Piracy is a hot button topic these days. More and more it feels like thereâ€™s just as many people for it as there are against it. Iâ€™d like to offer you my perspective, as a creator of content that is apparently worthy of piracy.
After writing in the tech industry for a little while, I wanted to try my hand a writing a book. A publisher called Apress was looking for someone to write about Android tablets, and that seemed right up my alley. After months of playing with every tablet available at the time, writing, re-writing, and finally applying all of the visual art to my book, it was ready to be published. The book was fairly well received, considering it was a glorified how-to manual for Android tablets, and most of the feedback I got was very positive. A few weeks later, someone pointed out to me that my book was available in a new distribution method â€” The Pirate Bay.
I took the time to create something, and the price that was put on that item when it was finished was a statement of what my time was worth, assuming a certain number of sales. When the book was published initially, there were several people who initially complained about the price. Apparently $15 was too much for an eBook, and they werenâ€™t interested in making the purchase for something there was no guarantee they were going to get use out of. Thatâ€™s certainly an understandable position, and likely one of the reasons those same users took to piracy. Seeing the book being pirated forced me to question the quality of the work I had produced, even though the people complaining about the price had nothing to go on but my description, a few early reviews, and the cover art.
Now, I wasnâ€™t angry at whoever posted the book I had just spent months of my life on to a free download service. Honestly, my view on piracy has always been pretty supportive â€” to me it doesnâ€™t make any sense to look at it as lost revenue, but for whatever reason the book was not available in a format or price some people agreed with. At the time, the book was only available on Amazon and in a few select retailers. Eventually it would come to the Google Play Store and a few other outlets, but even after that release I noticed the book was actively being downloaded.
Thereâ€™s a really popular defense among those who download content instead of purchasing it. Many claim that they like to try something before they buy it, and downloading is their way of doing this. Itâ€™s impossible to know how many of those people actually go and purchase something after they acquire a free copy, but I would imagine that number is fairly low if it exists at all. Books are especially confusing in this context, as thereâ€™s usually at least a chapter of the book available to preview before you buy now. Google Books had almost three and a half chapters of my book available for users to read before they made the purchase.
Feedback is a surprisingly empty spot in the piracy puzzle. If I go to Amazon right now, I can see the feedback of users who bought Taking Your Android Tablets to the Max and felt the need to comment on their purchase. If I go to Google, I can see the same kind of feedback in the purchase section as well as the review section Google maintains separately. Never once have I received feedback from someone who downloaded my book without purchasing it. Iâ€™ve havenâ€™t had a single person come to me and explain that there was this one thing that was missing, and had I included it the book would have pushed them from casually checking it out for free to purchasing it.
Iâ€™m far from the only content creator out there with a mostly positive view towards piracy. HBOâ€™s recent commentary on Game of Thrones piracy is a great example from the world of video, but there are also programmers in the world whose views on piracy are mostly accepting. Koushik Dutta, a developer responsible for some of the most popular apps in the Google Play Store today, has dealt with his apps being pirated and then sold to other users. His issue was never with the piracy of his apps, with Android thereâ€™s a reasonable amount of that to be expected. Selling someone elseâ€™s work as your own is an entirely different matter and the FBI, with help from Google, responded appropriately in that situation.
I asked Sal Cangeloso, Managing Editor of Geek.com, about his experience with piracy of his book, LED Lighting: A Primer to Lighting the Future. He wrote:
Iâ€™ve seen some sporatic piracy of my book, but itâ€™s not something that has bothered me too much. The ebook version is available for under $4 from Amazon and $6 from Oâ€™Reilly in a DRM-free copy, so I didnâ€™t imagine that too many potential buyers would opt for a pirated copy. Sure, I worked hard on the book and I think it contains information that could save people considerably more than $6 in the future, but I believe in Oâ€™Reilly/Makeâ€™s stance on DRM-free ebooks and accept that some piracy is unavoidable.
I donâ€™t depend on my book to pay the bills, so I can afford to be more lax than some other content creators. Even so, Iâ€™ve seen no gains from the piracy. Maybe some people are buying the book after downloading it for free, but I donâ€™t believe anyone is learning about it from a torrent or pirated ebook site. I guess Iâ€™m equally parts disappointed that people feel that the book is being pirated and pleased that itâ€™s worth pirating, but I think the overall impact has been negligible.
In the end, piracy isnâ€™t going anywhere. I donâ€™t think I want it to, either. The next time you do pirate something, Iâ€™d ask you to think about why you are really doing it. If youâ€™re actually just trying before you buy, and then you donâ€™t buy, you should tell the person whose content you borrowed why they didnâ€™t deserve your money. If you donâ€™t feel the content was worth what they were charging, maybe that content creator is willing to make a deal with you. Itâ€™s really easy to click the download button, and itâ€™s really easy to defend your reasoning after the fact, but if you arenâ€™t going to contribute money to the creator you should at the very least contribute honest feedback.