Monday, April 18, 2011


Been a while since I addressed this, so I thought I'd revisit it.

Copyright, as I understand it, gives you the right to distribute copies of a work. So in the instance of a book, say, you cut a deal with a publisher for an original novel, they print it and peddle it, and you divvy up the income. How it gets split depends on the contract you agree to, and the better your agent or lawyer, or the more clout you have as a writer, the larger your piece of the pie. 

In traditional publishing, a writer of my stature will get ten, sometimes twelve percent of the pie, if I am lucky. Bigger Name writers get more.

The copyright for your original work is yours, and you rent it to a publisher, but for the length of the copyright, which is life of the author plus a number of years–seventy, I think, now–you can rent it out again or sit on it. After that, generally the work enters into the public domain, and anybody can copy and distribute it, for profit or for free.

Unless you have a platoon of sharp lawyers and are Disney or ERB's heirs. Don't look for Mickey or Tarzan to fall into the public domain any time soon, though we are way past the original expiration dates on those.

I'm good with the time limit. Helps pay the bills while you are alive, might help get the grandkids through college, after that, it's free. 

Now, if you buy a novel that is three hundred pages long, and you hie yourself on down to the local Xerox machine and copy each page, because you want to write on it, or pass out sections to your American Lit class for study, you can do that under the Fair Use doctrine. And you can quote it in a review, like that.

If you copy the book, bind it, and go sell it on eBay? That's illegal. Plus it's a lot of hassle, standing there feeling sheets into a copy machine, then sorting them and binding them. If it cost you a nickel a page, plus your time? Not much profit in that kind of operation.

If you scan the novel you bought into your computer and read it there, I'm pretty sure nobody will care, any more than they do if you copy a movie off the cable for your own use, or rip your own CD for your iPod. Technically, such movie/music copying is a no-no, but practically-speaking, the feds aren't likely to come knocking at your door, since they'd have no legal cause–how would they know, and why should they care? 

If you open up an eBay store and start selling pirated copies of the movie or albums, you might get nabbed. If you exchange music over the net, chances are you'll get away with it, but somebody might decide to make an example of you. You've heard that story, some teenager downloads a couple albums P2P, and his parents get dinged with a half million dollar tab.

If you take your book scan and distribute it as a PDF, then you violate copyright law, though practically-speaking, the worst that happens is you get shut down if somebody notices.

The generation who cut their teeth on computers often tends not to look at this piracy as any kind of wrong. Not everybody, and to varying degrees, but every time I post this article, I get notes from folks who give me the "knowledge-wants-to-be-free" rationalization. Yeah, knowledge wants to be free. Entertainment wants to be paid for. If you chop firewood for a living and I drop by your house and load my truck with a couple cords and drive off without paying for it, that might bother you. Same difference.  

Free is a very good price, who can argue with that?

We saw what this attitude did to the music industry, and while one can argue that the record companies were more often than not greedy bastards–a CD that cost them fifty cents to produce going for fifteen bucks, and only a small part of that going into the musician's pocket? Sure, fuck 'em.

Except that the small part the musician was getting vanished when the record company's money dried up. Sticking it to the big corporation winds up sticking it to the little guy who works for them, every time. 

Which is why buying a CD (or an MP3) directly from a musician or a small store that stocks his stuff is a good thing. 

Am I pure as the driven snow about such things? No, I certainly can't claim that. I'll often stick an image up here I found on the web. When I can, I use freebie clip art, public domain, or photos that are obviously put fourth because people want them to be seen and distributed.

My bottom line is, I try not to use anything I think is going to cost the artist any profit.

If I put up a YouTube link, I'm pointing to somebody who–in theory–has worked out some kind of deal with folks who own the material. I don't put up music on my SoundClick page unless it's original, public domain, or in the case of a couple, by somebody I know who gave me permission, or that I bought a mechanical license for, but I'm not claiming anything in the way of moral purity here. 

Have I ever used pirated software? Yes. I don't have any running now, and I pay for shareware, but I never was, nor will I ever be Saint Stephen ...

We all draw the line where we draw it, and it's sometimes blurry. Naturally, I prefer that folks draw it so I get some benefit.  I try to draw it that way for others.

Most of my readers are loyal, they like my scribblings, and they want to see me get something for them, at least if my email and the posts here can be believed. They do the right thing. 

If the choice is downloading one of my books for free and having that maybe cause me to stop writing them, they see the alternate of paying something as a better way to go. And bless them.

Sometimes you need to remind folks to do the right thing. In the front of the eEditions of my books from Dan's Fat Sam store, he does this. Hey, do the right thing, help the writer out so he can keep writing and not have to get a Real Job. 

I appreciate that.


Shady_Grady said...

"If you chop firewood for a living and I drop by your house and load my truck with a couple cords and drive off without paying for it, that might bother you."

Steve just tell them, firewood wants to be free!


Anonymous said...

As for the firewood analogy -
- the first clip on the left explains the difference.
As for the worry that artists create for money and you should refrain from creating from their works, lest they stop, a recent comment comes to mind ( second at ).

Steve Perry said...

Piffle and tosh and a barrel of hogwash, Krystian Galaj.

I'm absolutely unconvinced by this pitiful and self-serving attempt at rationalization.

One can create both art and product, and the idea that artists are supposed to work strictly for love and to disdain pay is, in a word, bullshit.

Let me say it again, just in case you missed it: BULLSHIT.

Sure, we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and there isn't much new under the sun in regards to art, or literature, but after I've written a story it is different because it came from my head and not somebody else's, that's what art *is.*

When Michaelangelo chipped David out of the marble slab, sculptors had been doing human forms for thousands of years; none of them did it quite that way before.

Bill Shakespeare is long gone, and anybody who wants to play with his tropes ain't taking a nickel out of Bill's pocket.

People who can't see that intellectual property belongs to somebody just as much as their house does are looking to justify theft. It's okay if I steal it, they say, because I'm not really stealing it.

Of course, there are people who think that all property is wrong, that we should all take whatever we need or want when we need or want it, and Kumbayah.( Idealistic philosophies are fun when you are young and dewy-eyed. But the real world is less kind to such theories. Communism works as well as objectivism, which is to say, not hardly. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.)

There's a term for such folks: Looney Tunes.

If you want to rationalize it that way -- and Lord knows I get that every time I bring it up -- go ahead, but while you might fool yourself, don't try to peddle that hooey here. I ain't buying it.

Kris said...

I don’t understand where the disconnect is with these people (well, I guess I do, really). They want to think of themselves as “good people”, even though they make selfish choices- thus the beyond-the-pale rationalizations they spout. Okay, so that’s a simple enough concept to understand.

So, to be more specific, what I really don’t get is: why bother? I mean, if you’re an apathetic, selfish douche (which you would have to be, not to see how stealing an author’s work can/will hurt them), just own up to it, keep your mouth shut, and go about your douchie business, sans the vocal BS.

I can’t imagine that the “wants to be free argument” convinces the one making it anymore than it convinces the rest of us. All it does is further annoy the society they are already stealing from. Perhaps it is just a function of the (misdirected) know-it-all idealism of youth, combined with the modern apathy about social issues that, nonetheless, still needs its preachy outlet.

I guess we were all young once. I don’t miss it (well, that part anyway).

Dan Gambiera said...

Good as far as it goes. But there are lots of books for which nobody will take my money. I'd be happy to buy copies of Simak or Brunner. But they're out of print and won't ever come back in. Besides, they were "mid line authors", so most of their backlist got pulped on the bizarre theory that just having that sort of thing in the warehouse contaminates the bestseller ten bins down the aisle.

If the publisher won't sell it I don't feel so bad about copying it.

Scott said...


I could copy your work without paying if I wanted to; you *know* I pay. Free riders don't cost you anything, they're free great advertising; my first exposure to Dan Moran was a short story a buddy emailed me and I've bought everything he's written.

It's not like firewood where if they take a piece you lose a piece; sure as hell it's not like rape, murder and pillage; find another word, pretty please.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't that be considered a "loan" of material? It got you interested in an author and you did the better thing for it. SP is trying to refer to someone just taking without any remorse to compensate the original author.

He is entitled to make a living off his effort of making "firewood" for others to buy. The problem with that analogy is "firewood" is physical and requires effort to copy. Electronic media take a click, drag and done. Much harder to create than to take. To the producer's benefit, there are unlimited numbers of electronic copies he can make with no effort.

Here's to hoping other will do as you and if they like a provided "taste", then fiscally support the author.

- AnonyMouse

Steve Perry said...

Scott --

You do the right thing because it is the right thing.

Not everybody does.

You could walk into B&N and put a copy of a book under your jacket and probably get away with it, but I suspect you don't.

The free advertising argument? Sometimes, maybe. But all my online books at Amazon and Smashwords will let you read the first fifteen percent for no charge, so you can get the flavor without having to pay anything.

If you are running a bus service and enough of the free riders never pay? It surely does hurt your business.

If somebody walks into a 7-Eleven and picks up a six-pack of beer and they are given a choice -- five bucks or free? How many folks will do the right thing?

How many people will drink the beer, like it, and decide to go back and kick in the asking price of five bucks? Research I've seen, going back to the failed Stephen King experiment early in e-bookery, shows that the number of those who will is much smaller than those who won't.

I appreciate those who do. I don't use DRM on my stuff, and that's because I believe that most of my readers will do the right thing. I have loyal fans. But not every writer is where I am.

Todd makes a good point: If there a book that is out-of-print, not likely to come back into circulation and no commercial e-version of it available or apt to be, then the question becomes, who does it hurt to collect a file?

Of course, like the Matador books, which are o-o-p, and haven't been available as e-versions, one could apply that same reasoning. And since it might be six months before I get the rights and Dan gets them up, you know there are people who won't want to wait if they don't have to wait.

Consider your favorite author. S/he has a major novel coming out in June. If you could score a copy in April, would you? Especially if it was free?

Some of the e-houses now how a lend-a-book policy. If you buy it and like it, you can let a friend or two read it. That's okay with me, that makes the free publicity argument work. And if you pass it around to your family? Just like a paper book, I'm good with that. But if people are copying stuff and passing it around in numbers, it hurts my business, and that of other writers. Because, from what I've seen, most people who read for free don't go out and sell others, they pass along their free copies. Here, check this out.

The question I ask myself is simple: Is what I'm doing helping or hurting the author? (If it doesn't hurt nor help? A value call.) If it hurts, then I can't see going that way. If I believe it helps, I need to be sure I'm not just rationalizing that to myself. If I can assure myself that me reading it for free will get me to convince four other folks who wouldn't likely pick it up to pay for it, sure. But that means active effort, not just lip-service.
And that's what I see most often when it comes up: Dude, I'm giving you free publicity that will help you! but they aren't.

Yeah, my fans do that. I'm lucky. They know I'm not a rich guy making millions. Stephen King? Hey, the man has got more money than God–me reading one of his for free? He can afford it.

That's the slippery slope.

Copyright law is designed to protect writers. What happened to a bunch of mid-list musicians who can't make a living any more from their albums could happen to mid-list writers.

Jim said...

If you want to say art should be free -- whether it's the shlockiest pulp romance or some super high falutin' novel -- that's fine.

But artists need to be supported somehow to make their art. In the current structure, we pay for it when we buy a book or whatever, and the artist gets a portion of that, which hopefully encourages them to continue to create art, and keeps the flesh attached to their bones, and lets them live in a lifestyle that they like. If they want more -- they need to work (create) more, that we'll like, and buy more.

But... "art should be free." OK. YOU support the artist in the lifestyle that allows them to create art. Are you up for having Steve or Dan or ... move in, and you support their lifestyle?

If not... BUY THEIR BOOKS. E-pub is great; more money goes directly to the writer, and stuff is getting out that may never have been released before.

Jim said...

There is some validity to the out-of-print/unavailable to buy argument, especially if a publisher is simply sitting on the copyright and won't let the author seek another publisher or e-publish them.

But there's still an issue of right & wrong. I don't claim sainthood. I'll freely admit to having read quite a few books over the years that friends working in bookstores salvaged after the cover was torn off & the book reported as sold. I was young then; my justification would probably have been "I didn't have the money to buy it anyway... at least this way, it gets read and the tree didn't die for nothing." (*yeah, no self serving sophistry, there, is there?) I don't do it anymore. I personally choose not to copy mp3s or albums other than for personal use, and then only if I've got a legit right to do so. I treat a digital book much like a paper book; I can lend a copy -- but I don't hand out freebies to people.

Scott said...

Jim, I don't want art to be free; I'm happy to pay, ask Steve or Dan; hell, I was *nagging* to pay for the last short stories, right Steve? ;-)

Steve, you're fight; some people won't pay if they don't have to. But they don't *cost* you anything! They're not resellers, you know? You're in a *better* position than the fashion places who are careful that shoplifting isn't too hard; your shoplifting/advertising cost is zero.