Piracy – or not?

140 piracy

I should start by saying I know a lot of you are going to disagree with this post. But please, read it and think about it.

I really really don’t understand the way piracy, theft and sharing are conflated and confused both by the ‘big’ publishers and the authors who feel shock/horror every time someone reads one of their books without buying it.

Yes, piracy is wrong, very wrong, if we mean the taking of content and reselling without giving the profits to the original writer/artist/publisher. Yes, anyone downloading from pirate sites is committing theft because they are depriving the original producers of profit. They are also aiding and abetting the crime of piracy. No arguments from me, there.

However, I do think that some of the mega media moguls must share a little of the blame; they have been so arrogant about release dates, pricing, etc. that people have, in a world where news spreads instantly, felt tempted to obtain the offered goods in whatever way seemed most convenient. For example, sometimes my fellow writers recommend a book that turns out not to be available on UK sites. I’m not condoning the illegal downloads, just pointing out that it’s sometimes understandable, more often in the case of films than of books or music, but people do tend to repeat behaviour that works for them.

Then there’s sharing.

Publishers would have us think (and have convinced some authors) that sharing is piracy/theft. Their argument seems to centre on the fact that whilst if you lend a paperback book you don’t have access to it while your friend reads it, if you send them a digital version you retain your own copy. (Although with the paperback you still retain ownership. The only occasion when theft enters the picture is when the reader does not return the printed book to the owner. )

Nobody mentions the fact that sharing is probably the very best advertising an author or any artist can get. When people were asked by Neil Gaiman, at a lecture in London, how they found their favourite authors, the vast majority said that they found them through loans from friends, second hand book shops, charity shops, and libraries. Nobody mentioned browsing either in shops or online. Nor, perhaps more surprisingly, did they mention recommendations from friends. Once found, a favourite author is one the reader will buy again and again and will recommend to their entire social circle.

None of the above ways of finding books gives any immediate profit to the author or publisher. Neither does it prevent a sale because the new reader would probably never have found the book in the first place. What it does do is to ensure that at least some of the new readers will become customers for further books by that author, and maybe for their own copy of the one they ‘borrowed’.

Traditionally, the fame of books has spread by recommendation, either by critics or by friends. I know I’m more likely to read something a friend lends me, if only because they’re going to ask me what I thought of it. Reading is a social activity as well as a solitary one. We share opinions on books, we buy them as gifts, we leave them in guest rooms, we compile lists of favourites and lists of things to avoid. We read bits out to each other, sometimes to the annoyance of all concerned. We listen to books read on the radio together. We form book clubs. When we read reviews we ask around to see if anyone we know has read the book concerned.

I have two Kindles. (This was almost accidental but there you are.) So if I buy an e-book I can read it and pass it across to my daughter or my husband or someone else in my family who might be interested and they read it too. I haven’t lost it. It’s still in my library ‘cloud’. And they haven’t gained it. They’re using my Kindle, after all. But this constrains me artificially. I used to share books with two or three friends. Now that most of my books are e-books I no longer do this. (Even with two Kindles I’m unlikely to let one out of the house.) But I am so tempted to share my favourites with them. And who knows? I might gain a new customer for that author.

Recently I subscribed to a book via Unbound. As well as the hardback version they sent me a download link. I don’t need two copies (although it’s a good book) and I am very tempted to give the download link to a friend. After all, I paid (quite highly) for it and I need a Christmas present for her.

I also have a ‘wishlist’ that includes a lot of books. My nearest and dearest can’t buy them for me because they know I would prefer the e-book versions (otherwise the wish list would have more bookcases at the top). I gather that things like Amazon tokens are not considered to be quite the same. And yes, some of the indie sites allow gifting, but not all of them do, and Amazon certainly doesn’t.

Television companies have dealt with the problem. They ‘lend’ us their programmes for a number of days or weeks, accessed via catch-up sites. Although Amazon has some kind of lending feature, many e-books don’t fall into its net, and I’m sure we don’t particularly want to force everyone in the world to have an Amazon account in order to borrow books. I would have thought it should be possible to provide lending copies, time limited, with books. Since that hasn’t happened, is anyone truly surprised that people share their books? I should perhaps add that it has happened, for libraries, but not for individuals unless you have close family members who share your account details.

I dislike my desire to share being compared with theft. It diminishes my relationship with books (and fellow readers) and is an aspect of e-books I thoroughly object to. When we can’t share, because of the nature of e-books, we lose something very important about reading and about our culture. And I am totally convinced that we, as writers, lose customers.

I also dislike, intensely, the criminalisation of an activity that has been the ‘norm’ in literate societies, one of the things that help culture to grow and solidify, and the way it has been compared, unfairly in my opinion, with the very real crimes of theft and piracy.

Brexit

I haven’t said much about Brexit, on any of my social media platforms, though I’ve reposted things on FB. However, today made me feel I should make my feelings very clear, if only for the sake of showing solidarity with others I know who feel likewise.

I am personally distressed by the idea of leaving Europe. I have always felt European first, Brit second and English trailing last. My family were proud of their connections with Scotland, Ireland and France. My husband’s mother was German. We own a house in Portugal. We have close friends (and some family) in Germany, France, Spain and Portugal. Needless to say I voted to join the EU in the first place and thought that the membership would be forever.

As well as my personal feelings I believe that a strong EU is our best defence against the threats of political movements such as neo-fascism and the safest way for our industries (such as they still are) to prosper. There are other important considerations like pan-European research projects which affect industry, universities and medical advances. The EU has helped us to make huge strides in areas like the environment, protection for women, for workers, etc. Whilst there is some vague reassurance that laws will simply be re-enacted so that they are Brit laws instead of EU ones, there has to be some doubt, too. Even though Britain helped to develop the European Human Rights Act it had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the courts to keep some of the provisions.

Brexit made me cry, on and off, for about a month. I am personally afraid for more than just my feelings of being European. I am worried about our second home, about the stuff we invariably cart to and fro ranging from wine and oranges from Portugal to marmite and cheddar cheese from UK. I am worried about our Portuguese bank account. I am worried about our Portuguese car, about the rates on our house, about the cost of travel to and fro, of insurance, and about medical reciprocity between here and there. I can’t make any plans or decisions because it will take two years (at least) before we know the details of the break-up.

But this is pure selfishness compared with the situation facing some of my friends. Some examples:

*how will this affect someone with a UK passport living in Germany with a German partner, children and grandchildren? And the woman in The Netherlands who is divorced but works there full time and has two children in higher education?

*how will this affect people with businesses in Europe – things they invested in in good faith whilst retaining their UK passports? One lot are both Brit, another is half Brit and half Maltese. How can they plan their businesses sensibly?

*what happens to couples of mixed nationality – a Brit guy with a Belgian partner living in Portugal and working in both Portugal and Belgium?

*how does someone involved in research at a UK uni seek either European co-operation or funding, or for that matter offers of career advancement if they aren’t UK passport holders?

*what happens to the European guy brought over here to work by his firm – in good faith on everyone’s part – who uprooted his family and settled here – when he is asked to leave, or when his firm gives up and leaves, uprooting him again?

They aren’t all retirees sunning themselves on the Costa del Sol, but even if they were, they went there in good faith (one such couple I know are retired after a lifetime of service in the RAF) and now their pensions, their healthcare, their property rights etc. are all at risk.

All the above are very real people and are my friends – people who really matter to me.

Then there are the Leave voters who tell us it will all be all right in the end. And accuse us of being Remoaners. Even, in once case, telling us we should remove ourselves to Portugal and not return. Goodness knows what they’re saying to my friends who are not UK passport holders.

Today saw two last straws.

First of all, there was a campaign leaflet through the door for the Greater Manchester mayoral election. Not related to Brexit? Bear with me.

We were asked, some time ago, to vote on whether the ‘satellite’ boroughs around Manchester should be more closely connected with Manchester city, with a mayor. The consultation and vote were expensive (paid for by our local taxes). All the boroughs, Trafford, Stockport, Wigan, Oldham, Bury, Tameside, etc. etc. with a variety of political leaders heading their councils and some wildly varying styles, campaigned and the vote was overwhelmingly against the whole idea. A resounding NO. We celebrated, right and left alike. Nobody wanted closer contact with Manchester city which has very little in common with the outlying towns. We did not want the expense of another tier of government, especially one so diluted and so difficult to tailor to fit all. The government shrugged and said that our expensive vote was not binding and they would go ahead anyway. After a democratic vote the ‘will of the people’ was completely discounted and we are now having an expensive campaign (paid for by our local taxes) for a mayor nobody wants at all. The front runners appear to be a right wing councillor who might, for all I know, be fine in his borough but has no connection with ours, and a left wing politician who is ambitious but not particularly connected with Manchester at all.

So I am pretty cynical about anything that involves ‘the will of the people’. Politicians of every hue will carry on with their own agenda regardless. It’s very nice for them and for their supportive media, if a popular vote happens to coincide with that.

Which brings me to the media. I have been shocked by the politics of hate promulgated by some of our press and have joined the Stop Funding Hate campaign. I am quite certain the constant diatribes of some newspapers contributed to a great deal of hate crime and the death of Jo Cox. I have just been shopping and looked at the headlines on display as I left the supermarket.

I think the Daily Fail surpassed itself and its headline encapsulated a great deal of what is wrong.

In response to Ms Sturgeon’s application to hold a second Scottish referendum the Fail says:

Keep your hands off our Brexit, Nicola.

You mean we aren’t dragging Scotland along with us into this mess?? And Ireland? And the rest of Europe? And people who couldn’t vote because they didn’t have UK passports or had lived outside UK too long?

Our Brexit? Not mine. I am ashamed of my country.

THE DAY WE FIGHT BACK

Like many people I am incensed about the government spying that US and UK are colluding in. Today has been declared The Day We Fight Back and members of various parties and organisations have been asked to share banners on their websites, blogs, etc. So here are three from me.

day we fight back resized

eff fightback

no surveillance resized

Feel ree to take, share, and spread the word.