1 of these things is not like the others

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Sorry, guys, everybody had these great countdown lists this week, and I had something totally different planned: a commentary on e-piracy.

I got an email last week from someone notifying me of a site where my books were being offered as free downloads. This particular site just offers tidy zipped files which, in my case, contains every book I’ve written under the CE Murphy byline. It struck me as particularly egregious, and I emailed my editors and agent about it, put in a complaint with Blogger/Google’s content violation page, and have been posting on Twitter and Facebook about the site’s location so other authors can send their publishers’ piracy team to whack this guy on the peepee. (It’s here, if you haven’t seen my posts in other locations.) Because really, there are hundreds, possibly thousands of writers on this, a static site, not even a download with the decency to be a torrent, and it just struck me as beyond the pale. I mean, sheesh.

I get emails like that every several weeks. The truth is–and I realize these are fighting words, so let me make it clear this is my stance and I don’t wish it on anyone else–I don’t really care. Trying to stomp it out is like trying to take pee out of a pool, and furthermore, as both an artist and a geek I live in this sort of vast no-man’s-land on the whole topic of Free Stuff On The Internet. As someone who makes a living off people who are willing to pay for stories, clearly it is to my benefit to leap up and down on anybody trying to give my work away for free. As someone who’s a geek and has been online for twenty years, I pretty much essentially believe information wants to be free…and that it’s frankly impossible to regulate it in a digital era anyway.

My *preference*, far and away, would be to be able to provide free downloads of all my work myself. Most people who download books for free aren’t going to buy them anyway. There is, however, the smallest chance that someone who comes to *my* site to download my work might come back again some other time, might comment, might build some kind of very small relationship with me, and that might eventually turn to the decision to buy instead of steal my books. There’s no chance at all of that happening if they get my books through Mr. Egregious.

I also believe there’s a percentage of people who really dig the “try before you buy” aspect of anything, who might read forty thousand words of a text online (which is vastly more than I’m permitted to put up) and then go buy the hardcopy, or buy the next book in the series, or buy something else I wrote. There’s some evidence that this is true–when Neil Gaiman convinced his publishers to put AMERICAN GODS up online for free for several months, sales of that book jumped 300%. I believe Cory Doctorow releases everything online, and it hasn’t hurt his career at all. John Scalzi might not *have* a fiction career if it weren’t for the novel he made available online. So I personally feel there’s a lot more advantage to be gained in adapting to the unassailable flow of modern technology than not.

And of course there’s the very simple fact that no matter how hard anybody tries, you cannot take pee out of a pool. The material is going to be available online no matter what anybody does, no matter how vigilant everyone is in defending copyright, no matter how many lawyers and departments are thrown at the problem. I would far, *far* rather have the ability to provide the material myself, be able to keep track of number of downloads so I have some idea of how many people are picking up the books for free, and have the modicum of a chance to build a relationship with those people than watch somebody else get off on it because hey, they’re sticking it to the man.

I have friends so far on the opposite end of this spectrum we’re standing flush back to back. I feel, in a sort of politely bemused way, that they’re insane. I rather expect they feel the same way about me. This is a massive issue for creators, and I really don’t expect it’s going to be resolved satisfactorily in my lifetime.

(In the meantime, however, the one entire book of mine you can read online legally is IMMORTAL BELOVED, a Highlander novel I wrote ten or eleven years ago. Strangely, this is the only CE Murphy book that isn’t in the download Mr. Egregious has so thoughtfully made available. :))

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4 comments to 1 of these things is not like the others

  • A reader

    I do think a creator’s publisher or agent, when contacted, should pull out the big guns to contact copyright violators. A template of a letter that can be sent from “Legal” to the ISP of the violator would be efficient and quick and would likely have greater results than contacting said violator. Publishers/agents are making money off your hard work – so they should step in when possible, especially in such egregious cases.

  • I am one of those try-before-you-buy folks and I think discount/freebies are a great way to lure new readers. I found David through such means and have bought the rest of his books from the bookstore since. I am wary to spend 20 bucks on an unknown author and discounts/freebies are a definate lead-in for me.

    That being said, allowing pirated free copies of everything you ever wrote is going to far. Good job trying to shut him down.

  • As Catie says, this issue is all over the internet right now, especially with the Google Book Settlement opt-out deadline looming. I am of two minds about all of it, as so many writers are. I give readers access to the opening chapters to all of my books before the books are even published. $27 for a hardcover is a lot of money, and you should be able to see what you’re getting before shelling out that much. On the other hand, I believe that in creating my stories, I retain certain rights, including the right to be compensated for their distribution in any format. I do NOT believe, as some do, that my creation of a story gives others the right to read it for free. Now, with the technology as it is, I’m not in a position to defend myself from e-piracy with much effectiveness. Catie found this idiot’s site, but how many has she missed? Probably not as many as I’ve missed. I don’t know what the answer is. But I certainly admire Catie for going after this guy. (And Catie, if you could email me his URL I’d be grateful. I’d like to see if my work is on his site, too.)

  • Ditto, Catie. My pub is *very* into finding these guys and setting the legal types after them. That said, I have a free short story on my website and fully plan to put more there sometime soon.