Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Thieves in the Night

Been some back and forth about pirating novels here, and one notion put forth that electrons in a computer aren't "stuff," so you can't steal 'em.


Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I sign a contract with Multinational Books to write a novel about vampire parakeets. They love the idea, and based on an outline, make an offer and send a contract. Fifty grand for a 400 pp book, delivery in a year. Half on sign, half on delivery.
(Long as I am being theoretical, might as well give myself good terms.)

So my office is paperless, and I don't print out the chapters every day. I do triple back-ups. One on the computer, another on a flash drive I lock up, a third off-premises on my server.

The year goes by. I'm done with the novel, got a finished draft, and am about to ship it to MB.

Say I've got a stalker, call him, say, Randolph.

Randolph hates me for whatever reason. So he gets into my house one night while I'm off babysitting the grandkids, lights my computer, and because he is a whiz at such things, bypasses my password and copies my novel file. Then he trashes my copy. Breaks open my lock box and finds my flash drive and wipes it. Gets online, and using my password manager, figures out what my password is there, goes into my email online, and wipes the copy of the novel there.

Now, granted, these are iffy things, but thieves have been breaking into locked places forever, and it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

Randolph goes on his merry way.

Aside from the breaking and entering, busting open my lock box, and like that, Randolph has stolen my novel, which is worth fifty grand. I've got half of the money, but since I don't have a book, I'm gonna have to give it back, and no way I'll be able to write it all from memory before defaulting on my deadline.

Randolph calls me up, says he'll shoot me the pirated file back, for ten thousand dollars.

Now, from where I sit, what he has done is the same as if he had broken into my house and stolen my wife's jewelry or my computer, none of which is worth as much as the novel script.
And holding the novel for ransom is another whole ball of wax.

If you believe that what Randolph has done is not a crime -- save for the B&E and lockbox, then we aren't on the same wavelength. And whatever your reasons, I ain't tuning in to your station.

Save your breath.


Scott said...

Conflating separate acts (e.g. copying with deleting) is a cognitive error; compounding it with B & E is admittedly funny but also wrong.

Would your scenario be better in any way if he *didn't* copy it? Just deleted all your versions and ransomed it's return (falsely, in this case, since he doesn't have it either.) No? Then perhaps you don't understand file sharing very well....

How about this: he buys a copy, scans it, uploads it, emails an upload link to his friends. Less dramatic, but more common, I think.

Lokkju said...

My view is somewhat the same as Scott's, but I think I can make this even more clear.

In my mind, purposefully deleting your copy of the data would and should be a crime - but the act of copying itself should not be.

And to be clear, I am only talking about criminal liability - civil liability is a whole other can of worms

Master Plan said...

I suppose a somewhat more parallel issue would be news aggregation and email forwarding. If I find a neat article on the NYT I can send a friend a link, then can go look at it, the sidebar ads appear, everybody is happy. If I copy and paste the whole article and send it entirely as an email with no source link that theft?

Google, etc, when doing news aggregation will at least leave a link to the original in many cases if not an outright click-thru.

Another would be recording music from the radio or TV from the TV.

Those are different sorts of payment schemes than publishing, particularly e-publishing, but along similar lines I think.

For your Randolph example of course that's theft, but it's not quite the same as, say, picking up a book of yours at a used book store which has been sent to the .25$ bin. My understanding is that you will receive no payment from such a resale of a book. Or even if it's a totally new book which isn't moving units and gets massively discounted, in that case you'd still get paid something (right?), but is it theft for the person to buy it so cheaply that they do not care at all about the object?

I think the piracy is also a bit of a red herring. It's less, to me, the piracy than a lack of alternatives. If I want to read a book on PDF and find said book on PDF on the torrents (I don't actually use P2P services myself, but for examples sake) then...I suppose I could buy a hard copy of the book (used) and thus legitimize my usage of pirated words under the context of actually owning a copy. But suppose I once owned the book and don't feel I should have to pay for it twice, or maybe I can't get the book locally. I don't think these things will stop folks from reading pirated texts (or unauthorized copies, however you want to put it) but I also don't think most folks would begrudge the author .50$ or a buck or more, provided such payment options are available to them. Which, currently, they are not (for many books).

The real issue is how much should a person be paid for pro writing and how to make that happen via technology as physically printed media dies it's nearly inevitable death.

Steve Perry said...

Scott --

We don't see eye to eye on this issue, nor do I see any avenue that is apt to lead in that direction.

Let it go.

Scott said...

We don't see eye to eye on this issue, nor do I see any avenue that is apt to lead in that direction."

You could try opening them. ;-)

"Let it go."


Dave Huss said...

You are not going to convince these self-entitled little shits that anything that they want, they are entitled to if they run their mouth long enough and try to bullshit you to death. The music industry has had to put up with this attitude for a while now, and look what has happened to the quality of the work being released. People do not want to pay for it, so why would you bother to work your ass off if you are not compensated for it.
Bread and Circuses and soon no one wants to work and everyone wants everything for free and has some bullshit justification for why they are entitled to it.
Worked real good for the Roman Empire, didn't it?

jks9199 said...

Would the perspective be different if Randolph were to steal Steve's paper manuscript -- with no digital backup -- and distribute a million copies themselves?

Intellectual property IS property. While it's not as cut and dried as physical stuff, you have to respect the property owner's rights -- unless you're perfectly happy with me not respecting yours. Got money in the stock market? Depending on exactly what it's in, you know it's not really "money", right? It's just tokens representing FUTURE money... So, if you're not recognizing digital property rights or property rights in stuff that's not real, I can take that money from you for myself, right? After all, it's not "real", is it?

jks9199 said...

One more thing...

I do think that there needs to be a change in the economic basis of music, writing, and similar endeavors. A mason can build a wall, and it's not likely to be stolen, nor is there likely to be any real argument about what it's worth, or if someone takes a picture of the wall.

I don't know what it's going to be -- but the music industry suing a housewife for millions ain't helping. I do think it'll sort itself out in time... because if it doesn't, nobody's going to be writing or creating music or art. (I think Steve said elsewhere that patrons a la the Renaissance seem to be in rather short supply today...)

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why it matters but the pirate crowd here seems to think that taking other people's work 'not being a crime' is somehow relevant.

I draw your attention to 17 USC, ch. 5 sec. 506.

I'll give you a hint, it's titled "Criminal offenses"

Yeah sure, the civil action parts are possibly more important, but that doesn't mean it's not a crime. All this is is a semantic game anyway. If you go swindle some little old lady out of 20k$ to clean her gutters you are a crook and a cheat even though you didn't 'steal' the money. If you are downloading, or uploading, illegal music, movies, or books, you're a crook and a cheat.

But yeah, everybody likes free don't they, so rationalize away.

Scott said...

It would really, *REALLY* help if the hand-waving guys could distinguish between taking and copying. Unauthorized copying could be harmful, could be cause for a civil suit, but if you can't tell the difference between that and taking (and burning ships with the crews still on them, pirates were serious bad guys, the current offense is more on the order of monks in abbeys copying books) then it's not going to get discussed intelligently, and it's your fault.

Unauthorized copying is more like counterfeiting than stealing or robbing or fraud. It's still not a great analogy, though, it's just less bad; call it what it is, the pegleg parrot scimitar burning sails imagery isn't helping.

Also, Dave Huss might want to edit his first sentence, it says the opposite of what he presumably meant.

Anonymous said...

Actually, per, the verb 'pirate' includes "to take or appropriate by piracy: as a : to reproduce without authorization especially in infringement of copyright"

So I *DID* call it what it is.

Hey though, you do make good use of distractors such as 'hand-waving crowd' and 'it'll be THEIR fault it isn't discussed intelligently' even though there is a direct reference to statute contradicting your prior statement (and which, judging by your last post, you couldn't trouble yourself to bother reading reading).

I can understand that maybe you're a little sensitive on the issue though...

jks9199 said...


Here's an idea. How would you feel if people started freely copying and distributing your work, without paying you for it?

Yes, it's sometimes a fine line between fair uses and piracy or even simply copying stuff without permission. But, look at it from the point of view of an author or artist... You're also talking about taking food out of the mouths of their families.

To me -- I use the same assessment here I do for asking a friend to help me out by doing their profession for me. Just because my buddy is an electrician and is happy to help me with swapping an outlet or two out doesn't mean I should expect him to rewire my house for free... Same thing with intellectual property. If I share a small part (a song, a few pages), it's probably OK. But if I'm taking the entire thing -- uh uh. No matter how much I may want to rationalize it.

Scott said...

"...there is a direct reference to statute contradicting your prior statement (and which, judging by your last post, you couldn't trouble yourself to bother reading reading)."

Actually, I did read read it and it didn't contradict my earlier example; the guy who buys a book and uploads it: no commercial advantage or private financial gain, worth less than $1k retail, already published. You can read it yourself here if you like:

Scott said...

"Here's an idea. How would you feel if people started freely copying and distributing your work, without paying you for it?"

Good one!

I'd be flattered, of course; have been when it's happened before. Beyond that, it would depend on what effect it had on me; if my sales went up because of the free riders it would be pure win, absolutely fantastic, best of all possible worlds. If it made me more famous and respected and my consulting rate went up as a consequence but my sales went down, I'd still count it as a win, but it might sting a little. If it hurt my bottom line I'd start selling my hypothetical SF and fantasy to Baen, apparently they've figured out how to make money giving away ebooks.

How would it make you feel?

Scott said...

So one of the ways publishers market books is by sending free copies to book reviewers.

Digital copying cuts the cost of this to zero, so it becomes necessary to reconsider the idea of reviewer, and whether giving away free ebooks might sell MORE paper books through word of mouth - amateur book reviews. Apparently works for Baen with SF and fantasy. Probably would work with genre fiction generally; almost certainly wouldn't work for reference works....

Steve said...

Laws have changed a lot over the last 30 years. Identity theft didn't exist when I started LE. And sometimes the laws are slow to catch up to society.
The morality doesn't changed one damn bit.
Find Randolph, use as many applications of your favorite Djuru on him as you feel appropriate, and take your crap back.
Alternatively, do to your blackmailer what David Letterman did to his.
More civilized. Less satisfying.

Anonymous said...

"Actually, I did read read it and it didn't contradict my earlier example"

I didn't say your example, I said statement.

From prior thread on same issue, "Theft is criminal, copyright violation is civil; different." and more recently "Unauthorized copying could be harmful, could be cause for a civil suit, but if you can't tell the difference between that and taking... "

I provided a reference showing that it can in fact be criminal under the laws of the United States (which are the only ones I feel competent to comment on and are likly what everyone here is talking about even though there have been some refrences to other countries copyright systems. How does that not contradict your claim that it is 'only'(as if that makes it okay) a civil matter?

Look, I realize you're not going to change your actions. I speed. Often. I don't pretend I'm not breaking the law. At least have the integrity and intellectual honesty and to admit call what you do by what it is.

Steve Perry said...

What would REALLY help is the guy pissing on my boots and telling me it's raining would realize I ain't gonna buy it no matter how many mirrors and how much smoke he produces.

Absolutely wasting your time trying. We don't have the same value system in this instance and mine makes way more sense to me.

You can smother it in catsup and slather it with sugar and it is still taking something that doesn't belong to you.


Master Plan said...

It IS interesting that I don't think Scott has said he feels it is NOT stealing to copy works which he's not paid for.

He seems to feel it's not a big deal, or not criminal, or even potentially beneficial (tho I think he's talking more about free copies of stuff than he is about unauthorized copies of stuff that isn't supposed to be free) but I haven't seen any course of reasoning from him describing if it is or is not theft in some technical sense.

Personally I'm much more interested in where all the money is going currently and where it'll all go when it's all electronic.

I think that's a much more fun issue to discuss. That and\or the market (fans) for "genre" fiction writing.

Steve Perry said...

I seem to recall, if memory serves, that we went down a similar road a while back, and Scott was pretty upfront about what he believes, vis a vis, the notion of intellectual property. He's been parsing his words carefully, but the underlying belief seems to shine though.

I'm putting up a post to address this.