Counterpunch: I’m an author, take my stuff for free
Digital Rights Management doesn’t work. DRM is a method of locking digital media so it can’t be shared. Except it fails. For every form of DRM employed, pirates instantly break it.
DRM only inconveniences honest, paying customers. For example, in the case of eBooks, a person might justifiably want to have their book on their PC and their tablet, but DRM can prevent that.
I regularly get Google Alerts about my books being mentioned online and many times it’s when they appear illegally on filesharing sites. For every download like that, it’s a drop of cash not going to keeping food on my table, right? Actually, probably not.
Most studies agree that the majority of illegal downloads are by people who wouldn’t buy the book anyway. So it’s not, in fact, a lost sale. It could generate a new fan and the person who stole my book might enjoy it so much they leave a review somewhere, or tell friends, generating new sales for me. As the old adage goes, channeling the even older quote from Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than piracy is obscurity.
The truth is, for every writer, the main concern is reader awareness. The more people reading my work, the better. Sure, I’d love for every reader to pay for the book, but it’s not going to happen. It didn’t happened before digital books either. How many times have you enjoyed a book you borrowed from a friend? Or bought in a second hand store? The author saw not a penny of your enjoyment then.
But you probably told your friends about it. You might have reviewed it on Amazon or Goodreads. You might even like it so much you buy a new copy for someone as a gift. All of that is currency, in either cash or eyes, to the author, which would not have happened without the initial free copy.
So I accept piracy of the digital copies of my books as a part of the modern era. I try to embrace it, choose to focus on the positive aspects, like getting new readers to my work. DRM is absolutely not the answer to piracy.
In a recent US article by blogger and author Cory Doctorow, he uses one very clear and powerful example to highlight how ridiculous the DRM concept is, and how it damages the chances of work reaching a wider audience, through general exposure and reviews. He mentions films as another example.
I can confirm that through my work writing music reviews. There was a time when I would be sent CDs by distributors in the hope I’d write them a review. Now we rarely get a CD, but a link to a protected site where we can download the MP3s instead. I don’t mind - I still get to keep the album as payment. Often, as my only payment.
Then some labels started watermarking the downloads. If I shared it, and that share went public, they’d know it was me. Very distrustful of my professional integrity and insulting, but I still get the album.
Then some labels would only allow us to listen to a stream. We can’t have the album, only listen to it and review it, for nothing. Well, no review for you! Another, worse, version is the beeped download. You get the whole album to keep, but a copy where every 30 seconds or so, the track pauses and a loud BEEP happens.
That not only insults my professional integrity, but the band too. The label is saying they don’t trust me not to share the album and they care so little for their band’s music they’ll BEEP all over it like monkeys throwing crap over their keepers. How can I understand the band’s vision with that happening? The net result, once again, is that I won’t review it.
The ultimate loser is the band, who get less signal-boost for their new album than they would have. Just like my own fiction gets less signal boost without the pirate copies out there. Just like the authors in the article by Doctorow, or the film-makers he mentions. Meanwhile, pirates still rip the music or strip the DRM from the book and carry on as usual.
How long is it going to take these morons to realise that? The only way piracy will be marginalised as much as possible is for producers of digital content to make access to that content as easy and ubiquitous as the pirates do.
Couple that with a competitive price point, not a stupidly high one, and piracy will become a far smaller slice of the digital pie and everyone will benefit. Except the pirates.
Alan’s website can be found here
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