Why I Hope You Don’t Pirate My Book

Yesterday I wrote a thing about my thoughts on book piracy (or whatever you want to call it, including “thievery” or “unauthorized file-sharing” or “warez” or “Dave”), and there I suggested that we make today — February 6th — International Please Don’t Pirate My Book Day, where authors and writers and creatives of all types hop online to share their thoughts about piracy. This, then, is my entry serving that goal. If you join in, let us know.

It’s not about the money.

I mean, maybe it is. In the long run. About the money.

I need money, being a human being who lives in a capitalist society and all. I have bills to pay. A roof to keep over my family’s head. I have to keep my Internet turned on. I have to buy whiskey. I need to afford all those unusual sexual devices in the shapes of various mythological figures (though I find “Hephaestus’ Forge” more than a little uncomfortable).

So, to clarify, it’s not just about the money.

I have this notion. I believe that art has value. I believe that this value is not purely or even necessarily monetary — art and stories make the world go around. They change the creators and they change the audience. They make us think and feel. They teach us things. They challenge us. And, at the base level of it all, they can entertain us when we’ve just plain had a dogshit day.

The value of art being separate from money does not unfortunately remove the artist from this world of ours, a world that is at times comfortably and other times crassly capitalist. Because the artist lives in this world and not some other perfect world (WHERE WE ALL HAVE PET UNICORNS WHOSE HORNS ALSO SPRAY DELICIOUS WHISKEY INTO OUR MOUTHS wow that got phallic really fast), we must then suggest that for the artist to create the art that moves us and challenges us and entertains us, the artist must be given a means by which to survive.

“Starving artist” is a cliche that, like most cliches, comes from a real place.

It’s hard to make money with art. Not impossible. And maybe “hard” isn’t even the word.

But it is, at times, a challenge.

Which is where this whole issue of “unauthorized file-sharing” comes in. Meaning, you or someone else downloads my book without paying for it. I don’t consider this stealing. And without effective data on the subject, I don’t even know if it’s really hurting me at all.

Hell, maybe it’s even helping. (More on that in a moment.)

This isn’t about that.

This is about what people see as the relative value of art. File-sharing expresses the value of that art at baseline of almost zero. It takes ridiculously little effort to click a button and tickle the Internet and make it poop out my book onto your respective e-reader. I’d be impressed if you had to… I dunno, throw a trash can through a window and grab my book off the shelf before the ED-209 police-bot tromps over and fires a photon torpedo up your slurry-chute — at least then I know you really wanted that goddamn book. But file-sharing is so… simple, so effortless, even careless it feels like it dismisses the entire thing we do.

So, let me be clear about it: it’s hurt feelings I’m talking about. I get a twinge in my gut when you pirate my stuff. A tiny little prison shiv of sadness.

And maybe you don’t give a lemur’s left nut about that. I don’t see why you would. Certainly if you’ve nabbed my book by some illicit Internet means you probably have your reasons for doing so. Some of those reasons might not even be terrible. Many of my books are DRM free and are not exactly expensive, but just the same, maybe you’ve got your knickers in a twist about blah blah blah whatever. Maybe you want to stick it to me. Or to my publishers. Or to Amazon. And this is your way of voting with your not-dollar, a splinter in the eye of commercial publishing. Maybe you don’t have access and I don’t realize it — certainly the International Internet Laws are both byzantine and bizarre. I don’t know if you can buy my book in Papua New Guinea.

If you pirate my work, I don’t hate you. I don’t think you’re scum. I mean, unless you’re taking my work and slapping your name on it. Or you’re somehow making money off the pirating of my work. Then you officially get squished sloppily into the “scumfuck” category, thanksmuch.

Here’s all that I’m asking:

I’m asking you to try to support art. Which means, when you can pay for it, please do pay for it. The more content drifts toward free and open access, the  harder it will be for the content-creators to continue creating content, at least until some major paradigm shift in crowdfunding or patronage models offers up a revised revenue stream that won’t cause me to starve and die.

If you find that some component of the books doesn’t work for you — some kind of DRM or issues of access, I might suggest pirating the book but then paying for a physical copy. And then taking that copy and either using it to shore up a crooked table or, even better, donating it or passing it along to a friend. Don’t donate directly to me; my publisher helped make my books exist. Publishers catch a lot of shit for a lot of shit. Some of it is deserved. But the truth is, my books — and most of the books you’ve loved in your life — are due to the publishers getting to do what they do. They’re an easy target but they deserve some back-scratchings once in a while.

If you find the pricing practices of an author or publisher problematic, you should at least let that author or publisher know. Voting with your dollar (or with your unauthorized file-sharing) only has value when the author/publisher knows why.

At the very least, if you nab a copy of my book from some shady smut-shellacked Spam-Bot peddling them in some dimly-lit corner of the Cyber-Webs and you happen to like it, I’d love for you to tell other people about it. And maybe, one day, consider buying some other book of mine.

That’s what this guy did. He grabbed Blackbirds without paying for it.

And then bought all my other books.

Which is, you might say, a way to ethically share files, unauthorized or no.

Mostly, I just want you to think about the artists and authors and even the people in publishing once in a while. We like what we do and we want to continue to have the means to do it. If that means you buy the book through normal means, great. If that means you ethically support the ecosystem through other, less authorized means, hey, I can’t stop you.

Just be aware of what’s happening. Be aware that you’re not the only person involved in this exchange. This story didn’t fall from the heavens, dropped out of some heavenly sphincter. It took work. And love. And pain. And time. Think beyond the button-click it takes to snatch it from the etheric 1s and 0s. Take time to realize that art and stories have value.

To you, to me, to that guy over there.

Art is rad.

Stories are awesome.

Try to pay for them once in awhile.

Especially if they’re mine, ’cause I’m saving up for that fucking whiskey-jizzing unicorn.