mindset? Of course theft is wrong--but is it worth worrying about when you're not being financially harmed?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis


Adam Heine said...

I loved Tobias' take on it. It seems like his policy is, if someone asks him about it, to say, "Just don't be a dick."

DRM does serve to stop casual piracy, but you can't go too far. Certain kinds of DRM and Authorial Anger do more to hurt paying customers than to stop pirates.

Shrinky said...

Hell, I LONG for someone to to take the trouble to steal my work, it would cheer me up no end!

Peter Dudley said...

(Admission: I did not read the full article but am going on your clear and salient summary.)

I agree with all the points.

There are only two risks I can see in ignoring piracy.

First, if there is no visible, pointed attempt to combat piracy, then we run the risk of creating a culture where consumers expect all content to be free. We saw the beginning of this with the original Napster. The problem with Napster was not that people shared music files; it was that when people got used to sharing files, they expected all files to be free. People became numb to the idea that creativity and intellectual property have value.

Second, although all work is inherently copyright to the creator, the courts will rule against the creator if there is a history of negligence in enforcing copyright. That is, if you allow everyone to copy your work for free for a long time, then one day you wake up to say "hey, that's mine," the courts are not necessarily likely to take your side.

I personally think the model for DRM should be stanchion barriers--those ribbons strung between stanchions for queue management in banks, movie theaters, theme parks, etc. They are easy to get around, but they make it clear what a good citizen should do. DRM should provide an obvious but easily penetrable barrier to copying. Couple that with a reasonable price and a simple distribution system, and most people will be happy to pay. Include gentle reminders to people that copying intellectual property is unethical, and occasionally send cease-and-desist letters to people who post files openly.

Ironclad security is impossible. A sufficiently motivated hacker will figure out how to unlock any DRM. The harder it is to crack, the more motivated the hackers become. Once a file gets out into the wild, it's impossible to keep locked up.

jjdebenedictis said...

Adam Heine: Yes, it might almost be better to strive to create a culture of paying for artist's work and leave off DRM entirely. Those who are intent on stealing know how to crack DRM anyway.

Shrinky: Hee! Yes, it's kind of like fanfiction--technically illegal, but a bit of a compliment to the artist!

Peter Dudley: Yowsers, what a great comment! Thanks for taking the time to write such an intelligent analysis of the issue.

And I agree with each of your points. There is a weight of habit that you want on your side. People who are used to downloading something illegally will keep doing it, but the same people, once in the habit of paying for what they want, will continue to do that instead.

Sarf's Travels. said...

I think piracy is the way of the future, It is the business model of getting money for IP that is wrong, someone will start a new model and they will make a fortune.

Sarf's Travels. said...

I should say that selling IP as if it was a physical produce when there is infinite duplication for next to free.

Who know maybe Ebook with google ads embedded may be the next way to monitize ebooks?

Peter Dudley said...

My god, I just read this post at the US Chamber's blog.

Personally, I think the first commenter has the right idea. :-)

Peter Dudley said...

Sorry, the link above goes directly to the comment. Read the blog post there first.

jjdebenedictis said...

It is the business model of getting money for IP that is wrong

See, I just don't buy that. You'd have to come up with a persuasive argument to convince me.

I have no incentive to share my art with the world if the world will not compensate me for doing so. Thus, by not paying artists, art becomes inaccessible to the public.

How does that make things better?

Peter: That commenter has some very smart things to say. But the original blog post? Not so much.

Travis Erwin said...

Great points.

Whirlochre said...

Having invented a means of replicating ideas, words, stuff, with a view to spreading da wisdom around, it's clear that we've stumbled upon a problem.

Who decides who is wisdomalific, and how do the wise continue bothering to be wise?

Should intellectual property be confined to the bunker or released for the benefit of all?

Versions of these questions have persisted through the ages, only now we have the ununinventable technology to stretch the yardstick further, same as we did in 1945 with the peace/war atomic bomb.

Genies are flying out of bottles faster than we would wish.

jjdebenedictis said...

Travis: :) Thanks!

Genies are flying out of bottles faster than we would wish.

As usual, you have a wonderfully evocative and accurate way of describing the situation. It isn't that these problems can't be solved; it's that they can't be solved fast enough to keep up with the changes in how art is/can be/should be distributed now.

Pageloads since 01/01/2009: