Piracy is obviously “a bad thing”. Just because some heedless enthusiast once asserted “information wants to be free” doesn’t mean that information producers want the same thing. However nice it is to run around shouting liberal slogans, we do live in a world where the rule of law still hangs on. The invention of the e-book has made piracy rather easier, or certainly affordable.
As the AAP wrote in their monthly newsletter for August 2015:
Technology has changed the ways in which books, journals and other published copyrighted literary works are created, shared and purchased. Copyright law, however, is technology-neutral, meaning that copyright protections are meant to apply equally to eBooks and printed books. AAP’s recent amicus brief supporting the International Trade Commission’s (ITC) authority to address unfair trade practices involving infringing copies of such works, regardless of whether they are imported in hard copy or as eBooks, aims to defend this central principle of copyright.
Our support of the ITC’s trade authority with respect to infringing works in digital formats aligns with our top priorities for modernizing copyright, which include ensuring that publishers and other rights holders have effective tools to combat online infringements. Every year, the U.S. government publishes a Notorious Markets List [2015 is the most recent available report] highlighting the online (and offline) markets outside the U.S. that post mass-quantities of infringing copies of books, movies, music and other creative works that undercut the royalties paid to authors, filmmakers and musicians.
Now here’s The Creative Penn on how we should embrace the pirate: better read free than unread. This is the same thought that Neil Gaiman was expressing in his 2011 video (which can be found in the link in the first line of this post). Maybe this is the spirit behind The Digital Reader‘s comment on Digimarc’s report on piracy of e-books, which they estimate at $315,000,000 in 2016. Maybe he’s being ironic in dismissing this number as “nothing to worry about”, though he does link to the Creative Penn piece, so I suspect that the remark is addressed to the narrow issue of piracy’s effects on the individual self-published author. Now it may well be that any individual’s share in the heap of pirate-pinched revenue is small, and that encouraging reading by giving away a few free downloads of a novel has the desired effect of increasing readership, but not all publishing is like that. It may well happen that a pirated copy of your novel will indeed lead to further sales as the pirate recommends the work all around. Now of course, not all books are e-books, whatever the enthusiasts might like to think. Print piracy is and remains a large problem. Given the nature of the technology it tends differentially to affect big books like textbooks and reference books. If an Oxford Chinese-English dictionary, say, is pirated in China that is purely and simply a lost sale. It’s not like the pirates go around telling their chums that there’s now this amazing thing called a Chinese-English dictionary, which suddenly releases demand for this hitherto unimaginable production. The best it’ll do is encourage more illegal downloads.
So while it may be just fine for most self publishers to blithely ignore piracy, it’s not something the whole industry can really afford to do. I don’t think 10% (if that’s what it is) is really something any company can afford to ignore. Any publisher would make fairly significant offerings to Gaiman’s gods if that would secure them an annual revenue increase of 10%.