Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More on Literary Piracy

Since this has sparked some comment, maybe a bit more on how I view it.

There are two contrasting concepts in law I sometimes hold up, malum prohibitum and malum in se. The first means that a thing is bad simply because it breaks a law and isn't intrinsically evil itself. The second says the act is bad in and of itself.

In theory, laws are passed to protect people, usually from other people. Laws that protect sane adults from themselves? Not necessary. If all sexual positions except missionary are illegal and a pair of consenting adults want to do it dog-style, whose fucking business (pun intended) is that? Not the legislature's. 

Protecting the kids? Sure. Protecting somebody who doesn't want to do it dog-style and who is forced to do it? Absolutely. Mutually-agreed upon, no harm, no foul? Get outta town.

My belief is that laws should be drafted to protect people against the unjustified initiation of force. This doesn't just include direct physical force, but actions against persons and property that cost the victim time, money, bruises, or blood.  

These get parsed differently, usually by how dangerous and how wicked a criminal act is. If you rob a bank with a note says you have a bomb, it is armed robbery whether you have the bomb or not, because the threat is there. Penalty for that is worse than if you break into the place at night when nobody is home and burgle the vault.

Breaking into an account online and stealing money from it? Same penalty as the hands-on real-time burglary, at least in theory. Surely you can see why? 

If I had a hundred bucks in my account and you cleaned it out, the money is just as gone either way. Theft is theft; mine, you took it without permission, you are a thief. 

Guy points a gun at you and takes your wallet? There's a law against that, and because armed robbery is, by most moral codes in most of the world, considered a bad thing. Malum in se.

Murdering grannies and children hither and yon? Rape? Slavery? Assault?  Malum in se.

Running the stop sign at three a.m. on a Tuesday when you can see for a mile in any direction and you know no traffic is coming? Malum prohibitum. Yep, the law is designed to protect folks at the intersection, but nobody is there but me? Where's the harm?

If some yahoo down in Chigger Bite, Louisiana, gets the city council to pass a law that says you can't sing Rolling Stones songs on Tuesday? Malum prohibitum. (Maybe Lady GaGa is Malum in se ...)

In these cases, however silly, there laws against those acts. And if you break those laws, there is a chance you'll have to pay the piper if you get caught, however much you disagree with it. 

We all break laws all the time. Some unintentionally. Some because we aren't aware of them. Some because we don't agree with 'em. Some because we are willing to risk the penalty for whatever reasons. Maybe some of us are evil overlords.

If I run the stop sign, then I substitute my judgement for the traffic law's. They say I should stop at that intersection, I didn't see any reason that I should. But: maybe the next guy hasn't gotten his glasses checked lately, and he doesn't see the old lady on the bicycle out for a night ride because she has insomnia, and he runs over her.


Is he at fault? Yes. If granny was wearing her ninja outfit and almost invisible in the dark, he's at much as fault as if she were lit up like a Christmas tree: He ran the sign. The jury might take that into account, the clothes, but the driver did the crime, he has to be willing to do the time.

Copyright law says that the author has the right to distribute copies of his/her work. That's because the law recognizes intellectual property as a right, at least most places in the world.

If  the author rents those rights out, fine. If somebody starts printing up copies and selling them sans permission, most people can see that such an act is wrong. But so many of those same folks don't see that copying the book and sending it out an an e-file is just as wrong, especially in this day when electronic books are becoming the norm. By so doing, you decrease the potential buyer pool.

It's not about whether you make profit personally. Rob a bank and give the money to widows and orphans? You are a bank robber with heart, but still a bank robber. Maybe the jury cuts you some slack, but don't bet the farm on it.

Okay, duping a file and emailing to a few friends is not robbing a bank. But, consider the classic grape example. You go into the store, you are in the produce section, buying veggies and fruit. You see some nice grapes, you pluck one from a bunch you aren't planning to buy and eat it. Big deal, one grape. Safeway ain't gonna go bankrupt. You are about to spend eighty bucks on groceries.

If, however, a thousand shoppers each eat a grape, it is a bigger deal. 

If you pluck that grape from those you are planning to buy, you can justify that, right? 

But isn't it the same? If the grapes are sold by weight, it's a few grams light at the register. BFD, right?

 If a thousand folks do that,  it's a few thousand grams, and that makes it pounds. And if this happens day in, day out, such tiny pilferage gets to be a big factor in a market where the profit margins are 2% or 3%.

Had a market close here locally recently because shoplifting apparently cut so much into the margin the place started losing money. 

If everybody who goes to the park picks one flower, pretty soon the shrubs are bare.

Have I swiped stuff this way? Yes. But I knew when I did it that it was wrong. I didn't try to justify it as perfectly all right to make myself feel better about it. 

Hey, everybody does it. They can afford it. It's not all that much. It's a write-off. I'm not really part of the problem, but part of the solution, if you think about it–I'll tell folks how good the grapes are at Safeway, they'll sell more.

Uh huh. These are all things to make you feel better about doing something that you know is wrong. If you are gonna do it anyway, fine, I understand. Been there, swiped that, I don't believe that the little sins send you to Hell.

Just don't try and pretend it is an act of virtue. 

It isn't. 


Anonymous said...

SP, your thoughts and opinions as a professional writer are very good reading.

From what I've read from other sites and articles, you the author are the owner of the _Copy Right_ or _Right to Copy_ the work. The idea that you are renting (leasing?) the copyright has never occurred to me, but does make sense. As Copyright Owner, with clear title to distribute, you can choose what happens to the work. But if you choose to license (rent) the work to a publisher, you can lose control. As you've noted about the Matador series.

Side question: When you regain title to the rest of the Matador series, you say you'll self-publish through electronic media. Would that in effect make them back in print and require a larger publisher or would it only be available through boutique e-stores?

I have no over-all disagreement with your premise in this post. The work is yours to stick in a drawer, a-la Hemingway, or to release for others to read. Realistically however, once a work is electronically released, distribution is uncontrollable. That is why ownership and credit of the work should be noted and traceable to the author(s). Blame and Credit are two sides to the same sword. Giving compensation for the creation of the sword is the crux.

Life is harder for a Luddite. Want a copy? Grab a pen..

Always a pleasure to read your entries,

AnonyMouse said...

Uh - did my prior post get deleted?

Steve Perry said...

Not by me. I didn't see it.

AnonyMouse said...

Doesn't matter - it was rambling. Summary was as the author, you deserve to get paid for your creative work so you can make more creative work. But what is more important: The check or the credit?

There's also questions about compensation for tangible v. non-tangible things. Your hypothetical grapes took effort to grow, harvest, transport, care for in display, package, etc. An e-book requires writing, editing, proofing, publishing and distribution all with electrons. Should one be given more commercial credence than the other?

Side question: When you regain title to the rest of the Matador series, you say you'll self-publish through electronic media. Would that in effect make them back in print?


Scott said...

Surely most acts are neither virtuous nor criminal.

Scott said...

That emailed short story cost Dan zero and got him a fan who has bought every work, some for multiple copies.

Scott said...

Old Man, by the way; love that beating.

Dan Gambiera said...

Thought you might appreciate this. NZ lawmaker who voted for draconian anti-copying law tweets about compilation album her friend made for her.

Steve Perry said...

We are just going to agree to disagree, Scott.
I see the law applying.

As to me putting the books out, they will only be in print
if I offer POD, and Ace won't be the publisher.

Scott said...

Arguing with you makes me smarter and I appreciate it, Steve; you can do things like range-finding with two eyes that you can't do with one, you know?

Steve Perry said...

Oh, I don't mind spirited debate, Scott, and I sometimes will have to re-jigger my beliefs when I hear something that makes me stop and think. But a lot of what I hear when this one comes up is in the category of somebody pissing on my leg and trying to tell me it's raining. Part of my job is to call them on it.

Scott said...

Yeah, but you *know* I don't freeload.

Scott said...

Oops, cognitive error, can't prove a negative. Say rather that you do know I pay. Linux and Youtube guy too.

Black Bart said...

Libraries are a motherfucker.

Jim said...

I'm not placing myself on a moral pedestal. I admit that I've copied albums over the years, as well as read the books that friends in bookstores reported as destroyed.

But I don't sit here and honestly try to claim that it wasn't what it was. And, as I've matured as a person of morals, I don't do it.